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The Empire Strikes Back

Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking

by Michael Fathers, by Andrew Higgins
The Independent/Doubleday, 148 pp., £4.99

Tiananmen Square

by Scott Simmie, by Bob Nixon
University of Washington Press, 206 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Massacre in Beijing: The Events of 3–4 June, 1989 and Their Aftermath the Ad Hoc Study Group on Human Rights in China

a report prepared by the International League for Human Rights and
79 pp., $12.00

Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June

by Harrison E. Salisbury
Little, Brown, 176 pp., $10.95 (paper)

June Four: A Chronicle of the Chinese Democratic Uprising

by the photographers and reporters of the Ming Pao News, translated by Zi Jin, by Qin Zhou
University of Arkansas Press, 171 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Beijing Spring

photographs by David Turnley, by Peter Turnley, text by Melinda Liu
Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 175 pp., $19.95 (paper)

President Bush still regards you as his friend, a friend forever,” Brent Scowcroft told Deng Xiaoping in Beijing on December 10, six months and seven days after Deng ordered the People’s Liberation Army into Tiananmen Square. In Washington, the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was giving a lesson in Realpolitik: “We hope that we have reached the point where time heals all wounds, and that once the public gets used to more normalized contacts it won’t be focused on the past.”

Only six months, and already we are being asked to erase our memories of the Beijing massacre of June 3 and 4. (The phrase “Tiananmen massacre” permits an argument about exactly where the killings occurred and at what hour, which was used by the Chinese authorities to distract attention from what they actually did.) Despite Fitzwater’s hope, the demonstrations in China from April 15 to June 4, or what the Chinese call “the events” or “the counterrevolutionary turmoil” are not easy to forget. Beijing itself is gripped with fear and hatred of the Party, and the 110 acres of Tiananmen Square, the heart of the city, for the first time in forty years of Communist rule are empty, off-limits to the citizens of Beijing. Only a few tank treadmarks in the stones recall the violence of June 3 and 4. Eighty-four cities were involved, the government has admitted, and upward of three million students. At the main Chinese weapons testing center in Inner Mongolia work was halted for weeks, officials said, by demonstrators blocking the roads in what is a closed area. On some days, the Chinese press reported at the time, a million nonviolent demonstrators, one tenth the population of Beijing, gathered in Tiananmen Square and shouted for the government to resign. It was a unique event in the history of China.

The leadership headed by George Bush’s “friend forever” Deng Xiaoping for the first time in forty years commanded its soldiers to attack the citizens of Beijing and now accuses “enemies at home and abroad” of attempting to destabilize the country, which, it insists, has returned to normal. But even as they shout abuse at foreigners the leaders wrangle about the succession, the reforms, and even their enemies. Members of the Politburo claim that the Party is riddled with disloyal members who were at the center of the plot, and yet no internal purge of the Party has taken place.

Chief among these alleged plotters is now Zhao Ziyang, the deposed Party general secretary, who is under some form of house arrest. Zhao has been accused of everything short of counter-revolution, but no charges have as yet been laid against him. Deng Xiaoping has retired, his reform program in ruins, and a pall has fallen over the country. But no successor, certainly not the relatively inexperienced Jiang Zemin, the former Party boss in Shanghai and Deng’s hand-picked “core leader,” can claim supreme power. Frantic, lashing out at its enemies but in the effort often wounding itself, the Party flounders in infantile rage and no one can be sure what direction it will take.

The events” and “the clear-out” were seen at first hand by hundreds of foreign reporters, and in the weeks before the killings many Chinese, normally reticent about their considerable knowledge of the Party’s inner workings, were happy to speak to foreigners, often on the record. (Those who failed to flee abroad are now paying for this.) The square itself was rife with reports of high-level meetings, some of which had occurred only hours before. What took place at those meetings has since been officially confirmed.

Some of those foreign witnesses, who were filing daily reports for their newspapers and magazines, have now published more substantial accounts of what they experienced, and academic China specialists, too, have offered their views of the events and even their judgment on what the demonstrators should have done. There are collections of photographs, some of which regrettably imperil their subjects by revealing their faces.

The best of the recent books I have read are Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking, by Michael Fathers and Andrew Higgins, correspondents in Beijing for The Independent in London, and Tiananmen Square, by the Canadian journalists Scott Simmie and Bob Nixon, who had been working in Beijing for China Central Television. The concise and lively Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking is worth ordering from England. Writing under enormous pressure, Fathers and Higgins have produced a book that six months later withstands all but the most minute criticism. (To take one example, while they describe the police attacking people on the north end of the square, who responded with Molotov cocktails, I myself was a witness and recall that the firebombs came first.)

Fathers and Higgins sum up their view of the old men who ordered the Tiananmen killings by writing, “They divided their world into two armed camps, the Party and the conspiracy against it”—just as they had done for fifty years. The authors are particularly convincing when they observe that followers of Deng

had characterized the student movement as turmoil, conspiracy, rebellion, and eventually “counter-revolution.” They had shouted down their colleagues who counseled patience. They had warned that the Party could no longer tolerate dissent or accommodate debate. They had brought the People’s Liberation Army into the suburbs of Beijing, ready for battle…. By any humane criteria, the assault of June 3–4 was futile, random, insane. The students had attacked nobody and damaged nothing. But those who ordered the attack were not aiming simply to disperse a demonstration. They were seeking to eradicate, through terror, the idea that any direct challenge could be mounted to their own authority…. Opposition had to be seen to be crushed.

After the crushing came the clean-up, which Fathers and Higgins brilliantly sum up in their image of an army sanitary officer spraying the pavement in front of the Zhongnanhai, the leaders’ headquarters, where students had been camped for days, sometimes literally nose-to-nose with its guards:

Backwards and forwards, pumping the watering can in a regular motion, he moved with the care of a man spraying his tomatoes on a summer Sunday morning. If his fellow countrymen were dying, a few hundred yards down the road, it was not his job to worry.

Simmie and Nixon have written a different, more ambitious book. It is also different, they write, from what they had intended when they began their interviews with Chinese in the spring of 1988. Then they had wanted to know how people’s lives and thinking had been affected by forty years of upheaval and purges. Last year the people they interviewed were hopeful. “Lessons had been learned. China was moving, albeit slowly, towards a more tolerant, a more democratic society…. The student movement changed all that.” Their book, therefore, moves on two planes: a diary of events leading up to June 4; and a series of interviews with Chinese about their lives in and under the Party. These interviews show the discontent that led so many people to show up in Tiananmen Square in April and May, not just university students and academicians, but hotel and postal workers, primary-school teachers, clerks, and even policemen and soldiers.

Tiananmen Square includes an account of one of China’s leading ballerinas. Bai Shuxiang, and her effort to maintain a career, which began in the late Fifties, while she had to cope with what the Party called her “bad class background.” Her father was a magistrate under Chiang Kai-shek, and was shot in 1958—the year when she first became a star of the Beijing ballet. Soon afterward, at a party given by Premier Zhou Enlai, Bai was dancing with the premier, and she mentioned that her father’s execution might cause her problems. Zhou reassured her, “Your father is your father. You can go your own way. So long as you draw a distinction between you and your father politically, there is no problem.” Bai told Simmie and Nixon that when her father was shot, “I was siding with the government and I believed it was correct.”

As a sign of the kind of society China had become in the late Fifties, and of what was taken to be normal behavior there, on the part of both the premier and the executed man’s daughter, the story is revealing enough. But what happened to Bai in 1986 demonstrates the continuing cruelty of Party rule, and helps to explain why so many Chinese went to Tiananmen Square three years later. In 1986, twenty-eight years after the event, she appealed her father’s execution, which she now considered unjust, and her appeal was upheld by the court. To make up for the grievous mistake, the court sentenced her dead father to fifteen years in prison.

Deng Xiaoping and his elderly colleagues created the world in which Bai Shuxiang grew up and in which she was still living in 1986 when her father was “reprieved.” Regarding themselves as the surviving founders of the original Party establishment, which is run like a kind of Mafia, they were prepared to do anything—literally anything—to ensure that the rabble in the Square and their covert supporters at home and abroad did not succeed in forcing the resignation of reliable Party loyalists, leaving China in the hands of leaders like Zhao Ziyang who were, in their view, too weak and indecisive to ensure the primacy of the Party.

Both books vividly describe the recent battle inside the Party.1 Zhao, who had been under attack from Party conservatives for almost a year because his economic reforms were weakening Party control, was determined to reassert his strength by getting on better with Gorbachev at the summit than either Li Peng or Deng. In so doing he angered the Dengists. We learn from the official denunciations of Zhao after his fall that, for example, he told Gorbachev on TV, in what he said was a “secret,” that Deng continued to make all key decisions even though he had officially withdrawn from everyday official life, and also that he, Zhao, made some sort of common cause with the students:

Zhao, like the students, was obsessed with the powerful, unpredictable forces which Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrival threatened to unleash…. Events suggest that when Zhao arrived back in Peking [on May 1 from North Korea] he judged that the moment had come to assert his own claims to the succession.

Within a few days of the declaration of martial law on May 20 the leaders were sending out messages that Zhao was finished. This was understood at the time, as Simmie and Nixon record:

Everyone knew that the “very very few people,” the “very small number of conspirators,” and “certain individuals within the leadership of the Communist Party,” were all references to the Zhao Ziyang faction.

Even during the demonstrations considerable information leaked out from inner-Party meetings. One source was probably Bao Tong, Zhao’s closest confidant and the head of the Party’s Political Reform Research Center, now closed, while Bao himself is in prison. Only hours after meetings in which the leaders opposed to Zhao discussed a harder line sometimes with Deng, the verbatim proceedings or a reliable oral account would appear in the square—and then reappear in Western publications. The students were aware of the inner-Party conflict, and when asked if they felt more faith in Zhao then in the other leaders, they tended to say only that some leaders were less bad than others. The student leader Wuer Kaixi said,

Our movement had absolutely nothing to do with the Party struggle. We didn’t care anything about their internal struggles. We wanted to found a new democratic system in China; there was no [leadership] faction supporting a democratic system.

No doubt more details will emerge of the factional infighting, particularly if there is ever a reckoning in Beijing along the lines of the trial of the Gang of Four ten years ago, when tape recordings were played in court of revealing, often unsavory discussions within the core leadership. What is important now, six months after the Beijing massacre of June 3 and 4, is that China’s international reputation has since sunk very low. In the middle of April, when the demonstrations began in Tiananmen Square, China was regarded not as a superpower but as a great regional power. Deng Xiaoping, had he resigned his last official posts as chairman of the Party and state military commissions before the demonstrations began, rather than in early November, would have been remembered as the man who had rescued his country from years of Maoist hysteria and poverty and set it on the road to stability, a modest prosperity, and even modernization. As it is, Deng may well be remembered as the Butcher of Tiananmen Square, who left equally guilty men as his heirs.

China’s remaining friends are a curious group: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Burkina Faso, North Korea, Cuba, the PLO, and, until the end of December, Romania. The Dengists know that relations with Moscow are frozen, a far cry from the expected result of the Deng–Gorbachev summit in China in May, which was reduced to a marginal event by the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Friendship with Washington officially cooled for six months, although it now emerges that Scowcroft made an earlier visit in July, whether to censure or reassure we do not know. Deng Xiaoping told Richard Nixon during his visit this past November that Washington had been involved in the Tiananmen affair and must apologize. (Nixon, to his credit, reminded the Chinese at a state banquet that “Lenin wrote that facts are stubborn things.”)

More acutely painful, perhaps, is the changed relationship with East Germany. Egon Krenz had come to China for its National Day on October 1 to extend his and Erich Honecker’s congratulations on the Tiananmen Square “clear-out,” as June 4 is officially called. Now the East Germans want it said that it was because Erich Honecker had planned a second Tiananmen-style “clear-out” in Leipzig that it became necessary to remove him. Most painful of all for Deng is the fall and execution of Romanian President Ceausescu. Three weeks before his death Ceausescu gave an interview to the Beijing People’s Daily, in which he described the international situation—after East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Bulgaria—as “grim” and urged that Romania and China

take the initiative to resolve all kinds of current difficulties, initiatives which would be beneficial to the development of socialism both in the two nations and in other countries.

After Ceausescu’s death China recognized the new government in Bucharest only tepidly; the wild scenes in Romanian cities, with the people, the army, and the security police fighting in the streets and the execution of longtime tyrants, have evidently hardened the resolve of Deng and his cabal to crush the slightest sign of resistance anywhere. These leaders will have been told by their embassy in Bucharest that the collapse of Ceausescu’s regime began in Timisoara, with people’s resentment over the treatment of a dissident priest, and that the upheaval spread rapidly to other towns. Deng knows that Chinese crowds, usually placid enough, are capable of great violence. On the Peking University campus a poster went up recently saying LEARN FROM ROMANIA.

Although George Bush is eager for reconciliation with Beijing, and Mrs. Thatcher, afraid of irritating Deng, could not bring herself, in the House of Commons, to congratulate the Dalai Lama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the extent to which Chinese influence has diminished in Eastern Europe is suggested by the Dalai Lama’s visit to East Germany on December 6, just before he received the Nobel prize. Beijing could do no more than complain to the East Germans that this was the “splittist” Dalai Lama’s first visit to a “socialist” country.

But perhaps the most blunt foreign judgment on the government of Jiang Zemin, President Yang Shangkun, and Premier Li Peng came from Moody’s, the international credit ratings firm, which in mid-November lowered China’s credit rating from A3 to BAAAI. Moody’s reason for the demotion is worth quoting: “the degree of weakness in the capacity of China’s political structure to cope with demands for political and social changes.”

China is not accustomed to pariah status. Until June 4 it had been excused from the Western moral judgments that few other nations escape, including the Soviet Union, Israel, South Africa, and the US. Even the worst Chinese depredations in Tibet had only recently begun to cause some outrage in the West—although not from any government—and Deng had observed with satisfaction that imprisoning men like the dissident Wei Jingsheng—now in his tenth year of detention for calling for democracy (and criticizing Deng by name) at Beijing’s Democracy Wall in 1979, had caused barely a ripple in China’s international relations. Deng is turning out to be right. The visit to Beijing by National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft—which may well blacken America’s name with the Chinese who someday will form a new democratic regime—was only the latest sign that the US, pursuing a Kissingerian Realpolitik, allows China far more latitude morally than any other People’s Democracy.

The Western attitude toward violations of Chinese human rights helps to explain why China’s leaders were willing to order the murder of unarmed citizens in front of dozens of foreign reporters, including television crews. The 27th and 38th Armies did not enter the square to clear it. They were sent to punish—and to ensure that never again would the army allow itself to be stopped by nonviolent means or to exhibit sympathy with the demands of the demonstrators. (In the days before the killings we saw soldiers and police in uniform, their fingers raised in the V sign, which had spread from Poland to China as a gesture of libertarian solidarity.) Fathers and Higgins are convincing when they write:

Those who ordered the army into Beijing, Deng and President Yang Shangkun, had done so not merely to disperse the mobs from the barricades, but to create a spectacle of repression so shocking that it could not fail to cow anyone within the Party who had dared to sympathize with such defiance.

Even with the new publications now available, the most telling source for understanding Tiananmen is Deng’s speech to army commanders on June 9.2 Deng had trouble standing and his hands trembled but his words were clear and his expression was one of the deepest pleasure. “This storm was bound to happen sooner or later,” he said. “It was also inevitable that the turmoil would develop into a counter-revolutionary rebellion…. The key point is that they wanted to overthrow our state and the Party.” Of the army, which had wavered for two weeks after President Yang Shangkun ordered it into the square early in the morning of May 20, only to confront a vast nonviolent demonstration mounted with neither training nor anticipation by the people of Beijing, Deng said, “What they crossed this time was genuinely a political threshhold of life and death. This was by no means easy…this army of ours is forever an army under the leadership of the Party.”

Then came the message to anyone who might be tempted to try another Tiananmen demonstration: “At the same time we should never forget how cruel our enemies are. For them we should not have an iota of forgiveness.”

When he said, “This storm was bound to happen sooner or later,” Deng was speaking the truth as he saw it: the enemy never sleeps. From the early Forties, when Mao and his fellow guerrilla leaders in the caves of Yan’an were training the force that in 1949 would defeat Chiang Kai-shek, the Party had established a few basic truths, all of them based on the eternal presence of enemies, within and without. Whatever falsifications of the past were necessary were devised, including a bogus history of the Party, centering on Mao’s primal role, which has never been withdrawn. The leader, at first Mao (later Deng), was invested with supreme authority, propped up by the unique quality of his Thought. Anything, in fact, was permissible as long as it was shown to be aimed at the enemy—sometimes the Japanese, sometimes the Kuomintang, often the Chinese “bourgeoisie,” which ceaselessly schemed to overthrow socialism. The men around Mao, who had connived in the falsification of the past, were certain that the Chairman, unlike Stalin, would never turn on his comrades, a conviction shaken during the purges of the middle Fifties and unsustainable a few years later when the failure of the Great Leap drove Mao into a search for scapegoats among his oldest comrades.

That determination to destroy enemies is also one of Deng’s most enduring characteristics. As Mao’s Party general secretary during the Anti-Rightist movement of the late Fifties, he was in charge of a purge that claimed at least 400,000 victims, many of them not rehabilitated for twenty years. And despite his own rough treatment during the Cultural Revolution, Deng always justified the Anti-Rightist drive, putting order and discipline well before the modernization for which he has been so famous in the West.

From the second week of the Tiananmen Square occupation on, Deng, according to many reliable reports, was known to be eager for blood. 3 He was dissuaded from ordering the police to fire on the April 27 marchers (who were protesting his characterization of them as hoodlums and traitors in the June 26 People’s Daily) only by the doubts of security chief Qiao Shi that the police would shoot down thousands of students.4 Then Deng waited, deterred by the Gorbachev visit, which made it impossible to clear out Tiananmen Square and deal decisively with Zhao Ziyang, for reasons of public relations. The students’ protests had been tolerated, Fathers and Higgins write, not because the Party had come to agree with them, but because it would have been even more embarrassing to stage a bloody crackdown in Gorbachev’s presence. Similarly, it had been easier to tolerate Zhao’s indiscretions than to shut him up. The Soviet president had been, involuntarily, a sort of Lord of Misrule over Beijing. When he left China on Thursday, May 18, after a stopover in Shanghai, the harsh realities would reassert themselves.

Once Deng was certain that with Zhao, the vice-chairman of the military commission, out of the way the army would cross “the political threshhold of life and death,” he acted with characteristic, merciless determination. At meetings on May 16 and 22 Deng approved the imposition of martial law on parts of Beijing and ordered something like 100,000 soldiers from thirteen army groups to surround the city, although it was known from leaked documents available in the square that many senior commanders opposed a violent crackdown.5 On May 23 orders were issued making clear that Zhao was finished.6

On May 30, just as it looked as if the demonstrations would fade away, to be resumed perhaps only after the summer holidays, the white plaster statue of the Goddess of Liberty was wheeled into the square in three sections and erected, facing the huge portrait of Mao that was hanging over the south gate of the Forbidden City. The tone of the official broadcasts from the loudspeakers in the square, which had alternated for several weeks between warnings and regret, now became threatening. “The statue is a foreign thing,” said the broadcasts, calling attention to the Goddess’s resemblance to the Statue of Liberty. “This is China, not America.”

The statue, “like the students themselves, seemed immovable, indestructable, and permanent,” Simmie and Nixon write. So did the dozens of large sturdy tents, paid for in Hong Kong, each able to hold up to fifty sleeping students. It must have looked to Deng as if the demonstrations would never stop. On June 2 at a meeting at his residence it was decided to order the army to clear out the square.7

It is plain that Deng, Yang Shangkun, and Li Peng wanted the demonstrators and their supporters in China and abroad to be taught a lesson from the violent crackdown. They knew that the reports to the West from the large number of journalists in Beijing would be transmitted into China by radio and reprinted in Reference News, the Party’s own compilation of foreign newspaper reports on China, which, although restricted, is widely read.

Perhaps, therefore, the Big Lie contrived to cover up the night of June 3–4 was intended, for foreigners at least, to be confusing rather than credible. It is certainly easy to refute.8 The Lie has varied from the earliest days, when it was claimed that not a shot had been fired and not a person killed (those of us in the square who saw soldiers shooting and people being shot, or saw piles of bodies in hospital morgues, could deny that immediately), to the latest version, which has two parts: first, not a person was killed in the square on June 4—this claim is narrowly limited to about 4 to 5:30 AM, and to the immediate area of the Martyrs’ Memorial. We can accept Robin Monro’s eyewitness report for Human Rights Watch in New York that he saw no one killed at that time and in that place, although a Spanish TV crew saw students killed immediately afterward;9 but in the West some people, who have seen no television pictures of killing at the monument, doubt whether much killing took place at all on the night of June 3–4.

I and others saw bystanders killed at the north end of the square at about 2 AM, and many others reported seeing hundreds or even thousands of people killed earlier, in the streets to the west of Tiananmen, as the army smashed its way toward the square. Fathers and Higgins, and Simmie and Nixon provide vivid eyewitness accounts, as do the informants in the scrupulously compiled report of the League of Human Rights, Massacre in Beijing.

The second part of the Lie holds that many soldiers were killed defending themselves against “hooligans.” During this defense, it is claimed, a few hundred civilians, including around thirty students, some of whom were unfortunate onlookers who should have stayed away, were also killed.

There are plenty of eyewitness accounts to the contrary; I myself saw twenty or thirty people shot outside the Beijing Hotel at 10:20 AM on Sunday, June 4, as did other journalists, including the American Margaret Herbst and Andrew Higgins, one of the authors of Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking. Harrison Salisbury, who describes himself in Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June, as knowing China “as well, if not better, than any member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo”—he neither speaks nor reads Chinese—and was actually in Beijing for only four days, according to his diary entries, failed to notice this mini-massacre, although his room faced down onto the avenue where it was occurring. He merely notes “outbursts of shouting” at that very minute, which puzzled him. Indeed, Salisbury (to his credit) records that he slept through the critical events of the weekend.

Another part of the Lie makes the claim that innocent soldiers were lynched. The most notorious of the soldiers, whose disfigured corpse is regularly shown in official photographs, was seen by two British psychiatrists (who have written to me about it) shooting down a man, a woman, and a child; it was then that the soldier was lynched and burned. His comrades were allowed to escape.10

Simmie and Nixon’s Tiananmen Square is more satisfactory than the book by Fathers and Higgins in its citing of sources. The Human Rights report Massacre in Beijing is excellent on sources, too. As it happens, Andrew Higgins witnessed the shootings outside the Beijing Hotel, but Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking does not mention his experience. Simmie and Nixon quote the account of Margaret Herbst:

They shot at anything that moved. I was walking along the streets, and blood was everywhere—human pulp, remains. I started to run, then just dove for cover on the street, dragging myself through a thick pool of blood to get away.

This may sound like reporters’ exaggeration, but in the circumstances it is, if anything, restrained. Simmie and Nixon are good, too, about what was implied when the army stalled on May 20. The troops, they note, were not armed. Probably “the soldiers did not want to move.”

(I saw a column of tanks in a village east of Beijing, blocked in the early dawn by village women squatting before them while the young men peed, giggling, on the tank treads. The commander assured me that Deng Xiaoping—“my father”—had ordered the tanks into Tiananmen Square. But by the next morning the tanks had withdrawn. Perhaps they were among those squashing people two weeks later along Changan Boulevard.)

The police collected thousands of pictures of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and of the killings on the night of June 3–4. As soon as possible they began an inspection of these, frame by frame in the case of video and TV sequences, and they arrested those they could identify. Simmie and Nixon give the subjects of their photographs the protection of blanked-out faces. By contrast, even though the text of Beijing Spring includes a section called “Big Brother is Watching,” which mentions, the use of video clips to identify suspects, the brilliant color photographs by David and Peter Turnley will be a great help to the Public Security Bureau. The picture of the unarmed soldiers chased away from Tiananmen Square on the night of June 2–3—used as an excuse the following night for sending the army roaring into the square with its guns blazing—catches the soldiers’ bewilderment. But the very beauty of the Turnley’s dramatic and beautifully lit pictures sometimes obscures the ugly reality.

The Hong Kong newspaper, Ming Pao, which has an honorable record of critical independence from Beijing, had sent a team to the demonstrations. The black-and-white pictures taken by Ming Pao‘s photographers in June Four, overexposed and jagged as they are, manage to capture the muddle and helter-skelter of the events of Tiananmen Square—but they reveal faces which the police will now be able to hunt down.11

The hunt is extensive. Britain’s official observers in Hong Kong believed in mid-December that well over 100,000 Chinese have been arrested since June 4. Estimates of executions run into the hundreds. Wang Dan, one of the student leaders in the square, is reported to have been tortured since his capture, and just before Christmas in Beijing, I was told by reliable sources that the advisers to Zhao Ziyang who were arrested in June had been beaten in the capital’s notorious Qin Cheng prison.

On the same visit I met others accused of being “bourgeois liberals” and “counterrevolutionaries.” They are undergoing constant “brainwashing”—this is their term—or “thought reform” as their interrogators call it. For some this has meant they have had to undergo questioning in sessions that last eight hours a day, six days a week, since early June. The technique applied to them has been well established since the earliest Maoist period: victims must memorize and repeat official policy statements verbatim and then explain at length why they once believed something else. If they say right away that they now accept government policy, this is immediately rejected as mere groveling; once the confession appears sincere the victims must then explain the stages by which they changed their minds. They must also give detailed accounts of meetings they attended at which disloyal statements were supposed to have been made and must say who was there, who said what, and who kept silent. Telephone conversations, of which there are complete records, must also be explained. If the victim hesitates, he is assured that his interrogators already know all the facts; only a confession that withholds nothing shows a repentant attitude and can help the victim avoid more serious punishment, including prison.

The entire process is immensely cynical. The interrogators know they have reformed few thoughts; the victims know the interrogators know this. The goal is to intimidate the victims and reduce them to what one described to me as “stupidity and humiliation.” An additional aspect of the humiliation concerns the victims’ children: like all other students in China they are now compelled to learn by heart the Party’s line on Tiananmen and counterrevolution. Like their parents, the children do not believe what their teachers are forcing them to say (nor do many of the teachers believe it themselves, in Beijing or in the other eighty-three cities where demonstrations occurred.) But as one of the parents—who is being interrogated daily—told me,

I tell my daughter to memorize it, get 100 percent, and get promoted. This is the worst part; another generation is being trained to be hypocrites, just like our parents and ourselves. We thought that was over after Mao died.

One of the reasons Deng’s “storm” was “bound to happen” was that among his perceived enemies were Chinese intellectuals longing for Western-style democracy—the very people who are now dead, in hiding or exile, or undergoing brainwashing. Their “bourgeois liberalism,” as the Chinese Stalinists always call it, has its origins in the May 4th Movement of 1919, when Beijing University students shouted demands for parliamentary democracy. Deng, who is of the generation radicalized by the May 4th Movement, must have remembered that long-ago cry when the students in Tiananmen Square carried banners hailing the “Mr. Democracy” of the May 4th Movement on their march, which marked its seventieth anniversary. Deng must have recalled how a small group of implacable dissidents, of whom he was one, had eventually overthrown the government of China and established a new order.

This revolutionary intellectual tradition is one of the themes discussed by Professor Dorothy Solinger, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine, in her contribution to the symposium on China after Tiananmen Square, recently published in the World Policy Journal.12 She notes the traditional demands of Chinese intellectuals for “high behavioral standards” from their rulers: when rulers were no longer honest and sincere, the mandarin class traditionally supposed that the dynasty or regime must be dying. This explains, Professor Solinger rightly says, the growing demands in the square that the top leaders resign. Where Professor Solinger goes wrong is in her regret that the students did not make “informed attempts to implement democratic procedures to defuse the situation.” What Professor Solinger means here is unclear; she notes that the first posters called for “structural reform of the political system” and that the initial seven-point demands of the students included more political openness, legal guarantees of citizens’ rights, and a free press. Other activists called for people’s congresses. These demands, not very different from those shouted recently in Leipzig, Prague, Budapest, may have appeared insufficiently “informed” abroad; in the square itself—after forty years of dictatorship and with the knowledge from May 20 onward that Beijing was more and more tightly hemmed in by tens of thousands of soldiers backed with armor—they were both imaginative and concrete.

Asking for “consultations” with government leaders, for example, sounded tame to some foreign journalists. It was in fact a blow at the Party’s practice of appearing to “consult” or “going deeply among the people,” which means speaking only with those whom it has appointed to listen and applaud. Deng certainly thought the students’ demands were subversive: he said on June 9 that the demonstrators wanted to overthrow the state. As Andrew Nathan has pointed out: “Deng has a point: if his four principles [demanding total loyalty to the Party] are the standard of socialism, then the democrats did want to overthrow the socialist system.”13 By comparison, the American peace movement of the Sixties, which extended over a decade—Tiananmen lasted less than two months, and in a repressive society—now appears supremely idealistic in presenting the single demand that the US get out of Vietnam.

Professor Rudolf Wagner’s essay “Institutional Structure and Modernization in the PRC,” given at a Berlin symposium,14 shows how, well before the events of Tiananmen Square, the main institutions of the Chinese government—the courts, the National People’s Congress, the press, the police—had ceased to function with any constitutional legitimacy, and were becoming again, as in Mao’s time, mere tools of Party power. Wagner, a China specialist at Heidelberg, says that the retired elderly comrades, whom Deng gathered about him just before the June 4 killings, now wielded great—unconstitutional—power, as they have done ever since. These old men based their authority, as has been the practice for years in the People’s Republic, on mutual obligations, shared birthplaces, patronage, family ties, and loyalties to a specific leader—in this case Deng Xiaoping. (The 27th Army, which ploughed into Tiananmen Square, is sometimes called the Yang Family Army because it is dominated by Yang Shangkun and his relations.) Wagner calls this “the invisible power structure of the Center.”

Although all Chinese can describe this network, discussing it openly is forbidden because, as with the Mafia, any close examination of it would show how much this structure of privilege is based on the conventions shared among the chieftains’ families. One Chinese told me he knew the students were doomed the day they posted on a university bulletin board a family tree that traced the blood ties binding the top leaders.

China’s next great upheaval, which may not come for years, will probably be far more destructive. Perhaps, as Professor David Zweig, a specialist on rural politics at Tufts University, suggests, the increasingly dissatisfied peasantry will be involved, and perhaps the peasant soldiers of the PLA will not fire on peasants.15 Until then, the present leaders and the army must cooperate to sustain their power; if they ever lose it the men who ordered the killings of June 3 and 4, and those who carried them out, will probably be the targets of Romanian-style popular anger. Chinese refugees abroad have told me they would catch the first plane home if they could join in such revenge. As happened in Romania, the army might save its reputation if some of the commanders who expressed doubts about martial law acted to overthrow the present regime. But such a military solution would not be a hopeful first step toward Chinese democracy.

Today’s Central Committee has no doubt or hesitation about using violence to survive. Like their counterparts in Bucharest its members know what awaits them if a real revolution arises from below, not the sort which they themselves once directed. On the day after the killings the Central Committee issued a statement, which Marlin Fitzwater, who says he wants us to stop recalling the past, should read:

We may need to shed more blood in the future, or the People’s Republic government, which the revolutionary martyrs built with their lives and blood, will be overthrown.

Letters

The Lost Weekend October 25, 1990

  1. 1

    It is also the subject of the an article by Nicholas D. Kristof in The New York Times Magazine, November 12, 1989, “How the Hardliners Won,” which collects the leaked materials from the square and adds some off-the-record conversations with officials.

  2. 2

    Beijing Review, July 10–16, 1989, pp. 14–17.

  3. 3

    Simmie and Nixon, p. 37, and Kristof, p. 40.

  4. 4

    I heard this at the time from a senior Party member, and it has been confirmed by Kristof, p. 66.

  5. 5

    The Hong Kong newspaper Cheng Ming, June 1, 1989, pp. 6–10, provides documentary evidence that Deng made these key decisions.

  6. 6

    Asiaweek, June 2, 1989, pp. 23–29; according to Kristof, p. 71, the decision to remove Zhao and replace him with Jiang Zemin was made on May 31.

  7. 7

    Cheng Ming, July 1, 1989, p. 6 ff.

  8. 8

    For the fullest versions of the Big Lie, see the speeches of Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong on June 30, to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, in BBC Monitoring, FE/0504B2/1, July 10, 1989, and Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin on the 40th Anniversary of the People’s Republic, in BBC Monitoring, FE/0576C1/1, October 2, 1989; photographs intended to show the army’s heroic defensive role can be seen in Quelling Counter-Revolutionary Rebellion in Peking, edited by the PLA Pictorial Office (Beijing: The Great Wall Publishing House, 1989); one unintended aspect of these pictures is their evidence of vast crowds involved in the movement, rather than the tiny number of “hooligans” officially described. The rapidly suppressed Beijing Review of May 29–June 4, now a collector’s item, bravely attacked martial law, and quoted an elderly worker who noted that even during the civil war not a shot had been fired in the capital, p. 6.

  9. 9

    Munro’s report to Human Rights Watch; Simmie and Nixon 188; and “Massacre,” p. 11.

  10. 10

    See Melanie Abas and Jeremy Broad-head, in British Medical Journal, Vol. 299, July 22, 1989, pp. 269–270.

  11. 11

    June 4 also provides a daily diary of events from the beginning of the demonstrations, and complete and partial texts of important documents; but its picture captions are not reliable: in the very first set, for instance, its identifications are mixed up.

  12. 12

    Democracy with Chinese Characteristics” in World Policy Journal, Fall 1989, pp. 621–632.

  13. 13

    In “Chinese Democracy in 1989: Continuity and Change,” Problems of Communism, September–October 1989, p. 29.

  14. 14

    The International Conference on Political Institutions in the Third World in the Process of Adjustment and Modernization, West Berlin, July 4–7, 1989.

  15. 15

    David Zweig, “Peasants and Politics,” in World Policy Journal, Fall 1989, p. 643.

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