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Tiananmen 20 years on: Reflections from Taiwan

Interview: Wu'er Kaixi is barred from returning to China after 20 years in exile.

Wu'er Kaixi, a former student leader who escaped to Taiwan after China's Tiananmen Square democracy movement, in Taipei April 23, 2009. (Nicky Loh/Reuters)

[Editor's note: June 4th is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. For more GlobalPost coverage, read what dissidents think about the event, how one museum fits into China's patriotic landscape, what a leading artist makes of it all, and the thoughts of a former student protest leader, below.]

TAIPEI — On China's "most wanted" list of 1989 student protest leaders, Wu'er Kaixi is No. 2. He rocketed to fame as a 21-year-old youngster, lecturing the Chinese premier in a nationally televised showdown.

After 20 years in exile, he tried to return to China via Macau on Wednesday, to turn himself in. He says he wanted to see his parents, who are barred from leaving China.

But officials at the Macau airport refused him entry, and forced him onto a flight back to Taiwan today. GlobalPost's Jonathan Adams spoke to him by phone after his return.

GlobalPost: So what happened in Macau?

Wu'er Kaixi: I went there hoping I could enter — I've entered Macau in the past with no problem. But of course June 4 is a more sensitive time. I arrived there at 6 p.m., hoping I could go to the liaison office of the central [Chinese] government, to turn myself in.

What did they say to you?

At the airport, they rejected my entrance without explanation — that's the official side of the story. Unofficially, they said quite openly, "Come on, look at the date. We can't let you in."

Why do you think they didn't arrest you?

That's a really good question for the [Chinese] Communist Party. I can try to answer.

China has adopted this exile policy, exiling dissident voices. Basically they want to keep everything outside.

Sometimes, China wants nothing but "face" from the world. But when it comes to Tiananmen, to June 4, all of the sudden they don't care about face anymore. Or, the only way to save face is to cover it.

That's something we already knew, but it's absurd. One message I want to get across this time is, don't take absurdity as it's given [by China]. There are certain absurdities that the West, the world, seems to take when China gives it. So anything absurd, ridiculous or wrong, when it's done by the Chinese, is no longer a surprise.

I am challenging the Chinese government, eye to eye: "You want me, I am here." And they decided to hide behind the Macau government. Or as one Macau police officer said, "We are one country, two systems — sometimes we're one country, sometimes we're two systems. This time we're one country."