25 Years Later: How the Tiananmen Square Massacre reshaped Vancouver

Dec 19 2017, 6:48 pm

Twenty-five years later, people remain conflicted over what happened on the morning of June 4, 1989, at Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

What started as a peaceful, pro-democracy, student protest, took a sudden turn for the worst as more than 200,000 soldiers were dispatched to dissolve the demonstration.

As tanks rolled into the square, tents were crushed (some with people still inside), and bullets were fired at the crowds, resulting in one of the worst massacres the capital has ever witnessed.

“The democracy movement was intense and exciting, the crackdown that followed was brutal and tragic,” says History Professor Diana Lary, University of British Columbia, who was evacuated from Beijing two days after the government crackdown on protestors.

Reports vary on how many people lost their lives to the tragedy. The Chinese government claims about 200 people were killed while other reports by students and witnesses say thousands of people died that day.

“The event had a large impact… It led to a freeze on political reforms for many years,” says Professor Yves Tiberghien, department of political science, UBC.

Following the Tiananmen Square massacre, thousands of people fled the country, many finding refuge in Canada. This surge of immigration helped forever redefine Vancouver’s historical and economic trajectory.

Immigrants from Hong Kong, for example, outnumbered those from other countries in the early 1990s, with over 43,000 newcomers in 1994 alone, says a 2004 study released by the Department of Geography at Ryerson University and the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement.

Hong Kong is considered the most important in terms of the initial impact on Vancouver.

Thousands and thousands of people who knew that it was going to be sent back to China headed to the Canadian city right after the events of 1989.

In particular, immigration to Vancouver doubled in 1990, says John Punter in his book The Vancouver Achievement: Urban Planning and Design.

“It was just this fear. They didn’t see any future for Hong Kong,” says Prof. Lary. Others came as refugees due to political or religious persecution or the one-child family policy.

Another reason behind the flow of immigration in the early 1990s is that China does not offer any social services such as health care. Currently, it depends on one’s own resources or work place.

As for Vancouver, those waves of newcomers were a huge gain, specifically for Richmond, since most of the immigrants were professional and educated people.

Many made enough money to buy a house on the West Side or in West Vancouver.

“The major inflation in prices… became spectacular in 1989 when they rose to 30 per cent in a single year as a direct result of Asian investment,” says John Punter.

In China, there is a great deal of insecurity and uncertainty at every level in terms of who owns what and for how long. “If you buy a house [in Vancouver], it’s yours. In China, that’s not the case,” says Prof. Lary.

But not all immigrants came to the city for political reasons. In fact, some come from families close to the communist political party, and they earn high incomes that allow them to live in the city.

“More people have moved to Toronto to actually work, but the rich have certainly moved to Vancouver,” says Prof. Lary.


Featured Image: Tiananmen Square via Shutterstock

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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