RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In China, dozens of people have detained or ahead of the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square. It was June 4, 1989 when soldiers with assault weapons and tanks moved in to the square where students had been camped out for weeks demanding democracy. Hundreds are believed to have died there and that crackdown ended a decade of political liberalization. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing about the annual security ritual that the anniversary has become.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: It's a pleasant, sunny spring day on Tiananmen Square. The place is decorated with huge floral displays. The security presence on the square right now is pretty light. There are a few police vans driving around, and there's airport-style security at the entrances, but no visible military presence.
But the usual suspects, including dissidents, bloggers, and liberal intellectuals are under extra pressure at this time of year. Rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang and several others were arrested this month for organizing a meeting to commemorate the anniversary. Veteran journalist Gao Yu, who was jailed for six years for leaking state secrets in 1993, was arrested on similar charges last month.
In the central city of Wuhan, veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin says this year's crackdown is harsher than usual. He jokes that he's singlehandedly supporting a small cottage industry of security forces just to keep him in line.
QIN YONGMIN: (through translator) Normally they've got 10 or 20 policemen outside my home. Recently they've hired an additional 18 men from a private security firm. They've set up an illegal checkpoint outside my door, and they stop anyone who tries to come in.
KUHN: Former Communist Party Central Committee member Bao Tong is also under house arrest. He says the current situation suggests that China is stuck in the past.
BAO TONG: (foreign language spoken)
KUHN: Those things which we were forbidden to speak about 25 years ago we're still not able to talk about today, he says. Those things which had to be covered up a quarter century ago still need to be covered up now. In other ways, China has come a long way since 1989.
The struggle for human rights and democracy shattered long ago into millions of personal struggles for social justice. Families of protesters killed by the army in 1989 have joined landless farmers, victims of official corruption, and even victims of tainted milk in taking on the system. Huang Qi, an activist based in the southwestern city of Chengdu, chronicles their struggles on his website.
HUANG QI: (through translator) People who wear democracy, freedom and human rights on their sleeve are a joke. They are not the only ones who are working to promote democracy. It's the practical struggles of millions of citizens that really represent the pursuit of democratic politics in Mainland China.
KUHN: China's leaders claim their predecessors made the right decision in 1989 to continue with economic reforms while maintaining the Communist Party's grip on the state. Communist Party boss Xi Jinping urges Chinese to be confident about the path they're on, and that implicitly includes the fateful choices of 1989. Here's Xi speaking before China's parliament last year.
(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENT)
KUHN: Of course, China has a much bigger internal security apparatus than it did 25 years ago. Whether that's a reason for the leadership's confidence, or a sign that it's lacking, is open to interpretation. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.