Wednesday, June 03, 2009

June 4, 1989 - The crack down on democracy at Tiananmen Square in Beijing

Let's remember those who risked - and many gave - their lives to bring the popular vote to the people of China twenty years ago. Support among young people in China grew into a broad movement for democracy. China's leadership was split over reforms. The students demonstrated in Tiananmen Square, a very important site in the capital Beijing. It turned into a dangerous face-off. What really happened at Tiananmen - China's economic reforms in the 1980s led to a rift in the top Chinese leadership between those who supported the reforms and those who opposed them. The students demonstrating in Tiananmen Square were calling for the deepening of reform, including democracy. Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping, Premier Li Peng and other conservatives opposed them and were predisposed to respond harshly. Communist Party General Secretary Zhao saw the student demonstrations differently. "I felt that if the student demonstrations could be resolved along the principles of democracy and law, through dialogue and an easing of tensions, it could possibly boost China's reform, including political reform," he wrote. The tragic turning point toward violence came when Mr. Li maneuvered to publish Deng's harsh comments about the protestors in a People's Daily editorial on April 26. When Zhao first heard of Deng's remarks while on a state visit to North Korea, he wrote, "[M]y first thought was that another campaign against liberalism might begin." But much to the government's surprise, the students were shocked and insulted by the defamation of their motives and responded with the April 27 demonstrations, the biggest spontaneous student protest ever in modern China's history. Zhao observed at this time that "even the symbol of the paramount leader had lost its effectiveness." The stakes had now been raised. Mr. Li and his associates were not only gambling with their political agenda but their careers as well. Zhao says: "They were extremely worried that the April 26 editorial might be overturned. . . . Yan Mingfu [director of Liaison Department] reported to me that Li Peng had told him that if, upon my return [from North Korea], I did not support the April 26 editorial, Li would have no choice but to resign." More students gathered and the world watched. They erected a huge statue of Goddess of Democracy and they started a hunger strike in May. On June 3 truck loads of troops quietly entered the city. Then tanks approached. A lone demonstrator was photographed holding off a tank. That night the crack down came. Hundreds died; only the authorities know how many. The leaders were expelled. And sadly, the Communist authorities were able to squelch the yearning for participation. Today we hear that the younger generation knows nothing of this history and won't believe you if you tell them. See Wikipedia & See it in photographs at Twenty years later Bao Tong, one of the then-leaders, thinks China still must give the people the chance to participate in the government. "Tiananmen is still here" Interview with Bao Tong
Mr. Bao believes this combination of "political pressure and the practice of large-scale 'buy outs'" will maintain stability in the current economic environment. "China can survive. But China will not be able to resolve the fundamental conflict between the government and the people. . . . In the long-term view, it's a big problem." The solution to this problem is full parliamentary democracy, he says. "Some people say China has its own unique characteristics and should follow its own path. I don't believe that. As I see it, China uses the same light bulbs as the rest of the world. They aren't light bulbs with Chinese characteristics."
And read it from the viewpoint of General Secretary Zhao who strongly opposed the crack down. The Insider Who Tried to Stop Tiananmen -
Mr. Zhao was general secretary of the Communist Party when students and others held protests in April and May 1989 centered in Beijing's massive Tiananmen Square. In the book, Mr. Zhao discusses how he opposed the imposition of martial law, as well as the ultimate use of armed force to quell the largely nonviolent demonstrations on the night of June 3 and the morning of June 4, 1989. "I told myself that no matter what, I refused to become the general secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on students," Mr. Zhao says in the book. He said the decision to declare martial law was made at a small meeting on May 17 at the home of Deng Xiaoping, then China's paramount leader and chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, and that Mr. Deng demanded no one know of the meeting. Mr. Zhao asserts there was no legitimate vote of the standing committee of the Politburo authorizing the use of military force....
Personal side note. On June 4, 1989 my in-laws were traveling in China. My brother-in-law left a message on our answering machine "Mom and Dad are traveling to Beijing today." Needless to say, they didn't get there! They saw more of southern China instead.

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