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Tiananmen and all that – 20 years on

16 May

Today there is a fascinating story in The Australian: Zhao Ziyang memoir reveals truth on massacre.

THE 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre has been rocked by the emergence of a memoir by former Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang claiming the decision to send in troops caused deep division among the country’s leaders.

The book – painstakingly reconstructed from hours of tape recordings smuggled out by supporters of the late Zhao – will enrage today’s leaders because of his assertion that Western-style democracy was essential if China was to avoid future bloodbaths.

The book raises difficult questions for Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was at Zhao’s side as he emotionally urged students to break up their protest in the days before the crackdown.

The record made by Zhao – who resigned, was purged and held under house arrest for almost 16 years before he died in 2005 – is to be published this month as Prisoner of the State: the Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang.

So sensitive is the document that its existence was kept secret until days before publication. Speculation had been rife during his house arrest and after his death as to whether the man with the most intimate knowledge of the machinations that led to the crackdown on June 3-4, 1989, had provided his own account of the dramatic days.

Zhao’s account confirms the bitter power struggle as students occupied Tiananmen Square, and the deep rivalries between reformists and hardliners, as well as the crucial role played by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in the decision to use force.

After listening to the arguments of moderates such as Zhao, Deng summarily imposed martial law without even calling a vote of China’s most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee.

The army was called in. On the evening of June 3 and into the next day the tanks rolled into the centre of Beijing towards Tiananmen Square, where protests had been growing since the death of liberal leader Hu Yaobang. The troops opened fire on students and civilians, murdering hundreds of people and injuring an unknown number…

zhao_ziyang_and_wen_jiabao

Zhao Ziyang (with loud hailer) in Tianamen Square.

Jiang Qisheng, one of the student leaders in 1989, who served 5 1/2 years in prison, said: "When Zhao Ziyang was dismissed, he had a strong defence for himself, and never admitted wrongdoing (as the party would have liked). It was unusual for a Communist Party cadre. In his 15 years of house arrest, he had thorough rethinking: what is democracy, does China need democracy? The depth of his thinking goes beyond any leader of the Communist Party of China, and the current leadership are far left behind by him.

"The current leadership will pretend to be dumb deaf to his memoir, they will not comment nor attack but try to block his voice. But Zhao has many sympathisers in the party, who have similar opinions with him. They will stand out at a certain time."

Most young people in China only know vaguely of the massacre. The country’s internet censorship infrastructure blocks all mention of the event…

Less well known is what happened in Shanghai. See Spring 1989 in Shanghai – A Memory of the ‘89 Student Movement and on the same blog a somewhat apologetic account by a “guest blogger” Mark Anthony Jones: Sorting fact from fiction – Tiananmen revisited (Part 1). “Fool’s Mountain (愚公移山) is a collaborative effort amongst writers focused on Chinese issues. Through our blog, we publish regular English-language articles and essays for both a Western and Chinese audience. All articles represent only the opinion of the individual writer, and may not reflect the opinions and views of other contributors. All contributors write on a voluntary basis with no compensation; those who write are driven to do so by their conscience, and nothing else. We are completely unaffiliated with any government, political party, or movement.”

Back to Shanghai. At the time this appeared in The New York Times: CHINESE EXECUTE 3 IN PUBLIC DISPLAY FOR PROTEST ROLE. I didn’t register this at the time.

The Chinese authorities staged a public execution today of three young men who were accused of taking part in a violent political protest in Shanghai…

The three young men in Shanghai were presumably executed in the Chinese way, with a bullet fired in the back of the head at close range…

The three men in Shanghai – Xu Guoming, an employee of a Shanghai brewery; Bian Hanwu, who is unemployed, and Yan Xuerong, a worker at a radio factory – were sentenced to death last Thursday but had appealed.

They were accused of helping to set fire to a train on June 6 and then attacking firefighters who arrived to put out the fire. No one was killed, but some firefighters were beaten up and nine rail cars were burned, forcing the closing of the rail line for two days.

The Government has not mentioned the circumstances in which the crowd attacked the train. The crowd had gathered to block the rail line, in protest of the killings of hundreds of students and workers in Beijing two days earlier by the army. A train rammed its way through the human blockade, killing six people who lay on the track, and only then did the outraged crowd attack the train and set it afire.

It is not known what evidence existed against the three men, who appeared to be in their 20’s or perhaps early 30’s, or even exactly what role each was accused of having played in the incident. Nor have the authorities indicated how they caught the three, who were apparently arrested several days later rather than on the scene…

Someone I know well witnessed the events at the station. Not only that but one of the police responsible for leading the arrests was this person’s friend. The two argued afterwards about the correctness of this action. I might add that from what I have been told by this eyewitness The New York Times report is very accurate, except that the three were, as I recall, arrested at the scene. 

Of course I didn’t meet this person until 1990, by which time he was in Australia, like the many other Chinese students I was teaching in a language college, one of whom, a Beijinger, told me in tears one day: “I used to believe in the Communist Party until I saw them killing their own people. I’ve just had a letter from my mother telling me not to come home…” Another student’s first English sentence to me was “My best friend killed in Tiananmen.” Later she explained the circumstances. Another I have met ferried the wounded to hospital. The family of a student of mine at SBHS was sent to Gansu Province (internal exile) because his grandmother, who was in the Ministry of Culture in Beijing, publicly resigned from the Communist Party in protest. Obviously a supporter of Zhao Ziyang, if not necessarily of all the students’ ideas. Later on I met one of the Tiananmen hunger strikers. So I was rather bemused by some Australian communist friends – good friends too – who visited Beijing around July 1989 and came back convinced nothing much had happened there, having swallowed the Party Line whole.

Update

I have revised this entry to further disguise my Shanghainese informant’s identity; I thought that wise on reflection.

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Posted by on May 16, 2009 in Chinese and China, events, History, human rights, memory

 

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