1989 was a momentous year in global politics with the Berlin Wall falling, the Soviet Union collapsing and a pro-democracy movement blossoming in China.
That momentum towards freedom came to an abrupt halt in the summer of ’89 when the Chinese government ordered troops to break up a protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The world watched in horror as heavily armed troops rolled in, leading to one of the BBC’s most famous reports when a protesting student attempted to face down a tank.
There are only estimates of how many were killed in and around Tiananmen Square ranging from hundreds to thousands of innocent protesters.
Given the tragedy, it was controversial that British auctioneer Fellows included a watch in an upcoming sale that was given to a a member of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army who was involved in quelling the protest.
Watches were given to troops by the Communist Party Beijing Committee and Beijing Municipal Government following the protests and the piece up for auction is inscribed with “89.6 In Commemoration of Quelling the Rebellion”.
Fellows withdrew the piece, which had an estimate of £2,500 to £3,500, from its April Luxury Watch Sale after threats were made on social media against its owner.
“In the process of consigning this item to auction, our team undertook a large amount of research to verify the provenance of this piece. To the best of our knowledge, the vendor is not associated with the PLA, nor the Chinese government,” a statement from Fellows says.
There is nothing illegal about selling items related to appalling events in history. It is not against the law to sell Nazi memorabilia, for example.
“As an auction house, we often sell items with history,” Fellows says.
In the case of the Tiananmen Square watch, “We believed this item is of international interest. It was a reminder of the events of June 1989. It is not our place to comment on events of the past. It is important for us to shine a light on historical events and report upon them in a respectful and unbiased manner,” Fellows insists.