AFTER TIANANMEN SQUARE
Wang Dan in 1989
Tiananmen Square was followed by a period of repression marked by mass arrests and executions. Thousands were jailed, harassed and threatened. Some were executed, shot in the back of the neck, and photographs of the bodies were posted all over the country as warnings. One girl leapt from a 12th story window because she was "depressed in the atmosphere of recrimination."
Human rights groups reported that 50 to 100 people were executed in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, some for things as minor as setting a police motorcycle on fire or taking photographs of tanks around the square. Another 15,000 to 20,000 were detained, with 99 of those still in prison in ten years later.
After Tiananmen Square, freshman at several universities in Beijing and Shanghai were sent away for Cultural-Revolution-like re-education and universities offered ideology classes that taught the governments version of the events. Eulogies for senior party members usually included a praise for their "clear stand" on Tiananmen.
After Deng's death, under Jiang's orders, Chinese television showed a 12 hour documentary on Deng's life that included footage of Deng and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The segment was shown over and over.
Good Websites and Sources on the Tiananmen Square Protests: Tiananmen Square Demonstration Photos cryptome.cn ; Graphic pictures christusrex.org and christusrex.org ; Tiananmen Square Documents gwu.edu/ ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Google Video video.google.com ; BBC Eyewitness Account news.bbc.co.uk ; Film: The Gate of Heavenly Peace has been praised form its balanced treatment of the Tiananmen Square Incident. Gate of Heavenly Peace tsquare.tv
Links in this Website: DENG XIAOPING Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA UNDER DENG XIAOPING Factsanddetails.com/China ; DENG XIAOPING’S ECONOMIC REFORMS Factsanddetails.com/China ;TIANANMEN SQUARE DEMONSTRATIONS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIANANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE Factsanddetails.com/China ; AFTERMATH AND LEGACY OF TIANANMEN SQUARE Factsanddetails.com/China ; DISSIDENTS, POLITICAL ACTIVISTS AND POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;
Zhao Ziyang After Tiananmen Square
The Communist Party made Zhao a scapegoat for Tiananmen Square. He was relieved of his position as Secretary General of the Communist Party in 1992 for showing "serious mistakes of judgement and splitting the party" for his role in the 1989 demonstrations.
Zhao was placed under informal house arrest. He lived in a spacious Beijing villa that was locked from the outside. In the 1990s, he released a letter calling the Communist leaders to declare Tiananmen Square a mistake. For the most part he spent his time quietly reading, with occasional trips to the golf course and the provinces. He spent a lot time hitting golf balls in his backyard, he was occasionally let out to play pool at a club used by the Communist Party elite but before he arrived everyone was cleared out so he was forced to play alone.
Zhao died on January 17, 2005. He was given a low profile public burial. His death was given a lot of press in the West but did not draw much attention in China, where no announcement of his death was made on television. There was a debate within the Communist Party and between the government and Zhao’s family as to what kind of accolades he should receive if any.
When Zhao died in 2005 the Chinese government formed an “Emergency Response Leadership Small Group,” declared a “period of extreme sensitivity,” and ordered the Ministry of Railways to screen all travelers heading to Beijing.
In the end Zhao was given a “body-farewell funeral" (lower status than a state funeral) and was buried with other Communist leaders in Babashan Cemetery and was given credit for “valuable contributions” to China’s economic reform but criticized for making “serious mistakes” during the Tiananmen square protests. Measures were taken to prevent any demonstrations and show of support for Zhao or his political reforms. No serious demonstrations materialized.
Book: Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang (Simon and Schuster, 2009) is based on 30 audiotapes secretly recorded in 1999 and 2000 and published in the United States on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Much of what is described in Zhao’s book was already been revealed by the Tiananmen Papers book but what Zhao’s book does do is offer an insiders look into what happened, with Zhao not being shy about naming names. Zhao made the recordings on Peking opera and kid’s tapes lying around his house. Not even close family members were aware of them.
Legacy of Tiananmen Square
Wuer Kaixi in the 1990s
The party line on the Tiananmen Square crackdown is the suppression of the “counter-revolutionary” riots preserved stability and paved the way for China’s economic success.Deng used it as opportunity to purge destabilizing reformers such as Zhao Ziyang from the party.
The massacre sent a shutter through the Chinese intellectual community. "Although relatively few people died during the Tiananmen square protest," Jonathan Mirsky wrote in the New York Times, "or were executed afterwards, or were transported to China's gulag, the government crackdown traumatized writers, scientists and university teachers. (I remember the terrified atmosphere among my friends in Beijing in 1989). Most were interrogated, scolded or ordered to write confessions. As was true throughout the 1980s few informed against...others in order to curry favor."
On the calls for democracy at the protests in Tiananmen Square, one woman who was a university student in remote Gansu at the time told the Washington Post, “I was quite excited. I felt that my blood was boiling.” The protest “changed the orbit of my life.” She said she no longer believed what she read and was told and became “a person who doubts a lot things now.”
Many countries gave China the cold shoulder and the United States granted asylum to anyone who claimed involvement in the Tiananmen Square incident. Richard Baum of the Center of Chinese Studies at UCLA told the Los Angeles Times, “The whole incident was a public relations disaster for Beijing, the effects of which continue to this day. It has cost the Chinese government enormously, not just in terms of sanctions and abuse accusations abroad...but in the government’s reputation as being the Butchers of Beijing. “
The Chinese government still calls the Tiananmen Square massacre a counter-revolutionary riot. Some scholars have speculated that if reformers in the party had sided with the protestors this could have to led to genuine reform-minded government and paved the way for multiparty elections.
On the “Tiananmen Massacre” Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi said on February 22, 2011, at the height of the “Arab Spring”: “People in front of tanks were crushed. The unity of China was more important than those people on Tiananmen Square…. When Tiananmen Square happened, tanks were sent in to deal with them. It’s not a joke. I will do whatever it takes to make sure part of the country isn’t taken away.”
Communist Party Prospers After Tiananmen Square
John Delury, associate director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations, wrote: “Amazingly the party emerged from the crisis unified around Deng Xiaoping’s vision of a ‘socialist market economy’ and regained legitimacy with the urban population through implementing that vision.”
Down the road Tiananmen Square also provided as opportunity to purge hardliners that stood in the way of reforms. After the massacre “Deng temporarily withdrew, letting the central planner around the party elder Chen Yun slow down marketization and weather China’s international isolation in Tiananmen’s wake” and then undermined their authority in 1992 with his famous Southern Tour. Delury wrote: “In the cold eyes of history, the 1989 movement and its aftermath may eventually be seen as the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘Machiavellian moment,’ when Deng confronted the mortality of the republic, and saw what it would take to survive: party unity based on urban growth” and used Tiananmen Square and the Southern Tour to achieve that goal.
John Pomfret of the Washington Post wrote: “Tiananmen saved the party from collapse” by prompting “the party to launch a far-reaching investigation into how some political parties succeeded in staying in power and why others failed, As a result of that study, it replaced thousands of party hacks with technocrats and college graduates. It opened the door to business owners who decades ago would have been jailed for walking ‘the capitalist road.’”
Amnesia After Tiananmen Square
Discussion of Tiananmen Square remain taboo. There is no mention of it in school textbooks or in the media. The names of the victims, who were denounced as “counter-revolutionaries,” were never published. Parents of the dead are forbidden from mourning them in in public. During anniversaries of the massacre security is expanded in Tiananmen square, foreign journalist are barred from entering and blogs, forums, bulletin boards that broach the subject and social media sites such as Twitter and Flickr are shut down.
In June 2004, authorities were ready with cordons, vans, police cars and lots of uniformed and plain clothes to breaks up any demonstrations that materialized to mark the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The handful of protestors that showed up—including a man in wheelchair—were quickly hustled away into vans.
Beijing strategy of developing a collective amnesia on Tiananmen square seems to have worked. People that can remember it don’t talk about it much. Those who were young or born after it happened know little about the protests and associate Tiananmen Square more with the founding of the People’s Republic n 1949. The Tiananmen Square incident as it is perceived now does not seem to present a rallying point for future protests.
One graduate student in environmental science told The New Yorker, “June 4th could not and should not succeed at the time. If June 4th had succeeded, China would be worse and worse, not better.” A student at Fudan University in Shanghai said, the students at Tiananmen Square “fought for China to make the country better. And there were some fault of the government. But, finally, we must admit that Chinese government had to use any way it could to put down the event.”
Remembering Tiananmen Square
In an essay accompanying an image with Tiananmen Square with a raised middle finger, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei wrote that “the history of modern China is a history of negation, a denial of the value of humanity, a murder of individuality. It is a history without a soul.”
Among those that attempt to keep the Tiananmen Square issue alive are relatives of the dead and one soldier who—Zhang Shijun—who has publically expressed regret for what happened. A group known as Tiananmen Mothers, made of family members of victims, has attempted to use tactics pioneered by the famous Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, to have the facts of the massacre revealed. The group new websites was shut down by the government in May 2008. Zhang, the soldier, posted an open letter on the Internet to President Hi Jintao in which recalls some of what he witnessed and has called for an investigation of into the incident.
Tiananmen Mothers was founded by Ding Jilin, whose 17-year-old son went out to check out what was happening and was found in a hospital mortuary, shot threw the heart with a bullet that entered his back.
Family members of the victims, taking advantage a new laws that allow ordinary citizens to sue, have sought damages and petitioned the government to do a criminal investigation of officials linked to the massacre. In April 2006, China ,made its first compensation payment over the Tiananmen square protest: $8,735 to the mother of student killed in the crackdown. The mother had campaigned for 17 years to gain redress for harm inflicted on her son while detained in Chengdu after being arrested by police there during the period of demonstration.
In 2007, 18 years after the event, 13 Chinese were still behind bars for their involvement in the Tiananmen square protests. In June, 2007, with the Olympics slightly more than a year away, Beijing allowed memorials for Tiananmen Square for the first time. People who lost love ones were allowed to place photos of those who died on the places where they died. Hong Kong is the only place where large public commemorations are allowed. Tens of thousands gathered there for a candle light vigil in 2007.
The Obama administration has called for China to release all those still imprisoned, stop harassing those who took part and open a dialogue with victim’s families. The Chinese government said these requests amounted to “crudely meddling in Chinese domestic affairs.”
Large demonstrations were held in Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of crackdown. Thousands of protesters took the streets with signs that read things like “Pass the Torch On, Relay the Message of Democracy to Those Who Come After Us.”
Tiananmen Massacre a Myth?
Linda Jaivin's book The Monkey and the Dragon describes Hou Dejian being quoted as saying no students died inside the square—neglecting what happened around the square.
Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat who specializes in Chinese affairs, wrote an article in Japan Times recently, saying the Western media forged the so-called Tiananmen myth. Excerpts: “The recent WikiLeaks release of cables has helped finally kill the myth of an alleged massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3-4, 1989,” Clark wrote. “But how did that myth come to exist in the first place? Several impartial Western observers in the square at the time, including a Reuters correspondent and a Spanish TV crew, have long insisted, and written, that they saw no sign of any massacre.” [Source: China Daily, July 14, 2011]
“So whence the story of a Tiananmen Square massacre? A lurid BBC report at the time was one important source. Other reporters may then have felt compelled to chime in even though none of them, including the BBC, had actually been in the square. The best expose of what happened can be found in a detailed 1998 report from the Columbia University School of Journalism titled "The Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press". Prepared by Jay Mathews, a former Washington Post Beijing bureau chief, it notes how the Western media's pack instinct created the false massacre story.” [Ibid]
“Mathews traces much of the problem to a Hong Kong newspaper that immediately, after the 1989 disturbance, ran a long story under the name of an alleged student protester. He claimed to have been present at the square when "troops arrived with machine guns to mow down students in the hundreds". Distributed around the globe, the article was seen as final proof that the original BBC and other massacre reports were accurate. But the alleged author of that report was never located, and for good reason: The article was almost certainly planted - one of the many black information operations.” [Ibid]
“Black propaganda was, according to an Australian researcher into the topic, Adam Henry, "the strategic placement of lies and false rumors", while gray propaganda was "the production of slanted, but not fictitious, non-attributable information". According to Henry, it played a key role in helping justify or downplay one truly dreadful postwar massacre in Asia, namely the slaughter of up to a half a million leftwing Indonesians in 1965. “
“The fact is that for seven weeks the Beijing government had tolerated a student protest occupation of its iconic central square despite the disruption. Some then leaders even tried to negotiate compromises, which some of the student leaders later regretted having rejected.” [Ibid]
“When eventually troops were sent in to clear the square, the demonstrations were already ending. But by this time the Western media were there in force, keen to grab any story they could. Ironically, the Western media, which barely noticed the massacres in certain countries, still go out of their way to paint a false picture of "a brutal Chinese government willing to march in and massacre its protesting students in the hundreds, if not thousands". “ [Ibid]
“An April 17 review in this newspaper of Philip Cunningham's book, Tiananmen Moon: Inside the Chinese Student Uprising , - whose blurb on Amazon still manages to talk about a Tiananmen Square massacre - provides a clue. It quotes one of the student leaders, Chai Ling, as having said that creating a "sea of blood" might be the only way to shake the government. If frustrated students leaving the square carried out those petrol bomb attacks on troops, then the anger of the government becomes a lot more understandable. But I doubt whether any of those responsible for the original phony story will get round to details like that.” [Ibid]
“Tiananmen remains the classic example of the shallowness and bias in most Western media reporting, and of governmental black information operations seeking to control those media. China is too important to be a victim of this nonsense. “ [Ibid]
Vogel, a Harvard professor, has a similar view. In discussing the killing around Tiananmen Square, Vogel wonders why the West was so obsessed with the crackdown when other bloodier, government-sponsored massacres in Asia -- such as the Kwangju killings in South Korea in 1980 or the slaughter of Taiwan's intellectual elite in 1947 -- passed relatively unnoticed into the annals of history. He notes that, for one thing, the demonstrations that led to the 1989 crackdown were seen live in living rooms around the world. More deeply, he speculates that perhaps it is because Americans have always had outsize expectations of China.
Tiananmen Square on May 35th and Tiananmen Massacre Denial
Yu Hua, author of the novel Brothers wrote in the New York Times, “You might think May 35th is an imaginary date, but in China it’s a real one. Here, where references to June 4 —the date of the Tiananmen incident of 1989 —are banned from the Internet, people use "May 35th" to circumvent censorship and commemorate the events of that day. [Source: Yu Hua, New York Times, June 24, 2011]
Wealthy Taiwanese entrepreneur Tsai Eng-meng, chairman of the Want Want Group — which owns many major media outlets, including the China Times, a Taipei-based daily newspaper denied in an interview with the Washington Post that the 1989 crackdown in Beijing constituted a massacre. According to the newspaper, Tsai said he was struck by footage at the time of a lone protester standing in front of a People's Liberation Army tank and said the fact that the man wasn't killed showed that reports of a massacre were not true. "I realized that not that many people could really have died," Tsai was quoted as saying, which sparked the opposition of Wang and hundreds of other netizens. [Source: Lee Hsin-Yin, Focus Taiwan, February 1, 2012]
China Tries to Pay Off Tiananmen Families
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian, “Chinese authorities have proposed an unofficial payoff to a family bereaved by the military crackdown that followed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, according to a group representing the victims. In a statement released just before the 22nd anniversary of the deadly crackdown on 4 June, the Tiananmen Mothers said security forces had privately approached one of their members to discuss an individual payoff. But the member rejected the proposal discussed during two visits in February and April because it was secretive and made no mention of an investigation, apology or public accounting for what happened. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian May 31, 2011]
"This year, the silence was finally broken. This should have been welcome. But what in fact does this belated response mean?" asked the 127 members of the group who signed the statement. "The visitors did not speak of making the truth public, carrying out judicial investigations, or providing an explanation for the case of each victim. Instead, they only raised the question of how much to pay, emphasising that this was meant for that individual case and not for the families in the group as a whole."
The group said they had documented the cases of 203 people who were shot, beaten or crushed to death by People's Liberation Army tanks in the wake of the 1989 protests. Many other victims remained unidentified, they said.
Given the government's stance, direct public compensation for victims' families is highly unlikely, but several senior cadres have called for a re-evaluation of the protests and a recognition that the students and workers were not involved in a counter-revolutionary plot. There have been reports of unofficial payoffs. In 2005, Tang Deying the mother of a student killed in police custody in Chengdu soon after the 1989 protests was given 70,000 yuan (£6,850) in "hardship assistance" by local officials, according to a local activist, Huang Qi.
Tiananmen Square Political Activists
A number of dissidents and political prisoners that achieved notoriety in the 1990s were associated with the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Bao Tong was the most senior member of the Communist party linked to the Tiananmen Square protest other than Zhao Ziyang,. A former top advisor to former party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, he was arrested and imprisoned shortly after the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. He was released from prison in 1998 and lives outside of Beijing and has been denied his political rights.
See Zhao Ziyang
Zhai Weimin, a student leader at the Tiananmen Square demonstrations was snatched off the streets in 1994 by plain clothed policemen. Ma Saofand, another student leader, disappeared and was believed to be in detention.
Chinese labor organizer and Tiananmen Square dissident Han Dongfang was imprisoned for two years. While in prison he came down with tuberculosis and was sent for treatment to the U.S., where he had his lung removed. When he tried to return to China he was literally pushed back into Hong Kong.. Han decided to stay in Hong Kong after the handover. He publishes the Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong, hosts a call in radio show and serves as a watchdog on human right abuses..
Yu Dongyue was jailed for throwing paint on a portrait of Mao Zedong during the Tiananmen protests. He was released after 16 years in February 2006. He was the last major figure from Tiananmen Square to be released.
In May 2009, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tainanmen Square crackdown, five men who were jailed for supporting the 1989 democracy movement have called on the Chinese government for economic redress, saying they are struggling to survive because of their punishment. In an open letter to Chinese leaders, released via US-based group Human Rights in China, the five former prisoners from Zhejiang province claim that they are suffering financially because they are still labelled as ‘June Fourth thugs’. [Source: Tania Branigan and Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, May 31, 2009]
“Since our imprisonment after the 4 June 1989 crackdown, we not only lost our jobs, we were also stripped of the cumulative benefits of our past labor and lost our pension rights,’ wrote Wu Gaoxing, Chen Longde, Wang Donghai, Mao Guoliang and Ye Wenxiang. ‘Some are now past retirement age, yet have no source of income to cover living expenses and no medical insurance; others ... have no choice but to drift from place to place doing temporary manual labor to support their families, while living apart from their wives. If we get sick, we can only wait to die, and all this just because 20 years ago we were sentenced for political reasons.’
Operation Yellowbird and Celebrity Abroad
Operation Yellow is alliance of human rights advocates, business, smugglers and Chinese mobsters who have smuggled 500 Chinese out of China after the Tiananmen Square protests and resettled them abroad. Tiananmen leader Wuer Kaixi escaped from China—in a $13,000 operation masterminded by Operation Yellowbird and financed by the Chinese mafia—on speedboat to Hong Kong, where he was given a visa, a passport and a plane ticket to Paris.
The Operation Yellowbird teams used scrambler devices, night-vision goggle and infrared signalers in their runs for freedom and used make up artists to disguise the escapees. The group had contacts with border guards, local police and radar operators. Shen Tong, one of the "21 most wanted counterevolutionaries" was simply boarded on plane at Beijing airport with the help of customs and immigration officials. [Source: Newsweek]
The twenty-something Tiananmen Square leaders that managed to escape from China became big stars. They met with world leaders, were invited to the White House, were interviewed by the major networks, were offered movie deals and funneled money from supporters in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Many of those that made their way to the United States got degrees at Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley or Columbia,
Li Lu was a key organizer at Tiananmen Square got a law degree and M.B.A. at Columbia and got a job heading a hedge fund. Liu Gang, an imprisoned student leader and for a whole the no. 3 person on Beijing’s most wanted list, got a degree in computer science from Columbia after he was released from prison in 1994.
Wang Dan in Washington in 1998
Wang Dan, one of the most well leader from Tiananmen Square, was a student at Beijing University and an organizer of the Beijing Student Autonomous Federation at the time of the protests. After being declared No. 1 on the government’s most wanted list he was arrested.
In 1989, Wang was sentenced to four years in prison for "counterrevolutionary crimes" and trying to topple the Chinese government. He was released after 3½ years in 1993—along with writer Liu Xiaobo—, after great efforts by the Bush administration. After Wang was released he and his mother was closely watched; he had articles calling for political reforms published in Hong Kong; and organized a petition calling for the government to move towards rule of law and tolerate dissent.
Wang was jailed again in May, 1995 after being charged with "trying to subvert the Chinese government." Among the charges brought against Wang were taking a University of California correspondence course on history, illegal fund raising and writing articles "aimed at inciting unrest." His crimes carried a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum penalty of death by execution. Wang's 61-year-old mother, who has no legal training, served as Wang's lawyer.
In April 199, at the age of 29 Wang, was released on medical parole, even though he didn't seem very ill, and exiled to the United States. He studied at Harvard, worked as an interpreter for the U.S. State Department, became a U.S. citizen and wrote a book: Lili: A Novel of Tiananmen.
Wuer Kaixi and Chai Ling
Chai Ling in 1989
Wuer Kaixi was the charismatic leader of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation during the Tiananmen protests. He made a name for himself debating with Li Peng while televison cameras were rolling and became the second most wanted man in China after the protests were over.
Wuer escaped to France using Operation Yellowbird and then made his way to the United States. He studied at Harvard for a while and then lived in California with his Taiwanese wife, Chen Huiling, and ran the Ranch House restaurant near San Francisco International airport. At that time he told journalist Orville Schell he had two ambitions: either to go back to China to "do something really politically meaningful or...to become a billionaire."
Wuer was given permanent residence in Taiwan where he became a talk show host. In 2004, he came to Hong Kong to attend the funeral of his friend, the pop singer Anita Mui. Authorities in Hong Kong gave him permission to visit.
Chai Ling, a psychology studen and commander-in-chief of the Tiananmen Square Headquarters Command, was no. 4 on the government most wanted list after the protest. She escaped from China after the protests—according to some reports—squeezed into a wooden crate by smugglers. She appeared first in Hong Kong and later went to France and then to United States. She got an MBA at Harvard, worked as a government consultant in Boston and founded her own Internet company.
Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming
Wang Juntao founded the Beijing Social and Economic Sciences research Institute with Chen Ziming. In 1976 he led demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in support of Deng Xiaoping. In 1979, he was involved in the Democracy Wall movement and supported the students at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In 1991, Wang was labeled a "black hands" and sentenced to 13 years in prison for speaking up for those who lost their life at Tiananmen Square. "The dead are unable to defend themselves.” he wrote. “Many of them intended to fight for China and her people, for truth and justice. I decided to take a chance to defend some of their points, even if I did not agree with all of them at the time...A defense should not be limited to saying 'I do not oppose leaders,' but should allow for the legitimate right of people to oppose leaders." Wang was released in 1994. He escaped to the United States, where he attended Harvard Kennedy School and became president of the China Strategic Institute.
Chen Ziming was also labeled as a "black hands.” He tried to mediate between the students and the government during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. After the protests he managed to escaped from Beijing and was captured, accompanied by his wife, in the southern city of Zhanjian, He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1991 on sedition charges.
Chen had been involved in earlier uprisings and mainly played a behind the scenes role at Tiananmen Square. He was given a longer sentence than anyone else associated with Tiananmen Square. As a concession to the Clinton administration, Chen was released in May 1994 and then arrested again in June, 1995 even though he had been diagnosed with cancer. After spending most of the time after that under house arrest he was formally released in October 2006.
20th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square
In May 2009, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tainanmen Square crackdown, and under the innocuous headline ‘Prosperity Tangible along Chang’an Ave.,’ was headline in Global Times, China’s newest English-language newspaper, broke its silence on the Tiananmen Crackdown. The coverage — actually a pair of articles appearing on Monday and Thursday — was more notable for having appeared than for what it revealed. The article on Thursday began and ended by contrasting benign scenes of children and tourists around Tiananmen Square this week with what it called the turmoil of the June 4th Tiananmen incident. [ Source:Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times, June 4 2009]
The articles never expressly said what happened in and around the square 20 years ago. They implicitly endorsed the official verdict that suppression of the protests was necessary to pave the way for China’s recent prosperity. Even so, the newspaper’s chief editor, Hu Xijin, broke the taboo on discussing the crackdown that has prevailed for two decades in China’s state-run media. And in doing so, he seemed to show that some media outlets in China — at least a new, politically well-protected one in English — could risk bending serious rules. “ [Ibid]
Im March 2009, Chinese authorities have detained a former soldier after he expressed regret over his role in 1989's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, a human rights group said today. Zhang Shijun, 40, published an open letter to Hu Jintao, the Chinese president and Communist leader, on the internet, urging the party and government to reconsider its condemnation of the demonstrations. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, March 20, 2009]
In an interview with Associated Press (AP) news agency,Zhang said his unit, the 54th army, came under attack as it approached the square and some of the soldiers fired over the heads of civilians as a warning. But he said he knew of no deaths caused by his unit. According to AP, Zhang asked for an early discharge because he had not expected to be sent to fight ordinary Chinese citizens. He was arrested in 1992 after beginning a discussion group promoting market economics and politics, and sentenced to three years in a labor camp for political crimes. He claimed those charges were in retaliation for his decision to leave the army early. “ [Ibid]
Legacy of Tiananmen Square on Stability and Economic Growth
In his biography of Deng, Ezra Vogel, an emeritus professor of social sciences at Harvard, wrote: “What we do know is that in the two decades after Tiananmen, China enjoyed relative stability and rapid—even spectacular—economic growth…. Today hundreds of millions of Chinese are living far more comfortable lives than they were living in 1989, and they enjoy far greater access to information and ideas around the world than at any time in Chinese history. Both educational level and longevity have continued to rise rapidly. For these reasons and others, Chinese people take far greater pride in their nation’s achievements than they did in the previous century.”
Fang Lizhi wrote in the New York Review of Books, “With these words Vogel indicates that he basically accepts an argument that the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department has been making for the past twenty years: that “stability” and economic growth show that the repression at Tiananmen was justified in the long run. When foreign dignitaries or journalists have asked about the massacre, the response of Party leaders has been consistent: if Deng Xiaoping had not taken “resolute” (i.e., murderous) measures, China could not have had the stable society or flourishing economy that it enjoyed in the ensuing years. [Source: Fang Lizhi, New York Review of Books, November 10, 2011, in a review of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel]
Other aspects of government rhetoric, however, suggest that even the sources of such statements do not quite believe them. If it were really true that Deng’s “resolute action” led to economic growth, and that this causal connection is plain for Chinese people to see, one would expect Party propaganda to be highlighting “the suppression at Tiananmen.” But they do the opposite. Over the years, the official description of the massacre events has steadily shrunk from “counterrevolutionary riot” to “turmoil” to “incident” to “flap.” The leaders are well aware that what happened is an extremely ugly mark on their historical record, and they have been eager to have the world forget it as soon as possible.
What about the claim that China has enjoyed “stability”? Did the crackdown really bring stability? Is it true, as Vogel says, that now “Chinese people take far greater pride in their nation’s achievements” than before? If so, why does the government now need to spend huge sums—reportedly as much as the entire military budget—on “stability maintenance” aimed at deterring and quelling protests, demonstrations, and other “mass incidents”?
But just for the sake of argument, let us postulate that the Tiananmen crackdown was indeed a primary cause of later stability and economic growth. We would still need to ask this question: Do stability and economic growth justify lethal force of the kind used at Tiananmen? An elemental principle of human rights is at stake here: you cannot use violent force to take the lives of one group of people (even if it is a minority) in order to serve the material interests of another group (even a majority).
Parallels Between China in 2011 and the Prelude to Tiananmen
According to Sinostand, “When haphazard attempts to start a Jasmine Revolution failed comically in Beijing early this year, discussion over whether or not China is ripe for revolution was popular. The conclusion by most was that it's not. But it seems that in just a few short months the situation has changed somewhat. While an uprising doesn't look to be imminent, there seems to be many similarities between circumstances unfolding today and those that preceded the Tiananmen Square rebellion of 1989. So I want to look at some key parallels between then and now:[Source: Sinostand, November 27, 2011]
1) Corruption. Then: There was always corruption in the PRC, but Reform & Opening Up made it much easier and much more visible. In the 80's, many price controls were lifted, but not all. The shortages of some goods allowed people with the right connections to buy at the artificially low prices and sell at market rates for huge windfalls. So naturally, the already-powerful became even more powerful. The inequality of opportunity and obvious abuse of power were two things immediately visible to those affected and were direct causes the Tiananmen protests. Now: In 1989 it was hovering around 0.36. It took a dip that year but has since soared to over 0.47 ̂ well past the 0.40 danger level. China's crony one-party capitalism and massive economic growth since Tiananmen have only increased the amount of capital involved with corruption and allowed the powerful to get exponentially wealthier. This is perhaps best felt when local officials make illegal, undercompensated land grabs to raise capital for their city (and often take kickbacks from developers). A recent survey found the number of disputes over these land grabs is at an all-time high. Favoritism, graft and inequality of opportunity are in some ways better than the Tiananmen era, but in many ways much worse.
2) The Media. Then: The Chinese media of the 1980's covered issues that had never been touched in the PRC previously; even dabbling in corruption cases. Single essays or TV programs could stir up fiery political discussion on college campuses. A documentary called River Elegy played on CCTV in 1988, which subtly criticized Chinese culture and sparked nationwide debate. When the protests themselves started, the press covered them extensively and even portrayed the student protestors sympathetically. These factors shined a light on many issues intellectuals were concerned about and brought together like-minded activists. Now: Though the official press was reigned in after 1989 -- where it's more or less stayed ever since -- new avenues of disseminating information have sprung up. Mobile phones, blogs and microblogs have put reporting in the hands of those directly affected -- shining a light on things never before seen by most common people. Shrewd online political commentary on these issues by bloggers like Han Han may be playing a role similar to programs like River Elegy in the 80's.
3) Education Failure. Then: After the Cultural Revolution, universities re-opened and were a sure ticket to a better life. However, with further reform and opening of the markets in the mid-to-late 80's, many college students graduated to find their education gave them no real advantage in the new business landscape. In 1988, the system that assigned college graduates jobs was also amended To where private companies could reject those top students assigned to them in favor of those who had connections inside the company. Now: Educational prospects improved after Tiananmen, but now the situation is coming to resemble 1989 again. An overabundance of college graduates has left one-fourth of them unemployed without any better prospects than those who didn‚t go to college. Many have also criticized the university system As useless, largely focusing on theory and failing to give students useful practical guidance. With labor wages rising China needs to move up the value chain in order to keep its people employed. Some think the innovation and collaboration needed to achieve this won‚t be possible under the current intellectually repressive atmosphere.
4) Inflation. Then: Inflation was at an astounding 18.5 percent in 1988 because of panic withdrawling and buying on rumors of what relaxing price controls would mean. Now: Inflation is sitting at about 5.5 percent, down from a high of 6.5 percent in July. Not nearly as bad as pre-Tiananmen, but food is getting less affordable and housing is off the charts. With a roughly 32 million surplus of marrying age men, great pressure is being put on those who need to buy a house (and often a car) to compete for potential wives. And the poorest of the poor are having to cut food from their diet in order to stay on top of their finances.
5) Competing Party factions. Then: In the lead up to Tiananmen there was an obvious rift in the party between progressives like Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang and hardliners like Li Peng. This rift was absolutely apparent in the days leading up to the crackdown. The protestors saw this split and sniffed weakness; which emboldened them further. Now: After Tiananmen the party learned to present a united front in public and keep disputes between factions -- or even the existence of factions -- behind closed doors. That era seems to have ended now though with Bo Xilai's left wing and Wang Yang's right wing both making very public criticisms of each other's models. The bulk of the Chinese public has yet to express an interest (or knowledge) in this feud, but that could change as factions push harder for influence and citizens begin to take sides.
6) Banking System Cracks. Then: In the late 80's Chinese banks flooded the market with loans. As Could be expected, a great deal of them went bad and an estimated 1/3 of factories were unprofitable. The government brought this to an abrupt halt in 1988 by cutting the cash flow -- a kind of austerity measure many didn't take too kindly to. Now: Take that same situation and multiply the figures involved to equal more than seven times China‚s entire 1989 GDP. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, China pumped $586 billion into the economy as a stimulus. This is part of an overall $2.7 trillion Chinese banks have extended in loans over 2009 and 2010. Up to now that stimulus has looked pretty good in economic recovery terms, as it always does?until the loans start going bad.
The Street recently had a piece that said, "Economic-related news coming from China is a page-turning thriller. Ponzi schemes, zombies, off-balance-sheet reporting, subprime and mafia-style lending; rising inflation, declining asset values, slowing growth -- it's all there. Add in government meddling in market mechanisms and official denials and China sounds like it has the makings of a perfect economic storm." Wenzhou has recently had dozens of bosses flee bad debts -- something that's being read as a preview of larger things to come. Tsinghua economist Patrick Chovanec has said he's not sure if China can make it through next year's power transition before a major banking crisis hits.
7) Key differences between Tiananmen era and now: Nationalism and affluence. Since Tiananmen the government has pretty successfully educated nationalism into the youth and trained them to regard any talk of democracy or human rights as a western ploy to make China implode. The relatively well-off youth of today also seem far more interested in video games and pop stars than politics anyways. And the population as a whole is undeniably better off than they were in 1989 (though some studies suggest they‚re not any happier). Most have a lot more to lose than they did at that time.
8) A paranoid and highly technological government. The technological improvements may work to the Party‚s advantage more than any would-be revolutionaries. The government has the capability to monitor and immediately clamp down on dissent ̂ a capability that improves by the day. If they were truly threatened by a spontaneous movement, they could temporarily shut down cellphone service, microblogs like Weibo, or even the entire internet ̂ as they did in Xinjiang in 2009. And as the Beijing attempt at a Jasmine Revolution earlier this year demonstrated, the government will come down hard on any threat ̂ real or imagined. And they're very careful not to allow any large gatherings that they can't fully control; as the turnout for Hu Yaobang's funeral in 1989 was the final spark for the Tiananmen Protests.
Researching Tiananmen Square and Keeping a Low Profile
Rowena Xiaoqing He wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Right after the Tiananmen crackdown, I went to school wearing a black armband and was told by my teacher, "If you don't take that off, no one can protect you from now on." I took off the armband reluctantly and tried to hold back my tears. I thought of my father's contrasting facial expressions when Mao had died. For two generations, we were not allowed to express our basic human feelings of sorrow and joy. [Source: Rowena Xiaoqing He, Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2011. Ms. He is a lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University]
For many years, first in Canada, later in the U.S., I studied Tiananmen, and I tried to be invisible, circumscribed and self-censored. I dodged questions from my college friends about my research topic. I worried about getting my family in China into trouble, and wondered if I would ever be allowed to go home again.
When my work became better known, angry young Chinese students accused me of lying about historical facts, while thousands of online messages labeled me a "national traitor" who criticized China to get money from "the West." I've been constantly reminded of the feelings of helplessness on the day of June 4, 1989. The Chinese government has been remarkably, if temporarily, successful at enforcing its official account of the Tiananmen protests as a Western conspiracy designed to weaken China, hence justifying its crackdown as "patriotic" and paving the way for China's rise.
On the surface, Tiananmen seems completely remote and irrelevant to the reality of a "rising China," but every year on its anniversary, the government clamps down with intense security. The topic remains a political taboo and the official verdict unchanged. Outside China, the world's memory seems to fade with the rise of Confucius Institutes all over the world, and free China Daily on our newspaper stands.
When Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights lawyer, was first put under house arrest and beaten up several years ago, I quietly translated his wife's letter for help without speaking out. When Liu Xiaobo was taken away by the police a day after I heard his voice over Skype, I quietly printed out his essays for students without speaking out. When Cui Weiping, professor of Beijing Film Academy and Chinese translator of Havel's essays, was banned from leaving the country last year to join me and other colleagues on a panel "Against Amnesia," I quietly cancelled her ticket and hotel reservation without speaking out. When Liao Yiwu, a dissident writer, could not leave the country earlier this year, I quietly informed friends who helped set up lectures for him without speaking out.
When I was forced to remove the black armband in 1989, I thought that would be the end of it. Bodies had been crushed, lives destroyed, voices silenced. They had guns, jails and propaganda machines. We had nothing. Yet somehow it was on that June 4 that the seeds of democracy were planted in my heart, and the longing for freedom and human rights nourished. So it was not an ending after all, but another beginning.
Possibility of a Tiananmen-Type Event Today
On the possibility of a Tiananmen-like event, Sinostand reported, “Given the vast similarities between now and 1989, another go at a Revolution seems possible. If history is any indicator, an iron fist can't succeed by itself if grievances are too great and you have the right catalyst to bring the disenfranchised together quickly.” [Source: Sinostand, November 27, 2011]
Probably the only leader popular enough to create this Hu Yaobang-like catalyst in death would be Wen Jiabao. But again, if that happened the party would be overly cautious; and it probably wouldn't be enough anyways. It would have to be something big that directly affected a huge number of people.
A large scale disaster that could be linked to corruption or official incompetence might do it. The Wenzhou train crash earlier this year and Shanghai fire last year made a lot of people angry and concerned for their safety. They weren't big enough to spark an uprising, but they were two of many small aggravators that are slowly ebbing away people‚s patience with corruption and government cover-ups. If something like a nuclear meltdown, a mass public health incident or a large dam collapse happened, that just might break the camel's back. In 1975, the Banqiao Dam in Henan collapsed killing 171,000 people. And if you think that's something relegated to the incompetence of the Mao-era, an average of 68 dams still collapse every year in China, according to one official.
But an even more likely scenario would be a poorly timed financial crisis; one like the aforementioned banking crisis that many are predicating. Life is already getting rough for the post-80‚s/post-90‚s kids who grew up spoiled taking economic security for granted. The job market is shrinking, their time/money intensive education is often useless and the gender imbalance is leaving many men hopelessly single. To make matters worse, the 2010 ratio of five workers for every elderly person will drop to 3-to-1 by 2020 in what Time Magazine has called „China‚s Demographic Time Bomb.‰ For many only children that means completely supporting two parents financially and physically amid some of the least affordable housing prices in the world.
If a housing bubble burst robs these people of the investments they‚ve become slaves to, they might all-of-a-sudden take a very keen interest in politics. And if there‚s a banking crisis, it would likely cause a run on banks and panic buying similar to what caused the massive inflation of 1988. Fitch has estimated there's a 60 percent chance of such a crisis by mid-2013. If it comes any earlier than that, it would be right during the leadership transition when the party is at its most vulnerable.
I'll give my standard disclaimer for any internet police or fenqing that might be reading: An uprising isn't something I'm hoping for. It's not even something I'd venture to predict. Predications of a CCP collapse have a way of making you look like a fool (See: Gordon Chang). And even if an uprising did happen, it doesn't mean the party wouldn't survive it. But there are many cracks beginning to show -- financial, political and social; figurative and literal. The Beijing Consensus of authoritarian led economic growth has delayed the Party's need to address their legitimacy shortfall for a solid 22 years, but one way or another that growth eventually has to slow and the legitimacy issue has to be addressed. If I were in charge I'd focus a bit less on the iron fist and a bit more on the root problems distressing and disenfranchising those without financial and political influence.
Image Sources: AP
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.