Li Peng
Li Peng; drawing by David Levine

To stand, in early May, atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which guards the entrance to the Forbidden City, and look across the vast crowd of people jammed into Tiananmen Square was to have a historically new sense of what Mao called “the broad masses.” It was to this ancient gate that Mao himself came on October 1, 1949, almost forty years before, to greet the adoring “broad masses” upon the defeat of the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek and the founding of “new China.” Just the day before, in a declaration for the first plenary session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, he had proclaimed that

we are holding this session at a time when the Chinese people have triumphed over their enemies, changed the face of their country and founded the People’s Republic of China. We the 475 million Chinese people have now stood up, and the future of our nation is infinitely bright.

It was to be a new beginning, which for many Chinese promised the hope of delivering their country from the warfare, corruption, economic ruin, and seemingly endless and humiliating failures that had plagued every aspect of its history for so long. Through the selfless devotion of its people to socialism and country, Mao promised that China would be uplifted from its status as the “poor man of Asia.” He went on in his declaration to proclaim defiantly that his new government would

organize the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people in political, military, economic, cultural, and other organizations and put an end to the disorganized state characterizing the old China, so that the great collective strength of the masses may be tapped both to support the People’s Government and the People’s Liberation Army and to build a new China, independent, democratic, peaceful, unified, prosperous, and strong.

This past May, Mao’s dreams for China seemed far away indeed. Not only had most of the main principles of his revolution been annulled by reformers, but now Tiananmen Square was filled with hundreds of thousands of dissident free thinkers deriding the very party Mao had helped found and challenging the very notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Moreover, instead of marching in lock step from a single direction with resolute socialist smiles as they had done in the past, people now were spilling spontaneously down the Avenue of Eternal Peace from both east and west, where, with flying banners extolling bourgeois democracy; they converged chaotically like two turbulent rivers, and in the confluence of the square became a roaring crowd that swirled and eddied in changing configurations. Even in back alleys and surrounding neighborhoods of the city one could hear their clamor reverberating like the roar from a faraway cataract. The only place I had ever heard a sound like the one that rose from the vast square below me was in a crowded football stadium in America.

This historic upheaval started in mid-April with the death of former Party chief Hu Yaobang, who had been accused of being too liberal in his treatment of intellectuals and students, and was unceremoniously dismissed by Deng Xiaoping in January 1987 shortly after demonstrations for democracy—relatively mild ones involving perhaps 50,000 people—had last shaken China. This time a group of students from several schools of higher education in Beijing, particularly Beijing University and Beijing Normal University, seized on Hu’s death as a symbolic moment to vent their long pent-up dissatisfaction with the slowness of political reform and the lack of freedom of expression in China, and the endemic corruption that has riddled the Party and government. When they marched on Tiananmen Square to mark Hu’s passing, they were joined by about 20,000 other young people. If nothing further had happened, this one demonstration alone against the Deng regime would have been a historic event.

But the students did not stop here. After several more protest demonstrations in the square, the new student movement faced its first direct challenge from the government. On April 27 it was attacked in the official Party paper, the People’s Daily, in an editorial that called the protests an “organized conspiracy to sow chaos” led by “people with ulterior motives,” whose purpose was “to poison minds, create national turmoil, and sabotage the nation’s political stability.” In response some 150,000 angry students defied government prohibitions and marched again. After several tense moments, they succeeded in peacefully breaking through police lines and triumphantly reached Tiananmen Square once more. But what was so striking about this march was that all along their route from the Haidian section of Beijing, for the first time the students were greeted by on-lookers who not only cheered them but gave them free food and drink. Never had the capital seen such bold support for political opposition. A Chinese journalist told an American reporter, “It was the first time in history that ordinary Chinese people won such a great victory. The date will live in history.”


On May 4 there was another march, again of more than 100,000 students, and from then on, Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heartland of the capital and the country, became a nonstop theater of dissent. The next important act began on May 13, when, in anticipation of Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit two days later, one thousand students entered the square to go on a hunger strike. The large crowds that immediately began gathering to support them would have been beyond the imaginings of Mao, who built the one-hundred-acre square for rituals of loyalty, not discord. They wore three-piece suits and neckties, headbands and acid-washed jeans, T-shirts inscribed with the words “Science and Democracy,” short skirts and funny hats, and they created an almost festive atmosphere in the square in spite of the seriousness of the fasting students’ cause. The crowds seemed to become more intense as they carried on discussions and made speeches, and each day the number of people grew larger, and it included more and more diverse groups until, by the third week in May, they became one of the largest and most representative bodies of urban Chinese society ever assembled in one place.

The students’ immediate demands were at this point quite simple. They wanted direct talks with high-ranking leaders, the right to establish an independent student union, and the retraction of the editorial in the People’s Daily of April 27 denouncing them for “conspiracy” and “sabotage.”

Indeed, talking to these student protesters at the time, one had little sense of them as revolutionaries bent on deposing the government or Party, or even of their having unappeasable resentments toward the leadership. What was most noticeable about them was not their iconoclasm but their yearning to be listened to and taken seriously by the government and leaders they were criticizing. Their demand that the Party retract its hard-line editorial reflected the prevailing sentiment among many students: far from wishing to be seen as unpatriotic troublemakers, they just wanted the government to acknowledge that they too were constructive citizens, albeit critical ones, with something to contribute. The Western reporters visiting the square, more familiar with hostile student protesters elsewhere who view their governments and police as unalterable enemies, were often startled and even sometimes touched by the sense of self-sacrifice, and by the sweet and almost naive moderation they found among these Chinese students, many of whom had even earnestly made out their wills in case the government reacted violently.

Had Deng Xiaoping, Premier Li Peng, and the other top leaders been able to compromise even by acknowledging the editorial in the People’s Daily as a mistake, there would have been an immediate outpouring of good will from the students, and it is not unlikely that the gesture would have headed off the precipitous events that followed. But the editorial had, according to reliable reports, been written by Deng Xiaoping himself, who, in spite of his lack of official titles, remained China’s behind-the-scenes supreme leader; therefore, according to the still prevailing convention of Communist leadership, it could not be reversed.

Deng and Premier Li and their allies were not only preoccupied with Gorbachev’s visit, they were unaccustomed to redressing grievances articulated with such forcefulness from people at the bottom. Zhao Ziyang, the more liberal General Secretary of the Chinese Communist party, and some of his supporters, took a more conciliatory line than Deng and Li Peng, and even urged that talks with student leaders take place. Even though Zhao had in recent months been attempting to reassure the Politburo of his loyalty to the Party by taking an increasingly intolerant view of political dissent himself, he was still viewed by hardliners with great suspicion for advocating that Chinese economic and political reform move at a quicker pace.

Deadlocked at the top, the leadership was simply unable to respond to the events taking place outside the Great Hall of the People and to student demands. And so, with each passing day, the crowd in Tiananmen Square grew, until by Wednesday, May 17, five days after the fasting students had arrived, more than a million people gathered there. At this point Li Peng finally agreed to speak with representatives of the hunger strikers in the Great Hall of the People. But when he actually met with the de fac-to student leaders—who included two brazen and unrepentant twenty-year-olds, Wuer Kaixi, from Beijing Normal University, and Wang Dan, from Beijing University—during a bizarre nationally televised “dialogue” on May 18, he very quickly became intransigent. Refusing even to make reference to the demands of the protesters, Li lectured the fasting students, several of whom had come directly from the hospital clad in pajamas and were breathing through oxygen tubes, saying, “We have to defend socialism…. I don’t care whether you are happy to listen to this or not.”


Li and Deng and most of the other Party leaders seemed incapable of understanding that the students, by articulating their own grievances, had touched a nerve of disaffection with the current government that ran through almost all of Chinese society. Being the first to protest publicly, the students had inadvertently become representatives of the as yet unarticulated sentiments of other groups as well. Intellectuals were frustrated by the slow pace of political reform, by restrictions on what they could publish, and by their dismally low salaries. Workers on fixed incomes were angry at the way their buying power had been reduced by inflation, which had been running at well over 30 percent. Students in China were fed up with squalid living conditions, dull curriculums, and the government’s refusal to make adequate investments in education. And students returning from abroad were dispirited to find that the older cadres often had all too little use for them or their skills and were more interested in protecting their positions and saving face than in modernizing and developing China.

Young people were angry at being assigned to dead-end jobs or being without jobs at all. Engineers, doctors, economists, teachers, and other professionals who still worked for the state were distressed that their counterparts in private enterprises earned ten, sometimes twenty times more than they did. And virtually everybody one talked to was fed up with the rampant corruption and nepotism that had invaded all branches of government and the lack of possibilities for advancement for people who lacked “connections.”

Walking in the square on Sunday, May 14, just after the hunger strikers arrived, I remember wondering if the disaffection of other groups in the city would not soon cause them to join in the protest. That the students would link up in protest with other parts of society was the Party’s undoubted nightmare. Activist intellectuals and journalists had in the past months already begun circulating and signing petitions calling on the government to release political prisoners and to grant more freedom of expression. What if they began to take up the cause of workers?

By Monday, May 15, as more and more students began flooding into the square, a kindling point seemed to be reached. That night, after Gorbachev’s arrival, a large and spontaneous crowd of local private street vendors, unemployed young people, workers, and people who were obviously poor suddenly came together in front of the Museum of Chinese History and Revolution, on the east side of the square. Beneath a crude banner proclaiming themselves simply as shimin, or “citizens,” they began enthusiastically to march in a procession around the square as onlookers roared in approval.

By Tuesday more and more groups of intellectuals, journalists, and teachers were joining in. By Wednesday hotel employees, hospital nurses, middle- and grade-school students, and even sizable groups from China’s national airline, the Foreign Ministry, the police, and the Party’s school for cadres had begun to appear. And by Thursday bus and taxi drivers, employees from the state railroad, workers from factories, even night soil collectors and peasants from the outskirts began to pour into the city and to drive with almost reckless abandon through the streets in commandeered trucks and buses. For all that anyone could see, the government had lost control of the capital. Moreover news reports claimed that the protest had spread to almost every major city in China.

As the size of the crowd kept growing, student organizers suddenly found themselves forced to become amateur urban planners, traffic policemen, communications specialists, accountants, and logistics experts. With a rapidity and skill that amazed everyone, they soon succeeded in organizing the tens of thousands of protesters camped at the center of the square into a city within a city. They used plastic packing string and rows of seated students to cordon off the hunger strikers who lay under tent flies, and they laid out broad “life-line” roads running through the center of the crowd so that ambulances could get collapsed students to city hospitals; they also set up a medical dispensary, established a communications headquarters with battery-powered loudspeakers, organized print shops with silkscreen machines on which leaflets could be duplicated, a finance office to handle contributions, encouraged groups of students to distribute all the water and drinks and food that were being contributed in great quantities by local vendors and stores. They even devised a system of passes to prevent unauthorized people from entering roped-off areas where the students who had emerged as the leaders of the moment met to discuss strategy.

Everywhere there were flags inscribed with the names of the protesters’ universities and academic departments, and banners emblazoned with prodemocracy and antigovernment slogans fluttering in the spring breeze. The place looked more like a fairground than the site of an insurrection, and there was a palpable feeling of relief at the idea of being, at least for now, so defiantly beyond the reach of the Party. Until Thursday, May 18, when the first torrential downpour fell, so balmy was the spring weather, so elated were those in the square, that no task seemed impossible.

By then, thousands of volunteer nurses and doctors had arrived to take care of the hunger strikers. Concerned professors had come to shore up the spirits of their fasting students. Parents who came in hopes of dissuading their sons and daughters from continuing their fast left in tears, talking about their new-found pride in their children. Outside the space that had been roped off for the hunger strikers, small groups gathered everywhere in tight clumps to listen to political debates. Older Chinese who had in the past suffered torments at the hands of the Party watched and listened with cautious curiosity, marveling at the temerity of this new generation of Chinese, who suddenly seemed so bold and confident in their challenge to authority. Everyone knew that the world was now watching China. Even Dan Rather, in his khaki-colored Banana Republic jacket, had become a regular visitor to the square. The sense of accomplishment and pride seemed to serve as a powerful cure for the feelings of hopelessness that had been such a dominant feature of China’s landscape for the last few years. Never in fifteen years of visiting Beijing had I seen so many people smiling and looking happy as in Tiananmen Square this May.

If one needed proof that things were at least for the moment different, all one had to do was leave a bicycle unlocked in the square and find that no one had stolen it. Even liumang, or hooligans, were reported to have gotten together and agreed to stop their petty thievery in favor of working with students. I saw some of them helping to direct traffic and collecting food. That there were virtually no incidents of crime in the square only contributed to the heady feeling of openness and triumph pervading the crowd.

But this feeling of ebullience also created a strangely unreal atmosphere in which some of the protesters seemed tempted to believe that nothing could now hurt them. One young man only half-jokingly told me, “We are like the Boxers of 1900. We believe that not even bullets can pierce us!”

It was, indeed, hard to imagine any force powerful enough to disperse so many well-organized and confident people. How could there be danger when lovers were walking arm in arm, and entire families were riding through the middle of the square on their three-wheel bicycle carts while their wide-eyed children were sucking popsicles? In this selfcontained universe where with impunity one could read political leaflets denouncing the Party, or listen to political speeches in which the leadership was reviled as hopelessly corrupt and incompetent, it was hard even to imagine the outside world, much less a military crackdown.

Although the young protesters were demonstrating in the name of democracy and freedom of expression rather than Maoist socialism, there was a suggestion in the air of the same insular confidence that former Red Guards describe as having possessed them during the Cultural Revolution, when China was as much a world unto itself as Tiananmen Square was now. Insulated for a historical instant from the immense difficulties of actually changing China, young protesters, and even Western journalists, were all too easily swept up in the immediacy of what was happening around them. In the intoxication of the moment it was not difficult to believe that a state of revolutionary immortality had been attained and that some important but indefinable success was just around the corner. The atmosphere, however illusory it might ultimately prove to be, recalled Woodstock in its nonviolence and sense of giddy liberation, and the Paris Commune in the conviction among the demonstrators that the “people” had finally risen up to secure the country’s heartland from forces of reaction.

It was this infectious new sense of elation and invincibility that later seemed to give ordinary people the courage and conviction to sit down in front of armored vehicles. But the protest also had its own restrained tone, partly because the self-sacrifice of fasting became central to its symbolism. So far, at least, the students have avoided the kind of violence and brutality that was inflicted on many of their own families during the Cultural Revolution. In this sense their peaceful hunger strike was a hopeful break with China’s long history of politics through brute force.

As the days progressed students continued to keep the situation in the square organized and to persevere in their nonviolent approach. But as the students became increasingly frustrated and angered by the government’s refusal even to consider their demands, the slogans on the banners became bolder and people became more irreverent. Whereas in the first few days they modestly declared “Democracy Is Our Common Dream” and “Long Live Democracy—Long Live Freedom,” by the time martial law was declared at the end of the week, on May 20, people began carrying effigies of Li Peng in a Nazi uniform and slogans proclaiming, “Deng Xiaoping, Your Brain Is Addled! Retire And Go Back To Playing Bridge!”

The Beijing students may have had more support from adults than in any other student rebellion to take place in modern times. “Of course, I am for the students,” a scholarly looking elderly man told me almost indignantly after he saw me observing him giving a fairly large amount of money to one of the many student bands that roved the city asking for donations. “They say and do what I have only dared think. They’re the ones who represent my feelings, not the government.” Merchants sent in food, drinks, clothing, sun hats, rain gear, paper, medicine, whatever they could offer. Pedicab drivers hauled students to bus stops free of charge. Cab drivers, normally among the surliest and greediest people in Chinese cities, were suddenly giving free rides and decorating their cabs with graffiti. One read, “Why Has Heaven Given the Soviet Union A Gorbachev, While It Has Only Given Us A Deng Xiaoping,” and “Strangle the Dictator Li Peng.”

Even Beijing’s citizens, long notorious for being among the most ungracious in the world, began to act more politely. There was less pushing and shoving in lines, people began to say “Excuse me” if they bumped into you on the street, or to say “Thank you” for some small gesture of deference. Drivers no longer cut you off rudely in traffic. People contributed effusively to students with collection boxes. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to do something for the students. How long would it last? When I asked this question of a young man with a headband inscribed with the words “Democracy or Death,” he said, “We will never be silent again! They will never again succeed in intimidating us to submission.”

In retrospect his statement sounds overblown, but at that moment, it had a convincing ring. In such an environment, where people had been saying and doing the unthinkable for so many days, where they had been openly defying the government, the police, and then, finally, the military itself, it seemed almost unimaginable that the old stifling order that had made Chinese feel eternally afraid of speaking out could ever again reassert itself. Even the façade of elephantine socialist buildings that ringed the square and had once looked so imposing now seemed clunky and out of date. The massive Great Hall of the People, which had been built during the 1950s by thousands of volunteers working around the clock for a year, now, with an enormous crowd moving about in front of it, looked unimposing and old. The Museum of Chinese History and Revolution opposite it was draped with so many banners of different sizes proclaiming democracy and freedom that it looked as if someone were using it to put laundry out to dry. And even Mao’s Memorial Mausoleum—closed until further notice—now looked forlorn.

Although the students tried to make their demands specific by calling, for instance, for dialogue with government leaders or for the retraction of the April 27 editorial, when pressed to be more precise about their vision of reform or their notions of how democracy might work in China, they tended to become vague and even flustered. What they did know was that they wanted basic human rights guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and still denied them—freedom of the press, speech, assembly, and travel—and that they did not feel represented by the current government. As one student only half-facetiously said, “I don’t know exactly what we want, but we want more of it.”

What was unprecedented was not the ability of students to suggest a new political system for China but the fact that they had succeeded in standing up in such numbers to oppose the discredited vision that China’s old guard revolutionaries still proclaimed as workable. Even if the Tiananmen movement ended up winning nothing at all by way of its specific demands, it was still changing the existing chemistry of relations between the Chinese people and their government in ways that would deeply affect the future of politics in China. Through the highly contagious symbolic act of taking to the streets, Chinese had declared that their days of waiting compliantly for the Party to reform itself democratically from the top were over. In doing so, Chinese intellectuals and students and perhaps other key segments of urban society as well gained a new sense of independence, confidence, and strength, qualities that were quickly discernible to anyone who entered the square.

At last, I heard people say, China had done something right. It had spawned one of the largest and best organized nonviolent political protest movements the world had ever seen. It was no small wonder, then, that for a moment at least, Chinese, without even quite knowing what they had accomplished, felt a new and exhilarating sense of self-respect that would be central to their defiance when Li Peng finally declared martial law on May 20 and troops began arriving on the outskirts of Beijing to put down the protest that he patronizingly described as “anarchy.”

Once again the Chinese astounded the world, and probably themselves as well. Instead of a pitched battle in the streets between soldiers and people, the global village of television viewers watched as students, along with China’s laobaixing, or ordinary people, brought the entire military caravan to a grinding halt by sitting down in front of the advancing vehicles. Then, instead of excoriating the soldiers as the enemy, bands of civilians formed on the spot, only a few of them students, and offered drinks and bowls of soup to the weary and doubtless frightened men. They read to them from newspapers, hoping that the same kind of moral didacticism that had stood Chinese from Confucius to Mao in such good stead might now also prove effective. And when no troops reached the heart of the city, it was more tempting than ever to believe that the Chinese citizen-protesters might continue to defy all the laws of Realpolitik and somehow bring about a new kind of peaceful revolution against armed dictatorship. The Party leaders who had for so many years been able to count on the Chinese people to obey them and follow them out of respect now could not be certain that people would follow orders, even out of fear of retaliation.

On May 18, just two days before martial law was declared, I went down to the square one last time before leaving Beijing. Standing on a bicycle cart just in front of the portrait of Mao in Tiananmen Square, I watched while hundreds of thousands of newly arrived demonstrators surged down the Avenue of Eternal Peace, many of them students who had just come from the train station after traveling from remote parts of China. What seemed incontrovertible was that even if the Party were somehow able to get rid of the million-odd demonstrators everywhere around me, even if Deng Xiaoping and whatever allies he chose were able to hold onto power, and even if all the visible signs of the huge protest were removed from Tiananmen Square, still China would not be the same as before.

Something had broken between society and the body politic. The opportunity for rapprochement had all but passed. The government had become so divorced from the people that meaningful reconciliation was now almost unthinkable. Few Chinese who had participated in the events that unfolded this spring or who had even seen them on television would be able to look upon Chinese politics in the same light. Neither martial law, ideological censure, political harassment, nor even persecution would be enough to turn back the clock. By defying the government so brazenly, by breaking through police lines, and by bringing even soldiers and armored vehicles to a halt, too many people from too many walks of life had felt the heady feeling of challenging unjust authority and winning. And while such a new state of mind hardly makes unarmed citizens an equal match for an angry Marxist-Leninist Party with a three-million-man army, the sudden willingness of Chinese to defy authority in the name of democracy does mark a major change in the old equation of power that has existed between government and people in China since the 1940s.

For China’s out-of-touch leaders, who had never viewed democratization as anything more than a tactical device which they might use from time to time to stimulate economic reform, the demonstrations in April and May must have come as a grave shock. Boiling up from the bottom of society in ways they were utterly incapable of controlling, or even of understanding, the events in the square dealt a devastating blow to their pride and mandate to rule.

Infuriated by the way that they had been humiliated by their own people in front of both Gorbachev and the world, and angered by the way in which the mystique of their once seemingly omnipotent rule had been punctured again and again by the defiance of their once compliant subjects, China’s aging leaders found not only their own ranks divided but themselves paralyzed by their deep ambivalence toward the idea of reform. Although they have claimed to understand that the logic of reform inevitably leads to more openness and democratization, when they were actually confronted with real political opposition, their instinct as always was to crack down. Even though they knew that such a crackdown would stifle exactly the kinds of imagination and energy on which reform depended, they could not resist acting as they always had. But declaring martial law and calling out the military was a more consequential and drastic decision than they realized. Attempting to crack down without addressing the grievances of protesters had the effect not only of estranging even further China’s intelligentsia, but of stirring up the country’s urban workers as well. The long-term effects of watching such a political drama on television on the peasantry, who already have their own grievances against the government, are still emerging. Faced now with increasingly unsolvable problems just as their credibility has plunged to its lowest point, China’s current leaders have poor prospects for dominating the future.

Not only was the Party’s nominal liberal and protector of intellectuals, Zhao Ziyang, reportedly ousted, but a coterie of like-minded leaders, ranging from Minister of Defense Qin Jiwei to Vice Premier Tian Jiyun, were also said to have been discharged in what looked like a spreading purge. By the end of May, the Party press once again began to be filled with talk of “conspiracies,” “bad elements,” and “anti-Party” activities. Eleven members of a motorcycle courier group, which had been giving students reports on troop movements around Beijing, were reported to have been arrested, as were several leaders of a new, independent labor union and of a citizens’ organization. Many young activists either fled abroad or began to go underground. Although thousands of students remained in the square at the beginning of June and continued to cling to the promise of nonviolent protest, others who had been deeply disillusioned by their experience had begun to talk not just of setting up independent student organizations and associations of intellectual and labor unions in defiance of the government, but of strikes and even sabotage.

For the first time in China’s recent democracy movements tension had begun to develop between the notions of peaceful and violent struggle. That some activists may be entering a new and alarming stage of political activity was suggested by a letter received by the People’s Daily just after Li Peng declared martial law. In the letter a newly formed underground “youth organization” threatened that if a student was killed in the current protest, a member of the Politburo would also die. If many others become drawn to such tactics, one may sadly look back upon the spring of 1989 as a time when peaceful protest by earnest students asking to be included in the current structure of government began to be seen as futile, and a growing body of alienated intellectuals and workers started to think not of reform but of overthrow of the Communist party as China’s dominant organization.

A new generation of intellectuals and leaders is now rising in China, and what has happened in Tiananmen Square this spring and in the scores of other demonstrations throughout China will be their formative experience. Unlike those men, now in their forties, fifties, and sixties, who grew up in the shadow of the Party, and who in one way or another are still within its magnetic field, whether as supporters or critics, this new generation is growing up beyond the Party. Actions such as petition drives, peaceful demonstrations, sit-down protests, and hunger strikes, which even during the dark years of the Cultural Revolution seemed unimaginable forms of insurrection against the state, are coming to be second nature to this new generation, and their immediate failure raises the obvious question of “What next?”

More concerned with maintaining face and their own power than with the future of their country, China’s revolutionary gerontocracy has begun to adapt a siege mentality. Already Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng, who once lived in spacious quarters in the hutongs or back alleys of Beijing, have moved into a special restricted area in Zhongnanhai, the walled and heavily fortified compound for top leaders near the Forbidden City. As with the Chinese Communist movement itself, which was forced by Kuomintang repression to come of age as an underground organization, the danger in China now is that people with legitimate grievances will once again be driven underground with no choice except to engage in acts of violence.

As one disheartened hunger striker put it at the very end of May, “By now it is pretty obvious that our leaders don’t give a damn if we students live or die. Next time I won’t be so stupid as to bother with a hunger strike. I’ll be out there with Molotov cocktails.” If such feelings of frustration ultimately prevail among the generation that began coming politically of age in Tiananmen Square this spring, it would represent the end of hopes for peaceful reform in China. And although it would be a bitter irony, one could imagine that a few years hence yet another Chinese leader might ascend to the top of the Gate of Heavenly Peace to declare that the “broad masses” of the Chinese people had yet again “stood up” to found a new government, this time after the downfall of the Chinese Communist party.

June 1, 1989

This Issue

June 29, 1989