The Tiananmen Papers, Part III
As we conclude our story on the Tiananmen Square massacre of
June 1989, it is now the morning of May 18 and Chinese leader
Deng Xiaoping has had it with the demonstrators who continue
to occupy the Square. Increasingly, it is General Communist
Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, a man who favored peaceful
reform, against Deng, the party elders, and Premier Li Peng.
On the morning of the 18th, Zhao Ziyang misses a meeting of
the leadership. Deng is worried about all out civil war.
"Beijing has been chaotic for more than a month now...and
we''ve been extremely tolerant. What other country in the world
would watch more than a month of marches and demonstrations
in its capital and do nothing about it?"
Li Peng: "...Zhao Ziyang has not come today (because) he
opposes martial law. He encouraged the students right from the
Party elder Wang Zhen: "These people are really asking for it!
They should be nabbed as soon as they pop out again. Give ''em
no mercy! The students are nuts if they think this handful of
people can overthrow our Party and our government! These kids
don''t know how good they''ve got it!...If the students don''t leave
Tiananmen on their own, the PLA (People''s Liberation Army)
should go in and carry them out. This is ridiculous!"
Elder Bo Yibo: "The whole imperialist Western world wants to
make socialist countries leave the socialist road and become
satellites in the system of international monopoly capitalism."
The afternoon of May 18 Li Peng met with the student leaders,
who were adamant that their movement be characterized as
patriotic. Li, of course, didn''t agree. Then at 4 AM on May
19, Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng visited Tiananmen Square. Zhao
knew his career was near an end.
"We have come too late," Zhao said, bringing tears to the eyes of
those who heard him. He begged the students to leave before it
was too late. Afterwards, Zhao requested three days'' sick leave.
Interestingly, a vast majority of the original student strikers had
actually left the Square, but they were continually being replaced
by new students from outside; as many as 57,000 arrived
between May 16 and May 19. They traveled on trains from all
over the country and made demands while en route that stretched
the system, even asking for free food.
Martial law had now been declared, initially applying to five
urban districts of Beijing. Opposition was swift, not just in the
capital, but around the country as well. On May 21, student
leaders in the Square voted to declare victory and withdraw, but
they then reversed their decision at the urging of the new
recruits. Deng was upset that martial law hadn''t restored order.
"Zhao Ziyang''s intransigence has been obvious," said Deng,
"and he bears undeniable responsibility."
Wang Zhen: "What (Zhao) really wants is to drive us old people
But other leaders didn''t want to make a change at the top of the
Party just now.
Finally, on May 27 it was decided that Jiang Zemin, a Party
leader in Shanghai, would be named the new general secretary,
replacing Zhao. [Jiang is still in place today.] And on the
morning of June 2, Li Peng addressed the party elders as well as
the Standing Committee of the Politboro.
Li launched a tirade, blaming the West for all of the troubles. He
spoke of employees of the U.S. embassy collecting intelligence
at night in the Square and how units from Taiwan''s security
service were rushing to send agents in, disguised as visitors (the
latter probably true).
"It is becoming increasingly clear that the turmoil has been
generated by a coalition of foreign and domestic reactionary
forces and that their goals are to overthrow the Communist Party
and to subvert the socialist system."
Wang Zhen: "Those goddamn bastards! Who do they think they
are, trampling on sacred ground like Tiananmen so long?! We
should send the troops right now...What''s the People''s
Liberation Army for, anyway?...They''re not supposed to just sit
around and eat!...Anybody who tries to overthrow the
Communist Party deserves death and no burial!"
Deng agreed the root cause of the situation they found
themselves in was the Western world, especially the U.S.
"Some Western countries use things like ''human rights,'' or like
saying the socialist system is irrational or illegal, to criticize us,
but what they''re really after is our sovereignty.
"Look how many people around the world they''ve robbed of
human rights! And look how many Chinese people they''ve hurt
the human rights of since they invaded China during the Opium
War!" [1839-42 conflict between China and Britain, a result of
which Britain obtained Hong Kong.]
"Two conditions are indispensable for our developmental goals:
a stable environment at home and a peaceful environment
abroad...Imagine for a moment what could happen if China falls
into turmoil. If it happens now, it''d be far worse than the
Cultural Revolution...Once civil war got started, blood would
flow like a river, and where would human rights be then?"
Deng then proceeded to talk about the huge refugee problem that
would be created by a civil war, "in the hundreds of millions."
Later on, during the same meeting Deng speaks of what many in
the West had admired.
"No one can keep China''s reform and opening from going
forward. Why is that? It''s simple: Without reform and opening
our development stops and our economy slides downhill. Living
standards decline if we turn back. The momentum of reform
cannot be stopped."
Li Peng then suggests that the troops, now well- positioned, be
moved into Tiananmen Square to clear the students. Deng agrees
and adds, "As we proceed with the clearing, we must explain it
clearly to all the citizens and students, asking them to leave and
doing our very best to persuade them. But if they refuse to leave,
they will be responsible for the consequences."
The afternoon of June 3, Li Peng met with party elder Yang
Shangkun. The situation in all of Beijing was deteriorating
rapidly, with demonstrations and small "riots" spreading. Yang
told Li that he had just talked to Deng who had relayed that the
problem should be solved by dawn. The Square was to be
cleared by sunup. Deng also wanted the students to understand
that the troops were prepared to use all means necessary, but
only as a last resort. Everything was to be done to avoid
bloodshed, particularly within Tiananmen Square itself. Said
Yang, "No one must die in the Square...it''s Comrade Xiaoping''s
But while there was a crowd of about 50,000 in the Square, there
were also vast gatherings throughout Beijing. The troops began
to approach Tiananmen from many sides. [Picture troops coming
from the north, south, east and west, advancing on Central Park.]
By 10:30 PM on June 3, soldiers were confronted by tens of
thousands near the Muxudi Bridge. They were pelted with rocks
and the troops lost their composure. Within minutes, at least 100
citizens and students were hit with gunfire. From an account by
the State Security Ministry, "From then on there were no more
lulls in the shooting. Soldiers on the trucks fired into the air
continuously until people hurled rocks or verbal insults, and then
they fired into the crowd." The bodies of the dead and wounded
were being continually delivered to nearby hospitals. Everyone
was shouting "Fascists!," Animals!," and "Bloody massacre!"
By 1 AM on June 4, all martial-law troops had entered
Tiananmen Square and for three hours pressed students to
voluntarily leave before the 4 AM deadline. [Remember,
Tiananmen is the largest public square in the world. This was
not a simple process.]
At 4 AM all the lights in the square went out and the troops
pressured the students from all sides. When the lights came on at
4:30 AM, the students found themselves facing a large number of
armed soldiers, as well as rows of tanks and armored cars
moving slowly through the Square. The Goddess of Democracy
(the students'' facsimile of the Statue of Liberty) fell to the
ground. Around 5 AM the students made an orderly retreat and
at 5:40 the square was cleared.
This is the paradox. Most people, when hearing of Tiananmen
Square and June 3-4, assume that the deaths took place in the
Square proper. But the shooting was outside of it.
In the following days, demonstrations spread to some 181
locations, including all the provincial capitals, the major cities,
and special economic zones. And then by June 8 the situation
began to stabilize.
On June 6 Deng held a meeting with the leadership to assess the
damage. Everyone was particularly interested in the casualty
accounts from the foreign networks. AP said "At least 500
dead." NBC: "1,400 dead, 10,000 wounded." ABC and BBC:
Li Peng said, "The figures on the dead are these: 23 from the
martial law troops...about 200 soldiers are also missing. The
dead among city people, students, and rioters number about 200.
No one was killed within Tiananmen Square itself."
[The truth lies somewhere in between and we will never know
the exact count. The hospitals were prohibited from issuing any
reports and the families of those killed were not allowed to hold
public services; all grieving was to take place in private.]
Deng: "...We should be forgiving toward the student
demonstrators and petition signers...and we shouldn''t try to
track down individual responsibility among them."
Deng urged that the numbers of students arrested should be held
to a minimum. At the same time, he reimposed strict discipline
on the Party. China would not go the way of Eastern Europe and
the USSR. [Ironically, on the very same day, June 4, Poland was
holding its first free elections.]
As for the Chinese people, they were numbed. As Andrew
Nathan writes, "(Shortly afterwards), the campuses were tranquil,
and China seemed shrouded in a dour mist that harbored a
spiritual emptiness. Money ruled everything, morals died,
corruption burgeoned, bribes were bartered, and when all this
became known on the campuses it turned students thoroughly off
politics. They had lost the idealism of the 1980s and now
concentrated only on their own fates."
As for Zhao Ziyang, the reformer and a hero to the students, he
remains under house arrest.
Andrew Nathan, January / February issue of Foreign Affairs
Henry Graff, "The Presidents"
Fairbank and Goldman, "China: A New History"
J.M. Roberts, "Twentieth Century"