CLAREMONT: The young woman lay on a mat in the concrete hallway of a Beijing hospital on June 4, 1989. She weakly held up an X-ray showing a bullet in her shoulder. Knowing I was a journalist, she whispered something I had heard numerous times in the previous three weeks: “Report the truth.”

She was among the tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Beijing when soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army shot their way through the heart of the Chinese capital and retook Tiananmen Square, the nexus of nationwide protests seeking social freedom and democracy.

The crackdown 30 years ago Tuesday stopped in its tracks a slow opening to the world that senior leader Deng Xiaoping had launched a decade earlier. The US and China formalised diplomatic ties in 1979 and reporting from China in the 1980s, I had written about investment and expansion by Disney, Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Foreign investment eventually returned and economic reforms continued, but a fundamental political change settled on China in the wake of Tiananmen, said Wang Chaohua, who in 1989 was a graduate student and Number 14 on a most-wanted list of 21 fugitives published by the government in the weeks after June 4.

FILE: In this June 5, 1989, file photo, three unidentified men flee the scene, as a Chinese man, background left, stands alone to block a line of approaching tanks, background right, in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Photo: AP/file
FILE: In this June 5, 1989, file photo, three unidentified men flee the scene, as a Chinese man, background left, stands alone to block a line of approaching tanks, background right, in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Photo: AP/file

As I went back to the Beijing Hotel to file updates and radio reports on the night of June 3, a plainclothes security official and three uniformed officers confiscated one of my videocassettes, filled with two hours of footage from the previous several days. They had been waiting in the empty lobby, picking off journalists as they came in.

I was outside the hotel on June 5 when I saw people ducking and running toward me ahead of approaching tanks. I took one shot before hustling upstairs for a better view. It was only weeks or months later that I printed the photo and discovered the man who had stood in front of the tanks in what would become an iconic image of Tiananmen. My photo showed him waiting in apparent calm, moments before the confrontation.

The next day, I was — foolishly — taking photos of a column of soldiers marching straight at me. A commander barked orders while pointing at me, and two soldiers, their eyes on me, started running in my direction. I turned and ran, and heard two shots. Dropping to my knees behind a minivan, I furiously unwound my film, hid it in my sock, and waited for the soldiers to come.

They never did, and when I peeked under the van, I saw them walking away. After the column had marched past, I crossed a parking lot, hopped a wall and retrieved a bicycle I had borrowed. A group of onlookers, who had watched everything, burst into applause when they saw me.

In the ensuing years, the Chinese government has scrubbed virtually all mentions of the protests from textbooks, the media and the internet. Meaningful political reform seems unlikely as today’s leader, President Xi Jinping, tightens his hold on power. And a commitment to transparency and accountability still seems a distant possibility. Only when that happens, though, will most Chinese learn the truth.