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Vengeance in China

While China’s leaders try to assure the outside world and themselves that “everything is back to normal,” the national problems that existed before the June 4 crackdown have become much worse. China’s students and intellectuals were already demoralized by the periodic ideological campaigns against them and official corruption as well as by increasing inflation and low salaries. They have now become more disillusioned than ever with the Party, with Deng and Company’s leadership, and the Communist system itself. The political and military leaders who share power with Deng have become more deeply divided. Many of the city workers and the private entrepreneurs who owed their jobs to Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms recently have been complaining that inflation, corruption, wage reductions, and national economic controls have become worse. Such workers and business people, moreover, were the first to feel the force of the June crackdown, even before the intellectuals and students.

As soon as the army had established its control over Tiananmen Square, the leaders of the Beijing Workers Federation, a nonofficial union established during the demonstration, were arrested. So far only workers have been executed. Twenty-eight have been officially named as executed, but other reports suggest that more than one hundred people may have been killed. In earlier demonstrations during 1986 and 1987, students had not allowed workers to join the protests and, at the beginning of the spring 1989 demonstration, the students had physically locked arms to bar them from taking part. In both cases the students believed that participation of the workers would make repression by the government more likely; they believed as well that workers would be joining the demonstrations mostly for material reasons and could not be counted on as allies in the struggle for democracy. But by mid-May, as the movement began to run out of steam, the older intellectuals who joined the demonstration at that time urged the students to allow the workers to join them; and as Party bureaucrats, professionals, and even units of the military joined the movement, workers literally forced themselves into the demonstrations. On May 17, the demonstration expanded to over one million people, the largest number ever to have taken part in a mass protest in China. Along with the workers, other parts of the urban population also joined in, gaining the support of most of the Beijing population.

The regime’s harsher treatment of the workers may be attributed not only to the higher status in China of students and intellectuals but to its fear that a movement resembling Solidarity will emerge in China. Since the early 1980s, Deng Xiaoping and the other elderly leaders who helped him suppress the students have worried that workers and intellectuals might form an alliance against the regime, as in fact did happen. But Deng’s speech on April 25, 1989, during the early days of the demonstration, showed him to be much more concerned about the contagion of the East European and Soviet reforms than of Western political ideas. “Those people who have been influenced by the free elements of Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union,” he said, “have a reason to create turmoil. Their motive is to overthrow the Party.”

Deng seemed to console himself with the thought that, unlike Poland, China did not have to worry about the church and the workers and that China’s intellectuals and students could be handled relatively easily. But on May 19, Chinese workers established a new, autonomous union and the official Federation of the Trade Unions contributed 10,000 yuan to the students. The next day, Prime Minister Li Peng announced the imposition of martial law. In the view of many Chinese observers, he was prompted as much by the actions of the workers as by the fact that the Party’s reform-minded general secretary Zhao Ziyang had lost his struggle for power with the elderly conservative forces centered around Deng.

Since a number of private entrepreneurs, both large and small, had supported the student demonstrators from the beginning, many of them were rounded up immediately after the demonstration. Among those arrested were the “dare-to-die” motorcycle messengers—young men who made a living by delivering messages throughout Beijing on their motorcycles and who carried messages back and forth among the various student groups—and private peddlers who provided the students with food and clothing.

Undoubtedly the most important of the private businessmen supporting the demonstration was Wan Runnan, president of the Stone Group, China’s largest private computer company. The Stone Group, located near Beijing’s major universities, had been founded by a group of former Red Guards who had attacked the Party establishment during the Cultural Revolution. In Tiananmen Square, Wan and his colleagues were again taking part in a dramatic episode of protest, but this time in the name of democracy and not some undefined utopia. Wan gave the students much of the money they needed to finance the day-to-day costs of the demonstrations, as well as many of the power generators, electronic loudspeakers, Xeroxes, facsimile machines, and printers that held the movement together and kept it in contact with overseas Chinese supporters.

Perhaps even more important, in late 1987 the Stone Group set up a private foundation, the Stone Institute of Social Development, which became one of the main factors in the power struggle that preceded the crackdown of June 4. The head of the foundation, the political scientist Cao Siyuan, helped to write China’s first bankruptcy law and had proposed ways of making the National People’s Congress a more open political forum so that it could act as a check on the Party’s political power, somewhat in the manner of the Supreme Soviet under Gorbachev. When the order announcing martial law was first issued in May, Cao Siyuan, through the foundation, organized a campaign to have it withdrawn. He remembered that a majority of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress had the right to call a meeting of the committee in a time of emergency. With the help of the prominent journalist Hu Jiwei, a member of the Standing Committee, the Stone Foundation circulated a petition calling for an emergency meeting and was able to get the needed signatures. Deng had come to power in 1978, saying he wanted to restore the standard political procedures abolished by Mao; but he regarded this petition as a direct challenge to his authority and that of the Party.

Although the Stone Group and its employees were a major target in the crackdown, Wan was able to escape abroad. He was to become one of the leaders of the Chinese Democratic Front, the organization founded in Paris this September to rebuild the democratic movement in China from abroad. Using his many personal connections and spending many thousands of dollars, he helped a number of the protest leaders to escape. But some of his associates including the head of his foundation, Cao Siyuan, and his assistant, Zhou Duo, have been arrested, and Zhou Duo is reported to have been brutally tortured. The Chinese press and television now denounce Wan Runnan and Cao as guilty of the corruption and the other evils now claimed to be characteristic of private entrepreneurs generally. By imposing higher taxes, reducing bank loans, and putting a limit on profits, the regime is trying to suppress private enterprise throughout China, and it is now committed to closing down one third of existing private businesses, even though it also claims that the economic reforms will continue.

Nine of the twenty-one student leaders on the government’s most-wanted list have been arrested. Of the two principal leaders, the fiery young Wuer Kaixi, who denouced Li Peng to his face on television, escaped, was recently elected one of the leaders of the Chinese Democratic Front in Paris. But Wang Dan, the most respected intellectual among the student activists, has been imprisoned and is reported to have been brutally beaten. During the past year, Wang organized a series of “democratic salons” at Beijing University to which he invited the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and his wife, the physicist Li Shuxian, as well as other controversial intellectuals. Quite as much as Wang’s leadership of the student movement, the salons infuriated the leadership because they had been organized without the permission of the authorities and became forums for unorthodox views. As under Mao, students will now have to work in the countryside and factories after graduation. In August the government announced that students at Beijing University, where the demonstrations began, must also undergo military training before entering college, supposedly to prevent their becoming political activists. Deng’s regime has made it clear that such measures are intended to punish the students for the demonstrations.

What is to be the fate of the university professors, senior scholars, and established intellectuals who gave the students encouragement? The leaders have been divided on how to treat them and their policies only began to emerge in July. Some of Deng’s colleagues in their eighties, particularly President Yang Shangkun and former general Wang Zhen, want to repress practically all intellectuals indiscriminately, seeing them as the source of the student demonstrations of last spring. Deng and the new leaders he has selected to replace Zhao Ziyang and Zhao’s ally, Hu Qili, in the Standing Committee of the Politburo, advocated a more selective approach, and they have been getting their way.

The new leaders—Jiang Zemin, mayor of Shanghai and now the Party’s general secretary; Li Ruihan, mayor of the economically dynamic city of Tianjin; and Song Ping, an economic planner—have drawn up the current policy toward intellectuals. Like Deng, they can be seen as being in the tradition of the “self-strengtheners,” the group of reformist Qing dynasty officials in the late nineteenth century who wanted to combine Western science and technology—which they called “yong,” the function—with the orthodox principle of Confucianism, called the “ti,” the essence. Deng and the new leaders seek a similar combination for the late twentieth century, although the “ti” has become orthodox Marxism and the Leninist political system, which they seek to preserve while remaining open to the West scientifically, technologically, and financially.

They have decided, in short, that they need the help of China’s scientific and technological intellectuals if China is to “modernize.” Consequently, some of the punitive measures they have announced make exceptions for students of science and technology. For the current academic year, the number of Chinese university students is to be cut by 30,000 generally and, at the prestigious Beijing University, the center of student protest, the number of students is to be cut by eight hundred.

The cuts, however, will apply mainly to students of the humanities and social sciences. In some fields, such as history, political science, sociology, and international relations, there will be virtually no entering class at Beijing University. The “bourgeois liberalism” that is regarded as inherent in these disciplines, officials have said, must not be allowed to contaminate Chinese society. But among the student leaders, as many as 40 percent majored in the sciences. Students from the science and technological departments and universities participated in the demonstrations in nearly as large numbers as those from the social sciences and humanities.

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