LEGACY OF TIANANMEN SQUARE
The Chinese government still calls the Tiananmen Square massacre a counter-revolutionary riot and the party line is that it preserved stability and paved the way for China’s economic success. Many scholars say Deng used it as opportunity to purge destabilizing reformers such as Zhao Ziyang from the party. 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.
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. “
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.”
Good Websites and Sources on Deng Xiaoping: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Life of Deng Xiaoping cbw.com ; CNN Profile cnn.com ; New York Times Obituary nytimes.com ; China Daily Profile chinadaily.com. ; Wikipedia article on Economic Reforms in China Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Special Economic Zones Wikipedia .
Good Websites and Sources on the Tiananmen Square Protests: Graphic pictures christusrex.org and christusrex.org ; Tiananmen Square Documents gwu.edu/ ; Gate of Heavenly Peace tsquare.tv ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; BBC Eyewitness Account news.bbc.co.uk Film: The Gate of Heavenly Peace has been praised for its balanced treatment of the Tiananmen Square Incident. Gate of Heavenly Peace tsquare.tv.
Books Abour Deng Xiaoping: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel (Belknap/Harvard University, 2011); Burying Mao: Chinese Politics in the Age of Deng Xiaoping by Richard Baum (1996, Princeton University Press); China After Deng Xiaoping: The Power Struggle in Beijing Since Tiananmen by Willy Wo-lap Lam (1995, P.A. Professional Consultants); Deng Xiaoping by Uli Franz (1988, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich); Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese Revolution: A Political Biography by David S.G. Goodman (1994, Routledge); Deng Xiaoping: Chronicle of an Empire by Ruan Ming (1994, Westview Press); Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China by Richard Evans 1993, Hamish Hamilton); Deng Xiaoping: My Father by Deng Maomao (1995, Basic Books); Deng Xiaoping: Portrait of a Chinese Statesman edited by David Shambaugh (1995, Clarendon Paperbacks); The New Emperors: Mao and Deng---a Dual Biography by Harrison E. Salisbury (1992, HarperCollins). Books about Modern China worth reading include The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence, China-Alive in a Bitter Sea by Fox Butterfield, To Get Rich is Glorious by Orville Schell, The New Emperors by Harrison Salisbury, Coming Alive-China After Mao by Roger Garside and The Dragon Wakes by Christopher Hibbert. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.
Books About Tiananmen Square: Timothy Brook’s “Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement” is regarded as the most complete book on Tiananmen Square. According to Ian Johnson it is “a work by a classically trained historian who turned his powers of analysis and fact-digging on the massacre. Even though Brook’s book doesn’t include some important works published in the 2000s (especially the memoirs of then Party secretary Zhao Ziyang and a compilation of leaked documents known as The Tiananmen Papers), Quelling the People remains the best one-volume history of the events in Beijing.” One should also note the works of Wu Renhua, a Tiananmen participant and author of several Chinese-language works, as well as a a book by Jeremy Brown of Simon Fraser University.
Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)
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.”
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.
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]
Large demonstrations were held in Hong Kong in 2009 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.” In June 2004 in Beijing, 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.
Ways to Remember June 4
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]
Philip Cunningham wrote in the South China Morning Post, “There are 108 ways of remembering 1989, like the little beads on a prayer string; simple, humble, tactile reminders of the days when Beijing was a city of hope, caught in the throes of a peaceful uprising. One day, it will be possible for a million to gather in Tiananmen Square to reflect on the events of 1989 and openly mourn the lives lost, but that day has not yet come. To fight historic injustice with hate, revenge or triumphalism would not only be unwise in a tactical sense, playing into the hands of hardliners on both sides, but it would also betray the original spirit of the inclusive, transformative and life-affirming movement. [Source: Philip Cunningham, South China Morning Post, April 15, 2013 ***]
"With media discussion banned and comment kept off the record, the truth resides in the minds of people, like the books committed to memory in the face of book-burning in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. But memories do fade and propaganda does sow seeds of doubt. Lies repeated often enough take on a baleful life of their own and counterfactual arguments continue to contort and confuse, so it's essential to keep flexing and exercising those precious memories until the day they can be printed in Chinese newspapers, broadcast on Chinese TV and engraved in stone at memorials for the fallen. ***
"As for the 108 ways to remember, I will mention a few "memory beads" that come to mind, leaving it to readers to construct their own karmic bracelets: 1) Read something about the humorous and humane former party secretary Hu Yaobang , whose death on April 15, 1989 set in motion the train of events that rocked Tiananmen Square and the world. 2) Consider the double-edged power of words by studying the April 26 People's Daily editorial that drew the lines of conflict. 3) Ride a bicycle. It's a reminder that back in 1989 nearly everyone got around by pedal power, not cars. The May 10, 1989 demonstration of "ten thousand bicycles" racing to the square was the kind of simple fun people enjoyed in simpler times. 4) The week starting May 13, 1989 saw an emotional mass hunger strike led by a generation of students born during one of the most tragic famines in world history. Skip a few meals in symbolic solidarity. 5) Learn the lyrics to The Internationale in another language. Or hum Beethoven's Ode to Joy. ***
"6) Buy a newspaper or write a letter to the editor, showing support for the gutsy journalism being practised then, as now, under less-than-ideal conditions. 7) Read something by Fang Lizhi, Liu Xiaobo or Wang Dan . 8) Listen to music. Hou Dejian's Descendants of the Dragon, Cui Jian's Nothing to My Name and Chyi Chin's Wolf all evoke memories of the time. 9) Watch a bootleg copy of The Gate of Heavenly Peace. Talk about it with someone who was there. 10) On June 3, light a candle to remember the innocent civilians and unarmed protesters cut down in their prime. 11) Find a moment to mourn the dead soldiers, too. They were young, confused, afraid and not in control of their fate. 12) Think of the man standing in front of the tank when crossing a busy intersection. 13) On June 4, if you are in Beijing, take a long solitary walk across town and visit the people's square, knowing it will one day be possible to do so in the company of others." ***
Tiananmen Square Mothers
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.
Young People Know Little About Tiananmen Square
In April 2013, Yan Lianke wrote in the New York Times: “In March 2012 I met Torbjorn Loden, the Swedish professor of Chinese language and culture, in Hong Kong. He told me that while briefly teaching at Hong Kong’s City University he asked the 40 students from China in his class what they knew about the June 4 Incident, the pro-democracy movement that ended in bloodshed in 1989, and if they were familiar with the names Liu Binyan and Fang Lizhi, two prominent democracy advocates of that era. All the students from China looked around at one another, mute and puzzled. [Source: Yan Lianke, New York Times, April 2, 2013. Yan Lianke is a Chinese writer based in Beijing. His translated works include “Serve the People,” “Dream of Ding Village,” about the blood-selling scandal in his home province of Henan, and “Lenin’s Kisses"]
Discussion of Tiananmen Square remain taboo in China. 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.
Those that know about it often take the party line. 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.”
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.
According to the China Daily: Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat who specializes in Chinese affairs, wrote in the Japan Times that 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. \=/
“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.” \=/
“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.” \=/
“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".” \=/
“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.” 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.” \=/
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 Amnesia
Beijing’s 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.
Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The government has long been determined to impose a collective amnesia about the weeks-long pro-democracy demonstrations” and “official media still can make no mention of the deadly crackdown that culminated at Tiananmen Square on June 4. Even if the events could be discussed, it's not clear how much most people would care. Even as technology and globalization have helped fuel mass protest movements in other one-party states, in today's China there seems to be no will — and no way — for anything like a sequel to 1989. Dramatic improvement in living standards has satisfied some people; others have moved abroad. The government, meanwhile, has done just about everything in its considerable power to tamp down dissent. "The leaders of the country, they have never forgotten about this incident for one day," said Zheng Wang, who was a college student in China in 1989 and now directs the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. "No matter what they do, their priority, their focus, is stability." [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2014]
In a review of “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited” by Louisa Lim, Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books, “Lim’s book shows how much of what we take for granted in China today is due to efforts to forget or overcome the massacre” and “how Tiananmen plays out in society today. Time and again, she demonstrates how little people under forty know about Tiananmen. In one chapter, the activist turned businessman finds that there is no point bringing up Tiananmen with his younger wife. “The reason they do not like to talk about 1989 is not because it is a politically sensitive topic or because it makes them uncomfortable. It simply does not register.” [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, June 5, 2014 ==]
“This point is even more forcefully made on a mainland Chinese student Lim met at an exhibition on the massacre in Hong Kong. She found the young man, named “Feel” because he had a feel for the English language, engaged and excited to learn more. But when she later visits him on his campus back in China, he is subdued and careful, learning as little as possible about what happened and conforming to the social norms prescribing that it be ignored. Lim explains the pervasive lying and mistrust among young people by quoting a statement by China’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo that China had entered an age “in which people no longer believe in anything and in which their words do not match their actions, as they say one thing and mean another.” ==
Lim describes “an artist who had cut off part of his finger to protest the massacre but now doesn’t feel he can tell his twelveyearold son why. Clearly Lim has thought and cared a lot about the Tiananmen events, and she is taking a great risk in writing this book; if history is any guide, the book could make it difficult for her to return to China, where the government has a blacklist of academics and journalists whose works have touched on sensitive subjects. This makes her book courageous, probing one of the Communist Party’s sorest wounds.
Joe McDonald of Associated Press wrote: “China is hardly the only government to try to stamp out volatile memories. In the 1980s, South Korea's then-military rulers forbade discussion of the 1980 killing of pro-democracy protesters in the southern city of Gwangju. The Communist Party also has tried to blot out memories of a 1959-61 famine historians believe killed as many as 50 million Chinese. [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, June 1, 2014 ^=^]
“The party has kept at it despite rising numbers of Chinese who live or travel abroad, where information about 1989. "Fat Years," a 2009 novel by Hong Kong author Koonchung Chan, depicts a China whose rulers cause the whole population to forget a month when a devastating upheaval and crackdown occurred. The thinly veiled metaphor for 1989 was a bestseller in Chinese-language markets abroad and copies circulated widely in China. But no mainland edition was published. ^=^
Timothy Brook, author of a book on Tiananmen Square, wrote: “The original events slip deeper and deeper into a forgetfulness into which many, foreigners and Chinese alike, would like to see them disappear, as a new and more profitable relationship to the world economy disciplines the next generation away from worrying about civil rights..”
Book:“The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited” by Louisa Lim, Oxford University Press, 2014.
Reasons for Tiananmen Square Amnesia
Joe McDonald of Associated Press wrote: ““Despite the scale of the task, the government has succeeded at stifling public discussion. If younger Chinese know about the crackdown, it is only through hearsay. Some parents say they avoid telling their children so they are not burdened with the knowledge. Even among students who might be able to investigate the events, many seem not to care. Raised in an education system drenched in nationalistic propaganda and pride in two decades of strong economic growth, they see 1989 as a distant event and have trouble identifying with the protesters. "Many people are not willing to spend time reflecting on this event," said Lu Qiuxuan, a university student in Beijing. The party gives no sign of relenting on June 4. After he became party leader in 2012, President Xi Jinping made clear his lack of interest in easing information controls by ordering journalists to undergo Marxist training. He is due to stay in power for a decade. [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, June 1, 2014 ^=^]
Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Rowena Xiaoqing He, who took part in the 1989 protests and is the author of a new book, "Tiananmen Exiles," sees such cat-and-mouse policing as only a small part of why another mass movement has failed to materialize. "In 1989, [the Communist Party] tried to lock the doors of major campuses and universities so students would not take to the streets, but they found a way out," she said. "Post '89, they found a way to lock their thinking, to lock their minds." That "locking," He said, comes from a powerful cocktail of materialism, cynicism and nationalism, fostered by the party's headlong embrace of a market economy and a government-sponsored "patriotic education" campaign.[Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2014 ^/^]
“Many people today have neither axes to grind nor ideological agendas. Higher incomes, greater mobility and the breakdown of Mao-era state control of decisions such as where to work and even whom to date have made many people feel less constrained. "The Communist Party is more adaptable or flexible than people give it credit for," said Lijia Zhang, a journalist and author of books including "Socialism Is Great!" "After 1989, on one hand they tightened control; on the other they granted more personal freedom." Though recollections of Tiananmen are still strong in the West, the party's information blackout and a pragmatic collective silence have ensured that many of those born in the last 30 years know few details about what happened, save for the party line. ^/^
After the crackdown, Link said, "the vast majority of intellectuals accepted the deal: Shut up about ideas and values and religion and politics and you can go make money." As the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown approached in 2009, 300 Chinese, including many intellectuals, decided they could shut up no more. They signed their name to Charter 08, a document calling for a new constitution, an independent legal system, direct elections, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and other reforms. "The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer," the charter said. Liu Xiaobo, a writer and one of the main authors, was quickly detained and convicted on charges of inciting subversion of state power. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His 11-year prison term will end in December 2020. ^/^
“After fitting in or fighting, fleeing is a third option chosen by increasing numbers of elite Chinese — ironically, those who have gained the most under the current political system and should be the most content. Immigration to Canada, Australia, the United States and other countries has skyrocketed in recent years. One Chinese Academy of Governance professor estimated last year that there were 1.2 million "naked officials" — party bureaucrats with assets and spouses or children outside China, and who may themselves be looking to leave. Even President Xi Jinping's daughter enrolled at Harvard University in 2010. Link believes this exodus demonstrates a lack of confidence in the future in China. "The major trait you see in Chinese mental life, from the top leadership at Zhongnanhai and Xi Jinping all the way down, is insecurity," he said. "People are rushing around like chickens with their heads cut off [making money], but underneath they don't feel secure." ^/^
Censorship, the Internet and Tiananmen Square Amnesia
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Joe McDonald of Associated Press wrote: Remember June 4, Shi Shusi asked the 1.5 million readers of his popular microblog last year. Moments later, his postings were erased. A note from the microblog operator said they were "inappropriate publicity." This year, a discouraged Shi hasn't posted anything about the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown that crushed pro-democracy protests at a cost of hundreds of lives. "Major media treat it as if it never happened," said Shi. "Fewer and fewer young people get to know this issue. There is no opportunity to discuss it nowadays." [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, June 1, 2014 ^=^]
“Communist leaders have spent 25 years making sure of that. Far from easing off as China went through three changes of ruling party leadership and a revolution in social media, a relentless campaign aimed at erasing public memory of the most tumultuous event of the past three decades has been steadily updated and tightened. "June 4th is especially sensitive not only because of potential criticism for the government but because people can use it as a jumping-off point to bring people together," said Jason Q. Ng, a researcher at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab who follows Chinese efforts to censor Internet content. "That is even more terrifying to them," he said. ^=^
Leaders have “tried to evoke fear of a return to the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when radicals ravaged the country. State TV showed rowdy pro-democracy protesters and restrained soldiers. Spokespeople rejected reports of unarmed protesters being killed as anti-Chinese propaganda. "People just didn't buy that," said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a historian at the University of California, Irvine, who studies Chinese student protest movements. "They had to stop telling that story and say, 'Let's not talk about this at all.'" ^=^
“The Tiananmen crackdown "is absolutely crucial to understanding the way press censorship works today," said David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University. "The notion was that you have to control public opinion through media control to maintain social and political stability." Commentators who hoped the rise of satellite TV, the Internet and social media would loosen the party's monopoly on power were disappointed. As millions of Chinese went online and acquired smartphones, Beijing spent heavily to develop high-tech filters. ^=^
“Each year ahead of June 4, mobile phone users engage in a cat-and-mouse competition with telecom carriers as they try to find new code words to evoke the anniversary in messages — such as calling the date May 35th — while censors try to detect and block them. Censors added "Shanghai Composite Index" to the list of banned terms on June 4, 2012, after the country's stock market benchmark opened that day at 2,346.89 points — which could be read as the 23rd anniversary of June 4, 1989 — and ended down 64.89 points, which also looked like the date. ^=^
Tiananmen Square Survivors Struggle Over What to Tell Their Children
William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “From a young age, Qi Zhiyong’s daughter asked him how he lost his leg. To everyone else in the world, Qi always responded to the question with an unflinching, often angry, answer: He lost his left leg when soldiers fired on him during protests at Tiananmen Square. But when his daughter asked, Qi choked back the words. “I lost it in an accident,” he mumbled for years. The lie, however, burned at him, he said. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, June 2, 2013 ~~]
“While Tiananmen Square has been reduced to a single euphemistic sentence in most school textbooks, making vague reference to “political turbulence in 1989,” for those who were part of the student-led protests against government repression and corruption, those dark morning hours of June 4, 1989, remain etched in memory and, in cases like Qi’s, on their bodies. That generation must now decide what to tell their children about that day, if anything at all. ~~
“For many, the decision is colored by how their own views have changed over time. In interviews with more than a dozen survivors, a few wondered whether the democratic cause they fought for was misguided by youthful passion. Others have won asylum abroad, and when they talk of Tiananmen to their children, it is as history — just one part of their life’s larger story. But the dilemma is often more complicated for those who remain in China, where public mention of Tiananmen can result in government retribution. Those who have found successful careers in business, law and academia often talk of it only in private, fearful of consequences for themselves and their offspring. ~~
“Even some of those who have soldiered on as activists deliberately say little of Tiananmen to their children, who grow up not fully understanding why police barge into their homes each year as the anniversary approaches to interrogate and spirit away their parents for weeks without explanation. Some children experience restrictions and warnings at school. For most parents, it comes down to a choice between protecting their children from the past or passing on dangerous and bitter truths about the authoritarian society they continue to live under. It is something Qi and his wife have wrestled with throughout their 14-year-old daughter’s life. The two have fought so often and so heatedly on the subject that neither dares mention 1989 at home anymore. ~~
Activist Who Lost His Leg at the Tiananmen Square Crackdown
William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “A 33-year-old construction worker at the time of the Tiananmen protests, Qi took a detour that night toward the central Beijing square with co-workers out of curiosity, not activism. Qi, who later converted to Christianity, now likens the moment that troops fired without warning at the crowd around him to a baptism of sorts. “The veil was lifted from my eyes, and I saw the party for what it really was,” he said. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, June 2, 2013 ~~]
“In the hospital, he said, as doctors tried to salvage his bullet-torn left thigh, he took a purple antiseptic liquid and, to their chagrin, angrily scrawled on his leg: “This bullet belongs to the Communist Party’s army.” After the amputation, he was forced to give up his construction job and has not found work since. By the time Qi Ji was born in 1998, her father had become a full-time activist, protesting the government’s maltreatment of the disabled and democracy advocates, along with other human rights abuses. ~~
“Qi’s wife warned him early on: Say what you want about the government to everyone else, but Ji is too young. Why create problems for her, his wife argued. Why poison her against the society she must live in? “But I don’t think it’s a bad thing for her to understand this government,” Qi said on a recent afternoon while waiting for his daughter’s return from school. “I want her to be prepared to handle life and to face these problems. Why should we cover up the truth and let her live in illusion?” ~~
“For Qi, the Tiananmen crackdown — or June 4, as it is commonly referred to in China — has become the defining moment of his life. While most people, including some former Tiananmen protesters, have learned to avoid the topic, Qi carries business cards listing his job title as “Disabled Victim of June 4.” His home telephone number, cellphone number and e-mail address end with deliberately chosen digits: “89 64.” And on the back of his cards, he has emblazoned this slogan: “Facts written in ink cannot conceal the truth written in blood.” ~~
“His family lives in a cramped Beijing apartment, dependent on his wife’s $320-a-month job as a drugstore sales assistant, while Qi cares for their daughter and supports human rights causes — work that has resulted in long stretches of detention and frequent government harassment. Qi’s wife, Lu Shiying, wishes he would let go of what happened 24 years ago. “How come others are able to move forward?” she often asks him, he said. “You were not the only victim on June Fourth.” ~~
“To this day, Qi said, his amputated stump hurts whenever he hears the crack of fireworks. He avoids passing Tiananmen Square, he said, because he tastes blood whenever he gets too close. In the end, suppressing all mention of June 4 in front of his daughter proved impossible. And after his daughter turned 10, a teacher made a passing reference to the date while talking about the physical space of Tiananmen Square. That night, with Qi’s wife still at work, his daughter mentioned it to him, and the memories poured out. The clacking advance of tanks. The shocking sound of gunfire. The blood he saw all around him and the sudden pain and darkness. ~~
“In the years that followed, he secretly told her more and more. They watched banned videos about that day on overseas Web sites. They talked about the party and its instinct for self-preservation. He watched both proud and pained as June 4 began to color her worldview as it had his. She became both more rebellious and more mature, he said. Like her parents, she now refers to the police watching their home as “dogs,” but she accepts without questioning when school leaders exclude her from trips abroad and from student parades at Tiananmen celebrating China’s Communist rule. Lately, she’s talked of becoming a kindergarten teacher so she can teach kids how to think for themselves about what’s right and wrong. “All parents want their children to live a happy life, but I have no regrets about telling her,” Qi said. “Only after she first tastes the bitter can she know what the sweet is.” Qi’s wife now knows that her daughter knows. But the family recently reached a kind of detente — similar to the one in Chinese society at large. When together at home these days, the family simply avoids all mention of Tiananmen Square, June 4 and what happened that day 24 years ago. ~~
Trying to Leave Tiananmen Square Behind
William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “Kong Weizhen also was shot and lost the use of his left leg that night. But after seeing the danger and futility of his anti-government activism, he abandoned the opposition work that had brought him to the streets. Instead, he tried to make a new life for himself within the existing system. He became a salesman and worked his way up to owning a computer store. He even tried in vain to join the Communist Party at one point — an attempt, he says, to increase his pay for the sake of his 12-year-old daughter. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, June 2, 2013 ~~]
“My family is now my first priority,” he explained in a phone interview. “There’s nothing to be gained from telling her about June 4. If I tell her, she may form some dangerous resentment against the party. . . . I just want her to have a safe and happy life.” The only reason he would tell her, he said, is if another anti-government protest erupted. “If that happened, I would use my own example to teach her what such movements can accomplish and what they cannot. And I would ask her to get as far away as she can.” ~~
“But even those who have devoted their lives to fighting for the democratic ideals of 1989 disagree on how much to tell their children. Many of them now form the core of China’s dissident community. “I don’t want my children to know,” said Zhang Lin, a rights activist in Anhui province who has spent many years in jail on state subversion charges. ~~
“In February, authorities pulled his 10-year-old daughter, Anni, from school as an apparent punishment to her father. The incident spurred dozens of other activists to stage a hunger strike in front of the school. Weeks later, Anni was allowed to resume class, but only in another town far away. His daughter now loses her temper easily, Zhang said, and has become obsessed with cartoons in which the good guys beat up the bad. “I don’t want my children to follow the same path as me,” he said. In a phone interview, his daughter said, “I don’t know why the police keep coming,” though she knows it’s related somehow to her father. When asked about June 4, she responded: “What is June 4? I haven’t heard anything about it.” ~~
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.
Father of Tiananmen Massacre Victim Kills Himself
In May 2012, the Independent reported: “The father of a young protester who was killed during the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square has hanged himself after more than 20 years of seeking justice for his son, a human rights group said. The body of 73-year-old Ya Weilin was found in an disused car park underneath his apartment building in Beijing. He is believed to have hanged himself, the Tiananmen Mothers group, of which he was an active member, said in a statement. Mr Ya took his own life just days before the anniversary of the crackdown by the military on the student-led protests which centred on Tiananmen Square. [Source: The Independent, May 29 2012]
“Ya's son, Ya Aiguo. The 22-year-old Ya Aiguo was shot in the head by troops, after he went out shopping with his girlfriend, the group said. "Every year, [Ya Weilin] joined the open letter signature campaign to demand a just resolution on the issue of June Fourth and also closely monitored the response from the government," the statement said. "He endured the passage of time for more than twenty years. His prolonged grief and depression finally led to despair.” [Ibid]
“Mr Ya's family said he had left a note in which he repeated the details of his son's death and said that he was prepared to die in protest because the issue of his son's death had not been addressed. [Ibid]
Every year, the Tiananmen Mothers issue an open letter calling for a full probe into what happened on that night. They want compensation for the victims and have called for the leadership to be held to account. The group has also compiled a list of at least 203 people killed in the June 1989 crackdown. [Ibid]
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 Changan 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]
In 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]
Remembering the Dead of Tiananmen
Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books, “Every spring, an old friend of mine named Xu Jue makes a trip to the Babaoshan cemetery in the western suburbs of Beijing to lay flowers on the tombs of her dead son and husband. She always plans her visit for April 5, which is the holiday of Pure Brightness, or Qingming. The traditional Chinese calendar has three festivals to honor the dead and Qingming is the most important—so important that in 2008 the government, which for decades had tried to suppress traditional religious practices, declared it a national holiday and gave people a day off to fulfill their obligations. Nowadays, Communist Party officials participate too; almost every year, they are shown on national television visiting the shrines of Communist martyrs or worshiping the mythic founder of the Chinese people, the Yellow Emperor, at a grandiose monument on the Yellow River. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, June 5, 2014]
“But remembering can raise unpleasant questions. A few days before Xu Jue’s planned visit, two police officers come by her house to tell her that they will do her a special favor. They will escort her personally to the cemetery and help her sweep the tombs and lay the flowers. Their condition is that they won’t go on the emotive day of April 5. Instead, they’ll go a few days earlier. She knows she has no choice and accepts. Each year they cut a strange sight: an old lady arriving in a black sedan with four plainclothes police officers, who follow her to the tombstones of the dead men in her life. Xu Jue’s son was shot dead by a soldier. Within a few weeks, her husband’s hair had turned white. Five years later he died. Qisile, she explained: angered to death.” [Ibid]
Tiananmen Deaths Remembered on China's 64th National Day
Tighter controls were in evidence June 4, 2013, the first anniversary of the crackdown at Tiananmen Square after Xi Jinping became president. The New York Times reported: “To much ridicule, censors deleted all references to the anniversary on the Chinese Internet — including a doctored photograph of yellow rubber ducks marching like tanks toward the square. Hong Kong journalists were detained briefly and prevented from filming the daily ceremony for the raising of the Chinese flag. Authorities made sure no commemorations took place, rounding up activists and putting others under house arrest.” "Before, when the June 4 anniversary came around, they would just call you up and tell you not to go anywhere, not to leave your home, and to tell them where you were going if you did, and not to arrange any gatherings -- that sort of thing," Anhui-based activist Qian Jin said in an interview with Radio Free Asia. "This year, I have had the local brigade chief of the state security police come round to my house with a bunch of regular police."
In October 2013, the South China Morning Post, reported: “China's liberal bloggers and intellectuals celebrated the country’s 64th National Day on Tuesday by hosting online vigils in remembrance of victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown that took place on June 4, 1989.Bloggers jumped at the rare chance to mention and discuss the word "64", referring to June 4th, allowed by online censors though still strictly monitored, by paying condolences to the students and civilians who died in the 1989 incident. "64, hard to forget," a Zhejiang blogger wrote, posting a photo of what looked like an official flower display featuring the number "64" and the Chinese words "hard to forget". [Source: South China Morning Post, October 1 2013 <=>]
“A photo posted by a blogger says "64, hard to forget." The photo could have been doctored, some said, or it could have been a picture of a legitimate display by the local government celebrating the national holiday. Yet it offered a message completely in tune with the sentiment of many microbloggers, who quickly reposted it with their own words of support. The original post and reposts were deleted by weibo censors hours later. <=>
“Others took the opportunity to call on the country’s online community to remember the recently executed street hawker Xia Junfeng, whose death has triggered grief and anger among lawyers and bloggers. Li Guobin, a Shenzhen-based lawyer, in a weibo post that was quickly censored, urged his Chinese compatriots to mourn the countless lives lost since 1949 when the Communist Party came to power. <=>
"Let’s remember the millions of soldiers who have died in the civil war, landlords and 'anti-revolutionaries' killed in political movements, civilians who died in the Cultural Revolution, people who were killed in Tiananmen Square, civilians who died protecting their properties in forced demolitions, and street hawkers who died fighting urban regulation officers." <=>
Uproar Over Tank Man Image at a Michael Jackson Tribute
Reporting from Beijing, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “The image flashed for only a few seconds on an enormous video screen, but it was enough to catch the attention of some concertgoers in the Chinese capital. Then began days of head-scratching and hand-wringing over an unlikely political flash point: the appearance during a Michael Jackson tribute concert of the famous “Tank Man” photograph of June 1989. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, August 15, 2013 **]
“As the Chinese might say, the image is as rare as phoenix feathers and unicorn horns here, where the Communist Party suppresses any mention of the 1989 violence. Its sudden appearance at the opening performance of the China leg of Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour” underscored the challenges that governments face in controlling history in the modern age. Censors can work overtime scrutinizing content for taboo messages, but some inevitably slip by. **
“The Cirque du Soleil dance show used Mr. Jackson’s music, including “They Don’t Care About Us,” an overtly political song whose lyrics are full of rage. “Tell me what has become of my rights?/Am I invisible because you ignore me?/Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now/I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame,” the song says. Along with the lyrics, Cirque du Soleil featured a montage of images showing civil rights abuses and protests, including that of the Tank Man. **
The sight of Tank Man resulted in “an audible collective gasp from the audience,” wrote Stephen George, one of the thousands of concert attendees, in a blog post on the Web site of “That’s Beijing,” an expatriate-oriented magazine where Mr. George works. The post was deleted. The moment “felt genuinely quite radical,” Mr. George wrote. “As my friend commented, ‘I can’t imagine ever being witness to that image being shown in Beijing again, even if I stay here for another 50 years.’ ” **
Reports of Tank Man’s appearance circulated online. For some, it evoked Bjork’s Shanghai concert in 2008, where she surprised concertgoers by calling for Tibetan independence. In this instance, Cirque du Soleil quickly cut the image from subsequent shows in Beijing. It is unclear whether tour organizers had come under pressure from officials. A tour spokeswoman, Laura Silverman, sent an e-mail this week to The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, that said “the image was removed immediately and is no longer shown.” She also said the full show had been submitted to the Chinese Ministry of Culture for approval before the first China concert. In an e-mailed statement, Ms. Silverman said: “We believe in diversity and are apolitical. We also respect any laws and cultural uniqueness of the countries where we perform.” **
“Ms. Silverman’s assertion that the show had been officially reviewed in China has raised the question of whether a government official allowed Tank Man to stay in the video. It could be, though, that blanket censorship of all things related to June 4, 1989, has resulted in such widespread amnesia about the episode that even some censors can no longer recognize the taboo material for what it is. There have been past cases of this. There is another explanation for how Tank Man might have gotten past the censors screening Cirque du Soleil: the image might have flashed by too quickly for officials to notice. At least one person in the audience said she had missed it on Friday night. “Everything is very overwhelming,” Vera Penêda, 33, a Portuguese journalist, said of the show at the MasterCard Center, which was used for basketball matches during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “On the stage there are lots of dancers, and all the outfits are amazing, so I didn’t pay attention to the photo.” The friends who had accompanied her also missed Tank Man, she said, adding that she noticed no “collective gasp” from the audience. Ms. Penêda learned about the image popping up only later from online reports. **
Other Tiananmen Square Images That Have Appeared in China
Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “In 2008, Beijing News ran a profile of the veteran photojournalist Liu Heung Shing, who covered China in the late 1970s and 1980s for Time magazine and The Associated Press. The article featured several of his photographs, including one of the injured and dead being taken from the scene of the June 4 killings by rickshaw drivers. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, August 15, 2013 **]
“When officials realized what had happened, they ordered the newspaper pulled off the streets. Mr. Liu said he later asked employees at Beijing News what had taken place. It turned out there had been an empty space on the page before it went to press, and an editor with a keen interest in history pulled one of Mr. Liu’s photographs from the Internet to fill the hole. The editor apparently had no idea what the image represented. “It’s ironic, because even the guy interested in history didn’t seem to know China’s modern history that well,” Mr. Liu said. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t have gotten through.” Officials made inquiries and determined the mistake had been a genuine one, Mr. Liu said. **
“Such mistakes are more likely to occur with younger Chinese. “You’d be surprised how those born in the late 1980s and 1990s, how ignorant they are,” said Mr. Liu. Last November, before the 18th Party Congress, during which Communist Party leaders were expected to gather in Beijing for a handover of power, those running an official propaganda Web site for the event posted photographs from past congresses. There was a surprising one from the 12th Party Congress in 1982 that showed Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, leaders associated with the 1989 protests who have been erased from official histories. The photograph was posted on Nov. 1, but by Nov. 4 had been replaced. China Digital Times, a Web site based in Berkeley, Calif., that tracks the Chinese news media, said that propaganda officials at the State Council, China’s cabinet, had ordered news organizations not to report on the appearance of the photograph. **
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Tiananmen Square
On the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, China lodged a diplomatic protest over U.S. remark call for an account for those killed in pro-democracy protests while tens of thousands of people held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong and mainland China authorities sought to whitewash the 1989 event. Reuters reported: “The White House had honoured those who gave their lives in the action to crush the protests and said in a statement it would always speak out in support of the fundamental rights that the protesters sought. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was "strongly dissatisfied" and "firmly opposed" to the US statement. "The US statement on that incident shows a total disregard of fact," Hong said. "It blames the Chinese government for no reason, gravely interferes in China's internal affairs and violates the basic norms guiding international relations."[Source: Reuters, June 5, 2014 /*\]
“For the ruling Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo. The government has never released a death toll for the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand. Chinese leaders have defended the use of the army to quell the protests and said they had chosen the correct path for the sake of the people. China had stepped up its detention of rights advocates before the anniversary and was incensed by an outpouring of criticism from governments and rights groups. /*\
“Japan used the date to urge China to respect human rights and the rule of law, but on Thursday Hong lashed out at Tokyo, saying it had no right to criticise China, given its record of wartime aggression on Chinese soil. "Japan's militarists in the recent period carried out serious crimes against humanity in Asia, including China, but so far Japan's leaders still cannot face up to history and reflect on their history of invasion," Hong told reporters at a regular news briefing. "How can this kind of country have any right to talk about human rights?" he said. /*\
“Amnesty International said two of its employees were assaulted by Chinese officials on after they tried to lay flowers on the steps of China's embassy in London to commemorate the anniversary. A video from the BBC posted to Amnesty's website showed an official shoving UK Director Kate Allen and Wang Ti-Anna, the daughter of an imprisoned Chinese dissident, into a crowd and hurling a bouquet of roses off the steps. /*\
In early May, 2014 authorities swooped down on a group of people who had attended a workshop to commemorate "6-4," as the Tiananmen crackdown is known. Five people, were detained on suspicion of "creating a disturbance in a public place," even though the workshop was in a private apartment. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2014]
On the event above, Liao Yiwu wrote in 2014 in the NY Review of Books: “Twenty-five years have gone by, the sounds of bullets are far away, the blood has dried. But who would have thought that this May, in the capital of China, there would be another outbreak of arrests because of June 4, 1989. In the apartment of Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian, over a dozen intellectuals had gathered for a discussion. Everyone was arrested, and five are still being held, because of the “severity” of their crimes: civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, social science researcher Xu Youyu, house church activist and former political prisoner Hu Shigen, blogger Liu Di (she was born in the 1980s), and Professor Hao Jian, whose cousin was killed in 1989. These arrests were discussed around the world. To commemorate 1989 in a private home, and maybe also keep a counter-revolutionary diary: if such crimes are “provoking unrest,” then we have returned to the thought-police of the Mao era.[Source: Liao Yiwu, NY Review of Books, June 3, 2014, Translated by Martin Winter ***]
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.
Image Sources: AP, China.org
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.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015