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Thirty Years After Tiananmen Survivors Feel It's Their Duty To Speak Out

The image of ‘tank man’ facing off with China’s military might or the tears from our then Prime Minister Bob Hawke as the horrors of Tiananmen square filled our television screens are hard to forget.

But thirty years on it’s the weight of a bloodied body, riddled with bullet holes, that Kenneth Lam remembers vividly.

Lam was among students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square when soldiers and tanks crushed the democratic hopes of an entire generation. It was the early hours of June 4, 1989 and Lam watched as a bus driver tried to use his vehicle to block the path of troops flooding China’s capital.

Letisha Marambio speaks to Kenneth Lam in Hong Kong for 10 News First. Photo: 10 News First.

“At that moment I heard about two-to-three shots and I was not aware at that time what had happened. We were very naïve… we never thought that they would use machine guns,” Lam said.

The then-student leader had been in the square for days and rushed to save the man along with several other pro-democracy protestors.

“It was the first time I carry a person who's nearly died. At that moment I was very shocked because it’s the first time that in the square that I knew that soldiers were really shooting at people, citizens and students.” Lam said.

As soldiers fired into the square, Lam’s peers told him he’d done enough and should run, urging him to survive and share their story.

Tiananmen Square Massacre
Lam and other student protesters in 1989. Photo: 10 News First

“For me personally, that's my duty for these 30 years to keep telling the world what was happening. It's just a battle between lies and truth,” the father of one said.

On Tuesday evening, tens of thousands of people will gather in Hong Kong to remember June 4 and an atrocity that to this day Beijing hides from its own people.

READ MORE: Tiananmen Square: 30 Years On, And The Government Still Won't Talk About It

Cheuk-yan Lee survived Tiananmen too and focuses on the fight for democracy. He wants the regime to finally release the death toll.

“Announce the list, the list of the people who died. The whole list don’t try and suppress the memory,” he said.

Tiananmen Square Massacre
Cheuk-yan Lee survived Tiananmen. Photo: 10 News First.

Lee has opened a museum in Hong Kong to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown but has already been shut down once and with an extradition deal between the territory the mainland on the cards he says remembering has its risks.

“Is lighting a candle a threat to national security? We don’t know because for China who is quite paranoid you could say, they can say anything.”

Louisa Lim, author of The People's Republic of Amnesia agrees “the cost of memory is escalating” as Beijing censors thousands of words and images, to rewrite history.

READ MORE: Extradition Battle Looms On Eve Of Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary

Tiananmen Square
Pro Democracy demonstrators carry portraits of former Chinese rulers Mao Tse-Tung and Chou En-Lai as they march to join student strikers at Tiananmen Square in May 1989. Photo: AAP

While Keith Richburg, from Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre said,  “They're always worried about the next Tiananmen, what's going to be the next spark.”

But Lee believes the vigil will still receive plenty of support.

“I think it’s important that we fight on… we hope we can change China, before China changes us.”

For now, the mainland continues to be a place where lies prevail over the truth.