June 04, 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 - WSJ.com

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 ChristusRex.com.

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" WSJ.com 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 - WSJ.com:

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.

Posted by Ron Hebron at June 04, 2009 06:38 AM | Email This
1. The leaders of China saw it as a choice between order and chaos. They chose order.

After more than 100 years of chaos in China, from the opium wars to the cultural revolution, the Chinese were not overly enthusiastic about the breakdown in public order that Tianamen represented.

We don't have to like their choice, and certainly wouldn't want to have it happen here, but this was their decision to make.

Posted by: deadwood on June 4, 2009 07:09 AM
2. I was in Hong Kong at the time of Tianamen square. Even prior to this event, there was a very large and vocal pro-democracy youth movement that I witnessed 8 years prior to that British colony being turned back over to Chinese rule. This cowardly act by the chinese government just furthered an unstoppable groundswell amongst the youth to modernize that country and break away from its archaic, suppressive state government. With any change, this will take time, but like the Berlin wall before it, so too will crumble this fragilely held communist government.

Posted by: Rick D. on June 4, 2009 08:13 AM
3. Today we hear that the younger generation knows nothing of this history and won't believe you if you tell them.

That's not quite correct, however. The young generation knows of the massacre, and in fact you can even open up the Wikipedia page on the massacre inside China.

The younger generation doesn't care about the massacre; they see the economic and political freedoms gained over the last 20 years and have a "it'll come, don't rush it, it's inevitable" type attitude towards democracy and freedom. Kind of like how kids in America think Memorial Day is more about that last day off before summer, not that it's about honoring the sacrifice of so many.

Milton Friedman's classic Capitalism and Freedom, also widely available - and read - in China, lays out that you can't have one without the other. Having one FORCES you to have the other, and that's kind of the Chinese youth's approach.

Posted by: Shanghai Dan on June 4, 2009 08:40 AM
4. Won't it be wonderful for China to become fully Democratic? Soon, since the technology for mass media communication is here, they too can elect people based on their ability to win a popularity contest, not for if they are truly the best person for the job. Then before you know it they can have the same kind of corrupt government we enjoy here in the USA.

Posted by: REBEL on June 4, 2009 09:37 AM
5. I was in Dalian at the time, and our CNN feed didnt stop until about 4 hours after tanks started rolling... We were also the closest international airport to Beijing that stayed open thoroughout...


Posted by: Mike in Americas Vancouver on June 4, 2009 10:56 AM
6. Tiananmen Square is a sad symbol of a sad history. Over the decades, China's coast in particular has embraced more and more free market-type policies. We can only hope that these principles lead to the foundation of a strong democracy over time. The Chinese are a proud people and they don't deserve to live in an oppressive society.

Posted by: John Jensen on June 4, 2009 11:05 AM
7. Forgot to add... A year or so later, I was talking to some of my Chinese co-workers in Dalian, and this topic came up... I still remember the opinion around the table...
'what is the difference, except for scale, between what happened at Tienamen and what happened at Kent State... students protesting against the government, outside agitators come in, things get out of control, soldiers are called in, people die'
I've lost touch with almost all of the people I met in my two years there (mar 89-mar 91), and havent had this type of conversation in many many years, but i wonder if opinions changed.
BTW... my next Asia gig was 94-99 in Hong Kong, where the Chinese people i worked with were almost incredibly apathetic to politics, considering the times we were living in then...

cheers, Mike

Posted by: Mike in Americas Vancouver on June 4, 2009 11:07 AM
8. Ist Bushler was sucking chinese cock at the time. So much for him telling them to 'tear down" any walls to democracy.

Posted by: gop in denial on June 4, 2009 01:00 PM
9. @8:

Obviously winning the presidency and congress, not to mention the WA state gov't, has done nothing to help with your extreme case of hate.

Posted by: deadwood on June 4, 2009 04:34 PM
10. @1 deadwood:

The mass murder of innocents is never a 'choice' (unless you're an abortionist). You might as well say the same thing about the Germans and the NSDAP. They were just choosing order (after a bitter period of economic collapse and foreign oppression no less), and if innocents were murdered, well that was their choice to make. I would suggest you make some time to watch NTDTV's Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party:

It details how the CCP arose from a small group of nobodies to a ruthless dissent murdering machine. (In no small part due to riding on the back of the KMT whenever it was convenient and then sucker punching them at the first sign of opportunity.)

The Chinese people have had a very bitter couple of centuries, more if one wants to make an issue of the Manchurian occupation (which it sure as hell was for those who died rather than cut their hair to suit their new Qing/Manchurian masters), and most of the problems during that period came from the West. First the British did what they could to force drugs down the throats of the Chinese to make sure the country's vast silver holdings would flow to Britain, and once the back of the resistance had been broken during the Opium Wars, every European power tried to carve a little piece of China up for itself. Then Maxist-Leninist claptrap flowed in from Russia just in time for the Japanese to invade. Then civil war and the success of Mao's cult of personality resulting in purge after senseless purge, and the systematic destruction of much of China's history and culture because it clashed with the goals of Communism. (Ironically the CCP would denounce the West and its influence while destroying many facets of China's own history for the sake of its (albeit embarrassingly) Western collectivist ideology.)

In my opinion, China would be best served by looking back to its great political, sociological, and philosophical leaders like Masters Kong, Meng, Lao, and Zhuang and forming a way for itself to be free but orderly and just on its own terms.

Posted by: ElectricTurtle on June 4, 2009 06:56 PM
11. I know I am going to be called a Liberal for this but the exact opposite is the truth.

June 4th 1989 was during the administration of an individual named George Herbert Walker Bush.

He was the President of the United States during this incident.

George Herbert Walker Bush has a brother by the name of Prescott "Pressy" Bush, Jr. He was the chairman of the US-China Chamber of Commerce.

Look, I know I am not telling you anything you don't already know. But I am telling you something a whole lot of you would like to forget.

READ MY LIPS - NO NEW BUSHES (that means you, JEB!)

Posted by: Greg Smith on June 8, 2009 06:02 PM
12. And here is another interesting historical tidbit. Make of it as you will and I am not saying anything more about it than it is indeed a historical fact.

John Warnock Hinckley, Jr. shot President Ronald Wilson Reagan on March 30, 1981.

That of course most of you know.

Did you know this. John Hinckley's parents were John Warnock Hinckley, Sr. and Jo Ann Moore, owners of the Hinckley Oil company.

Yeah, so you say.

The Bush and Hinckley families go back to the oil-wildcatting days of the 1960s in Texas. (Ironically, they go back even farther in a genealogical sense, since the have a common ancestor in Samuel Hinckley, who lived in the late 1600s.)

The relationship was much closer between George Bush, Sr., and John Hinckley, Sr., whose families were neighbors for years in Houston. John Hinckley, Sr., contributed to the political campaigns of Bush, Sr., all the way back to Bush's running for Congress, and he supported Bush against Reagan for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. Bush, Sr., and Hinckley, Sr., were both in the oil business. When the Hinckley oil company, Vanderbilt Oil, started to fail in the 1960s, Bush, Sr.'s, Zapata Oil financially bailed out Hinckley's sompany. Hinckley had been running an operation with six dead wells, but he began making several milliion dollars a year after the Bush bailout.

Scott Hinckley, John's brother, was scheduled to have dinner at the Denver home of Neil Bush, Bush, Sr.'s, son (and of course the current president's brother) the day after the shooting. At the time, Neil Bush was a Denver-based purchaser of mineral rights for Amoco, and Scott Hinckley was the vice president of his father's Denver-based oil business.

On the day of the shooting, NBC news anchor John Chancellor, eyebrows raised, informed the viewers of the nightly news that the man who tried to kill the president was acquainted with the son of the man who would have become president had the attack succeeded. As a matter of fact, Chancellor reported in a bewildered tone, Scott Hinckley and Neil Bush had been scheduled to have dinner together at the home of the (then) vice-president's son (Neil) the very next night.

Look, I don't know what to make of all of that except that the Bush's DESTROYED the Reagan legacy. First it started with "Kinder Gentler" Nation Bush Sr. (Kinder and Gentler than what as this was right after the eight years or Reagan). And it was finished off by his son (we need to kill capitalism to save capitalism).

Jeb Bush says we need to free ourselves from Reagan. I say we need to free ourselves from Bush. All of them!

Posted by: Greg Smith on June 8, 2009 06:28 PM
13. The image of one man standing in front of a column of tanks will forever symbolize the power of one individual against the brute force of the state.

Who was "Tank Man?"

Posted by: Bruce Guthrie on June 9, 2009 12:06 AM
14. What does GHW Bush have to do with Tiananmen? Are you blaming him for not doing enough? Would you rather have had a world war on the doorstep of the end of the Cold War?

The US abandoned the Chinese people all the way back under Nixon. Granted, that was when Chiang Kai-shek was in power on the ROC side, and he was almost as much a tyrant as Mao, and attacked dissent almost as viciously. But during and following Nixon's Presidency, the US made it clear it didn't care how much the CCP ground their boots into the Chinese people so long as the CCP would open trade. From then on no American President has dared to do much more to China than occasionally give them some stern words. That really means something I'm sure to all those tortured and killed. If you're going to try to hang that on GHW Bush, make sure the sign is big enough for Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II. It's just a coincidence that Tiananmen happened on Bush's watch.

Posted by: ElectricTurtle on June 10, 2009 05:38 PM
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