The History of China. Editor: David Curtis Wright. 2nd edition. The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011.
The arrest of the Gang of Four led to widespread celebration in China, not so much because the Chinese people knew a great deal about each member, but because it seemed to portend a final stop to the endless and exhausting mass movements that Mao and the radicals so loved to promote. In the summer of 1977 all four members were expelled from the party. Meanwhile, Deng Xiaoping was making a comeback. In early 1977 he was allowed to go back to Beijing, and he quickly emerged as the party’s dominant personality, effectively shunting Hua Guofeng aside. It simply did not matter any more that Mao had apparently designated Hua as his successor; people were fed up with Mao and his antics. Deng was soon leading the charge against the radicals and moved, along with the fellow moderate Hu Yaobang, to purge the party of its extremists. The pendulum had swung the other way, and now the radicals who had joined the party during the heady days of the Cultural Revolution were subject to summary expulsion. Deng and his supporters then launched an enormously popular program of reform in China.
Deng detested the personality cult that Mao and his devotees had fostered, and he quickly dismantled it. Huge statues of Mao were pulled down all over China, and Deng rejected all attempts to create a similar personality cult around himself. Deng wanted to change China, but he would do it from behind the scenes, without the heroically high profile of Chairman Mao, the Great Helmsman. In August 1977 Deng stated in a major party speech that Mao had actually made mistakes. On this occasion, he also propounded his famous principle “seek truth from facts.” By this he meant that the Chinese Communists should henceforth be less concerned about ideological purity and doctrinal rigidity and be more flexible and pragmatic in their thinking: whatever worked was good, and whatever did not was bad. Deng’s star was rising, and by the end of the year he and his fellow moderates Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang had been admitted to the Politburo. Deng, labeled a capitalist roader during the Cultural Revolution, was now emerging as China’s preeminent leader. Political developments turned on a dime in China.
To the relief of China’s population, Deng announced that there would be no more mass movements and that the nation would henceforth concentrate on building its economy and improving the lives of its citizens. Deng allowed, even encouraged, individual enterprise and found nothing wrong with material incentives. Diehard conservative Communists stewed about his restoration of “capitalism” in China, but their day was now gone and they could do nothing about it but rant among themselves. Deng was doing for China what Mao would never do—providing a peaceful, orderly environment in which stable economic development could take place. To the relief of millions of peasants, the last vestiges of the communes and agricultural cooperatives were disbanded in the countryside in the early 1980s.
Economic development proceeded most quickly along China’s eastern and southern coastal cities. In 1980 Deng announced the formation of four Special Economic Zones on China’s southern and eastern coastline where exports, joint ventures, and foreign investment would be encouraged and facilitated. The largest of these was Shenzhen (north of Hong Kong), today a thriving metropolis of crass commercialism and unbridled capitalism. Other areas in the Chinese hinterland, away from the prosperous coastal regions, lagged behind in economic development and began to nurse a sense of resentment and alienation from the rest of the nation.
University life was restored to sanity, and thousands of students and faculty members returned to their studies and research. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, thousands of Chinese students were beginning to go abroad for graduate study in North America and Europe, and foreign students and teachers were invited to China and treated like royalty when they did come. An entire generation of young people who had suffered through the Cultural Revolution embraced China’s new openness with enthusiasm and abandon.
Probably the single most unpopular of Deng’s reforms was the announcement in 1979 of his one-child policy, which would, he hoped, level off the rate of China’s population growth sometime in the twenty-first century. Mao possessed only a rudimentary grasp of demographics and adhered to a crude Marxist faith in the productive capacity of the proletariat, which he expressed as the ability of two hands to feed one mouth. The more people in China the better, he believed throughout his life, and nobody could convince him that China would ever face a crisis of overpopulation. Mao, after all, based his career on his faith in, and affection for, China’s peasant masses. Deng and other more rational political minds, on the other hand, could clearly foresee a demographic catastrophe for China if population growth were not controlled. The outstripping of China’s premodern agricultural productivity by its burgeoning population was, after all, one of the major contributing factors to China’s decline in the nineteenth century. The one-child policy was more rigorously enforced in the cities than in the countryside, however, and it contributed to female infanticide, always a problem in a nation where baby boys are valued above baby girls. The children in Chinese orphanages today are overwhelmingly female, and an unnaturally high proportion of males to females has developed in some areas of China. Many couples in Chinese cities used amniocentesis to discover the sex of unborn children and abort female fetuses, hoping to try again for a boy. Today there are even disturbing reports of abortions being forced on women who have already given birth to one or more children. Overpopulation is one of China’s most pressing problems today, and the implications of both ignoring it and remedying it present vexing ethical questions.
Deng was in many ways an enthusiastic reformer, but the one thing he was determined not to allow in China was democracy. China would develop and modernize its economy and other aspects of its society, but it absolutely would not tolerate challenges to the final authority and power of the Chinese Communist Party. Communist doctrine, like some varieties of ultraconservative political thought in the United States, holds that the democracy practiced in the capitalistic West is in reality a “bourgeois” democracy, in which the bourgeoisie or monied classes control the political system from behind the scenes and manipulate it for the advancement of their interests, all the while fooling the public into thinking that they actually have some say in the selection of their leaders and policies. Of course, a more obvious reason for Deng’s refusal to allow democratization in China was that if China’s government were made directly accountable to the Chinese people, Deng and other members of the Communist party might well find themselves voted out of their jobs and power. Deng was determined that economic and social liberalization would not lead to political liberalization. China would, in his words, “open the window but not let in the flies and mosquitoes.”
This became quite apparent in 1978 with the appearance of the “Democracy Wall” in Beijing, a place where the police allowed big-character posters criticizing some aspects of the government’s policies to remain up for a time. Placing big-character posters on the Democracy Wall became something of a craze for a while, but when the posters began demanding democratization and authentic freedom of expression, Deng shut the wall down. In early 1979 he announced his Four Cardinal Principles, parallel guidelines that people would need to keep in mind as they participated in Zhou Enlai’s Four Modernizations, of which Deng Xiaoping heartily approved. These four principles dictated that the Chinese people were not permitted to question socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Communist party’s leadership, or Marxism-Leninism. In other words, China would modernize in just about every way but politically and ideologically. These were the limits of China’s newfound freedoms and prosperity The Chinese people could pursue private wealth, but not democracy.
During the late 1970s Deng fundamentally reoriented China’s foreign policies and began to throw his weight around on the international stage. In January 1979 he became the first Chinese leader ever to visit the United States. Deng was a hit with the American public and media, and in China he was seen on television warmly shaking hands with President Jimmy Carter and wearing a Texas-style ten-gallon hat. This was quite a change from Mao’s deliberate isolation of China from the rest of the world. Soon thousands of Chinese students were applying for visas to study at American universities. In Moscow, Soviet leaders fumed and stewed at the new coziness between China and the United States.
Deng’s most dramatic move in the international arena was his invasion of Vietnam in early 1979. In the 1970s China supported the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in Kampuchea (Cambodia), headed by Pol Pot of “Killing Fields” infamy. Pol Pot’s murders of hundreds of thousands of city residents in the mid-1970s led to a domestic crisis in Kampuchea as huge numbers of refugees flooded into neighboring Vietnam. Vietnam was concerned about Khmer Rouge atrocities and was further angered and alienated when Pol Pot began mistreating Kampuchea’s large Vietnamese population. By December 1978 Vietnam had had enough of Pol Pot and invaded Kampuchea, capturing its capital city Phnom Penh in January 1979. China, incensed that Vietnam dared invade a regime that it supported, decided to reassert the historical tradition of Chinese influence in East Asia. In February Deng ordered the PLA to invade Vietnam and force it to withdraw from Kampuchea. His purpose was not to occupy Vietnamese territory but to “punish” or “chastise” Vietnam for daring to trifle with Beijing’s ally. The invasion, however, failed to dislodge Vietnam from Kampuchea and resulted in very high casualty rates. The Chinese campaign in Vietnam ended in failure and defeat, but the Chinese government-controlled media still insisted that China had taught Vietnam a lesson. As with the Chinese invasion of Korea in 1951, however, the only real “lesson” China taught anyone was that it was willing to expend huge numbers of Chinese lives when it did not like developments in its neighboring countries.
If his invasion of Vietnam was his greatest foreign policy failure, Deng’s most significant foreign policy success was the U.S. government’s diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China. The U.S. government continued to recognize the Nationalists on Taiwan and the fiction of their claim to be China’s sole legitimate government until late 1978, when it finally faced reality and switched recognition to the People’s Republic of China. Nevertheless, the American public and Congress were in no mood to abandon the Nationalists on Taiwan, and in 1979 the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) was passed and signed into law. The TRA, as it is known in American diplomatic and foreign policy circles, states that the United States will remain committed to the peaceful resolution of the fate of Taiwan and that any armed aggression on the island by Beijing will be a matter of “grave concern” to Washington. Over Beijing’s objections, the U.S. government continued allowing arms sales to Taiwan even after diplomatically recognizing Beijing.
Deng’s regime negotiated successfully with Britain for the return of the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Although the Treaty of Nanking stated that the island of Hong Kong was to be ceded in perpetuity to the British crown, the New Territories, an extension of the Hong Kong colony leased to Britain in 1898 for 99 years, were the most important part of the colony. Without them, the island would be cut off from water, electricity, and other contacts with China. London could not, therefore, realistically expect to return the New Territories and retain the island. Nonetheless, the British government was concerned about the residents of Hong Kong coming under Communist rule after 1997. Deng, however, reassured Britain and the rest of the world that China would largely leave Hong Kong alone for 50 years after its return to Chinese control. This would be possible under Deng’s new “one country, two systems” principle, which held that socialism would be practiced on the mainland but that Hong Kong could retain its own social and economic system and largely govern itself. Deng, no doctrinaire Communist, could see that it was plainly in China’s economic self-interest to maintain Hong Kong’s capitalistic business contacts after 1997. What ultimately mattered was not the economic system in Hong Kong, but the former colony’s recognition of itself as a part of China and its freedom from any foreign government or colonial administration. Britain ultimately accepted Deng’s formula and in 1984 successfully negotiated arrangements for the orderly return of the colony to China in 1997.
Deng’s “one country, two systems” principle was not formulated only with Hong Kong in mind. Deng and his supporters also insisted that the principle would apply to Taiwan when it eventually reunified with the mainland. Taiwan could retain its own military, its own form of government, and its own economic system. What was required of Taiwan was that it lower its Nationalist flag and recognize itself as being a part of China. Taiwan, however, understandably remained skeptical of Beijing’s trustworthiness on this matter and sought reassurance from Washington that the United States would not stand idly by in the event of an attack on the island from the mainland.
Evaluating and Succeeding Mao
In the early 1980s Deng moved to clarify his attitude toward Chairman Mao. Deng and his moderates could not completely condemn Mao without undermining their own legitimacy as ruling members of the Communist party, so they issued an official judgment of Mao as 70 percent good and 30 percent bad (about a C+ on a standard academic marking scale). This is now more or less the official evaluation of Mao in China today. Hua Guofeng could see by this time that his time was up; the 70 percent verdict was not a strong enough foundation on which to base his claims of being Mao’s successor and the leader of China. That position and honor would clearly go to Deng Xiaoping, and Hua stepped down from power. Unlike Mao, Deng never became party chairman, but that no longer mattered in China; what mattered was influence, and Deng had plenty of that.
With the new liberalization and openness came some challenges for Deng’s government. Many conservatives growled about “spiritual pollution” (Western popular music, discos, sunglasses, pornography, immodest dress, human rights concerns, demands for multiparty democracy, and so on), and a campaign against it was launched in 1983. Worse yet, the problem of governmental corruption, never much of a problem during Mao’s days, raised its ugly head in the 1980s. As the decade progressed many Chinese people came to resent the culture of corruption in government and the perks and privileges enjoyed by high-ranking party and government officials.
Inflation and uneven economic development were creating tensions in China by the mid-1980s, and this in turn led some people to conclude that the political system in China needed reform in order to govern over a more market-oriented economy. Astrophysicist Fang Lizhi became a leading dissident figure. He argued tirelessly for sweeping political reform, and he developed a strong following among Chinese students. In 1986 large student demonstrations demanded political liberalization at campuses in Shanghai and several other major Chinese cities. Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the Communist Party, expressed some sympathy for the views of Fang and the students, and for this he became a hero among them. For Deng, however, this was “bourgeois liberalism” that had gone too far, and he pressured Hu into resigning his position in January 1987. Hereafter, Hu Yaobang was both a hero and a political martyr in the eyes of the students.
By the late 1980s, the fast-moving pace of Chinese political developments had cast Deng and his supporters as conservatives, or people who had reservations about the demands for democratization in China. Reformers, on the other hand, were now people who favored more extensive liberalization. Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, once thought of as moderates in Deng’s camp, had by now emerged as more progressive and pro-reform than Deng. (Conservatives as now defined were, of course, still far less committed to class struggle and mass movements than the radical Maoists had been in the 1960s and 1970s.) In 1987 and 1988 conservatives launched an anti-bourgeois liberalization campaign, but it soon ran out of steam. Something of a standoff between reformers and conservatives had developed by 1988, and it did not resolve itself in favor of the Dengist conservatives until the tragic Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 1989.
The Rape of Peking: The Beijing Spring and the Tiananmen Square Massacre
In the early hours of June 4, 1989, dozens of tanks and thousands of Chinese troops from the 27th Army of the PLA entered Tiananmen Square in Beijing and brutally slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed students and civilian protestors. The bloody crackdown was ordered by Deng Xiaoping himself, who feared that the protests, which had been occurring almost constantly since April 15, would threaten his power and that of the Chinese Communist Party. The slaughter was broadcast in living, gory color to a horrified world via satellite feed. The massacre at Tiananmen Square put the Chinese people and the whole world on notice that the Chinese Communists would brook no serious challenge to their rule over China. In so doing they undermined their legitimacy and moral standing domestically and abroad. Beijing still suppresses the truth about the Tiananmen Square massacre, but sooner or later it will come out. Those responsible for the massacre and those who still voice approval of it, including former current Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, will one day stand condemned in history for their complicity in the gratuitous and brutal murders of their own countrymen. The perpetrators of the Tiananmen Square Massacre will, as the Chinese saying goes, “leave behind a historical stench for ten thousand years” (yichou wannian).
The popular student-led protest movement of 1989 was often called a pro-democracy movement in Western journalism, but this was probably a mistake, or at least an overstatement. True enough, many of the students touted “democracy” as a corrective for China’s problems, but few if any of them possessed a sophisticated knowledge of democracy or democratic societies. Most of them emphasized their patriotism and their desire to create a legal opposition within China’s socialist system. Only a small fraction of them actually advocated the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party, the dissolution of the socialist system, and the full-fledged introduction of multiparty, Western-style democracy in China. Instead, they were reacting to the disruptions, corruption, inflation, and mismanagement in an economically liberalizing country ruled over by an ossified, authoritarian Leninist gerontocracy, or rule by old men. These problems were largely of the Chinese Communists’ own making because they did not fully understand how to govern a nation that had fairly quickly transitioned from a clunky, socialist command economy to a more open and market-oriented economy which sanctioned the accumulation and investment of private capital and largely accommodated the profit motive. Put simply, the Chinese Communists did not understand political economics, and the people they ruled over suffered as a result.
Some students seemed to have a naive faith in a vaguely defined “democracy” as the panacea or cure-all for corruption, low education budgets, and abysmal civil rights, and in this they were reflecting the convictions of their May Fourth-era predecessors of the late 1910s and early 1920s. Official corruption was probably the single greatest grievance the students had with the government, and in voicing an objection to it they had the concurrence and support of millions of workers, intellectuals, and other ordinary citizens. What millions of people thought, the young and brash students shouted from the tops of their lungs in Tiananmen Square, to the thrill and delight of residents in Beijing and many other major Chinese cities. These were intoxicating and heady times, and eventually millions of people joined the student protests. The students were, in fact, more likely to get away with these protests than the ordinary run of people would have been because of China’s traditionally paternalistic and tolerant attitude toward youthful student enthusiasm. While the students were being tolerated in their protests, large segments of the rest of society joined with them, cheered them on, and coddled them with free food, beverages, and frozen confections in the late spring heat.
The “Beijing Spring,” or the popular protests against the Chinese Communists’ tyranny and corruption, began on April 15 and came to a decisive end with the June 4 bloodbath (see Yu and Harrison 1990, 15-34). The movement was led by university students in Beijing, with students at Beida (of May Fourth-era fame) the most influential among them. Former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Yaobang, who had expressed sympathy with previous student movements in China during the 1980s and was a hero to most Chinese students, died of a heart attack on April 15, 1989. The next day students at campuses all over Beijing put up big-character posters commemorating him and attacking the governmental corruption he so heartily abhorred. When wreaths placed in Tiananmen Square in his memory were removed on April 17 (a Monday), some 3,000 Beida students marched to Tiananmen Square in protest and demanded that the government reevaluate Hu Yaobang’s achievements, grant freedom of the press, increase funding for education, allow freedom of protest and demonstration, and publish the financial holdings of several high government officials they suspected of massive corruption. The students had no way to know it at the time, but their march would inaugurate 47 days of student protests in Beijing and other major Chinese cities. Often these protests were joined and supported by large nonstudent segments of urban populations.
On April 18,5,000 students, largely from Beida, marched to Tiananmen Square shouting slogans such as “Down with tyranny,”“Down with corruption,” and “Long live democracy.” On April 22, Hu Yaobang’s funeral was held, and the eulogy was delivered by Zhao Ziyang, another top official known to be very sympathetic with the students and their high estimation of Hu. Students from all over China poured into Beijing the next day to commemorate Hu and join in the protests, and the government responded by imposing censorship. To counter this, 35 Beijing universities staged a student strike. The burgeoning movement and increasing boldness among the students irked Deng Xiaoping, who probably felt personally insulted by some of the things that were said about him, including a comparison of him with the Dowager Empress Cixi. On April 26, the People’s Daily, the government’s main newspaper, published an editorial, probably written by Deng himself, entitled “The Banner Against Turmoil Must Be Raised.” The editorial claimed that the student movement was a riot planned by a handful of depraved troublemakers and conspirators. Beijing’s police force forbade any unapproved demonstrations or marches.
This unwise and intemperate editorial was a red rag to a bull as far as the students were concerned, and deadlock, not dialogue, resulted from it. The editorial polarized the confrontation between the students and the government in stark black-and-white terms and seemingly left no room for compromise or understanding. It was grievously insulting to thousands of students, and ultimately it was counterproductive. Thousands more students joined in the protests, as much to dispute the government’s mischaracterization of their movement as to voice their discontent with official corruption and the lack of freedom of expression. On the next day, April 27, 200,000 students marched in protest in Beijing and were cheered on by more than a million onlookers. On April 28, Wuer Kaixi, a hot-blooded young Uighur from China’s northwestern Xinjiang autonomous region, presented demands for liberalization and dialogue with the government. The next day a high official did meet for some discussion with several student leaders, but Wuer Kaixi was pointedly not invited. On April 30, several students were allowed to meet with high government officials, including the mayor of Beijing. In an attempt to defuse a potentially volatile situation with the student protestors, Zhao Ziyang stated on May 3 that the Chinese Communist Party supported student demands for an end to corruption and more development for education. Notably absent from his statement of student demands the government endorsed were democracy and freedom of expression.
May 4, 1989, was the 70th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, and Beida students were well aware of their university’s heritage of protest movements. (The students also noted that 1989 was the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution and its principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity.) Determined to make something of the anniversary, 200,000 students marched to Tiananmen Square and demanded that the government recognize the student movement as patriotic and not antigovernmental. At their protest rally they presented a “New May Fourth Declaration” demanding democracy in the universities and in the Chinese political system. Some placards at this and other rallies said simply “Hello, Mr. Democracy” (De Xiansheng, ni hao). People with even a minimal knowledge of Chinese history recognized immediately the comparison the students were making between themselves and their May Fourth-era predecessors.
The student protestors were so distressed with the government’s refusal to open any kind of dialogue with them that, on May 13, 3,000 of them started a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. They reiterated their demands that a government dialogue with them be broadcast live on national television. On May 15, 800,000 people visited Tiananmen Square to show support for the hunger-striking students and their demands. By May 16, it was becoming quite apparent to the government that there was massive popular support for the students’ demands, and the old Communists became gravely frightened for their own positions and safety. On May 17, Deng and a selected few senior party members held a meeting to decide what to do about the burgeoning popular movement against them. Zhao Ziyang recalls the substance of this meeting in his political memoirs, published without the Chinese communists’ approval in 2009:
On the 17th, I phoned to request to see Deng. Later, a member of Deng’s staff asked me to go to Deng Xiaoping’s home in the afternoon for a meeting. All the members of the Politburo Standing Committee plus [Yang] Shangkun were already there. At the time, Wan Li, who would have attended, was still abroad. Since I had asked for a personal meeting with Deng, only to have Deng call for a full Standing Committee meeting at his home, I realized that things had already taken a bad turn. First, I expressed my views, roughly as follows:
The situation with the student demonstrations has worsened and has grown extremely grave. Students, teachers, journalists, scholars, and even some government staff have taken to the streets in protest. Today, there were approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people. Quite a large number of workers and peasants are also sympathetic…. The key issue blocking dialogue with the students is the judgment passed by the April 26 editorial…. If the hunger strike continues and some people die, it will be like gasoline poured over a flame. If we take a confrontational stance with the masses, a dangerous situation could ensue in which we lose complete control.
While I was expressing my views, Deng appeared very impatient and displeased. As soon as I had finished speaking, Li Peng and Yao Yilin immediately stood up to criticize me. (Zhao 2009, 27-28)
The Tiananmen Papers, a book published in 2001 that purports to contain transcripts of discussions and deliberations by top Chinese Communist officials on how to respond to the Tiananmen student protests, conveys Zhao’s comments at this key meeting as follows:
Martial law could give us total control of the situation, yes; but think of the terror it will strike in the minds of Beijing’s citizens and students. Where will that lead? … In the forty years of the People’s Republic, our Party has learned many lessons from its political and economic mistakes. Given the crisis we now face at home and abroad, I think that one more big political mistake might well cost us all our remaining legitimacy. So I see martial law as extremely dangerous. The Chinese people cannot take any more huge policy blunders. (Zhang 2001, 192)
At this meeting Deng and his hard-line supporters decided two things: the students’ demands for democracy and freedom in China would mean the dissolution of the Communist Party’s power, which they absolutely would not tolerate, and the protest movements could be quelled only by force.
On May 18, the government finally agreed to meet with student protest leaders, but the students were not satisfied with the conditions. Premier Li Peng and two other high officials met with student leaders Wuer Kaixi, Wang Dan, and others, but Li Peng insisted that the only subject for the dialogue would be how to help the students on hunger strike. The fiery Wuer Kaixi was incensed at this and repeatedly interrupted Li Peng, demanding that other matters be addressed. Wang Dan demanded that the government retract the April 26 editorial, recognize the peaceful and patriotic nature of the protests, and broadcast the dialogue. Li Peng, stunned at Wuer Kaixi’s temerity and the stark-ness of Wang Dan’s demands, ended the meeting.
The next day, an infuriated Deng Xiaoping stated in a Politburo meeting that he would never allow a reversal of the April 26 editorial. Only 2 of the 18 members at the meeting declined to label the movement a riot. One of them was Zhao Ziyang, and Deng ever after viewed him as a traitor and stripped him of all power. Nevertheless, that day Zhao went out to the square and spoke tearily with the students, knowing what they did not: the movement would be crushed by force if it did not disperse of its own accord. He convinced them to end their hunger strike.
The next day, May 20, Premier Li Peng announced the imposition of martial law in Beijing. No more protests or marches would be permitted, and news coverage would henceforth be censored. Satellite broadcasts of the movement by foreign television crews was cut. Ominously, large numbers of troops and armored personnel carriers began rumbling about Beijing streets.
By May 24 Beijing was full of soldiers. Perhaps the students should have realized that something foreboding was in the offing, but several thousand of them vowed to continue their occupation of Tiananmen Square no matter what. The government, for its part, was determined to bring the movement to a decisive end. The Communist gerontocrats were tired of being challenged, interrupted, and instructed by young hothead students who apparently cared very little for the historical struggles endured by the Communists to come to power. In the earthy words of the crusty old veteran and high-ranking Communist official Chen Yun, “We must not let the next generation pour a bucket of shit on our heads” (Dietrich 1996, 295). “We seized power and established the People’s Republic,” Chen Yun told an emergency meeting of senior military officials on May 24, “after decades of struggle and fighting, in which hundreds of thousands of our revolutionary heroes lost their lives. Are we to give it all up just to satisfy the students?” (Hsu 1990, 930).
Sensing the perilous situation the students in Tiananmen Square were facing, demonstrations in support of them were held in several major Chinese cities over the next few days. A rock concert held in Hong Kong on May 27 raised $12 million for the benefit of the protesting students in Beijing. The Beijing students’ spirits and defiance were elevated on May 30 when a huge statue called the Goddess of Democracy, obviously patterned after the Statue of Liberty in New York City, was brought into the square before dawn. This attracted journalistic coverage all over the world and seemed to be the last straw for the government; the movement had gone too far in publicly utilizing a well-known American symbol of democracy and freedom, and it would now be crushed.
At 6.00 P.M. on June 3, 1989, the Chinese government issued three warnings over state-run media that the movement was about to be violently suppressed. According to Canadian journalist Jan Wong, who was an eyewitness to these warnings and the subsequent massacres, this was counterproductive and probably increased rather than decreased the number of lives lost (Wong 1996, 248).
By several accounts, the soldiers who murdered unarmed civilians and students had been heavily doped with amphetamines and did not seem to know where they were or what they were doing (Yu and Harrison 1990, xxiii). Wong witnessed the butchery as Chinese soldiers rampaged through the streets of Beijing and Tiananmen Square. She described the horrific scenes just after midnight on June 4, 1989. She stayed up all night during the massacre, trying to contain her horror because she knew she was witnessing a horrific historical event:
In the darkness I could make out a double row of soldiers, approximately one hundred and twenty men across. At 2:35, they began firing into the crowds as they marched across the square. With each volley, tens of thousands of people fled toward the hotel. Someone commandeered a bus, drove it toward the soldiers and was killed in a hail of gunfire. The crowd began to scream, “Go back! Go back!” The soldiers responded with another hail of bullets.
By 2:48, the soldiers had cleared a wide swath at the north end of the square. The crowd had thinned a bit. At 3:12, there was a tremendous round of gunfire, lasting several minutes. People stampeded down the Avenue of Eternal Peace.
The soldiers strafed ambulances and shot medical workers trying to rescue the wounded. Some cyclists flung bodies across the back of their bicycles. Others just carried the wounded on their backs. Beijing’s doughty pedicab drivers pitched in. Between 3:15 and 3:23, I counted eighteen pedicabs pass by me carrying the dead and wounded to the nearby Beijing Hospital. (Wong 1996, 253)
Toward dawn, the soldiers moved on Tiananmen Square and slaughtered students there:
At 5:17, the soldiers allowed the frightened students to file out through the south side of the square, making them run a gauntlet of truncheons and fists. The students straggled past the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and then north. As they turned west onto the Avenue of Eternal Peace, they saw a row of tanks lined up between them and the square. A retreating student hurled a curse. Suddenly, one of the tanks roared to life and mowed down eleven marchers from behind, killing seven instantly. (Wong 1996, 256-57)
The slaughter that is named after Tiananmen actually took place in the streets of Beijing in the vicinity of Tiananmen Square. Shen Tong was an eyewitness to the bloody events of the night of June 3-June 4 at the intersection of Xidan and Chang’an Avenue, near his house:
I fought my way through the crowd, trying to get into the avenue, but I stopped when one of the soldiers fired rapidly at my feet. I wasn’t hurt, so I tried to look for the shells, to see whether the bullets were real. Hundreds of people rushed into the avenue to put up barricades, but as soon as they reached the middle of the street, a spray of machine-gun fire scattered them. People who had been hit fell to the ground and lay still. Those people are dead, I thought to myself. The bullets are real. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if this were all happening in a dream …
… three soldiers jumped from an armored car and shot into the crowd. A flash of bright orange light went up a few meters away; two buses had been set on fire by the people. I walked toward the wreckage and stood behind a tree, watching the flames, which actually looked beautiful against the night sky. More shots were fired at my feet. When I looked in the direction of the gunfire, I found myself staring at a soldier’s face. His eyes were popping, bloodshot, and dazed, as if he were on drugs. (Shen 1990, 322-23)
Not all of the people who died in the streets of Beijing in the vicinity of Tiananmen Square were civilians. Enraged crowds also killed soldiers, and in subsequent news of the Tiananmen Massacre by China’s state-controlled media, the government played up the deaths of soldiers and mostly ignored the larger numbers of civilian dead.
… Smoldering army vehicles were everywhere, and I could smell the fumes of the burning rubber and paint.
When we entered one alley, we saw a man in an official-looking green uniform being chased by an angry mob of Beijing residents, who caught up with him at a construction site and picked up pieces of brick to hit him with. The man didn’t make a sound. I jumped off the bicycle, almost knocking over my uncle, and ran toward them. Pushing the people aside, I saw him lying face down, with blood pouring out of his nostrils as he exhaled rapidly. He looked about eighteen years old.
“Stop hitting him!” I pleaded with the crowd.
“It’s none of your business,” a man said, shoving me away.
“Please stop it,” I begged. “We have to take him to the hospital, we have to find him an ambulance.”
My uncle pulled me away from the mob. “Forget it, Yuan Yuan. He’s almost dead—there’s no use.”
He put me back on his bicycle and rode off quickly.
“The solders are killing the people, the people are killing the soldiers, right in the middle of the capital,” I mumbled. (Shen 1990, 326-27)
At daybreak the butchery was over, and the 27th Army was busy piling up bodies in Tiananmen Square and covering them with canvas. For the next few days they burned the bodies and had helicopters fly the ashes away. The bodies of most of the people murdered in Tiananmen Square and the streets of Beijing were never recovered.
On June 7 a government spokesman declared that the demonstrations had been counterrevolutionary riots and set up a hotline for informants to turn in people who had participated in them. Two days later Deng Xiaoping himself appeared on television and congratulated the soldiers who had crushed the movement. “They are truly the people’s army, China’s Great Wall of steel. They have stood and passed this test.” He did not mention the hundreds of unarmed civilians murdered by the soldiers. Of them he said only, “Their aim was to topple the Communist Party, socialism, and the entire People’s Republic of China, and set up a capitalist republic.” He ended with a flat statement that his Four Cardinal Principles forbidding any opposition to the Communist Party were correct (Yu and Harrison 1990, 34). The government then made mass arrests of several thousand people. Some of them were given mock trials and shot in the back of the head. By mid-July the government had issued nationwide arrest warrants for the student ringleaders, but many managed to escape to the West with the help of Chinese sympathizers. Among them were Chai Ling, who entered Princeton, and Wuer Kaixi, who went to Harvard.