Tiananmen - revisited

Sorting fact from fiction – Tiananmen revisited 


I: Introduction

In 2004, the former Australian diplomat, Gregory Clark, in an article published in The Japan Times, claimed that no massacre ever took place in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, or anywhere else in Beijing. ‘There was no deliberate massacre of innocent students,’ he wrote, and ‘no massacre in the Square.’ Instead, what occurred was a ‘mini civil war,’ with ‘panicky fighting’ having been ‘triggered by crowds attacking troops, initially unarmed, as they headed for the Square on June 3.’1

The purpose of this essay is to test Clark’s claims empirically, and to determine how much of the blame for the bloodshed, if any, should be attributed to the student protesters and their working class supporters who actively participated in the demonstrations. I will rely heavily on what are arguably the two most important sources of primary information: Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History, published in 1999 by the US National Security Archive. This is an online collection of declassified US State Department documents pertaining to the events in question. The other source, The Tiananmen Papers, was first published in 2001, and is a collection of documents depicting the deliberations of China’s paramount leadership during this tense period, thereby providing valuable insights into the way key players in the government responded to events as they unfolded. A large variety of eyewitness accounts will also be carefully scrutinised in order to help piece together a more detailed picture of what really took place during this tumultuous period.

The first of Clark’s claims – that nobody died in Tiananmen Square – was already widely accepted as an empirical fact well before Clark wrote his article, and is hardly considered contentious, although as The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews has pointed out, the episode has nevertheless remained enshrined in myth.2

Many Western politicians, reporters and editors, have indeed continued to accept a version of events that portrays the students as having been the advocates of a Western-style political system, murdered in their thousands while peacefully assembled in the confines of Tiananmen Square. The 2001 edition of The Encyclopedia of the World for example, claimed that ‘PLA troops entered Tiananmen Square during the night and fired directly into the sleeping crowd.’3 In 2002, the former American East Asia and Pacific Affairs diplomat, Richard Solomon, said on the MHz Network program, China Forum, that he actually ‘saw on CNN Chinese soldiers firing on students in Tiananmen Square’, though no such footage has ever existed.4

One of the more insightful publications to have appeared in bookstores to date, dealing specifically with the events of June 1989, is the one composed by George Black and Robin Munro (both researchers for Human Rights Watch), titled Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China’s Democracy Movement, first published in New York in 1993. The phrase ‘Tiananmen Square massacre’ is ‘inaccurate’ they concluded:

There was no massacre in Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3. But on the western approach roads, along Chang’an Boulevard and Fuxingmen Avenue, there was a bloodbath that claimed hundreds of lives when the People’s Liberation Army found its path blocked by a popular uprising that was being fueled by despair and rage. To insist on this distinction is not splitting hairs. What took place was the slaughter not of students but of ordinary workers and residents – precisely the target that the Chinese government had intended.5


Although the claim that nobody was killed in Tiananmen Square was verifiable at the time Black and Munro penned their book, along with their claim that those killed were mostly workers, their suggestion that these workers were intentionally targeted for slaughter on the night of June 3 is highly questionable.


II: The economic and social setting

As the economist Li Minqi has noted, by the mid-1980s, China’s intellectuals were generally ‘dissatisfied with the fact that as wealth was gradually concentrated in the hands of bureaucratic capitalists and private entrepreneurs, they did not have a share of this newly created wealth,’ with many of them openly complaining that their incomes did not grow more rapidly than that of urban workers.6 ‘Ferment among the intelligensia,’ as the historian Maurice Meisner points out, ‘was soon overshadowed by growing student political activism’, and with the death of the democratically inclined Hu Yaobang on April 15, some of the more ‘politically astute’ students saw an opportunity: ‘they knew that the death of a high Party leader was a time when authorities would briefly tolerate a degree of political dissent.’7 So on the night of Hu’s death, a group of graduate students from People’s University bicycled to Tiananmen Square to lay wreaths at the Monument to the Heroes. They were soon joined by students from other universities, with many advertising their movement by ‘embarking on “long marches” through the streets of the capital singing the “Internationale” and other revolutionary songs [while] on their way to the Square and to government buildings.’8

The students may have initiated the Tiananmen movement, but by mid-May they had become dwarfed by the intervention of much broader social forces. The independent Worker’s Autonomous Federation officially declared itself as part of the movement on May 18, a day after many ordinary workers and residents helped swell the number of protesters assembled in the Square to an estimated one million.9

China’s intelligensia were clearly not the only ones dissatisfied with their situation in life. As Maurice Meisner explains:

By the early autumn of 1988, inflation in the major cities had reached a per annum rate of 30 percent. The economy was out of control and the government was forced to adopt severe austerity measures to avert a disastrous crash…Both inflation and the retrenchment policies necessary to restrain price increases brought hardship to much of the urban population, especially workers in state factories, minor officials and clerks in government offices, intellectuals, students, and others dependent on state salaries and subsidies.10


Not everybody, however, was suffering. Meisner again:

Among those who enriched themselves were those involved in foreign trade, especially politically influential traders who were able to acquire goods and materials at low state prices and export them at world market prices; the managers and employees of the rapidly expanding private and collective industries; rural entrepreneurs and even urban street vendors; and especially corrupt bureaucrats who had access to relatively cheap state-priced goods and raw materials. But for the most part, in a society where the gap between rich and poor was already widening with alarming speed, living standards deteriorated due to inflation – and then fell even more rapidly because of the austerity measures the government adopted in late 1988 to stem inflation. Eroding living standards, combined with growing anger over profiteering bureaucrats and others who flaunted wealth obtained by dubious means, expressed itself in widespread social unrest.11


So widespread was the discontent, that on the day martial law was declared, the central government received forty-six reports describing demonstrations in one hundred and sixteen cities throughout the country.12


III: A pro-democracy campaign?

The student protesters were at the time widely portrayed by Western journalists as ‘pro-democracy’ campaigners, as if they had been calling on the central government to introduce a political system based on multi-party elections. Most, however, simply equated the idea of ‘democracy’ with the need for government accountability and responsiveness. It was clear from most of their banners that they wanted their grievances addressed: more money to be allocated to education, corruption to be stamped out, and for officials to be forced to disclose their incomes and assets.13 In his book, China Live, CNN’s Mike Chinoy, who covered the Tiananmen demonstrations, explains why he thought the students were so disgruntled:

With government spending on education slashed even as inflation spiralled out of control, university teaching, library, and research facilities declined, while students as well as professors found their meager stipends insufficient to get by. In a country where intellectuals had long considered themselves a privileged class, a good education no longer guaranteed a job. Indeed, the average university graduate earned less than Dong Aizhi, the self-employed hairdresser I’d interviewed soon after arriving in Beijing. And growing numbers of students found that ability counted less than connections, or guanxi, in finding work. For many of the young protesters, the chant of “down with corruption” had a very personal ring, as their own grievances blended with the broader discontent simmering in Chinese society.14


Chinoy then goes on to explain how at the time, he quickly came to realise that ‘the protesters were not talking about an American-style political system for China’ when they spoke of democracy. ‘I wasn’t completely comfortable,’ he admits, ‘with the way I and other reporters, faced with the limitation of daily journalism and its pressure to compress and simplify, tended to describe their protests as a “democracy movement,” for ‘the more I listened, the more I became convinced that the students’ top priority was not establishing a democracy, but simply securing formal recognition from the government for their movement.’15

‘Theirs was not an attempt to overthrow the system,’ concludes Chinoy, ‘but a clamour for a hearing, for legitimacy and respect from their elders – an acknowledgement that, as intellectuals, they, like the protesters of the May Fourth Movement, had a special mission to help improve Chinese society.’16 

Another journalist who covered events at the time, Jane Macartney, also questioned the students’ motives. Democracy was merely a ‘buzzword’ she realised, for ‘accountability is what they meant.’17 When asked about their ideas, says Macartney, ‘most were hard pressed for an answer. “Freedom, democracy,” the students said during demonstrations. Pressed to elaborate, they complained of official corruption and high-level nepotism, poor food and uncomfortable dormitories. Were they talking about universal equality of opportunity or were they merely envious of those who held higher-paying jobs?’18

‘They seemed to be playing a game of ultimata with the government,’ adds Macartney, ‘– if you give us what we want, we’ll do what you want. Such an approach did not signify demand for structural change. Nor did it reveal recognition for the significance of the huge popular protests of support – which they viewed as peripheral to their action.’19

Orville Schell also noted the reformist nature of the student movement, reporting on how one wall poster he stumbled across at the People’s University had declared the goal not to overthrow the government, but rather to ‘supervise and prod it.’20

‘The demonstrations cannot be considered purely anti-government, as many protesters think of themselves as a kind of loyal opposition,’ wrote David Holley for The Los Angeles Times, April 23. The student movement, he later added, was ‘aimed at accelerating the process of economic and political reform within the Communist Party and under the Communist Party’s leadership of the Chinese system.’21

Ma Qingguo, a psychology student who worked as part of the so-called ‘student police’ in Tiananmen, told the Australian historian Ross Terrill, that their ‘demands boiled down to something rather simple. That the government affirm [their] movement was patriotic, not turmoil,’ and that the government acknowledge their intentions as ‘not seeking to overthrow them.’22

Many of the students quite clearly confused the notion of democracy with the attitudes and consumer values of Western culture. The Beijing Normal University student, Wu’er Kaixi, Chair of the Beijing Student’s Autonomous Federation, not only expressed repeatedly to foreign journalists his desire to join the Chinese Communist Party,23 but also believed that what most students really wanted were ‘Nike shoes,’ and for the guys, enough ‘free time to take [their] girlfriends to a bar.’24

Many of those who turned out to support the movement no doubt did so simply because that was what everyone else seemed to be doing. One Beijing University student, Lao Yujun for example, told Ross Terrill that ‘because a lot of the younger students from [his] campus were going to Tiananmen Square, [that he] wanted to be there with them.’25 He also told Terrill that he had decided to join the hunger strike simply ‘to find out what one was like.’26

In a study of U.S. press coverage on the Beijing spring of 1989, conducted by The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, it was noted that all eight American-based media organisations sampled tended to define the student movement as a ‘pro-democracy’ one, even though ‘the majority’ of banners, T-shirts and symbols used by the student protesters were in Chinese, not English – their demands ‘reflect[ing] Chinese cultural norms, rather than Western ideas.’27

Although there were a number of notable exceptions, American journalists, the report concluded, because of their excessive ethnocentrism, generally failed at the time to understand the unique features and limitations of the student movement: ‘Americans tend to see their own democratic values mirrored elsewhere in the world.’ Such an outlook, while facilitating interest and sympathy, also ‘plants seeds of misunderstanding.’28

The student movement was also elitist in the way that it ‘largely ignored the workers,’ as Black and Munro have detailed.29 Student organisers were actually quite keen to prevent the workers from appropriating their movement, and sought from the very beginning to marginalise all non-students. On April 19 for example, student picketers prevented workers from entering the Square, as if they owned the place, forcing the workers to set up their tents and headquarters elsewhere, at a place known as the West Reviewing Stand.30 On the seventeenth anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, when students led by Wu’er Kaixi staged a march to the Square, ‘the contingent of several thousand workers’ who had shown up in support were again kept segregated, forced to march separately ‘by efficient young student marshals.’31

According to the American historian and China specialist, Professor Merle Goldman, both intellectuals and students involved with the 1989 movement were ‘elitist’ in their attitude toward workers, with students often ‘literally lock[ing] arms to keep workers from participating in their protests.’32 In addition to their elitism, the students ‘were very much aware of the fact that since 1980, the leadership’s greatest fear was the formation of a Solidarity-like coalition between intellectuals and workers,’ and so were keen not ‘to do anything that would provoke the leadership’s retaliation and put an end to their independent enterprises and activities.’33

The sociologists Andrew G. Walder and Gong Xiaoxia agree. The workers were fighting for the right to have workplace representation and collective bargaining power, and so ‘their trade unionism was an effort to protect themselves from what they saw as the unpredictability and insensitivity of the reformers’ program’34 – a program that not only drove inflation upwards, but that also involved the dismantling of their iron rice bowl.

The students by contrast, favoured Deng’s economic reforms, but wanted to see also the acceleration of political reforms, with the expectation that this would guarantee them a bigger share of the country’s new wealth. ‘From the very outset of the movement,’ say Walder and Xiaoxia, ‘and continuing well into martial law, the students made a self-conscious effort to maintain their “purity” (chunjiexing). This meant, in practice, that they limited their politics to moral questioning of the authorities, seeking to speak as the conscience of the nation…while keeping off to one side any “narrow” economic and group interests that might potentially disrupt their quest.’ This quest for purity, they add, ‘led to their early practice of marching with hands linked to prevent others from joining in.’35

According to one member of the Workers’ Autonomous Federation, interviewed by Walder and Xiaoxia, the students were ‘especially unwilling’ to meet members of the Construction Workers’ Union, who they were always driving away from the Square, considering them as they did to be lowly ‘convict labourers.’ The students ‘were always rejecting us workers,’ he added. ‘They thought we were uncultured. We demanded to participate in the dialogue with the government, but the students wouldn’t let us. They considered us workers to be crude, stupid, reckless, and unable to negotiate.’36

In response to the students’ exclusivity, the Workers’ Autonomous Federation produced a charter inviting ‘all’ to join, and according to Walder and Xiaoxia, ‘members took pride in the fact that their leaders would talk freely with city people of all walks of life, and peasants as well, and that the ‘democratic forum’ of their broadcasting station was open to any and all statements from the audience.’37

The workers interviewed by Walder and Xiaoxia also said that ‘they observed in the student leaders and in their movement many of the faults of the nation’s leaders and their political system: hierarchy, secrecy, condescension toward ordinary people, factionalism and struggles for power, and even special privilege and corruption.’ The student leaders received large sums of money from ordinary citizens and from foreign tourists and organisations abroad, though some worker activists claim to have witnessed a ‘chaos of money’, accusing the leadership of having pocketed much of it for themselves. The size and quality of tents and sleeping mats purchased with donated funds, they noticed, ‘were allocated among student leaders according to their relative rank.’38

Macartney also noted how the student movement, rather than having operated democratically, simply reproduced elite hierarchies similar to those that structured the Chinese Communist Party. ‘Representatives of rival universities were soon locked in a battle for power as bitter and complex as any inner Party struggle. The power struggles, a signal of ambitions to be recognised as hero of the moment, marred the movement.’39 In fact, notes Macartney, ‘almost all the prominent leaders were purged at least once during the movement. Most fell as a result of internal battles and not by popular demand.’40

According to Macartney, throughout the entire duration of the movement, the students maintained barricades around the Square so that they could restrict entry. Many Chinese journalists and workers were often turned away from the ‘inner sanctums’, and foreign journalists ‘were required to show makeshift passes scribbled out and stamped by the student leadership.’41 The students held numerous press conferences, she adds, ‘often with little to say at meetings that disintegrated into argument and disarray among the organisers.’42

CNN’s Mike Chinoy also recalls with disappointment how ‘the bickering students began to display the same bureaucratic and autocratic tendencies in their “People’s Republic of Tiananmen Square” that they were trying to change in the government.’ By the end of May

the headquarters on the Heroes Monument, where Wang Dan, Wu’er Kaixi, Chai Ling, and other leaders spent most of their time, was now surrounded by rings of student guards to keep outsiders out to ensure that the insiders maintained their privileged status. Carried away by their own sense of self-importance, the student leaders became less and less available to the press, just like the elderly party chieftains they so despised. Bodyguards refused access to journalists unless they could produce multiple ID cards and press passes. It was a farce, but a highly aggravating one…The self-styled “student security forces” became increasingly nasty to reporters and camera crews. One afternoon, a young man claiming to be an army cadet approached John Lewis near the monument and offered to do an interview. As John and Mitch Farkas finished shooting, disappointed that the cadet had very little of interest to say, other students walked over demanding the tape and insisting that we did not have permission from them to conduct such an interview. When John refused, the students began to push and shove.43


Vito Maggioli, who worked as CNN’s assignment manager, also recalled how camera crews and producers would come back after reporting on events in the Square, complaining about the bureaucracy the students had created, with some even referring to student leaders as ‘fascists.’44

A number of U.S. government officials who dealt with China policy at the time, have since complained that ‘the media did not write of the Leninist techniques used by students and the rings of security the reporters had to pass through to reach student leaders.’45 Mark Mohr of the U.S. State Department for example, felt that the press was ‘too light’ on the students, explaining how he himself had witnessed on several occasions young girls ‘reprimanded in severe terms’ by their leaders for handing out documents to reporters before obtaining official clearance to do so.46

In her memoir, Red China Blues, the Canadian journalist Jan Wong recalls how she too had felt disturbed by various aspects of the student movement:

The outside world thought the demonstrators were disciplined, and marveled. But having lived through the Cultural Revolution myself, talents like slogan shouting and mass marching didn’t impress me…it seemed that the students were merely aping their oppressors. They established a Lilliputian kingdom in Tiananmen Square, complete with a min-bureaucracy with committees for sanitation, finance and ‘propaganda’. They even adopted grandiose titles. Chai Ling was elected Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Tiananmen Square Unified Action Headquarters.

Like the government, the students’ broadcast station sometimes deliberately disseminated misinformation, such as the resignation of key government officials, which wasn’t true. They even, indignity of all indignities, issued us press passes. Using transparent fishing line held in place by volunteers who simply stood there all day, they carved the huge square into gigantic concentric circles of ascending importance. Depending on how our press passes were stamped determined how deeply we could penetrate those silly circles.47

According to The Washington Post’s Daniel Southerland, journalists did at times discuss the idea of ‘doing something on the authoritarian set-up on Tiananmen Square,’ explaining how on one occasion he ‘had to pass through eleven check points to get to Chai Ling,’ which he said was ‘worse than trying to get into Party headquarters.’ Student police, he added, even tried to ‘force’ him into making a ‘self-criticism’ for having shoved his way through.48

The reason why the students were able to enjoy little negative press, with most foreign journalists choosing to turn a blind eye to their elite authoritarianism, is because producers were concerned that anything negative reported might ‘play into the hands’ of the Chinese central government, as Seth Faison of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post later confessed. ‘Everyone’s heart naturally went out to these students,’ said Faison, since ‘they were asking for things we know and cherish.’49 [emphasis mine] Most foreign journalists were keen to promote the idea that liberal democracy has universal appeal, which meant not only putting a democratic stamp on the student movement, but also the constant portraying of students in a positive light.

In their study on the U.S. press coverage of the Beijing spring of 1989, The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, concluded that ‘there should have been tougher reporting on the [student] movement’s fragmentation and authoritarianism, because these would have thrown light on aspects of the alternative politics the students were offering to the Chinese people.’50 The report added that the students ‘were often depicted, particularly on television, as the righteous side of a Manichean conflict, rather than as a subject of neutral scrutiny by the press.’ Specifically, journalists underreported ‘actions that were distinctly undemocratic, hypocritical or elitist. Conflicts among the protesters were downplayed, as well as the reluctance of some student leaders to welcome workers into their movement. There were inadequate attempts to report the source of funds the movement received, and whether they were properly used and accounted for.’51

The Australian historian and Asian Studies scholar, Geremie Barmé, arrived in Beijing on May 7 to study the movement first-hand. He recalls having discussed with student leaders the need ‘to publish details of the massive donations they were receiving’ and for them to do something about the deteriorating hygiene situation in the Square, which he said was by that time ‘filthy’ and reeking of urine. The student leadership acknowledged these as problems, but ‘dismissed them as unimportant’, arguing instead that it was the ‘spirit’ of the movement that mattered most.52

The doctors who volunteered their time to staff the Square’s makeshift first-aid stations were certainly concerned about the worsening sanitation problems. The students had opened an underground drainage ditch for use as a public toilet, but as Orville Schell explains, almost immediately the ditch ‘began to overflow’, and a ‘fetid swill of urine and excrement’ spilled out across the sidewalk. By the middle of May, adds Schell, ‘there was so much garbage and trash strewn around, that parts of the Square had begun to look like a landfill.’53 Jan Wong also expressed disgust at the students’ lack of environmental consciousness, declaring herself puzzled as to why so many of them would discard their ‘cigarette butts, newspapers and plastic juice bottles’ directly onto the ground, turning the entire Square into ‘a mess.’54

Those with fonder, perhaps more romantic memories, prefer to paint a more positive picture of the student movement. In a recent article by Philip J. Cunningham, another first-hand observer of events, it’s now time for the world to stop focusing on the bloodbath that the 1989 movement culminated in, and to start celebrating the ‘positives’ instead, like the ‘outright remarkable contributions of the student leadership who performed brilliantly as crowd facilitators and morale boosters.’55 Cunningham acknowledges the fact that, organisationally, the student movement was ‘less than democratic in word and deed’, but finds it impressive that so many of them ‘were adept at utilising native communist-influenced political tools to manage people power to an impressive degree.’56

Ross Terrill seems to agree. ‘The students,’ he says, ‘with their books and music cassettes and water bottles were encamped college by college, as units in the Chinese style, and the negative features of this “unit mindedness” turned into a positive advantage of organisational strength and unity that encouraged the fainthearted to swallow their doubts and join in.’57

But not all of the students were encouraged by the quality of their leadership. On June 3 for example, the Hong Kong newspaper Mingbao, ran a report based on an interview with two of the students, who complained that although the movement was supposed to be for democracy and freedom, the students often behaved undemocratically, seizing vehicles or demanding the right to ride for free.58

Even some of the movement’s biggest supporters were scathing in their assessments. In their Hunger Strike Manifesto, the popular singer and activist Han Dejian, the Beijing Normal University Assistant Professor Liu Xiaobo, former Beijing University sociologist Zhou Duo and Chinese Communist Party member and reformist Gao Xin, expressed the view that:

The students’ mistakes are mainly manifested in the internal chaos of their organisations and their lack of democratic procedures. Although their goal is democracy, their means and procedures for achieving democracy are not democratic. Their lack of cooperative spirit and the sectarianism that has caused their forces to neutralise each other have resulted in all their policies coming to naught. More faults can be named: financial chaos, material waste, an excess of emotion and a lack of reason; too much of the attitude that they are privileged, and not enough of the belief in equality; and so on.59

Not all foreign journalists gained the impression that the students were well organised in ‘strength and unity’ either. Like Jane Macartney and Jan Wong, the CNN’s Mike Chinoy thought that the ‘students were undisciplined and disorganised, drawn to the Square primarily by reports of the excitement in the heart of the Chinese capital.’60 As he recalls it, towards the end he and his entire crew

were getting fed up. The world still saw the students as shining heroes. Their encampment was attracting politically sympathetic tourists and some oddballs as well. One day a group of Western environmentalists showed up and announced plans to bring a Greenpeace ship to Beijing. The next day, there were chanting Buddhist monks. But order and discipline were breaking down amid power struggles and festering garbage. My own positive feelings about the movement began to change. They’d had a remarkable run, I felt, but now the hard-core protesters still occupying the Square were in danger of overplaying their hand, discrediting themselves, sullying their achievements, and risking a potential bloodbath.61


Indeed, many of these ‘morale boosters’ who were so adept at managing ‘people power’ often expressed ‘a passion for blood’, as Jane Macartney reminds us, for ‘students and workers each set up their own “dare-to-die” squads, ready to take on the army should it move to enter the city.’62

‘Both the students and the citizens have failed to develop a sense of their rights,’ Wu’er Kaixi told one reporter on May 29. ‘They need a more violent provocation.’63 The Australian radio journalist Helene Chung, described how she had stood in the Square a day earlier, listening to ‘a spikey-haired student’ deliver a speech to a crowd of 50,000 people from the base of the Monument to the People’s Heroes. ‘I’m in favour of bloodshed,’ the student declared, which he said would ‘accelerate democracy’ by uniting ‘the people.’64 On the same day, another of the student leaders, Chai Ling, in a now famous interview with Cunningham himself, explained that what the movement was ‘actually hoping for is bloodshed’, for ‘only when the Square is washed in our blood will the people of China open their eyes.’65

Chai’s interview with Cunningham appeared in the documentary film, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, and has attracted the interest of Hsueh Hsiao-kuang, a well-known Hong Kong-based journalist for the Taiwanese newspaper, United News Daily. As Geremie Barmé explains, Hsueh, in a piece she had published on April 26, 1995, in the New York edition of World Journal, ‘discussed the issues raised by that interview and questioned the responsibility that Chai Ling shared for the final bloody outcome of the student movement…Surely leaders like Chai Ling, Hsueh observed, through their constant refusal to leave the Square even as disaster loomed ever closer, also were responsible in part for the continued escalation of the conflict and its tragic denouement.’66

Employing a sober sense of fairness, the American historian Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, while recognising that many of the students did in fact demonstrate a genuine desire to create a freer society, makes the point that the elite authoritarianism of the student movement in general needs to be understood as having been the inevitable product of China’s dominant political culture at the time. ‘As the events of 1989 remind us,’ says Wasserstrom, ‘the tendency of protesters to improvise from familiar social and cultural scripts is a double-edged sword: it can lend power to a struggle but can also lead protesters to (often unintentionally) reproduce inequities embedded in the status quo within their own movements.’67

Drawing on the Gramscian concept of hegemony, Wasserstrom suggests that many of the implicit rules that shape collective behaviour in any given society are likely to be widely shared. ‘Thanks to attempts by the elite to justify its rule by posing a particular worldview upon the populace at large,’ explains Wasserstrom, ‘and to the common patterns of daily life that shape the existence of wide segments of the population, “high” and “low” alike are bound to view some ideas and patterns of behaviour simply as part of the natural landscape.’68

It ‘is true that student forces did reproduce many features of the CCP regime during their occupation of Tiananmen Square,’ he adds, ‘and this is a reminder of the staying power of hegemonic forms…The fierce factional infighting in Tiananmen Square, during which protesters resurrected old Cultural Revolution labels such as “renegade” and “traitor” to attack their enemies,’ simply exemplifies just how persistent ‘entrenched political habits’ can be.69


To be continued...




1 Gregory Clark, ‘The Tiananmen Massacre Myth, The Japan Times, Wednesday, September 15, 2004.

2 Jay Mathews, ‘The Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press’, Columbia Journalism Review, September/October, 1989.

3 The Encyclopedia of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001 (6th edition), p.1026.

4 Richard Solomon, interviewed on China Forum, MHz Network, January 13, 2002.

5 George Black and Robin Munro, Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China’s Democracy Movement, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 1993, p.246.

6 Li Minqi, The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2008, pp.61-62.

7 Maurice Meisner, Mao’s China and After: A History of the People’s Republic, The Free Press, New York, 1999, p.500.

8 Ibid.

9 Doug Guthrie, China’s Globalization: The Social, Economic, and Political Transformation of Chinese Society, Routledge, New York, 2006, p.265.

10 Maurice Meisner, Mao’s China and After, p.492.

11 Ibid., pp.492-493.

12 Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link (editors), The Tiananmen Papers, Little, Brown and Company, London, 2001, pp.227-228.

13 Mike Chinoy, China Live: Two Decades in the Heart of the Dragon, Turner Publishing Inc., Atlanta, 1997, p.188.

14 Ibid., p.196.

15 Ibid., p.197.

16 Ibid., p.197.

17 Jane Macartney, ‘The Students: Heroes, Pawns or Power-Brokers?’ in George Hicks (editor), The Broken Mirror: China After Tiananmen, St. James Press, Chicago, 1990, p.12.

18 Ibid., p.5

19 Ibid., pp.329-330.

20 Orville Schell, Mandate of Heaven: A New Generation of Entrepreneurs, Dissidents, Bohemians and Technocrats Lays Claim to China’s Future, Little Brown and Company, London, 1995, pp.55-56.

21 Turmoil in Tiananmen: A Study of U.S. Press Coverage of the Beijing Spring of 1989, The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June, 1992, page 6 of 49 when viewed online at: http://tsquare.tv/themes/TatTcover.html 

22 Ross Terrill, China in Our Time: A Personal view of the People’s Republic from Communist victory to Tiananmen Square and beyond, Hale & Iremonger Pty Ltd., Sydney, Australian edition, 1995, p.249.

23 Dorinda Elliott, ‘We have Enthusiasm and Daring’, Newsweek, May 8, 1989, p.16.

24 From the transcript of the film, Gate of Heavenly Peace. Available online at: http://www.tsquare.tv/film/transhs.html

25 Ross Terrill, China in Our Time, p.249.

26 Ibid.

27 Turmoil in Tiananmen: A Study of U.S. Press Coverage of the Beijing Spring of 1989, The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June, 1992, page 4 of 49 when viewed online at: http://tsquare.tv/themes/TatTcover.html 

28 Ibid. page 7 of 49. American journalists were not the only ones to portray the student movement as a ‘pro-democracy’ one of course. This was how the Western media in general portrayed the student cause.

29 George Black and Robin Munro, Black Hands of Beijing, p.248.

30 Ibid., p.159.

31 Ibid., p.167.

32 Merle Goldman, From Comrade to Citizen: the struggle for political rights in China, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2005, p.61.

33 Ibid.

34 Andrew G. Walder and Gong Xiaoxia, ‘Workers in the Tiananmen Protests: The Politics of the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation’, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No.29, January 1993, pp.1-29.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Jane Macartney, ‘The Students: Heroes, Pawns or Power-Brokers?’, pp.8-9.

40 Ibid., p.17.

41 Ibid., p.9.

42 Ibid., p.10.

43 Mike Chinoy, China Live: Two Decades in the Heart of the Dragon, p.242.

44 Turmoil in Tiananmen: A Study of U.S. Press Coverage of the Beijing Spring of 1989, The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June, 1992, page 11 of 49 when viewed online at: http://tsquare.tv/themes/TatTcover.html 

45 Ibid., page 10 of 46.

46 Ibid., page 11 of 46.

47 Jan Wong, Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Doubleday/Anchor Books, Sydney, 1996, p.241.

48 Turmoil in Tiananmen: A Study of U.S. Press Coverage of the Beijing Spring of 1989, The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June, 1992, page 11 of 49 when viewed online at: http://tsquare.tv/themes/TatTcover.html 

49 Ibid., page 22 of 46.

50 Ibid., page 11 of 46.

51 Turmoil in Tiananmen: A Study of U.S. Press Coverage of the Beijing Spring of 1989, The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June, 1992, page 2 of 7 when viewed online at: http://tsquare.tv/themes/TatTconclsn.html 

52 Geremie Barme, ‘Beijing Days, Beijing Nights’ in Jonathon Unger (editor), The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, M.E. Sharpe, Inc, Armonk, New York, 1991, page 7 of 16 when online at: http://tsquare.tv/links/Beijing_Days.html

53 Orville Schell, Mandate of Heaven, p.91.

54 Jan Wong, Red China Blues, p.232.

55 Philip J. Cunningham, ‘The Forgotten Meaning of Tiananmen’, Tuesday, April 21, 2009. Posted on The Informed Comment website, at: http://www.juancole.com/2009/04/cunningham-forgotten-meaning-of.html

56 Ibid.

57 Ross Terrill, China in Our Time, 1995, p.248.

58 Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link (editors), The Tiananmen Papers, p.364.

59 An English translation of the Hunger Strike Manifesto appears in Han Minzhu and Hua Sheng, (editors), Cries for Democracy: Writings and Speeches from the 1989 Chinese Democracy Movement, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1990, p.352.

60 Mike Chinoy, China Live: Two Decades in the Heart of the Dragon, p.243.

61 Ibid.

62 Jane Macartney, ‘The Students: Heroes, Pawns or Power-Brokers?’, p.10.

63 Ibid, p.11.

64 Helene Chung, Shouting from China, Penguin, Melbourne, second edition, 1989, pp.276-277.

65 Excerpts from Philip. J. Cunningham’s interview with Chai Ling are provided in Geremie Barme’s, In The Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture, Columbia University Press, New York, 1999, p.329.

66 Ibid., p.330.

67 Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China: the view from Shanghai, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1991, p.326.

68 Ibid., pp.11-12.

69 Ibid., pp.326-327.

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