Tiananmen + 20 Years

Posted on September 1st, 2009 by

The MAYDAY! Conference has focused on a variety of social justice issues.

The MAYDAY! Conference has focused on a variety of social justice issues.

By Hanna Schutte ’11

On June 4, 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests came to a violent end with the deaths of over 2,000 people, widespread arrests, and the ban of foreign press by the Chinese government.

Video footage was leaked into Western society depicting an unarmed, lone man halting the Chinese tanks progress on June 5. On the Avenue of Eternal Peace, one man (dubbed “The Unknown Rebel”) stood in front of a column of tanks to show the power of an individual in the face of unbelievable violence.

This year, Gustavus Adolphus College is focusing on that act of heroism for the 29th Annual MAYDAY! Peace Conference, to be held on April 29, 2009.

The MAYDAY! Peace Conference is an opportunity to educate the greater community about issues related to peace, human rights, and social justice. “It is a chance for us to step back and, as educated citizens, figure out what our role is in these important issues,” said Richard Leitch, Gustavus political science and environmental studies associate professor.

The MAYDAY! Conference has focused on a variety of social justice issues, including water accessibility, landmines, land rights, violence in the community, hunger, food security, and Africa’s AIDS crisis. This year’s topic takes a look at a social justice issue in one of the fastest growing countries in the world—China.

This year’s conference theme fits into the college’s new Gustavus Global Insight program focusing on China for 2008-09. Gustavus Global Insight provides students, faculty, and staff with various opportunities to learn about one country, region, or global issue during an academic year. It includes invited speakers, fine arts events, special presentations, service-learning opportunities, and class time dedicated to discussions of the focus topic.

One main topic that arises with Chinese social justice is the Tiananmen Square protests, which took place 20 years ago. The protest, made up largely by students and intellectuals, was a demonstration against the oppression of the Chinese Communist government. It was a huge occurrence for the previous generation, but today’s young people may not know very much about the events of Tiananmen Square.

That group that was taking a stand against authoritarian government had many students involved. We want to show students what they can do,” said Leitch. Gustavus students will get the opportunity to see at the conference what this event was to China and the world in 1989.

The MAYDAY! Conference traditionally has a scholarly speaker who tells the big picture and gives an academic view, as well as an insider or activist who tells his or her story. This year, the opening keynote address will be given by Andrew Nathan, a Chinese affairs specialist and author at Columbia University. He is a leading expert on China and Chinese domestic affairs. He was also one of the people who helped translate the Tiananmen Papers—the stories from the demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.

The afternoon keynote address will be given by Yang Jianli, author and leading advocate for China’s democracy from Boston, Mass. Jianli was a student himself when the riots were taking place in 1989, and though he was not a student leader, he was chosen as the student supporter sent from Berkeley.

However, Jianli’s actions did not stop there. In the years following the protests, Jianli worked to bring democracy to China. While attempting to return to China with a friend’s passport, he was detained and sentenced to five years in prison. After being released in 2007, he has continued his activist work from Boston.

In addition to the main speakers at MAYDAY!, there will also be two workshop sessions. Conference participants have the choice to attend “Life in Contemporary China: A Gendered Perspective,” or “Reflections: Chinese Students in America/American Students in China.” Both workshops will be offered twice, and each presents unique perspectives about life in China.

Professor Leitch encourages everyone to attend this year’s conference, which is free and open to all. “There are a lot of things students don’t know about, and if you attend events you are already knowledgeable in, your view is limited. China is a big issue that isn’t out of the spotlight yet after the Olympics, and MAYDAY! is a great way to learn about a prevalent social topic.”

The full schedule for the day is as follows

  • Registration / 9-11 a.m. (Linner Lounge, O.J Johnson Student Union)
  • Welcoming Service and Morning Keynote Address by Andrew Nathan / 10 a.m. (Christ Chapel)
  • Break / 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • Workshop Session I / 12:30-1:20 p.m. (Alumni Hall and The Dive, Johnson Student Union)
  • Workshop Session II / 1:30-2:20 p.m. (Alumni Hall and The Dive, Johnson Student Union)
  • Afternoon Keynote Address by Yang Jianli / 2:30 p.m. (Christ Chapel)
  • Closing Ceremony and Reception / 3:30 p.m. (Christ Chapel)

First established and sponsored by Florence and the late Raymond Sponberg of North Mankato, Minn., all MAYDAY! Conference events are free of charge and open to the public. For more information about the conference, contact the Gustavus Office of Marketing and Communication at 507-933-7520 or marketing@gustavus.edu.


Comments are closed.