June 4th 1989: Part 1

On the 22nd anniversary of the June 4th Massacre (Tiananmen Square Massacre), have 2 decades of ‘progress’ led to tangible changes for the people of China?

The simple answer is an emphatic “no”!

The reasons are a lot more complex.

Echoing the release of Transmission 6-10 missing fragments T610: 4-24/25, this blog will be published in 2 parts. The first being an outline of the events leading up to and encompassing June 4th 1989; the second a dissection of their ramifications.

Part One – The Mechanisms of the Movement

The students of 1989 could not have imagined that their own government would open fire on what was a peaceful demonstration – though large in number. The duration of seven weeks (from the death of former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, which sparked the pro-democracy movement) is probably more telling than the numbers involved. For a dictatorial government to lose control of its own capital city centre, for such a length of time, showed surprising restraint. Or, did it show surprising amounts of consideration for the best course of action. Your own opinion would depend on your thoughts of whether a dictatorship can be a form of government that represents the people or not. It is the opinion of T610 that a dictatorship serves only itself.

In the late 1970’s President Carter of the USA entered into ‘normalising‘ negotiations with China, in an attempt to bring the largest Asian nation into a more global setting. This would be the first direct political tethering of China and the West. A union that would one day lead to a symbiotic relationship.

China was opening up. The people were being rewarded with greater freedoms and exposure to the rest of the world – which left them yearning for more. This brought with it a dilemma for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as economic evolution had the potential for internal revolution.

Deng Xiaoping (CCP leader in the year of 1989) had lived and studied in the West. His political thoughts led to the development of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics – a capitalist/market economy system, with centralized control and a one-party state. Deng was a close comrade of Mao Zedong (founder of the CCP), and although was not selected to be Mao’s successor, his vision of the future ensured a political career at the highest levels of leadership. As a key ally to Mao, Deng was a part of the brutal campaigns which almost destroyed China between the 1950s and 1960s (the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution).

The context here is that violence and power cannot be separated. In Mainland China, this persists in the present.

Hu Yaobang (a protege of Deng Xiaoping) died on the 15th of April 1989. He had been purged from the CCP in 1987 for his role in inciting the December 1986 student demonstrations. Seen as a cult hero in the eyes of reformists, his sudden death united the students once more. Mass mournings soon led to pleas to have his good name restored; which transformed into calls for greater freedoms and, eventually, a movement for democracy.

On the eve of Hu Yaobang’s funeral, 100,000 students marched on to Tiananmen Square before it could be closed. The dissatisfaction of this youthful and energetic demographic was a direct result of failed economic reforms. Inflation was up to 18.5% in 1988. Intellectuals – so despised by Mao Zedong – were heralded as being a guiding force for the future of China. To aid this, the number of universities expanded, along with student enrolment. From 1977 to 1988, the number of universities rose from 400 to 1,975. The student population of the same years grew from 625,319 to 2,065,923. Yet job opportunities became increasingly sparse, especially in the face of a growing culture of nepotism. Traditional labours and blue collar work were back in vogue. White collar trainees would have to stain their shirts red, for their opinions to be heard.

The context of the events of June 4th 1989 are more compelling than the events themselves. Which is not to make light of the thousands (the exact number unknown and widely debated – an anonymous Chinese Red Cross official has gone on record claiming 5,000 deaths and 30,000 wounded) who died, but rather to point out that the ’89 movement was not an isolated incident….not by a long shot. The Chinese population have always had a tendency to gather together and oppose their leadership or invading forces – going back to the 1898-1901 Boxer Rebellion against overseas imperialist influence…..and going back way beyond that to times of feudal rule and the era of Warlords.

The students were too young to recall the horrors of previous decades of violent suppression. They were emboldened by at least a sense of liberalisation, and, perhaps, had been exposed to the Democracy Wall protests of 1978-1979. They were certainly exposed to ideas of Democracy that were brought back by Chinese nationals visiting the US. But it wasn’t just the students.

This is something that is little known in the West. The general population of Beijing – manipulated by State-run media to the contrary – were sympathetic to the protestors. General workers also joined the movement. This was a massive gathering of a great many people from a wide range of backgrounds. They were leaderless in terms of a single voice, and directionless in terms of a single objective, but they were certainly a threat to ‘social stability’ in the eyes of the ruling elite.

The threat wasn’t just from the outside. It was inside the Party itself. There was a lack of cohesion amongst CCP government officials on what was the best course of action to deal with the unrest. There was descent amongst military leaders to the point where armies were hand chosen to move in to secure the city.

War.

It wasn’t a massacre. It was a war in the middle of China’s capital. Encouraged to be non-violent by those with microphones – which they were until the last moments – the students fought back. After weeks of encampment, (including hunger-strikes) Martial Law was declared on the 20th of May. Troops were moving in to the city. The students set up barricades to block their progress. Tanks were met with fire bombs. Soldiers were pulled from their armoured vehicles and beaten to death. There was nothing peaceful about the demonstrations once the leadership of the CCP had decided that brutality was the only way to end the uprising – no surprises there.

Unsurprisingly, however, was the swiftness with which Tiananmen Square itself was cleared. The military had been ordered not to open fire, but given a deadline of 6am on June 4th to clear the square. In a typically Oriental dedication to the task at hand, the square was cleared by 5:40am. Orders being peripheral to results.

The CCP claim that no-one died in the Square itself. What they continue to deny is that the killing of largely unarmed people took place on the surrounding streets. Western correspondents have confirmed both of these assertions – yet both remain contestable.

The Sino-Soviet summit was taking place in May of ’89. Reporters from all over the world had turned up in Beijing to cover the events. Russian reformist Mikhail Gorbachev was in town. You couldn’t write a better script to set up such a colossal event that had global and long-lasting ramifications. Had Western press not been there, this blog would barely exist. We simply wouldn’t have known half of what really happened. In the days of the Great Leap forward it was only when bodies – some of which had been cannibalised – floated into Hong Kong harbour from across the border with China, that the rest of the world realised something terrible was happening to the world’s oldest civilisation.

Camping in tents, singing songs, building statues (The Goddess of Democracy). That is what the students were up to when the tanks rolled in. One man stood in front of them. Bags of shopping in his hands. He climbed to the turret of the machine which had tried to manoeuvre around him. Apparently he spoke to the soldiers inside. What happened to him is unknown. Most compelling was a speech to the President’s Club in 1999 by Bruce Herschensohn (former deputy special assistant to President Richard Nixon) reporting that “Tank Man” was executed 14 days later. The unknown rebel was named as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th Century by Time Magazine – you’d think we would know more about him if he were alive.

Control.

In politics it is always about control. The West is no different. The task is just set about in a wholly more subtle manner. We would all be on the streets brandishing pitch forks – ok…iPads these days, with very menacing apps – in the name of justice if we knew half the truth of what is really going on around us on ‘our behalf’.

It goes way beyond the constraints of a blog to fully divulge all that took place in Beijing that year. What should be noted is that the protests, and eventual riots, were not limited to the Capital City. Former CCP leader Jiang Zemin was literally ‘blooded’ by the events of 1989. In 1999 he started a new campaign of terror. Elevated by virtue (poor choice of word) of his crushing attitude towards the student sympathising press of Shanghai (the city for which he was Party Secretary), and the quelling of unrest on his own streets, Jiang Zemin’s hard-line stance towards opposition won him many admirers and supporters.

Transmission 6-10 interviewee Chen Yonglin was amongst the students in 1989. He later became a CCP Member and employee of the State. His empathy for peaceful change in China would never escape his mind though. When his time came to decide what was more important to him, a career or his fellow man, he sided with humanity and returned his philosophies to be in line with his student days of freedom fighting – fighting in a cognitive manner.

The students didn’t throw the first brick. Nor did they throw the last. Rather, the bricks they left behind – much like the Democracy Wall – were wrapped in messages of hope for future generations to draw inspiration and strength from. Embedded in the very paving of Tiananmen Square, they have been trodden over by millions since June the 4th of 1989. The next population of people to take their cause to the public were Falun Gong practitioners. They too have been quashed.

For their part, the Chinese government felt they were losing control of the people. One way to deal with it – a tried and tested method – is to get rid of the people who you think are not controllable. Intellectuals. Artists. The Bourgeois. Religious. Spiritual. Student. It doesn’t really matter who you are if you are not ‘in line’.

Student leaders from 1989 either died in protest, were executed or sentenced to long prison terms – some managed to escape. Members of the CCP who were sympathetic to their cause were ousted. Workers who joined the protest were ‘disappeared’. The events were swept under the carpet for historians to one day discover and dissect.

Dissection is the focus of Part 2.