DECISIONS BEHIND THE TIANANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE AND DENG XIAOPING, ZHAO ZIYANG AND LI PENG

TIANANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE DECISION

20080219-tiananmen Square.jpg The meeting in which the decision to declare martial law was held without Zhao Ziyang being present even though as premier he was supposed to preside over such meeting according to the Communist Party Charter.

In many ways the two dozen or so leaders in the Chinese elite were out of touch with what was going on. They believed, for example, that “groups of old ladies and children slept on the road,” blocking martial law troops form entering Beijing—but there were no such old ladies or children.

Deng Xiaoping, the true leader of China, who endured the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, had little tolerance for political instability. Many say Deng faced a choice between re-asserting the power of the Communist party or opening up the party to the forces of democracy, which would probably lead to the dilution of the party’s power. Given that choice he chose force to re-assert the party’s power.

Good Websites and Sources on the Tiananmen Square Protests: ; Tiananmen Square Documents gwu.edu/ ; 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 About Tiananmen Square: “Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement” by Timothy Brook 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.

Zhao Ziyang and Tiananmen Square

left

Zhao Ziyang (1919-2005) was the reform-minded General Secretary under Deng who had served as prime minister and party chief during much of the 1980s. The son of a landlord in central Henan Province, he was the architect of many of the economic reforms that Deng was credited with devising . Rehabilitated after being paraded around in dunce cap in the Cultural Revolution, he advocated political reforms such as more freedom in the media, a separation of the party and the government and more transparency.

In the Cultural Revolution era Zhao was tinkering with ways to liberalize the economy in Sichuan by dismantling communes and allowing farmers to sell produce on the free market after they met their state quotas. A popular rhyme from at early Deng reform era went, “If you want to eat grain, look to Ziyang.”

Zhao was also behind the program to allow factories to keep profits and use merit pay and the establishment of special economic zones in the coastal areas of China. His reforms turned Sichuan from an agricultural basket case, where people were starving, into the national breadbasket and increased industrial production 80 percent in five years. In the years before Tiananmen Square Zhao was credited with helping China to open up and was widely seen as Deng’s successor.

During the Tiananmen Square demonstrations Zhao angered the Communist leadership when he voiced his opposition to the use of force against the demonstrators. Zhao had urged the party to have a dialogue with the students, insisting they were “absolutely not against the basic foundations of our system.” It’s hard to believe he really meant this.

Zhao was already in hot water within the party for his liberal ideas and fights with other party members over economic policy. Deng said, "The minority yields to the majority!" and Zhao was ousted. At midnight on May 19th he addressed the protesters at Tiananmen Square and told them through a megaphone: “You have good intentions...The problems you have raised will eventually be resolved.” Then with tears in his eyes he told them it was "too late" and advised them to get out of Tiananmen Square.

Deng and the Tiananmen Square Massacre Decision

Deng is widely believed to have been the one who ordered the crack down at Tiananmen Square. According to the "Tiananmen Papers",, before the arrival of Gorbachev, Deng said, "We must not give an inch on the basic principal of upholding the Communist Party. At the same time the party must resolve the issue of democracy."

Later Deng changed his tune. On May 18, he said, "After thinking long and hard about this, I've concluded that we should bring in the People's Liberation Army and declare martial law in Beijing."

Later Deng said, "If they refuse to leave they will be responsible for the consequences." Analysts believe that a few dozen policemen could easily have removed the protestors but Deng, who had just emerged from a power struggle within the Communist Party, felt it was necessary to send a strong message that he was solidly in power and wouldn't tolerate dissent.

Deng reportedly waited for Zhao to crack down on the students. When Zhao didn’t, Deng decided it was time to replace Zhao and take matters into his own hands, telling the Elders, “It’s lucky we’re still here to keep a lid on things.”

Communist Party Struggle at the Time of Tiananmen Square


The debate over how to respond to protesting students was part of a continuing struggle over economic and political change. In his book Zhao said that the goal of the party meetings at the time of the demonstrations was not to suppress the student demonstrations but rather to settle a power struggle between conservative and liberal factions. Adi Ignatius, one of the editors of the book and editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review, wrote in Time, “China’s hard lined had tried for years to derail the economic and political innovations that Zhao had introduced. Tiananmen, Zhao demonstrates in his journal, gave conservatives a pretext to set the clock back .

Ignatius wrote, “The power structure described in the book is chaotic and often bumbling...Deng is a conflicted figure who urges Zhao to push hard for economic changes but demands a crackdown on anything that seems to challenge the party’s authority. Deng is at times portrayed not as an emperor but as a puppet subject to manipulations by Zhao or his rivals, depending on who presents his case to the old man first.”

In June 2010, a Hong Kong publisher was printing an alleged insider account of decision-making process behind the Tiananmen square crackdown in 1989 allegedly by former premier Li Peng when it suddenly stopped the presses, siting copyright problems.

Thought Processes behind the Tiananmen Decisions

Describing the thought process behind the decision that were made, Zhao wrote in his memoirs, “First, it was determined then that the student movement was a planned conspiracy of anti-Party, anti-socialist elements with leadership. So now we must ask, who were these leaders? What was the plan? What was the conspiracy? What evidence exists to support this? It was also said that there were black hands within the Party. Then who were they? [Source: Zhao Ziyang’s "Prisoner of the State" +++]

Second, it was said that this event was aimed at overthrowing the People’s Republic and the Communist Party. Where is the evidence? I had said at the time that most people were only asking us to correct our flaws, not attempting to overthrow our political system. After so many years, what evidence has been obtained through the interrogations? Have I been proven right, or have they? Many of the democracy activists in exile say that before June Fourth, they had still believed that the Party could improve itself. After June Fourth, however, they saw the Party as hopeless and only then did they take a stand to oppose the Party.” +++

Third, can it be proven that the June Fourth movement was counterrevolutionary turmoil, as it was designated? The students were orderly. Many reports indicate that on the occasions when the People’s Liberation Army came under attack, in many incidents it was the students who had come to its defense. Large numbers of city residents blocked the PLA from entering the city. Why? Were they intent on overthrowing the republic?”

Of course, whenever there are large numbers of people involved, there will always be some tiny minority within the crowd who might want to attack the PLA. It was a chaotic situation. It is perfectly possible that some hooligans took advantage of the situation to make trouble, but how can these actions be attributed to the majority of the citizens and students? By now, the answer to this question should be clear.” +++

Another issue was how to deal with people implicated in all of this. The Anti-Liberalization Campaign was not just a theoretical issue. My biggest headaches came from the issues of whether to punish people, how to reduce the harm done to people, and how to contain the circle of people being harmed. From the beginning of the campaign, some Party elders were also very enthusiastic and wanted to punish a lot of people. Deng Xiaoping had always believed that those who proceeded with liberalization within the Party should be severely punished. Wang Zhen and other elders believed this as well. People like Deng Liqun and Hu Qiaomu were even more eager to take the opportunity to destroy certain people and take pleasure in the aftermath. “ +++

Under these circumstances, it was difficult to protect certain people, or limit the number being hurt or even to reduce the degree of harm that was done. Hence when it was drafted, the Number Four Document set strict limits on the punishment of those designated by the campaign as having made mistakes. The document defined this as: Punishments that will be publicized and administrative punishments must first be approved by the Central Committee, and are to be meted out to those few Party members who openly promote bourgeois liberalism, refuse to mend their ways despite repeated admonitions, and have extensive influence. The document also stated, For those who hold some mistaken views, criticisms by fellow Party members may be carried out in Party group administrative meetings. They should be allowed to hold to their own views and the method of carrying out the criticism must be calm.” +++

When proceeding with the Anti-Liberalization Campaign, I had intentionally emphasized that we should classify those who had taken faulty liberal actions as well as those who were too conservative and rigid into the same group of people who were too biased. The purpose was to avoid or reduce the harm being done to people.” +++

Deng’s Desire to Use Force Before the Massacre

In a review of “The Last Secret: The Final Documents from the June Fourth Crackdown” by Wu Yulun, Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “ Like others, Wu argues that the massacre was the result of a series of mishaps that caused a manageable situation to spiral out of control. But Wu also makes a strong case that Deng favored some sort of forceful action from the start: this wasn’t an accident but an act of conviction.

“When the protests started after Hu’s death, Deng initially yielded to Zhao, whom he had supported and promoted for over a decade. Zhao realized it would be wrong to crack down on people mourning a former general secretary of the Communist Party, and so he counseled negotiation. But Deng seems to have lost patience as the protests continued. He was able to push his less tolerant approach after April 23, when Zhao went to North Korea on a week-long state visit. Zhao left explicit instructions with Premier Li Peng to follow his moderate course. According to Li’s diary, which Wu cites to great effect, Li agreed, but he also wrote that another senior leader “encouraged” him to meet Deng. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, June 27, 2019]

“Whether Li met Deng is unclear, but he seemed to have realized that Deng wanted a harder line. Li’s diary confirms that on April 24 he convened a meeting of leaders, making sure to exclude one of Zhao’s trusted lieutenants. The leaders ordered the party’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, to issue a strongly worded editorial on April 26 condemning the protests as “turmoil.” Famously, the editorial backfired, and the next day more than 500,000 people surged into the square—as Wu Yulun puts it, this was “an unprecedented event in the history of the People’s Republic of China. For the first time in the Communist Party’s reign, people willfully took action against the wishes of the paramount leader.” Zhao records in his memoirs that when he returned to Beijing on April 30, Deng refused to see him—clearly he felt that Zhao had been following the wrong course. On May 2, Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper, then a very reliable source of information on mainland politics, reported that Zhao was on his way out.

“What probably prevented Deng from taking immediate action was Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s imminent arrival in Beijing to repair the thirty-year rift between the two Communist giants. This was Deng’s chance to cement his place in history, so he waited until the meeting with Gorbachev took place, and in the intervening two weeks the protests grew even larger. The day after Gorbachev left for Shanghai on May 16, Deng convened a meeting that authorized the use of force. Then it was only a matter of time before troops were deployed.

“Reading these essays and documents, one is struck by the fragility of the party’s grip on power. In 1989 public opinion had soured because of inflation, corruption, and stagnating living standards—and the party itself was divided among reformers and hard-liners. Ultimately, it was this confluence of events that led to the massacre. For China’s Communist Party, relaxing its grip on power means losing it.

Li Peng and Tiananmen Square


Li Peng

Li Peng (1928-2019) was the Chinese premier during the late 1980s and was called the “butcher of Beijing” for his role in the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989. Erik Eckholm and Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Li is most widely remembered as the forbidding official in a Mao suit who appeared on television in May 1989 to announce the imposition of martial law in urban Beijing and to denounce leaders of the giant pro-democracy protests that had occupied Tiananmen Square in the heart of the city. They were enemies of the Communist Party, he declared, who imperiled “the fate and future of the People’s Republic of China, built by many revolutionary martyrs with their blood.” [Source: Erik Eckholm and Chris Buckley, New York Times, July 23, 2019]

“Historians have debated how much personal responsibility Mr. Li bore for the army’s assault on students and workers beginning late on June 3, 1989, when tanks and troops with automatic rifles opened fire, killing hundreds if not more as they plowed toward Tiananmen Square. The troops took the square early on June 4. Scholars have also debated Mr. Li’s role in the removal and permanent house arrest that spring of his more liberal rival, Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party general secretary, who was nominally of a higher rank. Mr. Zhao had advocated negotiating with the students and opposed using the army against them. Mr. Zhao died in 2005. Ever since 1989, critics had called for Mr. Li to face trial or a public reckoning for his role in the bloodshed. But 30 years after the Tiananmen crackdown, the Communist Party shows no sign of disavowing the decision to use armed force.

“Mr. Li would later protest — accurately, in the view of most experts — that the momentous decision to send in troops in 1989 could have been made only by Deng Xiaoping , the elderly behind-the-scenes leader and military chairman who had set China on its post-Mao path of increasing economic freedom while keeping a tight grip on political power. “True, he got the support of Deng Xiaoping for the armed suppression, but Li Peng was one of the most active of the suppressors,” said Sidney Rittenberg, who was the first American to join the Chinese Communist Party and who met Mr. Li.

“Mr. Li presented his own version of events leading up the crackdown in a diarylike account that was circulated among the party’s elite and acquired by a Hong Kong publisher in 2010. In it, Mr. Li defended his conduct, describing himself as a responsible and sober-minded servant of the party and presenting Deng as the dominating force who had made a knowing decision to use armed force against the protesters. Mr. Li recalled how he and other officials had monitored troops as they advanced toward Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3 and the early hours of June 4. “At about half past 5 in the morning, the remaining 2,000 students and core elements behind the turmoil left through the southeast corner of the square,” he wrote. “Nobody died during the evacuation of Tiananmen Square. Thus, the cancer of the illegal occupation of Tiananmen Square was fully removed. I notified the Xinhua News Agency to report this to the country and the whole world.”

Critical Meeting Between Zhao Ziyang and Deng Xiaoping

Zhao Ziyang argued that most of the demonstrating students were only asking us to correct our flaws, not attempting to overthrow our political system. In his memoirs Zhao attacks several officials, especially his arch rival, the conservative former prime minister Li Peng, who fiercely opposed or, in his view, betrayed him. He describes how they schemed to turn Deng against him and blocked, resisted, and sabotaged Zhao’s efforts to defuse the tensions. Zhao said that Li Peng accompanied him when he went to Tiananmen quare but was “terrified” and quickly fled the

As he feuded with hard-line party rivals over how to handle the students occupying Tiananmen Square, Zhao requested a personal audience with Deng. Zhao was told to go to Deng’s home on the afternoon of May 17 for what he thought would be a private talk. To his dismay, he arrived to find that Deng had assembled several key members of the Politburo, including Zhao’s bitter foes. [Source: Erik Eckholm, New York Times, May 14, 2009]


Zhao Ziyang

Ignatius wrote, “The key moment in Zhao’s narrative is a meeting held at Deng Xiaoping’s home on May 17,1989, less than three weeks before the Tiananmen massacre, Zhao argued that the government should back off from its harsh threats against the protesters and look for ways to ease tensions, two officials immediately stood up to criticize Zhao, effectively blaming him for escalating the protest in him. Deng had the last world with his fateful decision to impose martial law and move troops into the capital. In a rare historical instance of a split at the party’s highest levels, Zhao wouldn’t sign on.”

I realized that things had already taken a bad turn, Zhao recalls. From Deng’s impatient body language and the scathing attacks he received from his rivals, Zhao said it was obvious that Deng had already decided to overrule Zhao’s proposal for dialogue with the students and impose martial law. It seems my mission in history has already ended, Zhao recalls telling a party elder later that day. I told myself that no matter what, I would not be the general secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on students. As Zhao anticipated, he was immediately sidelined and soon vilified for splitting the party. [Eckholm, Op Cit]

Zhao’s aide Bao Tong told the Times of London that he was with Zhao after meeting with Deng on May 17. He told the Times of London, “Comrade Ziyang was completely relaxed. He asked me to draft a letter of resignation. I asked if he would reign as general secretary of the party or deputy of the Central Military Commission, he said.” Both.” So I went away and wrote it.” On the matter Zhao wrote: “I refused to become the General Secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on the students.”

By forcing out Zhao and restoring a political grip that remains largely in place today, the conservatives squelched hopes that China’s economic reforms would be accompanied by systematic political change. But they were also surprised by the popular revulsion over the crackdown. [Eckholm, Op Cit]

Tiananmen Square: an Excuse to Oust Zhao Ziyang?


Zhao Ziyang without his trademark glasses

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, “Most observers have assumed that the students caused a split in the leadership, with Deng siding with hard?liners against Zhao, the reformist Party secretary who had some sympathy for the students. This was also Bao’s view until he read the memoirs of then premier Li Peng, himself a hard?liner, who argued that Deng had become frustrated with Zhao’s liberal tendencies much earlier. It’s hard to know if this interpretation is correct, but Lim is right to highlight it, showing how Zhao had been doomed from the start: [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, June 5, 2014 ==]

In “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited”, Louisa Lim wrote: “‘This had nothing to do with the students,’ Bao told Lim. He believes That Deng used the students as a tool to oust his designated successor. ‘He had to find a reason. The more the students pushed, the more of a reason Deng Xiaoping had. If the students all went home, then Deng Xiaoping wouldn’t have had a reason.’”

According to Associated Press: “The upheaval cut short a trend in the late 1980s toward the ruling party allowing state-controlled media more freedom. Then-party leader Zhao Ziyang had told regulators to ease press controls, which he said would "make things better." Newspapers responded by reporting on public frustration at corruption and social controls. After the crackdown, Deng fired Zhao and replaced him with Jiang Zemin. He presided over a new strategy — "correct guidance of public opinion." It set the tone for pervasive controls over the next three decades.” [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, June 1 2014]

Johnson wrote: “This raises the question, much discussed over the past quarter?century, of whether the students could have avoided the massacre by dispersing a few days earlier when the military action seemed inevitable. In reviewing the material, however, one gets the feeling that not only Zhao’s fall but the massacre itself was almost inevitable. Deng had consistently opposed any political dissent and he seemed determined to send a message once and for all that outright opposition would not be tolerated.”

Dissension Within the Military During the Tiananmen Square Crackdown

Jiang Lin was a lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army during the Tiananmen Square massacre. Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times: She had “a firsthand view of both the massacre and a failed attempt by senior commanders to dissuade China’s leaders from using military force to crush the pro-democracy protests.She described her role in spreading word of a letter from senior generals opposing martial law, and gave details of other letters from commanders who warned the leadership not to use troops in Beijing. And she saw on the streets how soldiers who carried out the party’s orders shot indiscriminately as they rushed to retake Tiananmen Square. Researchers have previously shown that several senior commanders resisted using military force against the protesters, but Ms. Jiang gave new details on the extent of the resistance inside the military and how officers tried to push back against the orders. [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, May 28, 2019]

“Gen. Xu Qinxian, the leader of the formidable 38th Group Army, refused to lead his troops into Beijing without clear written orders, and checked himself into a hospital. Seven commanders signed a letter opposing martial law that they submitted to the Central Military Commission that oversaw the military. “It was a very simple message,” she said, describing the letter. “The People’s Liberation Army is the people’s military and it should not enter the city or fire on civilians.” Ms. Jiang, eager to spread the word of the generals’ letter, read it over the telephone to an editor at People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, where the staff were disobeying orders to censor news about the protests. But the paper did not print the letter because one of the generals who signed it objected, saying it was not meant to be made public, she said.

“Ms. Jiang still hoped that the rumblings inside the military would deter Deng from sending in soldiers to clear the protesters. But on June 3, she heard that the troops were advancing from the west of the city and shooting at people. The army had orders to clear the square by early on June 4, using any means. Announcements went out warning residents to stay inside.

Fourth Plenum of the Thirteenth Party Congress: Crucial Meeting After the Massacre

“The Last Secret: The Final Documents from the June Fourth Crackdown”, with a preface by writer using the pen name Wu Yulun and an introduction by the Columbia University professor Andrew J. Nathan, was published in Hong Kong by New Century Press in 2019 . It is the record of a meeting of roughly thirty party elders and senior leaders that took place two weeks after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Officially known as the Fourth Plenum of the Thirteenth Party Congress,” the meeting was called by Deng Xiaoping, “to force other party leaders to retroactively endorse his decision to use force on the protesters and to fire the Communist Party’s general secretary, Zhao Ziyang, who had opposed using the military to stop the demonstrations. The officials’ statements of fealty were read out loud and then printed up and distributed at another meeting a few days later for nearly five hundred party officials to “study”—in other words, to internalize as the truthful version of events. At the end of that meeting, the documents, all stamped “top secret,” were collected in order to maintain their secrecy. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, June 27, 2019]

“The book is called The Last Secret because it was the party’s last word on the events of 1989: a newspeak version of what had happened that all officials, high or low, had to make their own, regardless of what they personally believed or had witnessed. It is also a “last secret” in that it shows how the party, in the end, is designed to operate: as a one-man dictatorship, which requires obedience achieved by periodic purges and oath-style promises from survivors to follow the boss’s version of reality. Ultimately, this book is a case study in how the party has managed to keep itself in power, and how the current leadership functions.

“Tellingly, no one stood up for Zhao. Even his supporters begged for forgiveness and heaped blame on their former boss. One, Hu Qili, was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee—the five-person body that with Deng’s blessing ran China’s day-to-day affairs. Hu acknowledged that he had sided with Zhao in opposing martial law because he worried that bringing troops into a city with large-scale demonstrations would lead to disaster. Essentially, that was the right call, but Hu couldn’t say that. Instead, he said: “Now, by studying Comrade [Deng] Xiaoping’s important talk of June 9 and comparing it to my thinking at the time of the events, I deeply realize how inadequate was my comprehension of the truth…. This shows that my political level is low, that my thinking was not clear in the face of great issues of right and wrong affecting the Party’s and the state’s future and fate, and that I did not withstand the test. Hu never regained the rank he once had, but his self-abasement guaranteed him appointments in the 1990s as a minister and several ceremonial positions, not to mention the generous benefits enjoyed by all retired leaders and their families.

“Most of the statements were by hard-liners who—significantly for a meeting that was supposed to emphasize harmony—used the opportunity to vent about the reform process in general. Former president Li Xiannian, who was about to turn eighty when he delivered his speech, was one of several who opposed Zhao’s efforts to reform state-owned enterprises and promote private business—hallmarks of the early years of reforms and a major reason for China’s economic takeoff. Others, such as the eighty-one-year-old former general Wang Zhen, thought Zhao wasn’t ideologically tough enough and was leading China to convergence with the West.

“These and other statements reveal the turmoil that Deng’s reforms unleashed and help explain Zhao’s downfall. On one hand, Deng wanted Zhao to carry out reforms, but Zhao was also being watched suspiciously by Deng’s more conservative opponents. On the other hand, Zhao’s downfall shows how uneasy the party is with the social effects of economic reforms—a problem that remains today, as Xi Jinping promotes old-style Communist ideals. As Nathan puts it: The more China pursues power and prosperity through technological modernization and engagement with the global economy, the more unwilling are students, intellectuals, and the rising middle class to adhere to a 1950s-style ideological conformity.

“The statements show how the party enforces ideological conformity after a crisis. First, a scapegoat is found—in this case Zhao—and then everyone must acknowledge and bewail their manifold sins, show that they most earnestly repent, and, trusting in the party’s great mercy, throw themselves at the leadership’s feet. It’s basically an embarrassing exercise in bootlicking, which helps explain why these documents were classified as top secret. “Events like this show that these sorts of purges and groveling sessions are essential in a system with no real rules or internal democracy. Instead, the decisions of those in charge determine how the party is run. If the decisions change in some way, then everyone must prove that they will toe the new line.

Vogel’s Take on Deng Xiaoping and Tiananmen Square

On the view of historian Ezra Vogel on Tiananmen Square, Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books: What the students, actuated by resentment that they were “receiving fewer economic rewards for their ability and hard work than were uneducated entrepreneurs, really wanted was improvements in their living conditions. But learning from earlier failures, they “used slogans that resonated with the citizenry—democracy, freedom and the like—to win wider public support. A “hothouse generation” with little experience of life, their callow orators “had no basis for negotiating with political leaders on behalf of other students” . Wiser foreign reporters soon tumbled to the fact that most of those in the square “knew little about democracy and freedom and had little idea about how to achieve such goals” . No surprise that Deng felt he had to put down these ungrateful beneficiaries of “the reform and opening that he had helped to create and from the political stability that underpinned the economic growth” . [Source: Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]

The result was a “tragedy of enormous proportions” that stirred the West, but Chinese reactions varied greatly. After citing some that were critical, Vogel gives the last and longest word to those “officials who admire Deng’s handling of the Tiananmen demonstrations” , ending: “They acknowledge the seriousness of the tragedy of 1989, but they believe that even greater tragedies would have befallen China had Deng failed to bring an end to the two months of chaos in June 1989.” Of course, he adds unctuously, “all of us who care about human welfare are repulsed by the brutal crackdown,” but who knows if they are not right” “We must admit that we do not know. What we do know is that in the two decades after Tiananmen, China enjoyed relative stability and rapid—even spectacular—economic growth.”

Image Sources: AP, Wikimedia Commons

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.

Last updated August 2021


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