SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — It’s been 25 years since the Chinese Army used brute force to put down a massive pro-democracy protest at Tiananmen Square in Beijing where scores were killed as soldiers and tanks rolled though.
Since then, the Chinese government has done its best to erase the memory of the massacre but CBS News correspondent Steve Futterman was there when crackdown of the weeks-long protest began. He said it was probably the most frightening experience that he ever experienced as a reporter.
Futterman told KCBS that he had been sent to Beijing to cover a visit by then-Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev in the weeks that led up to demonstrations.
“That’s why the Chinese had allowed the foreign press to come en masse unlike it had ever done before,” he said.
“The students were aware of that; they knew they had captive media audience and that’s they began their demonstrations to protest their complaints around this time.”
But it turned out to be more than that on the evening of June 3.
Futterman was staying at hotel close to the square when he heard something was happening and walked over staying in the area for about 25 minutes going back and forth to closer hotel with other correspondents to file his reports.
“We knew the potential was but we didn’t necessarily think it was going to get to that level it got but knew that was a possibility,” he said.
But the chaos had already begun when he entered the square with tanks rolling, soldiers’ shooting, and bodies dropping.
“I saw people drop down 100 to 200 yards in front of me,“ he said.
“It was panicked scene with tens of thousands of people trying to figure out what to do with survival being the foremost thing on their mind.”
Futterman said he returned to Tiananmen Square during the 2008 Summer Olympics and was describing what had seen, including the famous “tank man,” referring to the lone student holding nothing but a white plastic bag who stood defiantly in front of a row of tanks.
“Suddenly I noticed there was crowd – I guess I wasn’t talking that quietly as I thought I was – listening to me describe what was going on,” he said.
“At one point, even a Chinese police officer was listening to me as well,” he said.
Though much has changed in China, Futterman said Tiananmen Square looked just as it did back in 1989.