Apr 15

Spring 1989 in Shanghai – A Memory of the ’89 Student Movement

Written by EugeneZ on Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 5:33 am
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One year ago, Buxi asked me to write something on 6/4, and I did not get around to do it, but promised that I would do so this year, the 20th anniversary.  At the reminder of Admin a few weeks ago, I started to think about this “action item”.  I pulled out a diary/report that was written within the weeks after 6/4/1989,  the report was 50 some pages long.  It did not have any dust on it since it has been sealed in an envelope.  Twenty-year is a long time, the paper has turned completely yellow-ish, but reading through it still brought out a lot of emotion and a lot of memories.

After some thought, I decided that the best way to write about 6/4 is to simply translate parts of the 20-year old diary for it truthfully recorded what a 22-year old student experienced, observed, heard, thought, believed and felt at the moment.  Twenty years has gone by, the author, like most of the 6/4 students, has moved on and has since lived a more or less fulfilling life unrelated to 6/4. Along the way, he has learned a few things,  has had opportunity to reflect upon the past, and his political views may have evolved along the way.  But in memory of the 1989 student movement, I felt that the best thing to do is to trace back to the time as it occurred.  I am sure that we will then have a discussion as to how we look at the events in Spring 1989 today.

So here is – Part I, from April 15th, the day Hu Yaobang died, to the day of hunger strike.

So here is – Part I, from April 15th, the day Hu Yaobang died, to the day of hunger strike.

Part 1. Pre Hunger Strike

On April 15th, 1989, Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), the former general secretary of Chinese Communist Party, died of a sudden heart attack. Hu was known to be the most liberal, most democratic-leaning Commuist Party leader. When the news broke, the whole nation was surprised. The shock was felt most strongly by students on university campuses.

It was well known that Hu Yaobang was a victim of the 1986 student movement, which university students in Shanghai took very active role in. He was sacked from his party general secretary position by 85-year old Deng Xiaoping, who was the chairman of the committee of Chinese army (军委主席). After Yaobang was forced to resign in 1987, the whole nation was swept by a so-called Anti-Bourgeoisie Liberalism movement. The people most impacted were the democracy-leaning elites such as scientist Fang Lizhi (方励之), and writers Wang Ruowang (王若望), and Liu Binyan (刘宾雁). They were kicked out of the party, had their freedom of speech and travel restricted. The No.1 party decree (一号文件) of 1987 was basically a reprint of Deng’s intra-party speech. My friends at University F and I had to sit through numerous study sessions, and to us he sounded like an emperor, a dictator, not someone who believed in reason. We realized how powerful the party and for that matter Mr. Deng was.

(Paragraphs not translated here include the author’s analysis in 1989 the domestic political reality and international environment. He also attempted to explain in terms of social issues such as corruption, inflation, perceived unfairness in wealth distribution which led to the eruption of the student movement in spring 1989, for which the death of Hu Yaobang acted as an ignition point.)

“There has never been any savior, we all have to rely on ourselves.” On April 15th, many posters (大字报) appeared on university campus, black letters on white paper, such as “Lao Hu, Tao Ah (老胡,痛啊!)”. The posters caught a lot of attention. People of all walks of life started to gather at Tiananmen square in Beijing. Over the next two days, the posters quickly changed tone and became more political, largely aiming at the dictatorship which people perceived to be the “killer” of Mr. Hu. On the evening of April 16th, at University F in Shanghai, a spontaneous gathering took place at the classroom where President Reagan once gave a speech during his visit to China. After the gathering, a parade (游行) around the campus followed. The peace on campus has been broken.

In the meanwhile, the situation in Beijing quickly developed. People were gathered on Tiananmen square, posters were all over the place, some of which making political demands. On April 17th, several hundreds of students from University of Politics and Laws, Beijing Normal University, and Beijing University held a sit-in at Xinhua Gate, which is near Zhongnan Hai. They published 7 demands: (1.) Re-label Hu Yaobang, re-label 1986 student movement and the anti-Bourgeoisie Liberalism movement. (2.) Cancel “Ten Restrictions on Demonstration”; (3.) Freedom of press – news media be allowed to speak truth; (4.) Recover the reputation of Fang Lizhi, etc.; (5.) Improve the standard of living of the highly educated (知识分之), invest in education; (6.) Tame inflation, curb corruption, prohibit profiteering on rationed goods 官倒; (7.) Promote democratic reform.

On campus of University F, after several days of spontaneous gatherings, finally a team of 20 was formed and volunteered to organize a off-campus demonstration. Among this team was Mr. Zhang Cai, a year 86 student at department of management. However, on April 19th, when over a thousand students were gathered on campus and ready to take off, Mr. Zhang Cai announced that the demonstration was being cancelled. He was under tremendous pressure from the university. It was a significant setback for the student movement in Shanghai.

My friends and I all participated in the gatherings, although not taking any organizing or leading role, as graduate students, we were the thoughtful bunch. As compared to the younger, more passionate undergraduate students, we tend to be more mature, more reserved. We thoroughly debated the politics and we had been paying attention to what has been happening in the communist world in East Europe. We thought that political reform was necessary, and also was unavoidable.

In Beijing, University Self-Rule Association (高校自治联合会) was formed. From the night of April 21th, seven thousands of students from Beijing Normal University and Tsinghua University departed their campuses, and headed towards Tiananmen square which is 30 LI away. Along the way, more students joined them. By the time they reached the square on the morning of April 22th, tens of thousands have joined them.

Many things happened in Beijing between April 22nd, and May 1st , and the student movement started to gain international attention. Hu’s funeral was held on April 22nd, massive street demonstrations were held on April 22nd, 27th. The news media is China started to show a more balanced view and much more open reporting from April 28th until May 19th. Internal politics within the two camps of communist party started to become more visible, with Zhao Ziyang and Hu Qili sounding moderate views. On April 29th, a historical dialogue between senior government officials and student representatives were held in Beijing and was later broadcasted on national TV. “Classroom boycott” was also initiated in Beijing around this time.

Under this favorable circumstance, Mr. Zhang Cai returned to University F after his trip to Beijing, and on the evening of May 1st, a gathering was held at classroom 3108, where they decided to go to street the next day, and a self-policing security team was formed to maintain order.

The next day, on May 2nd, finally a couple of thousand of students left campus, and their first stop is University T, where they met their counterparts. The students took the Si Ping Road, went through the world famous Bund, and arrived at the People’s Square, where many students from Hua Dong Normal students were already gathered. The total crowd was estimated at 8 thousands. The formation of Shanghai University Self-Rule Association was announced demonstration. Two most prominent demands of the students were: (1.) dialogue; (2.) Let the liberal newspaper World Economy (世界经济导报) publish. Let Mr. Qin Benli (钦本立), the editor-in-chief return to work. The newspaper was shut down a week ago by Shanghai Party Boss Mr. Jiang Zemin (江泽民). One of the slogans the students used was: “还我导报,导报无罪;还我本力,连本带利”。

I was in this demonstration from beginning to end, and I retuned to campus late at night physically tired but in high spirit. For this demonstration, and the next one on May 4th in Shanghai, the local press took a neutral stand, merely reported something like “activity was not pre-approved by police (Gong An)”.

Between May 4th and May 13th, things were kinds of in a holding pattern, Classroom Boycott started to spread at University F as well, usually by class. Department of Physics, class of 87 was the most visible – they had a on-campus parade which ended at the location where the university posted a large notice called “classroom boycott not permitted”.

The student movement also started to go beyond university, attracting many sympathizers across China’s society. Hundreds of reporters and others in news media took to the street and had their own demonstration in Shanghai around May 10th.

Fast forward to May 13th, Saturday. Several hundreds of university students in Beijing went to Tiananmen square and declared that they were starting a hunger strike, promoting another round of escalation. Their bottom line demands to end the strike were: (1.) Categorize the student movement as patriotic democracy movement; (2.) Dialogue with the senior officials in the government on concrete reforms.

Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Union communist party general secretary, was coming to Beijing, the first visit by any Soviet Union leader in 3 decades. It was a historical event, and 1200 reporters from all around the world were coming to Beijing for it. It was the best opportunity to attract international attention to the causes of the students.

Whatever happened Beijing in that week was historical, and all facts were well known because amazingly enough the news media for whatever reason had a free run to report anything they wanted during that week.

The whole nation, even a large part of the world’s attention was on the student movement in Beijing, and other cities across China.

On May 16th, in Shanghai, five thousands of university students, many of them from University F gathered at THE BUND to show their support for the students on Tiananmen square who were into their the 4th day of their 7-day hunger strike. At 10pm, 60 students put on white ribbon on their forehead, sat down in front of the entrance of Shanghai municipal government (the round top historical building, now occupied by AIG or HSBC bank?). They began their tough journey of hunger strike. Two of my good friends, one of whom my roommate were among them, along with student leader Zhang Cai.

On May 17th, I wrote a one-page “hunger strike declaration” which was supposed to be read by my parents in case something happen to me, and had a memorable lunch at the Professors and Teachers’ Dining Hall. I usually go to student dining hall to save money, but this meal would be a bit special, so I spent some extra money and feasted on my then favorite dish – a very sizable fried pork steak on rice, along with some vegetables. Back then I was dating an undergraduate student at the same university, we cared about each other quite a bit. I left her a note and left for THE BUND without saying goodbye. I knew that she would not have let me do it.

I joined my friends at THE BUND, sat with them and chatted for 3 hours, then I put on my own white ribbon which had “Life for Democracy” (“用生命换取民主“) hand written on it. The writing was later changed to “Hunger Strike to Survive” (绝食为了生存) after the original one was soaked by rain. This was the beginning of my 64-hour hunger strike.

There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 35400.

126 Responses to “Spring 1989 in Shanghai – A Memory of the ’89 Student Movement”

  1. Raj Says:

    That’s great. Thanks, Eugene, I’m looking forward to part II.

  2. Nimrod Says:

    “My friends and I all participated in the gatherings, although not taking any organizing or leading role, as graduate students, we were the thoughtful bunch. As compared to the younger, more passionate undergraduate students, we tend to be more mature, more reserved. We thoroughly debated the politics and we had been paying attention to what has been happening in the communist world in East Europe. We thought that political reform was necessary, and also was unavoidable.”

    I always find it fascinating that people cared about politics that much, but it is a product of the times. Two things I often wonder about: what sources of information did students have about the outside world at that time, and was there dissension in these kinds of events?

    Also the scale of popular action was smaller in Shanghai than in Beijing, and overall the situation was more under control, some say due to the shrewdness of Shanghainese.

  3. Bai Ding Says:


    Thank you for this post. I had painfully taped all the TV news for more than two weeks in 1989, with hope and despair.

    Twenty years later, the haunting bright color of June 4th massacre has faded. The new found prosperity in China masks all the pain. The person who ordered the massacre of the unarmed students has long been defined as a Great Man. No one is allowed to speak about it. But in my mind and so many other people’s mind, this was still the most glorious and proudest day in our recent history. Not the Beijing Olympics, mind you. The students were not usurpers, regardless of all the later allegations of who’s behind them, etc. What did they really want? What do you think they or those people “behind them” wanted? To usurp the government and to destroy China’s chance of getting rich? My message to the Fen Qing: get a life man!

    The students started a movement. A movement of assessing and moralizing the Chinese governance. They tried to pass on to us a torch, the torch of freedom. In our national consciousness, this torch has far more significance than the Olympic Torch.

    Please remember about what freedom is. It is ours. What is ours is ours. It doesn’t matter if we have it or someone has taken it away from us. It is still ours. Therefore, if someone returned some of what used to be ours to us, he hasn’t done us any favor.

    Bai Ding

  4. Charles Liu Says:

    “massacre of the unarmed students”, here we go again…

    According to a TAM retrospective from Columbia School of Journalism:

    “as far as can be determined from the available evidence, no one died that night in Tiananmen Square”

    Jay Mathews made it very clear at the end of his article:

    “Journalists have to be precise about where it happened and who were its victims, or readers and viewers will never be able to understand what it meant.”

    Here’s an OpEd by Gregory Clark:

    Birth of a massacre myth

    Here’s a Youtube clip of a TAM documentary. At minute 5:57 Ho Dejian makes his account of the events very clear:

    “Many people say that at Tiananmen square about 2,000 were shot or perhaps several hundred were shot. On the square were tanks that crushed people and students etc. etc. I would like to stress that I did not witness this a bit”

  5. may Says:

    Did Bai Ding ever say where the killing occurred in his comment?? Your retort is quite misplaced.

    According to a record provided by tiananmenmother.org, among the 189 killed, 71 were students. The only thing Bai Ding needs to revise is to add a word in the sentence: killing of unarmed students and CIVILIANS.

  6. may Says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. How I wish I could also read the diary in its original Chinese. I worry that some emotions and meanings might be lost in the English translation. But maybe I am asking too much … … Looking forward to Part II.

  7. Bai Ding Says:

    History is weird. China is the weirdest of them all.

    1) As someone has said, the”Nanjing Massacre” was a movie and the Holocaust was a hoax. But the denials were all from those who did the killings. Not by those who were victimized. It is weird that only in China, those who caused deaths to millions of its own people in peace time can be celebrated and revered as people’s “Heroes” and “Great Men”. It only proved how successful the Party has been. Hitler and Tojo must be turning in their graves.

    2) I won’t bear to watch all my live recording from television. Hours of tapes. From the hope of Spring to the dismay of a historical opportunity fleeting away. But I saw blood. Lot’s of blood. When your own government sent in soldiers and columns of tanks (not just one or two) and fired at your own people, did it matter if anyone were actually “killed”? Or how many? If the intention was not to kill, why the shooting? You know how difficult it is for so many soldiers to fire into the crowd at night just to scratch them and make them bleed a little?

    3) Anyone who is accused of murder is allowed to defend themselves. Why didn’t China tells its side of story? Why didn’t it also present a thorough investigating report with “hard evidence” too? Instead, it chose to silence everyone who were there and brainwash everyone who weren’t. With a case of this magnitude and notoriety, the Chinese government cannot be above the law. What it did or didn’t do was arrogant and stupid to the least.

    4) Was someone making movie? Another fabrication by the anti-China foreign media. As if the world has nothing better to do. If it was a movie, then it was poorly done. The lighting, the color, the acting, the plot and the ending were all lousy.

    5) In the aftermath of the June Fourth, the West chose to engage China instead of isolating it in order to pressure it to change. The wishful thinking was that China would change its political system as it became prosperous with the help of the West. They forgot that this was the Chinese Communist Party. It was built on the back of the cultural blueprint of the feudalistic Confucianism. This ethics emphasizes the top-down moral duties of the powerful rather than the upward rights of the ruled. Chinese citizens have always had great faith and respect for their leaders. The Chinese are believers in an ordered society and national pride. Any force capable of unifying heaven and earth, forging unity and saying “in your face” to the Foreign Devils is respected and revered.

  8. Wahaha Says:

    Why didn’t China tells its side of story?

    Bai Ding,

    I was one of the students in 1989 and 1986. I dont want to talk about it, not now, not in next 10 years or maybe next 20 years, cuz talking about it now wont accomplish anything that will make China better.

    Sometimes in the future, we will talk about it. I believe China will be more and more democratic in next 30 years, though maybe not in the form of west democracy (is west democracy the only form of democracy ?)

    The blood on 6/4 doesnt justify our cause in 1989 the right one FOR CHINA. didnt most of us lose their minds by the end of May, 1989 ? The key here is why we demostrated in 1989 ? not freedom, not democracy (for god sake, we didnt even know what democracy was), we were demonstrating for the future of China, and we deeply believed that west democracy was the only way that China would get better.

    so calm down, Bai Ding, please understand that some students from 1989 dont want to talk about that now.

  9. Bai Ding Says:

    Well put. I am pleased to meet you Wahaha. Thank you for assuring me that China will be better. I think that’s the goal of this Fool’s Mountain. It will take a lot of people and generations to move. And we can talk or bring out someone to talk. In my calm way, I just asked a few questions. One is simply put: Did the people’s army shoot at its people?

    As I said when I first appeared, I always wished I was wrong. If I was wrong, then things are good.

    Many people have regretted about what they did in their past. I have lost my mind more than once in my younger days too. I used to know a girl … Unless we did something with malicious intention, what’s the problem? Destruction, failure and recovery all shape mankind and civilizations. If you read my comments, it really didn’t ‘t matter what you guys’ motive were. It didn’t matter if the students had lost their mind in the beginning or at the end. Or if their blood spilled in vain, etc. I absolutely admire their courage and spirit at that time. It didn’t matter whether the students really knew what god, western or Chinese democracy were then or now. I am not judging. Just asked a few questions. Did the students get shot at by their own army? And they got shot at just because they got some wrong idea about democracy?

    I salute you Wahaha. I am proud of you. I am grateful to receive a response from you.

  10. EugeneZ Says:


    Thanks. “Lost in translation” is definitely a concern, another one is that the translation was done today, and the original Chinese version was written 20 years ago. The person today definitely has a much different and more nuanced worldview than the author 20 years ago, and it it hard to completely detach the person translating from somewhat intervening himself into the story one way or the other- although the intent is to translate it exactly as it was.

    However, I am hesitant to publish the orginal version. First of all, 6/4 is still a taboo topic in China officially, the origninal version may complicate life for some real people; Two, hopefully, someday 6/4 will be more openly debated in China, and maybe the orginal version will serve a better purpose then. Perhaps I make a novel out of it or something, anticipating that I will have free time in my golden years…

    I have waited 20 years, so another 20 won’t kill me, I am pretty sure.

  11. AC Says:

    Did the students get shot at by their own army?

    Yes, nobody denies the fact.

    And they got shot at just because they got some wrong idea about democracy?

    No. That would be an oversimplification, such idea sells well in the West though.

    The students got shot at because some of them broke the law. That’s how the state machinery functions, it doesn’t matter whether the machinery is democratic or authoritarian.

    Today, many of us still blame those student leaders for their unrealistic ambitions, incompetence and miscalculations (some of them are cowards). The bloodshed could have been avoided.

    Was the government right to stop the chaos? Yes.

    Was it right for the troops to open fire? No. That’s why the government is still paying the price after 20 years.

  12. Allen Says:

    Bai Ding – to conflate holocaust and Nanking Massacre with Tiananmen 89 – not only do you need new glasses and a lobotomy, but perhaps a rebirth or two before you are worth talking to.

  13. Shane9219 Says:

    The event in 1989 was a very tragic one, being one of the witnesses myself. The mass confusion and intense stand-off between event participants (mainly college students) and the authority was one major reason that the event ended badly, unlike several others proceeded to it.

    This kind of stand-off between students and authorities occured in many other places too. In US, the May 4 massacre at Kent State Univ. was one of them.


    West’s excitement and persistence over 1989 event is mostly for their own sack, not necessary for the benefit of China. Because of such selfish thinking, those people will continue to feel disillusional about China.

    Modern China was founded on the consensus that China should eventually stand in the world by her own, not “kowtow” to the West.

    Now, the West’s relation with China is at cross-road. It can accept China as is and give China what is due, or continue to muddle the water and be disillusional.

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    And Shane, what do you think the US government refer to Kent State as?


    “1970 student rebellion”
    “Kent State anti-war students’ revolt”

    Even the most liberal media in US reframed from using the term “massacre”:


  15. Bai Ding Says:

    I see. So, the troop did fire at the students. Yes, I know about Kent. I knew about Columbia University’s riots too. I was here. But the Chinese troop did fire.

    I know how the Chinese feel about the value of West. That’s why no Chinese wanted to come to live or study in the US at all. As matter of fact, no mainland Chinese want to live in the West too. 唉,這又何苦呢?

  16. Shane9219 Says:

    @Bai Ding

    “That’s why no Chinese wanted to come to live or study in the US at all.”

    Why not, for the sake of globalization and learning tricks from west. Many Chinese firms have opened offices in US and Europea. Moreover, Chinese are becoming more and more important investors to the west. Don’t get depressed by that 🙂

  17. FOARP Says:

    I have to say that it is with extreme distaste that I read the same old comments being trotted out by Charles Liu and others, particularly in response to Bai Ding. All that need be said is that all reliable sources agree that the sound of gunfire was heard for hours coming from TAM and its surrounding area, all reliable sources agree that large numbers of people were taken with gunshot wounds to Beijing hospitals, all reliable sources agree that PLA tanks and soldiers carrying live ammunition were used to clear the square and its surrounding area. What, do you think the soldiers were setting off fireworks?

    In the past week I have been brooding over another event which happened 20 years ago, the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 Liverpool football club fans fans were crushed to death and 766 injured following an extreme error in judgement by the South Yorkshire police. Much dis-information was released by the police at the time which has subsequently been proved false, likewise reports in The Sun of hooliganism on the part of the Liverpool fans also proved to be a pack of lies, but many people have not revised their opinions since the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough. This is why anniversaries are so useful, because they allow people to revisit their opinions of the time in the light of information recovered in the meantime. They also give people another chance to demand that past injustices should be righted. It was with immense pride that I saw the 30,000 people attending the Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield stadium stand up as a body during a government minister’s speech and demand “Justice for the 96”.

    The decision to open fire that night, whoever made it, is one that has haunted the PRC government these past 20 years and one which will continue to haunt them until some measure of justice is delivered.

  18. may Says:

    Allen # 12
    My English is not as good as many of you on this blog, but as I read Bai Ding’s comment in #7, I don’t think he is comparing Tiananman with holocaust and Nanking Massacre per se. He is comparing the denial and distortion by some people about these events. I have not been on this blog for a very long time but I have always been impressed by your reason, eloquence, and good humor. But this time, I have to say you are unnecessarily hostile to Bai Ding.

    Eugene # 10
    I hope too that day will come when discussions of what happened in that eventful summer is no longer a taboo in China. I hope I can live to see it.

    I came across someone’s memoir of that summer on the net today and it is also a love story. It suddenly occurred to me for many youthful participants in the event of that summer it was not only a time of political passion but also a season of love. But how many love stories were lost or changed endings after the summer…

    “革命时期”的浪漫 A Romance in the “Revolutionary Times”
    作者:野夫 by The Wild One

    Here is a moving passage from his memoir. It is written with pain, understanding and acceptation and rendered so beautifully in Chinese it resists an translation.


  19. Bai Ding Says:

    Ha ha. What I need is a good night sleep. It was not my intention to “oversimplified” anything. I was tired typing on the keyboard because I have a habit of hitting it hard. In my thirty some years as an IT guy, people learned that they could hear me down the hallway. Also my wife needs attention sometimes. Haha. Therefore, I tried to write as brief as possible and thought that people could deduce the rest. I am so delighted that I drew out so much emotion. I was once a Young Pioneer and I was once very emotional watching the movie 女籃五號 when the national anthem sounded. I got tears in my eyes. (And oh that 秦怡) I understand these emotions. Debates are healthy and debate for the sake of our country is commendable. Thank you, thank you and thank you.

    1) Any fools knows that the Holocaust and the Nanjing Massacre were not the same as the Tiananmen Square Whatever You Might Call It. I was not comparing them. I was talking about “denial”. If I got the time and my fingers ain’t hurting, I would bring up “Bill Clinton denied his blowjob in the Oval Office, “The Jews Denied Jesus was the Savior”, “My friend denied he has cancers”, etc. I meant to mean denials, man. Any fools know they were not the same. As a matter of fact, the Cultural Revolution was not the same as them, although I was told that over 60 million were dead in a supposed peace time. We all know the difference among these history events. The Holocaust was when the Germans killed the Jews. The Nanjing Massacre was when the Japanese enemies killed the Chinese. While in the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square Whatever You Might Call It, the Chinese killed their own.

    2) Oh, the laws. I understand law and punishment. My uncle was fat and he broke some law in China. He was stripped naked and thrown into the shit house to feed the mosquitoes. Law and Punishment. I agree. I agree! Good shows. But don’t be too hard on the students who broke the laws or the leaders who were cowards. George Washing broke the laws, Sun Yat Sen broke the laws, Mao Ze Dong broke the laws, Gandhi broke the laws. But they continued to break the laws and they changed history and the laws. Anyone who wanted to change history broke the existing “laws”. All movements, revolutions had cowards and traitors. It is the collective honor that counts, not the personal ones.

    3) The Great Man saw what’s coming. He didn’t want to see history being changed this way. No good for us, he said. He was a nice man. He understood the nature of the Chinese too. He knew they think too much and given time a lot of regrets and fingerpointing would surface and the balloon will burst. He knew that they would all resorted to an orderly society before you know it. Therefore he crushed it right there, even against the will some the army’s leaderships. He was smart and that’s why he was called the Great Man. He said, “Let a small group get rich first!” Bingo! Right again. To get rich is what all of the Chinese wanted. The word “First” is the key here. You got to compete for the 頭啖湯. It didn’t matter if you used black cat or white cat. Boom, China is rich. And some even said if it wasn’t the Tiananmen Square Whatever You Might Call IT, we would be even richer.

    4) National pride is commendable especially for the Chinese. But not to kowtow any more is not the same as all out national arrogance. It is not the same as the West bashing FQ. It doesn’t mean we can beat up people in the west who don’t share our Chinese view, or eat Chinese food if you stretch a little. I guess there are things in the West that are good too. Karl Marx was a western man. And China has a lot of backward, feudal shits that 魯迅 so adamantly hated.

    5) I was here during the anti Vietnam war demonstration. I was in a physics class and students outside went nuts. They kicked our door and shouted, “On strike, shut it down!”. That’s in Columbia. But bringing up Kent State when we are debating about the Tiananmen Square Whatever You Might Call was weird. One crime can wash another? What’s each one got to do with the other? I got a summon for traffic violation and I told the cop “what about him”? Can a murderer get sympathy or freedom by bringing up OJ Simpson? 魯迅 said, “If a monk can touch it, why can’t I ?”

    My apology was only to Eugene. You are a learned scholar. I am not. A 江湖老粗。 To all of you, my friends, as I always said, I wish I was wrong. And no, none of you were harsh or nasty. I appreciate all these comments and retorts. I just don’t have the time to thank and shake every hand here. Even if you crucify me. If Chinese Communist is actually good, then it is good. Lets record all the hard facts and in the future the living will judge the dead. To conclude my comments, 老子有詩為證﹕

    閑來觀史記﹐ 喜樂共消磨。
    世上知音少﹐ 書中肺腑多。
    五湖留范蠡﹐ 易水送荊軻。
    讀到恩仇處﹐ 橫刀待渡河。

  20. Shane9219 Says:

    @Bai Ding #19

    I don’t agree with what said there, but it is perfectly okay to share your thought here.

    China’s history is complicated, lots of up and down. Still, there are a bunch of people locking themselves in the past, crying in the night with hatred. Their dark psyche don’t let them see sun-lights, let alone to see a changing China.

    So let them continue to be disillusional, I would say.

  21. Charles Liu Says:

    Bai Ding: “I know how the Chinese feel about the value of West. That’s why no Chinese wanted to come to live or study in the US at all. As matter of fact, no mainland Chinese want to live in the West too. 唉,這又何苦呢?”

    Sorry can’t help there bud; I ain’t from Mainland China, never been citizen of the PRC a day in my life. Why the agitation you’ll have ask yourself or one of your fellow compatriots why they use “democracy groups” and “transitional governments” to provide immigration services.

    You say the Chinese govenrment didn’t talk about TAM, while the fact is casualty figure was released, and was in-line with our own NSA intelligence. Here’s a baidu search on “Tiananmen 6 4”, it’s not censored:


  22. HongKonger Says:

    ” 頭啖湯.”

    Ba Ding, I am guessing you are from Hong Kong, no?

  23. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Charles Liu,

    The Gregory Clark piece that you mentioned in comment No.4, “Birth of a massacre myth”, is definitely worth taking seriously, as his overall assessment can be supported by a reading of what are arguably the two most important sources currently available on the events that took place in Beijing back in June 1989: “Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History”, published in 1999 by the US National Security Archive. This is an online collection of declassified US State Department documents pertaining to the events surrounding the June 1989, and is a very valuable source.

    The other particularly useful and important source is “The Tiananmen Papers”, New York: PublicAffairs, 2001. This is a collection of documents depicting the deliberations of China’s paramount leadership during this tense period.

    As I said, both of these sources support Clark’s assessment. The US embassy’s intelligence sources, interestingly, came up with a death figure almost the same as the one provided by the Chinese central government – less than 500. Very few students died, most were militant workers and a considerable number were PLA soldiers.

    Very few (if any) students were later executed too, contrary to popular belief. Almost all of those executed in the aftermath were workers – trade union leaders and militant workers in particular.

    The fact is, the West exploited the situation to push its Cold War agenda, claiming that peaceful unarmed pro-democracy student activists were gunned down needlessly in cold blood – an act of premeditated mass murder.

    This was NOT what happened at all. Militant workers, many armed with molotov cocktails, rocks and other assorted weapons, barricaded the streets to prevent the army from reaching Tiananmen Square. The soldiers had orders NOT to shoot – as the “Tiananmen Papers” show.

    The workers, of course, while supporting the student protests, were also pursuing a rather different agenda to that of the students, but it was the workers who payed the price in blood. They were at times provocative however, and a number of unarmed soldiers were attacked, some murdered in cold blood. The soldiers were mostly young villagers, and were poorly trained in crowd control and protest management. When attacked with stones and molotov cocktails, they responded in panic, firing into the crowds – so the situation quickly snowballed. Many military trucks were left as burnt out wrecks.

    Workers were organising violent street protests and strikes all over China, and it was they the central government feared most. The crackdown was aimed at them, not the students in Tiananmen. But of course, this would not have served the propaganda purposes of the West. The idea that workers were organising general strikes across the country in protest against the inflationary effects of the new economy as well as declining work conditions – the effects of capitalist reforms – is not the kind of story the West wanted to report on, for obvious ideological reasons.

    And so the massacre myth was born!

    P.S. I do not support capital punishment, under any circumstances. The culling of workers that took place in the immediate aftermath of the Beijing riots constituted in my opinion a serious violation of human rights, and was far bigger a crime than the violent crushing of the rioting workers and their blockades.

    But responsibility for what took place during the riots – including the death of both workers and soldiers – needs to be shared. Terrible acts of murder were also committed by the mob. Few deaths, if any, would have occured at all had it not been for the violent and provocative actions of the rioting workers – encouraged as they were, by some of the more militant students.

    Last week it looked like Thailand was about to experience a similar bloodbath, but unlike the militant Chinese protesters in 1989, the so-called Red Shirts very responsibly backed down.

  24. Laowai Says:

    It is ture that most major cities had demonstrations. People from all walks of life, entire state-owned, central government managed companies were demonstrating under the banners with their company names.

    The “massacre-myth” shows, just how successfully communist propaganda machinery can work. “No-one died” is even in complete denial of even the PRC government’s own public photo-exhibitions after the “incident”.

    Anyone personally present in central Beijing on June 3 and 4 has seen enough, including myself.

    As to the number of people who died, it is really, really hard to tell, as bodies were removed instantly and cremated, there was no count. There should be an account of the number of soldiers and Wu Jing who died, the government may even be happy to disclose at least that number.

    Also the hospitals – overflowing that night from people who were not injured because nothing had happened – should have some records on the people delivered there.

    All through the demonstration period there were photographers of the Ministry of Public Security at work, who took endless numbers of photos, obviously for identifying participants later. I believe they may have also a quite good photographic record of June 3/4. After all, the Ministry is just behind the National Museum on Tian An Men Square, and a lot of action had taken place just outside its gates.

    I believe, the government will come clean and allow a historic examination of the national calamity, once the last of the communist stone-heads responsible for that mess has died.

    Li Peng is now 81, and after his death he will be held to accounts by someone beyond the reach of the communist government.

  25. Wei Says:

    To, Mark Anthony Jones:

    This view of that 1989 student movement also what my parent had tell me, that most people die is really the soldier there.

    But what is this culling of workers that you said, I never heard of that. Can you tell me of that?

  26. Nimrod Says:


    I think you are talking about something else. The “nobody died” is given as “nobody died on the square”, and refers to clearing of the square itself. That’s a very narrow definition and is a misleading statement, but nevertheless, it appears to be a true statement. Furthermore, in the heat of the moment perhaps, what many people passed onto the outside now do appear to be rumors of what they did not see. So if one is to be a student of history, of which a cardinal requirement is a well guarded dispassion, one has to keep these things in mind.

  27. Bai Ding Says:


    Yes sir. I was from Hong Kong.

    It has been a long day. I didn’t get to answer you and read some of my favorite responses until now. For the last twenty years, I have been playing the Erhu (二胡) with the Chinese Orchestra here. On Sundays, we rehearse for hours. Since our next concert is scheduled on 5/3, our conductor just worked our ass off today. Most of our members are professional musicians from Beijing, Shanghai and other parts of China. I enjoy doing this a lot.

    Briefly, let me see. “Less than 500 dead”. I feel better now. “Something was not censored”. Glad to know about it. And “it was perfectly okay for me to share my view here”. I feel much better now. Thank you.

    I had supper in a small restaurant in Chinatown called “Hong Kong Station”. Hanging on the wall were black and white photos of the old Hong Kong. As I looked at them and remembered you asked me whether I was from Hong Kong. That was more than 42 years ago. I was there during the days of 落花滿天閉月光 and 樓下閂水喉. When 張子慧was still a teenager. But it was after 容國團 has returned to the Mainland and later hung himself.

    I was born in Guangzhou in a family with very intimate tie to Sun Yat Sen’s revolution. You know that was KMT. It was just a matter of time before we were in trouble. I attended school and enjoyed my childhood as a Young Pioneer. Oh, I still sing those patriotic songs today with every word loud and clear: 少年先鋒隊隊歌 (I bet no one remember 馬思聰’s original),志願軍軍歌,花兒為什麼這樣紅,人說山西好風光,社會主義好. Time goes fast when you are having fun. We had to flee to Hong Kong. After I finished F2, we left Hong Kong for the US. When we left Hong Kong, we were not sure what would happen to it. In 1967, Hong Kong was almost destroyed by a riot inspired by the Communist. Guys, this was no delusion. The shits really hit the fence. The climax was when the popular and outspoken radio broadcaster Lin Bin (林彬) and his brother were set on fire and burned to death by the rioters. Their portraits were hung in the front entrance of the broadcasting company until 1997.

    Quite contrary to some of the people who might have thought or hoped, I am not dying inside a windowless room or frustrating myself to death in some delusion. Ho Ho Ho. No way Jose. After I got over the racial stupidity of the American people yelling “Chiang Kai Shek!” at me in the street and after I closed my violence prone martial arts teaching job in Chinatown, I moved along the mainstream. I retired at 56 as the finance director of the IT Division of this city’s education department and enjoy my life. I enjoy food, travel, music, poetry, and bullshitting with people whom I met in all the towns of America. My life is far away from all the fuzz about China. Life is short. I couldn’t care less about things that don’t concern me. My problem is I remember what happened. Just the way I remember all those childhood songs. I know 崩口人忌崩口碗, but I occasionally 踩 a little痛腳。 Ouch!

  28. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Wei – the so-called “Tiananmen Square Massacre” should instead be referred to more honestly as the “Beijing Riots of 1989”.

    In 1989, the Cold War was still raging, and so for obvious ideological reasons, Western governments and their media were not interested in reporting on the general strikes that were taking place throughout China, nor did they want to report the fact that most of those killed in Beijing were rioting workers and PLA soldiers – or that the bloodshed was the result of a series of street conflicts, provoked by angry violent workers. The army, when it was initially sent in, was unarmed. Soliders were attacked, and so the next wave to be sent in were armed. Even they had orders not to shoot.

    The Western media focussed on the students in Tiananmen, who they portrayed as the brave advocates of democracy. Some genuinely were, but most simply didn’t even have much of an understanding of what Western democracy is. They wanted a bigger share of the new wealth – many students, when asked what they were protesting for, said they wanted access to Nike shoes, etc.

    Once the violence erupted, the students were portrayed as the victims. Most left way before the tanks arrived, and only a small number participated in the street battles, of which less than 30 died.

    To cover the main event, the Western media would have had to have explained just what the rioting workers were protesting and angry about. Why had they exploited the student demonstrations to champion their own cause?

    Workers were angry because their living standards were sharply declining as a result of inflation, while a small minority of entrepreneurs (many connected with government) were getting rich. They were protesting against the dismantling of the iron rice bowl and against the rising cost of living.

    Western governments, as well as the Chinese central government, had been busy painting the Mao era as having been one of almost total disaster. The West simply didn’t want to know about, let alone report, the fact that Chinese workers were protesting against the loss of the many gains they had enjoyed under Mao’s rule. They were openly championing Mao on the streets, singing The Internationale, calling strikes all over the country, and protesting against the economic effects of China’s new capitaist reforms. Reporting the workers’ cause would have been ideologically challenging for both the Chinese central government and for Western governments.

    The workers were labelled ‘counter-revolutionary’ by the Chinese central government, while Western governments and their media simply pretended they didn’t exisit.

    In the weeks immediately following the violence, the central government bagan rounding up both student activists, academics and militant workers. Around 1,500 arrests were made. Most of the academics and students arrested were released on warning, though a significant number were also given jail sentences – some up to seven years. Many of the workers arrested, however – and workers made up the majority of those arrested from around the country – were given much harsher sentences. By July 26, according to declassified US intelligence reports, at least 16 workers had been executed in Beijing alone. This is what I meant when I said that workers were culled – not out of revenge, but in order to deter their comrades from instigating future working class actions against their empoyers and the state.

    Students, academic activisits and militant worker activists, must all share with the military and the central government, responsibility for what took place in Beijing back in the June of 1989. None are completely innocent of any wrong-doing.

  29. Nimrod Says:

    Mark Anthony Jones,

    Thank you for explaining what some of us are too weary to explain. The Western press is not very good about giving the real analysis for news events. It cannot be a conspiracy, so it is strange that it happens. The most recent example is why the US is boycotting the UN racism conference. If you read the news reports, it’s completely useless and gives no believable reasons at all, but it uses enough innuendo to suggest certain groups of countries are “bad”. I had to go back to sources published years ago to find out what they had against the racism conference.

  30. Nimrod Says:

    A brief follow-up on Mark Anthony Jones’ previous post, two of the complaints raised in 1989 were rising cost of living and reselling rationed goods. The reason why these happened could be found in the other post I put up with Bai Yansong’s speech. Basically the introduction of price discovery revealed supply and demand imbalances (as it must) with over-high demand for daily consumer goods; and dual-track pricing that was meant to dampen a sudden shock created a black market, with those having access arbitraging prices (as is somewhat inevitable as well). Thus, China’s difficult transition to a market economy explains two complaints already. In retrospect, people nowadays can understand the economic nature of these things and see that past the temporary pains they ultimately benefited. But back then China was the first Communist country to make the transition so people had no idea where it would have led.

  31. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Nimrod wrote: ‘In retrospect, people nowadays can understand the economic nature of these things and see that past the temporary pains they ultimately benefited.’

    Yes, this is exactly what the American sociologist Doug Guthrie argues in his book, ‘China’s Gobalisation’. The Tiananmen riots of 1989 need to be seen in this context – they were growing pains, and not without historical precedent elsewhere, as parallels can be made with similar events that have occured elsewhere in the world, including what are today many of the world’s developed nations.

    The real crimes committed, as I said, were (1) the murder of innocent young unarmed soldiers by angry mobs of rioting workers, along with numerous other provocations a day later that panicked what were by then armed soldiers into firing indiscriminately into hostile crowds – resulting in a few hundred deaths. And (2) the government’s rounding up and executing of workers in the weeks following the riots – premeditated murder by the state.

    Both workers and the state committed acts of violence, resulting in tragic and unnecessary loss of life. Murder was also committed by both sides, though in the aftermath is was more premeditated.

    In the words of the English urban folk singer, Billy Bragg (from his song ‘Valentine’s Day Is Over’):

    “That brutality and economy are related now I understand,
    when will you realise that as above so below there is no love”

  32. Shane9219 Says:


    ““That brutality and economy are related now I understand,
    when will you realise that as above so below there is no love”

    It’s true. Economy sometimes worked beautifully, but other times can be brutal. Look at US economy now, as well as the efforts of globalization on American’s “middle-aged” middle-class.

  33. Charles Liu Says:

    Thanks MAJ @ 28

    Nimrod @ 29, “It cannot be a conspiracy, so it is strange that it happens.”

    America’s POV on China is an “official narrative” formed and reenforced by the elites. The rest of us are just spoon fed mass of automatons; free thought on this simply isn’t prevlant. Look at Laowai’s comment for example.

  34. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Shane9219 – the other point being made in that lyric by Billy Bragg, is that brutality and violence can just as easily come from “below” (working class) as from “above” (the State – functioning on behalf of an elite) when economic situtations deteriorate. In the case of the Tiananmen Riots of 1989, this is exactly what happened – it was the workers who provoked the violence, but it was met with unnecessary ongoing violence by the State (during the aftermath, with the rounding up and culling of workers).

  35. Allen Says:

    @Mark Anthony Jones #34,

    You wrote:

    ….brutality and violence can just as easily come from “below” (working class) as from “above” (the State – functioning on behalf of an elite)…

    This is a very astute observation.

    On this website, we often have Chinese people arguing the State need to control the masses to preserve stability – while Western folks arguing the masses must be allowed to control the state.

    Your observation suggests that the truth is somewhere in the middle…

  36. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Allen – absolutely! As somebody influenced by both Hegelian dialectics and ancient China’s ‘The Book of Changes’, I believe in the notion of binary opposites. You can see this notion at work not only in Billy Bragg’s song, but also in my assessment of the Tiananmen Riots of 1989. Wherever I encounter conflict between two parties, I always treat both as if they belong to the one coin.

    The old Daoist idea of achieving harmony through the unity of opposites, remains for me a very powerful idea.

  37. Wukailong Says:

    “On this website, we often have Chinese people arguing the State need to control the masses to preserve stability – while Western folks arguing the masses must be allowed to control the state.”

    Perhaps both are right.

  38. zhihua Says:

    I find this article on 64 by Philip Cunningham quite touching.

  39. EugeneZ Says:


    Thank you very much for the link. I really appreciated the article by Mr. Cunninghum. While most of people commeting here are quite obsessed with the ending, in particular, what actually happened at Tiananmen Square on 6/4. To me, Spring 1989 was eventful for its entirety, not just the ending.

    “Now that twenty years have gone by, it is a time for reconciliation, a time to ponder the tragedy not with a desire for revenge or recrimination but with a plain telling of the truth, as best as a multidimensional and in some respects unknowable truth can be told, and to accept that this revolutionary drama-turned-tragedy, this alternatively uplifting and gut-wrenching karmic kaleidoscope, was composed of ordinary, mostly well-meaning people acting in predictably human, if not always completely noble, ways.”

  40. pug_ster Says:

    Eugene Z

    I’m curious, you said that many of the university students have this kind of resentment toward corruption, inflation and uneven distribution of wealth. This kind of thing happened because China happened when China embraced capitalism, right? But when you said that the death of Hu Yaobang was the ignition point, why is that when he is probably responsible for China embracing capitalism in the first place? Why was he so hugely popular compared to Deng?

  41. Wahaha Says:


    There had been big debate of the future of China when Hu was in power, even in media, there were some pro-democracy magazine in that period.

    Hu controled the media and newspapers in China, Zhao ziyang was mostly in economy. Under Hu, students and scholars could openly question the government, Marxism, Leninism and Maoism. At that time, SEZ was just set up, people in SEZ got rich quickly, while people in Shanghai, Beijing and other big cities didnt enjoy any good policies, plus the corruption, all of these caused widespread dissatisfaction about the government. Students and Scholars wanted to speak out about the future of China, which was tolerated under Hu, so we desperately wanted west democracy, under which we would be allowed to bash the government. That is why Hu was very popular.

  42. miaka9383 Says:

    Wang Dan and fellow activists are going to release a 20 year anniversary white paper on TAM Here is the news

  43. Charles Liu Says:

    Wasn’t Wang Dan implicated in Chen Suibian’s money laundering scandal? I heard the ROC First Lady’s “panty money” was sent to the Taiwan Lobby, then to Falun Gong thru Wang Dan.

  44. little Alex Says:

    @MAJ #31
    If we’re to talk complete analysis, there was also reports of in-fighting between different groups of soldiers that could have caused a number of their deaths. And I think to simply state that the soldiers there were poorly trained is ignoring the fact that the government knowingly put poorly trained soldiers there, when they could have deployed better-trained soldiers. Lastly, naturally all of this is propaganda from Western media as well (fyi: Mingpao is supposedly neutral, and both Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao are pro-China).

  45. EugeneZ Says:


    I could not have said as well as you did about why Hu Yaobang was so popular. You have a strong memory !

    By the way, I was somewhat annoyed when someone suggested that students participated in the pro-democracy movement because they wanted NIKE shoes. I did not. I am quite sure I had not heard about NIKE back then. KFC barely opened their first store in Shanghai. Did you remember that there are a lot of students wanting NIKE shoes back then?

    I think in general students back then had very high self-esteem, probably too high in retrospect. Having entered universities through a highly selective academic test process, they felt like that they were somewhat responsible for bringing about the needed change to make China a stronger, more just, more equatible society. If the ruling party was not doing it fast enough, perhaps we could take things in our own hands, they naively thought.

  46. Mark Anthony Jones Says:


    I appreciate the fact that you were a part of the student movement, and it is certainly not my intention to insult you personally or to call into question your own individual motivations for having joined that movement. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to challenge your portrayal of the 1989 student movement as having been selfless and noble in cause. I agree that generally, the students felt ‘somewhat responsible for bringing about the changes to make China a stronger, more just, more equatible society’, but that’s in their eyes. The question that needs to be asked is this: more just and equitable for whom? I put it to you that the students were primarily not interested in democracy, in the liberal sense, as is often portrayed by the Western media, and that they were primarily acting in their own class interests, for they displayed a general indifference to the welfare of those they considered below them.

    Where is my evidence to support this? Allow me to explain in detail then:

    The student protesters were at the time widely portrayed by Western journalists as ‘pro-democracy’ campaigners, as if they were calling on the central government to introduce a political system based on multi-party elections. In reality, most simply equated ‘democracy’ with the need for government accountability and responsiveness. It was clear from most of their banners that they wanted their grievances addressed: more money to be allocated to education, corruption to be stamped out, and for officials to be forced to disclose their incomes and assets. In ‘China Live’, CNNs Mike Chinoy, who covered the Tiananmen demonstrations, said that he felt he could understand why the students were so disgruntled:

    ‘With government spending on education slashed even as inflation spiralled out of control, university teaching, library, and research facilities declined, while students as well as professors found their meager stipends insufficient to get by. In a country where intellectuals had long considered themselves a privileged class, a good education no longer guaranteed a job. Indeed, the average university graduate earned less than Dong Aizhi, the self-employed hairdresser I’d interviewed soon after arriving in Beijing. And growing numbers of students found that ability counted less than connections, or guanxi, in finding work. For many of the young protesters, the chant of “down with corruption” had a very personal ring, as their own grievances blended with the broader discontent simmering in Chinese society.’

    Chinoy then goes on to explain how at the time, he quickly came to realise that ‘the protesters were not talking about an American-style political system for China’ when they spoke of democracy. ‘I wasn’t completely comfortable,’ he admits, ‘with the way I and other reporters, faced with the limitation of daily journalism and its pressure to compress and simplify, tended to describe their protests as a “democracy movement,” for the more I listened, the more I became convinced that the students’ top priority was not establishing a democracy, but simply securing formal recognition from the government for their movement.’

    ‘Theirs was not an attempt to overthrow the system,’ concludes Chinoy, ‘but a clamour for a hearing, for legitimacy and respect from their elders – an acknowledgement that, as intellectuals, they, like the protesters of the May Fourth Movement, had a special mission to help improve Chinese society.’

    Another journalist who covered events at the time, Jane Macartney, also questioned the students’ motives. Democracy was merely a ‘buzzword’ she realised, for ‘accountability is what they meant.’ When asked about their ideas, says Macartney, ‘most were hard pressed for an answer. “Freedom, democracy,” the students said during demonstrations. Pressed to elaborate, they complained of official corruption and high-level nepotism, poor food and uncomfortable dormitories. Were they talking about universal equality of opportunity or were they merely envious of those who held higher-paying jobs?’

    ‘They seemed to be playing a game of ultimata with the government,’ adds Macartney, ‘– if you give us what we want, we’ll do what you want. Such an approach did not signify demand for structural change. Nor did it reveal recognition for the significance of the huge popular protests of support – which they viewed as peripheral to their action.’

    Orville Schell also noted the reformist nature of the student movement, reporting on how one wall poster he saw at the People’s University had declared the goal not to overthrow the government, but rather to ‘supervise and prod it.’ The student activist, Feng Congde, says Schell, had insisted quite explicitly that the goal was not to overthrow the Communist Party.

    Many of the students quite clearly confused the notion of democracy with the attitudes and values of Western culture. The Beijing Normal University student, Wu’er Kaixi, Chair of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation, was one of the early leaders of the protest movement. As he explained it, what most students really wanted were ‘Nike shoes,’ and for the guys, enough ‘free time to take [their] girlfriends to a bar.’

    Black and Munro, in their book, ‘Black Hands of Beijing’, agree with Macartney’s assessment, that the students had shown a general disinterest and lack of solidarity with the workers and their cause. ‘The students largely ignored the workers,’ they complained, ‘and no foreign reporters came to ask them questions.’

    Student organisers were actually quite keen to prevent the workers from appropriating “their” movement, and sought from the very beginning to marginalise all non-students. On the seventeenth anniversary of the May Fourth movement for example, when students led by Wu’er Kaixi staged a march to the Square, ‘the contingent of several thousand workers’ who had shown up in support ‘were kept segregated from the main march by efficient young student marshals.’

    According to Macartney, throughout the entire duration of the movement, the students maintained barricades around the square so that they could restrict entry. Many Chinese journalists and workers were often turned away, and foreign journalists like Macartney had to be issued with stamped entry permits in order to attend student media conferences.

    In Macartney’s view, the student movement, rather than operating democratically, simply reproduced elite hierarchies similar to those that structured the Chinese Communist Party. ‘Representatives of rival universities were soon locked in a battle for power as bitter and complex as any inner Party struggle. The power struggles, a signal of ambitions to be recognised as hero of the moment, marred the movement.’ In fact, notes Macartney, ‘almost all the prominent leaders were purged at least once during the movement. Most fell as a result of internal battles and not by popular demand.’

    Those with fonder, perhaps more romantic memories, give a more positive spin. In a recent article by Philip J. Cunningham, another first-hand observer at the time, it’s now time for the world to stop focusing on the bloodbath that the 1989 movement culminated in, and to start celebrating the ‘positives’ instead, like the ‘outright remarkable contributions of the student leadership who performed brilliantly as crowd facilitators and morale boosters.’ Cunningham acknowledges the fact that, organisationally, the student movement was ‘less than democratic in word and deed’, but finds it impressive that so many of them ‘were adept at utilising native communist-influenced political tools to manage people power to an impressive degree.’

    Cunningham conveniently ignores the fact that many of these ‘morale boosters’ who were so adept at managing ‘people power’ had at times expressed (feigned?) ‘a passion for blood’, as Jane Macartney reminds us. ‘Student and workers each set up their own “dare-to-die” squads, ready to take on the army should it move to enter the city.’

    ‘Both the students and the citizens have failed to develop a sense of their rights,’ Wu’er Kaixi told one reporter on May 29. ‘They need a more violent provocation.’ Chai Ling, a rival of Wu’er’s, in a now famous interview with Cunningham himself, argued that ‘only when the square is washed in our blood will people of the whole country wake up,’ though of course, she didn’t dare share these sentiments with the wider congregation.

    The students must take some of the responsibility for the bloodbath that their movement culminated in – though more of the responsibility must fall on the shoulders of militant workers, the PLA and of course the central government. None are totally innocent or devoid of responsibility for what ultimately happened.

  47. Nimrod Says:

    I think it’s hard to analyze why individual people do what they do and identify precise motives of individuals. Sometimes they are swept up in the emotional moment and feel something is just the “right thing” to do. It is better to look at group motives, and even then only to think of them as uncoordinated effects that appear to emerge from people acting in a thousand different ways; in this sense such group motives admit analysis.

  48. EugeneZ Says:


    I agree with your quote:

    ‘Theirs was not an attempt to overthrow the system,’ concludes Chinoy, ‘but a clamour for a hearing, for legitimacy and respect from their elders – an acknowledgement that, as intellectuals, they, like the protesters of the May Fourth Movement, had a special mission to help improve Chinese society.’

    This characterizes the pre-Hunger Strike phase of the student movement pretty well, the relatively more light-hearted, happier phase of the whole thing.

    I can see that you read a lot, in fact, you may have got information about Spring 1989 exclusively from reading. But I am a bit concerned for you that you seem to read to prove a point (vs. read to learn), with some pre-formed conclusion in your mind, which may or may not have anything to do with the truth. You seem to be some sort of fundamentalist on this subject, even though I do not have a name for it. Because of that, I personally find your comments, although of large quantity, of limited value for me to read through.

    I prefer Mr. Cunningham’s article. First of all he was there with the students, second, he was self-refelctive, third, he developed some kind of sensitivity towards the history that I found heart warming.

  49. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    EugeneZ – it may be true that my understanding of the events of 1989 are the complete product of my readings, but I do not read to prove a point, as you surmise. My assessments are based on a sysnthesis of all that I read on a particular topic or series of events. My assessments are based on synthasising a great deal of material, much of it written by both Chinese and foreign first-hand accounts – a body of material that presents a variety of views. I’m no dogmatic fundamentalist. That’s a tag I completely reject.

    Unlike me, Philip Cunningham may very well have witnessed the events that unfolded in Tianamen first hand, but this doesn’t mean that his reflections and impressions are accurate reflections of “truth”. Most of the accounts that I have read by witnesses to the event, describe the movement as having been spontaneous and chaotic, and full of bitter faction fighting – not well organised as Cunningham fondly remembers it all to have been. The student faction fighting wasn’t limited to Beijing either. In Shanghai’s Fudan University for eample, there were at least four different factions fighting it out for supremacy.

    Cunningham is an idealist, and I respect him for that, but the weight of empirically-verifiable evidence seems to strongly suggest to me that his assessments are mediated and thus clouded by his idealism. It is my assessment that he continues to romantically idealise the movement, as he did at the time, which I think is a serious shortcoming. Being the radical lefty that he is, Cunningham wants to push and popularise a discourse that celebrates the virtues and “beauty” of grassroots political activism.

    While such activism does have its virtues, and can play an important role in shaping the balance of class forces under certain conditions, the 1989 student movement is hardly a shining example to want to emulate! It was porly organised, selfish in the scope of its motivations and objectives, largely lacking in solidarity as it was with the wider community. On April 19, student picketers wouldn’t even allow the thousands of workers who turned up to enter the Square, forcing them to set up their headquarters elsewhere! The workers, by contrast, were keen to support the students.

  50. EugeneZ Says:


    So when you read reports that say the movement was chaotic you would believe it wholeheartedly, and when you read reports that say the movement was well organized, you would reject them completely. That is typical behavior of a fundamentalist.

    I do not subscribe to any kind of fundamentalism. Not interested.

  51. Raj Says:

    the weight of empirically-verifiable evidence seems to strongly suggest to me that his assessments are mediated and thus clouded by his idealism.

    That’s a personal judgment, not one directly supported by much that I’ve come across. You’ve decided that you find a certain number of accounts credible and thus because Cunningham is in the “minority”, though he’s not the only person that doesn’t see the student movement in such a negative light, you think that his “idealism” gets the better of him. That is not a fair or prudent approach to take. Everyone has different perceptions and what you fail to realise is that there is not necessarily a right answer and a wrong answer here.

    You’re also making an illogical conclusion that because the students did not directly co-operate with workers they rejected their concerns and were just looking out for themselves. Groups campaign separately all the time for a variety of different reasons. Furthermore, one can campaign on wider issues even if the thing that caused it is personal suffering.

  52. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    EugeneZ wrote: “So when you read reports that say the movement was chaotic you would believe it wholeheartedly, and when you read reports that say the movement was well organized, you would reject them completely.”

    No, you’re wrong to assume that. As I said, my assessments are very much determined by where the WEIGHT of empirical evidence falls.

    Raj – while I do appreciate the logic behind some of your criticisms, you need to remember that many of Philip Cunningham’s observations and assessments regarding the student movement of 1989 support what most other observers have said: Orville Schell, the English journalist Jane Macartney, the historians Ross Terrill and Maurice Meisner, the Canadian journalist Jan Wong – all of them have noted that the student movement was undemocratic, that it developed spontaneously, that it was chaotic, full of faction fighting, and lacking even in a clear and consistent agenda. Cunningham knows too that the movement was undemocratic in both ‘word and deed’. Human Rights Watch researchers Black and Munro reached the same conclusions as well, after sifting through a mountain of evidence.

    What I find puzzling about Cunningham’s latest opinion piece is that he glosses over this, choosing instead to present their undemoctratic ‘political tools’ as ‘impressive’, and describing their ‘crowd management’ as ‘brilliant’.

    I think he’s overstating his case, and that he’s viewing the whole movement through rose-tinted glasses. That is a personal judgement of mine, true, but it’s not one that I just dreamt up out of thin air. It’s not baseless. It’s an assessment that I have reached after synthasising a considerable amount of empirical evidence.

    In answer to your last point – what the evidence shows is that student leaders did more than merely not co-operate direclty with workers. The evidence quite clearly shows that they tried to marginalise the workers, forcing workers to march seperately and even preventing workers from entering Tiananmen Square, as if they owned it. The workers were forced to set up their tents elsewhere! The students weren’t keen to share “their” movement.

    Again Raj, this is not an assessment that I just dreamt up out of nothing. Journalists like Jane Macartney reported on such divisiveness at the time, historians like Maurice Meisner have discussed this in detail, and Black and Munro have devoted an ENTIRE book to this very subject – and their sympathies clearly lie with the workers, not the students. They’re all very critical of the student movement in this respect – journalists, academic historians and human rights researchers alike.

    My conclusion is not an “illogical” one as you suggest. It is in fact a very logical one, in that it simply reflects the weight of what can be verified empirically.

    If you know of any empirically-verifiable evidence that strongly suggests otherwise, then please share it with me, so that I can take it into consideration.

  53. Wukailong Says:

    @Mark, Eugene: It’s hard to assess any movement in hindsight, especially after 20 years. Without sounding too postmodern I think it might be true that a movement contains both the best and the worst, depending on where you choose to look.

    I’ve been thinking about this along similar lines with a case where I know some people who were personally involved. In 2001, the EU-US summit was held in Gothenburg, Sweden, and large protests and even riots occurred:


    While there wasn’t any large-scale crackdown, there were controversial cases both of rioting and police violence. This would probably not have been debated as much if it hadn’t been for the sentences handed out to some of the rioters, which were very harsh at the time. Media reports mostly seemed to take the view that rioters mostly deserved what they got and that a country needs to keep law and order; well, the typical boilerplate. Only later was this picture challenged.

    A friend of mine who participated in the demonstrations said that he only witnessed peaceful demonstrators, but that he had heard rumors of “black blocs” who’re just in it for violence, though he added that the police expect people like the black bloc rather than other kinds of demonstrators.


    I’m not sure how well these demonstrations compare, but when people are able to get so diametrically opposed viewpoints I’m not sure there is one simple, objective truth. We’re not trying to assess whom where there at what viewpoint and simple facts like that, but rather whether the movement as a whole was democratic and/or ordered. Perhaps both, in different places?

    Mark, one last comment about what you write about Cunningham. When I compare what you wrote in other places with his assessment that the movement had impressive crowd management and political methods, I don’t see any contradiction. Clearly you don’t need to be democratic to be able to use these tools well?

    (Some are probably going to chide me for linking to Wikipedia, but I’m just providing background)

  54. EugeneZ Says:


    Assuming for a moment that you are right that Mr. Cunningham is viewing the whole movement through rose-tinted glasses, at least I can understand why he is like that. Spring 1989 was an amazing time in the history of modern China, and it was probably an amazing experience for Mr. Cunningham.

    Now, what does make you view the whole movement through darth-vader-tinted glasses? For someone who was not even part of it, your level of energy on this subject puzzles me.

    There is just not enough information for me to answer this question. That is the frustrating part about blogging, as compared to meeting real people.

  55. may Says:

    I see in your comments you used a few times words like “militant” and “mob” to describe workers, students and Beijing citizens. Some Beijing citizens indeed engaged in acts of violence in 6/4 but that was only AFTER the government decided to clear the Tienanmen Square by force. Their violent action in this very late stage is a response to a real threat of violence by the government and they only targeted the troops. As far as I know, before the government decided to clear the Tienanmen Square by force, Beijing citizens treated the soldiers exactly like what they were taught to do in our propaganda films and posts – 军民一家亲people and army are one family, 军民鱼水情people and army are together like fish and water. Beijing citizens tried to talk and reason with the young soldiers on the army trucks, gave them water and cucumbers, and brought out little children to call them uncle 解放军叔叔.

    Your comments seem to suggests 1) the movement got violent from an early stage 2) the government’s use of force was a reaction to the violent acts of Beijing citizens (esp. workers).

    Could you be more specific about exactly what kind of “militant” or “mob” acts Beijing citizens committed before the government determined to use force to clear the Tienanmen square?

  56. Sophie Says:


    Thanks for the sharing. From your post, I found what happened in Shanghai was quite different from Beijing, which is more violent and ugly. I agree with MAJ’s analysis. It should be a shared responsibility among different parties involved.

    Here is a discussion among Chinese. Many of them were in Beijing during June 4.

    According to the article below, written by one student leader, I think they did hope to overthrow the system, and thought they had chance to succeed.


  57. Charles Liu Says:

    May, “Some Beijing citizens indeed engaged in acts of violence in 6/4 but that was only AFTER the government decided to clear the Tienanmen Square by force.”

    1) Do you think the Chinese government had the right to restore order?
    2) Do you know the troops were initially unarmed? Here’s a declassified NSA document speaking to the fact:


  58. Charles Liu Says:

    Also, according to an artcle by William Engdahl (previousely posted in a Tibet blogpost comment):


    “What few people realize is that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was also instrumental, along with Gene Sharp’s misnamed Albert Einstein Institution through Colonel Robert Helvey, in encouraging the student protests at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. The Albert Einstein Institution, as it describes itself, specializes in “nonviolence as a form of warfare.” [12]

    Colonel Helvey was formerly with the Defense Intelligence Agency stationed in Myanmar. Helvey trained, in Hong Kong, the student leaders from Beijing in mass demonstration techniques which they were to use in the Tiananmen Square incident of June 1989. He is now believed acting as an adviser to the Falun Gong in similar civil disobedience techniques.”

    In America some PLA general’s cousin twice removed makes political donation thru some Taiwanese-Amercan fundraiser, we’re up in arms. Yet here, our media cares blip about our overt political influence over China.

  59. little Alex Says:

    If most “Westerners” can accept that the fenqing and the anti-CNN people were acting of their own volition, why can’t you accept the same for the student leaders back in ’89?

  60. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Everyone – I appreciate the criticisms that people here have offered. I am busy today and tomorrow, but on Monday I will respond in detail and I will offer solid empirical evidence, from a variety of sources, to show that troops opened fire in response to mob provocations, and not the other way around. I stand firmly behind my assessments.

  61. may Says:

    Charles Liu # 57
    1) Do you think the Chinese government had the right to restore order? In general, yes.

    Do you think the Chinese government had the right to restore order AT ANY COST? NO

    Do you think the Chinese government had the right to restore order BY KILLING HUNDREDS OF CHINESE CITIZENS? NO

    2) Do you know the troops were initially unarmed?
    Thanks for the link. But sigh, I guess those people who died in the end just killed themselves.

    # 58 alleged foreign coaching and aid
    Good to know. I guess students were just learning from their old master. Didn’t CCP beg foreign (i.e. Soviet) support since its infancy?

  62. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    May – I am right now in the process of writing up a very detailed account of what took place, citing all sources used with footnotes, so that people can check the sources I use for themselves. I will post it here probably on Tuesday as a new thread, as it wil be quite lengthy. I even plan at this stage to include photographic evidence.

    Now, here is my question to you: would you alter your attitude towards the government crackdown if it can be demonstrated empirically that rioters (made up of organised workers, ordinary local citizens and students), provoked the army by attacking first with weapons of their own – Molotov coktails, rocks, bricks, etc.? Remember, 5,000 soldiers were wounded (136 seriously) in this “mini civil war” (as some witnesses described it at the time), and twenty-three soldiers were killed.

    Consider too, that more than 500 army trucks were torched at dozens of intersections, and weapons (including machine-guns and ammunition) were at times stripped from captured soldiers. Near the Capital Theater at Xidan, rioters beat a platoon leader to death, then hung his body from a burning bus. They soon after disemboweled him and even gouged out his eyes. Charming behaviour, don’t you think?

    On the Chongwenmen overpass, rioters flung a soldier over the side, then doused him wiith petrol and set him on fire. They then suspended his body from the overpass, displaying his corpse to the world as if it were a trophy.

    At Fuchengmen the body of yet another murdered soldier was hung from a railing of the overpass.

    At the Cuiwei intersection a truck carrying six soldiers slowed down to avoid hitting people in a crowd. A group of rioters then threw rocks, Molotov cocktails and flaming torches at the truck, which tipped to the left when nails that the rioters had scattered punctured a tire. The rioters then flung burning objects into the truck, exploding its gas tank. All six soldiers burned to death.

    I will provide photographic evidence of some of these horrible scenes when posting my essay next Tuesday, as they corroberate the many written eye-witness accounts, as well as the documents provided in both the declassified US intelligence reports and in The Tianamen Papers.

    No wonder so many of these young soldiers from the countryside panicked and started firing into the crowds. They were scared to death.

    May, you also overlook the fact that the government issued many televised warnings before embarking on their quest to clear the Square, warning people to evacuate. Blanks were initially fired, and tear gas used to disperse crowds, and live ammunition used only after soldiers were attacked with projectiles, etc. and their lives clearly in danger. Often, the soldiers fired into the air as warnings. I will cite all of the evidence, in detail, in my essay.

    241 people lost their lives during these riots – 23 soldiers and 218 civilians (of which 36 were students).

    Again, all parties must accept some share of the responsibility for what happened. Many of the students were by no means innocent of wrong-doing, and some certainly do have blood on their hands.

  63. may Says:

    MAJ, being a properly indoctrinated Chinese, I have seen enough share of the CCP version of 6/4 on CCTV – burning army trucks, burning corpse of PLA soldiers, labeling protesters “少数别有用心的人a few with suspicious motives” and “暴徒mob” on TV, TV warnings of clearing of square… … I hope letting you know I’ve already seen a lot will not dampen your enthusiasm of writing the essay. (how funny, recalling what I saw on CCTV during 6/4 suddenly remind me of 3.14 TV footages. Without giving any context, e.g.,peaceful protests before 3.14; forced denunciation of DL by monks and nuns, etc., Tibetans indeed seemed “crazy”.)

    Now your question: “would you alter your attitude towards the government crackdown if it can be demonstrated empirically that …”

    My answer: NO.
    A crackdown is NOT the only option of the government. How about start to listen to the students, workers, and many other citizens and implement their requests, for example “(2.) Cancel “Ten Restrictions on Demonstration”; (3.) Freedom of press – news media be allowed to speak truth; … (7.) Promote democratic reform?” and 保证不会秋后算账 a promise not to punish those who join the peaceful protests?

    For those who believe sending the army is the ONLY way to solve the situation, I guess we don’t have much common ground to discuss the issue.

  64. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Shared responsibility is not unreasonable…since, in order for the army to have cracked down on rioters, you needed the presence of both the army and the rioters. Is it a 50/50 split, or some other division of responsibility? That’s a much dicier proposition.

    The prospect of expressions of contrition from the rioters is remote, unless you count individual expressions of regret. My guess is that an expression of contrition from the government is a similar longshot.

  65. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    May wrote: “I have seen enough share of the CCP version of 6/4 on CCTV – burning army trucks, burning corpse of PLA soldiers, labeling protesters “少数别有用心的人a few with suspicious motives” and “暴徒mob” on TV, TV warnings of clearing of square… … I hope letting you know I’ve already seen a lot will not dampen your enthusiasm of writing the essay.”

    May, what does such television footage tell you then? That there are two sides to the story? That protesters were not always peaceful, as you earlier claimed?

    Your argument that a crackdown was not the best option has some merit perhaps, but that doesn’t excuse the violence that was initiated by the rioting mobs, does it? That crackdown could have ended without violence had the martial law troops not been attacked in the first place. The army had orders not to shoot unless it was absolutely necessary as a last resort to ensure their own safety. The army also had orders not to kill anybody in the Square itself. Students were to be physically carried out rather than to be shot. And everyone was warned beforehand to leave the streets and the Square in order to avoid confrontation. When push did come to shove, blanks and tear gas were used before resorting to live ammunition.

    I am not arguing that the central government and the PLA should bear none of the responsibility for the bloodshed that resulted from the decision to reclaim the streets and the Square. What I am arguing is that those students and citizens who participated in the riots need also to accept some of the responsibility. This, as far as I am concerned, is the right moral position to take.

  66. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    S.K Cheung wrote: “Shared responsibility is not unreasonable…since, in order for the army to have cracked down on rioters, you needed the presence of both the army and the rioters.”


  67. Lime Says:

    @Mr. Jones
    I’m looking forward to your essay on this, and I’m especially interested in how you’re going to back up the ‘241 casualties’ claim. That’s the official government figure, but it seems to be disputed by almost everyone else. I’m hoping you have some other sources on that one.

  68. pug_ster Says:

    I’m interested too. There was some truth to the claim to MAJ’s claim that there was an incident in Muxidi bridge where the riots did got out of hand.


  69. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Lime – the declassified US intelligence reports essentially back up the government figure, in that they estimated the number of dead to be under 500.

    Western journalists, of course, claimed otherwise, but most did not witness the carnage first-hand, and relied largely on their imaginations to fill gaps in knowledge and to come up with figures – the more sensational, the better for them!

  70. Nimrod Says:

    may and Mark Anthony Jones,

    I sense the core issue of contention.

    may wrote “A crackdown is NOT the only option of the government. How about start to listen to the students, workers, and many other citizens and implement their requests, for example…”

    Mark Anthony Jones wrote “Your argument that a crackdown was not the best option has some merit perhaps, but that doesn’t excuse the violence that was initiated by the rioting mobs, does it? That crackdown could have ended without violence had the martial law troops not been attacked in the first place.”

    Backing off from the rioting-shooting dual for a moment, what is the “right” moral position to take depends on your view of whether the square should have been cleared (by some means) in the first place. That, in turn, depends on what you believe was the legitimacy of the government at the time. Let me play devil’s advocate here. On the one hand, you have the legalist position that the government is legitimate, and therefore has a duty to maintain public order and carry on its directives as before with no legal duty to yield to demonstrators’ demands, and therefore the square must be cleared. On the other hand, you have the confucian position that the government derives its legitimacy from satisfying the people’s demands, so after the popular demonstrations, it must yield to remain legitimate, and must not clear the squares without any compromise, or else the people have the legitimacy to rise up in arms to overthrow tyranny etc etc etc.

    A classic case of one man’s rebel is another man’s freedom fighter. Were the rioters legitimate? Was the government legitimate?

    On the one hand, the government had never fully followed the laws it had written for itself to allow enough sense of popular representation, so in that sense people could feel that it was illegitimate. On the other hand, from the subsequent development of China, it could be seen that the strictly non-procedural demands of the demonstrators were eventually met, meaning the government was not so tyrannical as needed to be overthrown by violence. But, they wouldn’t have known that. And the government wouldn’t have known that, either.

    One can’t help but think that late-May “thud” being the climactic end of a month of demonstrations was frustrating, and seemed like failure to them. But it was a failure by the government, too. It had not managed to satisfy the students with some limited flexibility and waited too long to clear the square, when all sorts of people from different socio-economic strata and different regions were already streaming into Beijing. So whether the government would want to meet the demands of the students or not, the square first needed to be cleared at that point for public safety, from the perspective of all sides. But here is where immaturity of the demonstrators came into play. A good general would retreat at an opportune time to fight another day on more favorable terms. By refusing to be cleared from the square by late May, those who remained were committing themselves to some form of decisive confrontation, even before the army arrived. Surely they knew that (and believed their actions to be legitimate).

    I cannot answer for anybody else, but to me, it seems that in the first month of demonstrations, the government was at fault as it could have been more flexible; this was also the time in which “crackdown was not the only option” and indeed there was no crackdown then. But by around the time of the Martial Law Order, the blame would shift toward those who insisted on remaining. I don’t believe most people of China would have supported a general confrontation or civil war, so essentially they would not have supported anything like resistance-to-the-end to the square clearing.

    If in the end the 200+ number is correct, it was indeed on the small end of prices to pay (though very large psychologically for citizens and to the government in terms of PR), considering that most earlier movements and crackdowns regularly had casulties from the hundreds to thousands or more. Still, the “Boston Massacre” only killed 5 and the soldiers were acquited because the crowd was endangering their lives, so the massacre appellation could be fixed to pretty much anything so long as people feel the cause was just.

  71. miaka9383 Says:

    I actually have never seen an american report on TAM… thanks for the link… it is an interesting insight. However, I think to discuss this “revolt” no one really touched on the original intentions of it. Though it was poorly implemented, don’t you guys think it was an outcry to rid of the corruption and more freedom?
    Regardless if China was not ready at the time, people wanted to see it some how considered.
    The communist party did what it had to do to bring stability to the country and rid of the threat to their party.
    Lets not make these protesters as someone evil, but I think we truly should examine their intentions, how it was carried out and if CCP had changed since then.

  72. Lime Says:

    @Mr. Jones
    Well just looking at the wikipedia article here, I see they cite the 1993 US government report you mention. Says 180-500.

    The Red Cross Society of China, however told journalists (‘western’ journalists, admittedly) that the number was 2600, but then later denied it.

    Amnesty International said 1000. Also;

    Reading through Robert F. Ash, “Quarterly Chronicle and Documentation”, The China Quarterly, No. 119, Special Issue: The People’s Republic of China after 40 Years (Sep., 1989), pp. 666-734, I see that the sources on casualties follow the same pattern; PRC sources say the casualties were really low (~300), and non-PRC sources (not just ‘western’ journalists) say the casualties were much higher (as many as 5000) (see pages 690-691).

    Also of interest for your argument is a statement, based on a PLA claim, that students attacked soldiers on the night of June 3 (page 689).

    I’m guessing you don’t have formal training as a historian, so, with all due respect, I will suggest that it might be a good idea to drop the neo-Rankeian claims of ’empirical proof’ and acknowledge the limitations of our ability to know the past, and also acknowledge the differing claims on things like the number of casualties. That said, I’m still looking forward to your essay. I just glanced through Ash’s piece, but if you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, I think it might be useful for your project. You will need a subscription to China Quarterly (or access through a University or College library). If you don’t have one, I can e-mail you an electronic copy, if you like.

    Yes! I think you make an excellent point. These debates on the Tiananmen Square Massacre, PRC rule Tibet, etc., almost always boil down to a debate on the legitimacy of the CPC’s rule itself. Most of the misunderstandings between PRC supporters and detractors, I believe, happen because they this, the real issue, is skirted in their debates.

  73. miaka9383 Says:

    Can you add the link that Pugster had provided from PBS as a trackback… I am watchin that PBS episode of Frontline, it is extremely interesting….

  74. admin Says:


    I added pugster’s link to the sidebar. Thanks!

  75. Nimrod Says:

    Lime wrote:

    “Yes! I think you make an excellent point. These debates on the Tiananmen Square Massacre, PRC rule Tibet, etc., almost always boil down to a debate on the legitimacy of the CPC’s rule itself. Most of the misunderstandings between PRC supporters and detractors, I believe, happen because they this, the real issue, is skirted in their debates.”

    Yes, that’s why it’s especially important to synchronize on that legitimacy during such discussions. It’s a difficult task, given the pace of change, the contradictions, and the lack of good information in some cases. But perhaps it can be said that overall, the government was (is) given more legitimacy by Chinese (of whatever ethnicity) than by many others, detractors included. Seeing different facts and narratives on events like this is only one reason for the discrepancy, but a deeper reason is applying one’s own judgement of legitimacy to the parties involved even when the facts can be agreed upon, rather than judging legitimacy from the perspective of the participants themselves. For instance, “Communism” itself is considered illegitimate by many people, so the fact that one side is “Communist” already delegitimized that side. That is a mistake.

  76. opa Says:

    This may not be directly related to TAM, but I would suggest anyone that knows Chinese or Japanese to watch this documentary shot by French, then translated to Japanese, then Chinese.


    This documentary is about the color revolution in Ukraine a few years ago. In it, you can see the dirty little hands of United States almost everywhere, from US trained student freedom fighters, to factory run by a US citizen taking orders from John Mccain using machinery belonging to US government to print anti-government newspapers, to John Mccain himself giving orders to foreign government officials.
    After watching this,I cannt help thinking about the possible involvement of foreign governments in TAM. As far as I know, back then, a lot of organizations from HK, Taiwan were actively “helping” students and after the Square was clears, some students leaders ran to US embassy, why would they think that US government would help them? were these students leaders in contact with US/ROC governments before “6.4” happened?

  77. little Alex Says:

    @ #76
    Imho, most HKers didn’t view donating food and other aid to the students back in ’89 as that different from donating money to Sichuan after the earthquake last year. Both are to help their fellow Chinese achieve better lives for themselves. Or at least I didn’t.

    From what little I’ve read, Chinese university students back during the ’80s did really like the US and held it up as a model for democracy, etc. (probably because they’ve listened to Voice of America a little too much.) So it’s actually perfectly logical for them to want and expect help from the US, even without previous contact.

  78. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Lime – thanks for the sources you provide. I will check them out.

    And I do, by the way, have formal training in history. I specialised not in Chinese history while at uni, but in 18th century Britain. I majored in history at university, not English literature – although these days I teach mostly English literature and film studies rather than history. My thesis was on the differential treatment of men and women by the 18th century British criminal law courts.

    Nimrod – I appreciate your sober perspective, and will bear in mind your points when composing my essay.

  79. Charles Liu Says:

    May @ 63, “I have seen enough share of the CCP version of 6/4”

    Precisely, that’s why nothing I’ve cited here is from the CCP (NSA intel, William Engdhal, Jay Mathews, Gregory Clark).

  80. pug_ster Says:


    There’s not alot of offical accounts of what happened in Tiananmen square incident so I thought John Pomfret was a refreshing change. Most of the American documentaries are biased anyways, but sometimes you can get some accurate information.

    By no way I am completely blaming on the protesters who are the cause of the incident. I think it is because of growing pains of capitalism, corruption and a spiraling inflation. I think that when the communist leaders got too comfortable without heeding the needs of the people that’s what happens.

  81. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Lime – I live only a mere fifteen minutes walk from the University of Sydney, so I usually access journals from the Fischer Library. However, I’m stuck babysitting my young nephew today, and since I’m working on my essay right now, I might take you up on your offer to email me the piece by Robert Ash, from the China Quarterly. I’m certainly interested in giving it a read. If you email it to me, it will save me the trouble of having to find the time to wander down the road.

    My email address is: majones03au@hotmail.com


  82. Wukailong Says:

    @Mark Anthony Jones, #62: “Near the Capital Theater at Xidan, rioters beat a platoon leader to death, then hung his body from a burning bus. They soon after disemboweled him and even gouged out his eyes. Charming behaviour, don’t you think?”

    I’m not sure but I’ve heard that this particular soldier fired into the crowd and even shot a young girl before the ghastly scene happened. Naturally, since I’ve only read two books that deal with 6.4 in any detail, Jan Wong’s “Red China Blues” and Che Muqi’s “Beijing Turmoil: More than meets the eye”, and the latter describes the government line, I must have read it in Wong’s book. Does somebody have more information on this incident?

  83. may Says:

    MAJ # 65,
    Yeah, I guess when you read what I wrote in #55 “Some Beijing citizens indeed engaged in acts of violence in 6/4 ….”, it is very clear to you that I am claiming “protesters were always peaceful.” The real question is WHEN did some protesters turn to violent actions? and WHY? Did the violence start at the beginning or at the VERY end of the protest? Did the violence start for no reason or as a result of a real threat of violence from the government?

    You said you are not excusing the government’s order to kill by citing provocation from the rioters. Let me also cite the provocation from the government IN THE FIRST PLACE and say it’s not an excuse of anything. Sending the troop and tanks to clear the Square was a clear threat of violence from the government and provoke violent actions from some protesters. Government action turned a few protesters into rioters.

    You said “That crackdown could have ended without violence had the martial law troops not been attacked in the first place.” I say “That crackdown could have ended without violence if the government did not start the crackdown in the first place.” Is a crackdown the ONLY option? Did the crackdown become legitimate without violence?

    Students, workers and citizens had too much good faith in the CCP and believed it would listen and change. “Too simple, sometimes naive” indeed.

    I feel sorry for the few PLA soldiers who died and their families. They chose their profession and that profession requires one prepares to die. This time they were send by their government on a death mission. Their death was a tragedy and had no glory.

  84. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Wukailong – I own a copy of Jan Wong’s book, and you’re right, she does mention such a rumour. But that’s all it is appears to be – a rumour – since no other eye-witness account of that event corroborates this version. I have several accounts sitting in front of me as I type.

    May – you ask the question: ‘id the violence start at the beginning or at the VERY end of the protest?’

    As Robert Ash notes in The China Quarterly, ‘there was a significant level of tension even at the early stage of the movment, as ‘is indicated in the fact that on the evening of 18 April several hundred out of a crowd of about 4,000 people attempted several times to break through the Xinhuamen Gate and into Zhongnanhai (headquarters of the CCP and State Council). Traffic was disrupted, bricks and bottles thrown and skirmishes developed, which resulted in injuries to four policemen.’

    Let’s debate the issues once I have finished my research essay on this topic. I know that it’s a very emotive issue, and that you find many of my assessments to be confronting. But in the end, we may have to agree to disagree with one another. We shall see….

  85. may Says:

    Nimrod # 70
    Thanks for your post… … what more can I say… …I am really impressed with your cool-headedness (and that of many other commenters here) in discussing the issue. I don’t mean it as a sarcastic comment. Maybe it is more of a self reflection. I find this discussion emotionally exhausting.

    Here is a piece by 王军涛 (I guess everyone here knows who he is) and his views on two issues touched upon in your post.
    1. on the legality of martial law order
    According to the PRC Constitution (1982) and 国务院组织法 the Organic Law of the State Council (1982), the premier has the authority to give martial law order to 部分地区parts of areas under provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions. The legality of the martial law order during 6/4 was in serious doubt because 1) The martial law order covered 80% of population in Beijing. This was not “部分地区parts of areas” under a municipality. This was a MAJORITY area in Beijing. Hence, the martial law order should have the approval of 全国人大常委会the NPC Standing Committee but it did not. 2) The martial law order should be discussed by 国务院常务办公会议the executive meeting of Office of the State Council but it was not.

    2. Was an order to kill the only option in the late stage (i.e., after the martial law order was issued)?
    After martial law order was issued, some students and citizens doubt the legality of the order. They requested a special investigation by the National People’s Congress (NPC) in accordance with the Organic Law of the NPC. 曹思源 had collected almost 1/3 of the signatures from members of the NPC Standing Committee. According to the Organic Law of the NPC, only 1/5 of the signatures was needed. Of course, the troops marched on and the investigation never occurred.

    Hence, 1) let’s not forget while there were students and citizens trying to block the troops’ entrance on the street, some of them also tried to solve to situation according to law and procedure. 2) The CCP still had the chance to resolve the situation according to the laws and procedures it approved itself at this late stage.

    I don’t have the energy to translate the Wang’s whole piece here. Maybe I’ll try to do it later. Here is the link to his article: http://blog.dwnews.com/?p=26552

  86. Nimrod Says:


    Yes, it’s difficult to think about stuff if there is a lot of emotion involved, and even worse if it includes possibly re-interpreting personal involvement. There is the emotion danger of repudiation — that’s from a psychological perspective. Anyway I suppose that’s why you’d never find anybody who wants to talk about the Cultural Revolution in full detail, too — they were too involved in it! But try one must.

    I mentioned that “the government had never fully followed the laws it had written for itself”, though I was referring to the entirety of the history before 1989, but I suppose one could try to apply it to the Martial Law Order, too. You bring up an interesting point on procedural legitimacy. What constitutes a “partial area” I consider to be semantics but whatever it is, people doubted the legitmacy of the order. That brings up a series of further questions. Was the opposition to the decision to clear the square (by some means)? Or was the opposition to the means and instruments with which to clear the square? Or was the opposition simply to not following proper procedure to arrive at the same conclusion of using martial law to clear the square? Would anything have been different if the same decision was arrived at doing everything by the book? Those are very important questions.

    I suspect people believed an intervention by the NPC or even a full meeting of the State Council would have arrived at a different conclusion and let demonstrations go on. Was this realistic, and second of all, was it even prudent? I’m not so sure. And if it was not the case, would people have obeyed then? We would never know.

    Also the first time around in the troops didn’t seem to have orders to kill but they were turned back. The second time around, it was said that they had orders to meet the objectives or be court-martialed. I suppose one can at least entertain the notion that the between the two, the situation changed from one of clearing the square as some kind of emergency mop-up operation, to one of suppressing active or passive resistance to the military. Whatever the procedural appeals are going on, it doesn’t contradict with cooperating with troops with orders, as the Martial Law Order stood — normally you cannot interpret for yourself if the police is right or not, right? You deal with it later.

  87. miaka9383 Says:

    I know it is not the official stand. But when I watched that episode, I cringed, but I appreciated all of the “western” journalists who were there that are willing to talk about it from their point of view. Their personal accounts by no means are negative towards CCP. It actually got me thinking about the Tank man, even though I have never seen that picture until yesterday. And, as a western journalist living in China, I wonder if John Pomferey is being monitored by the government.
    I do believe that CCP did what they had to do… but overall it was poorly implmented because the army was given two different messages.. and I am incredibly sad for those TAM parents. Hopefully, the whole truths comes out. Official counts of the deaths by CCP was about 200 with 23 were soldiers… I hope that was the case..

  88. pug_ster Says:


    This documentary is more about the fate of Tank Man rather than focus on the Tiananmen Square incident itself. All these writers don’t know what this Tank Man yet these journalists seems to know what he is thinking. For that matter, these journalists seems to know what the student are thinking too and the worst offender is Jan Wong. If she wants to be an ‘eyewitness’ maybe she should go do some more witnessing instead of speculating.

    There’s another American documentary from the History Channel in youtube. Sorry, at work they block youtube, but it is relatively easy to search. It has a more detailed account of what happened.

  89. Nimrod Says:

    Like many things, the “tank man” photograph needs to be seen as art. What do I mean? I mean it is like an editorial cartoonist who wants to convey a certain message. Only in this case, it is in the form of a photograph. It is symbolism. You choose the image based on what you want to convey.

    That’s fine. I don’t blame them because it is an incredibly powerful message anyway you cut it. And it deserves a Pulitzer (it was nominated?), but in the category of arts, rather than journalism.

    On the other hand, the video of the incident is journalism. The swerving of the tanks to avoid the man and the subsequent denouement and uncertain resolution makes it even more powerful than the photo, at least for a Chinese, because it has so many levels of deeper meaning in it. At the least, it makes you ask “what happened to the man”, “where is he”, questions that lead into the future, rather than the photo which just produces a static revulsion of “I don’t want to know what happened next”. That’s why the whole incident is a lot more powerful than the snapshot, in the same way that the whole 1989 movement makes a more powerful statement than the snapshot of 6/4.

  90. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Nimrod wrote: “Yes, it’s difficult to think about stuff if there is a lot of emotion involved, and even worse if it includes possibly re-interpreting personal involvement.”

    Yes, this is a very good point Nimrod. As the English journalist George Monbiot once wrote: “Tell someone something they already ‘know’ and they’ll love you for it. Tell them something they don’t ‘know’ and they’ll hate you.” This is a very emotive topic, as I mentioned earlier, I appreciate that. I know that some people here will not welcome my assessment, and will find them very confronting. I mean not to offend or to attack people personally though. I simply tell it as I see it.

    I do not claim any of my analysese to represent some grand unknotting or absolute truth. I have always said that. I make this clear in the Preface to book, and I make it clear in the Introductory essay to my China Discourse site. That said, I do believe that my assessments are empirically based, and that they are therefore not baseless. I don’t dream them up out of thin air. My assessments are merely interpretations I know, based only on what empirically-verifiable evidence is available to me.

    Unlike May and EugeneZ and others, I was not involved in the events in question, nor did I witness them first-hand. This allows me to look at the bigger picutre and to synthasise the available evidence with a cold impartiality.

    I’m roughly two-thirds of the way through completing my research essay, but I’m back at work today so I’ll have little time available to continue working on it today. I shall aim at posting it here before the end of the week.

  91. miaka9383 Says:

    I don’t understand. Are you saying that these “witnesses” should have done something? Like participating?
    From my point of view, I am thinking even if they participated, they wouldn’t be alive to tell us about it.
    I wouldn’t call them offenders. I guess I am not understanding your point. I think this documentary was very well made. Now, I am just waiting for CCP to release their own documentary.

  92. EugeneZ Says:


    You said: “Unlike May and EugeneZ and others, I was not involved in the events in question, nor did I witness them first-hand. This allows me to look at the bigger picutre and to synthasise the available evidence with a cold impartiality.”

    The implied logic behind your statement seems to be:
    Personally involved = Biased and can not see bigger picture
    Not personally involved = Impartial

    Using this logic, you can easily discount eye witness accounts like Mr. Huffingham’s.

    I am sure our readers can greatly benefit from your wisdom, young man ! I am glad to see that you seem to have company in subscribing to this kind of logic and therefore similar conclusion in Mr. Nimrod. No wonder you two seem to fall all over on each other.

  93. Wukailong Says:

    @MAJ: “Unlike May and EugeneZ and others, I was not involved in the events in question, nor did I witness them first-hand. This allows me to look at the bigger picutre and to synthasise the available evidence with a cold impartiality.”

    Er… Naturally, when discussing history, there are different narratives involved and also a constant valuing of facts. When we’re discussing something like chemistry or physics we can just view an experiment coldly and impartially, not only because we know how the experiment is set up but also because we’ve agreed on how to narrow down the problem.

    I don’t see how anything like that holds here. Not only is there a constant choice of what facts to consider, but you also have to stop somewhere. Let’s take the attacks on PLA soldiers by rioters as an example. When we call these “unprovoked”, we take a moral stance because we stop without asking about their reasons. There’s also a constant theme coming up of whether students and other activists were funded by foreign sources. How is this relevant without some sort of moral stance?

    I really appreciate your willingness to do your own research. I’m just not sure it’s possible to be completely “cold and impartial”. History is selective memory.

  94. pug_ster Says:

    @miaka9383 91

    You missed the point of what I said. Eye witnessing and participating has nothing to do like what he is speculating what other people are thinking. Yes it is very well made, but it is also biased as there is no offical word from the government’s position.

  95. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Wukailong wrote: “I really appreciate your willingness to do your own research. I’m just not sure it’s possible to be completely “cold and impartial”. History is selective memory.”

    Yes, I agree that history is selective memory, which I why I do not claim any of my assessments to represent some grand knowable “truth”. But some interpretations are more valid than others, depending on how well they stand up against ALL of the available existing empirically-verifiable evidence. There is no equivalence between, say, the historical analysis and conclusions of a Holocaust denier and that of all other conclusions that acknowledge the event as having actually occured. That’s because, although some evidence may exist that could be interpretaed as calling into question the Holocaust, the overwhelming weight of evidence reveals the Holocaust as having actually occured.

    In the case of the Beijing riots of June 3-4, 1989, there is simply no longer any serious doubt that no killings occured in the Square itself. The vast majority of scholars now accept that nobody was killed in the Square, and that the total number of people killed was less than 500. Many accept that the number was most likely less than 300 in fact.

    Who provoked the violence? This is more cloudy, but again, most scholars and even American journalists today accept the line that at least some of the violence was provoked by the rioting mobs. I will provide evidence of this when I post my essay here late rin the week, or sometime next week – whenever I get around to finishing it. Research conducted jointly by the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center and Harvard University found that most American journalists reported the student protest movement and the bloodbath that resulted in a manner that was very “biased” in favour of the students, thereby seriously distorting the facts.

    EugeneZ – you are reading WAY TOO much into my comments! All I said is that by not having an emotional investment in either the student movement or the Chinese Central Government, I am able to exercise a degree of cold impartiality. At no time have I ever claimed it possible to be 100 percent impartial, nor do I discount the testimonies of eyewitnesses. In fact, I have drawn very heavily on eye-witness accounts for my essay, as you will see once I have completed it and posted it here.

  96. Allen Says:

    @Mark Anthony Jones,

    If you are going to take the time to write an essay, don’t just post it in a comment – submit it as a post…!

  97. EugeneZ Says:


    I just want to keep you honest. You do seem to back off quite a bit when confronted.

    You can do your online research all you want, but what has become very clear to me and I am sure also to others is that you are far from impartial, and has clearly taken a moral stance.

    What interests me is WHY? What has motivated you to take such a moral stance?

  98. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To MAJ:
    looking forward to your post. Agree with Allen, if you’re going to put that much work into it, it should be on its own, and not buried in another thread.

    I enjoy your writing, and am impressed by your ability to support your statements, and your penchant for research. That being said, I am curious as to why you take pains to repeatedly remind us that your views are based on “empirical evidence”. Intentionally or not, it seems to strive for a level of scientific certainty that is simply not attainable on the topic at hand, or on much of your work in general. You’ve certainly read more than I ever will on all things China; but have you reviewed all that is out there; what have you chosen not to read, or read then chose to discount; and of the scholars and authors you reference, what information have they chosen to include and exclude, and why? Without recognizing, let alone knowing, the selection biases that guide you as well as all of the authors who came before you, I nonetheless marvel at your grasp and presentation of the expert consensus opinion, to which I also attribute yours, certainly no less but also no more.

  99. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    EugeneZ – what moral motivations of mine have you identified (or think you have identified) exactly? I’m not morally motivated at all. I’m a value-pluralist. Read the Introductory essay on my chinadiscourse.net site if you want to know what makes me tick!

    Allen – thanks, I will follow your suggestion.

    S.K Cheung – thanks for sharing with me both your words of encouragement and your critical observations.

    As a trained historian, I have had it drilled into me that one’s assessments need to be empirically based if they are going to have any weight. History, sociology and anthropology are all social sciences, though I agree with you that one can never really know the “truth”. One can only base one’s assessments on the evidence available – that one has access to.

    Again, I have ALWAYS qualified my assessments by pointing out that I claim none of them as representing some grand unknotting or absolute truth. This is NOT a backdown of any sort EugeneZ – I have always said this. I said it in the Preface to my book, I said it in the Introductory essay to my China Discourse site, and I said it in some of the very first comments of mine that I posted here on this site, in response to the Tibet Issue.

    In terms of selection biases – well, I have tried my best to read as widely as possible on the topic. Some sources, especially journalistic accounts, need to be scrutinised very carefully, and to help guide me in this task I have sought research papers on the quality of the press coverage of the events in question – I know of only one or two – both of which are damning.

  100. Lime Says:

    @Mr. Jones
    Modern China is not my area, but I’m having a look around for more sources on this. Who are the ‘vast majority of scholars’ you refer to #95? Can you give a few examples? The most recent work that I could find that discusses the Tiananmen incident is Robert Suettinger’s Beyond Tiananmen : the politics of U.S.-China relations, 1989-2000 (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2003). If you have an account with ebrary (http://www.ebrary.com/corp/) you can look at a digital copy. Pages 58 and 59 are the ones with relevant information. (Suettinger was Bill Clinton’s national intelligence officer for East Asia).

    I’m prepared to be proved wrong by your essay, but I find that I have to agree with Suettinger’s assessment that the events of June 4th will remain obscure, as there are no reliable sources which could give even a reasonable estimate of the casualties, no less a comprehensive overview of the whole incident. If you think about it, you have basically three types of sources; the PLA and government, foreign observers, and the students themselves. The foreign observers, being mostly American and European journalists, were probably mostly biased against the PRC government as you say, and even if they weren’t, they didn’t have a chance to count bodies or witness everything that happened. The students themselves are in the same position. That leaves the government, which had an obvious interest in presenting the events in a certain way. We can take them at their word (241 bodies), but I don’t really see why their word is better than the foreign journalists or the students.

    Basically, the very best evidence available seems like it isn’t good enough to base any serious conclusions on, beyond the agreed upon course of events and a body count of more than 200 and less than 3000. But, as I said, I’m prepared to be proved wrong.

  101. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    Lime – thanks for your input. Let’s delay discussing these issues until I have completed my essay and have posted it here for all to scrutinise. That way you can see for yourself what my exact arguments are, what sources I have used, how I have used them, what I have included as sources and what I have neglected to include, etc. Readers here can then raise what they see as my essay’s strengths and weaknesses – both in terms of approach, conclusions drawn, etc.

    For me, the most enjoyable and insightful part of the process is having my discursive texts deconstructed by others.

    Best regards,

  102. EugeneZ Says:


    Fair enough. I did not finish your long essay, but I get the point. You are entitled to your opinions, but some level of humility will only help you.

  103. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    EugeneZ – I really don’t see how much more humility I can express, having already gone so far as to acknowledge that my views in no way represent an absolute knowable “truth” – still, I appreciate your softer tone! We’re both entitled, as you say, to have our own opinions.

  104. Wahaha Says:


    The greatness of MLK, Jr was not his idea, there were lot of people who had the same believe and idea. The greatness of MLK, Jr is his ability of convincing people what is the right and what is wrong, and what is the right thing to do.

    You had excellent observation and did lot of researches, but when you classified what happened in Beijing as a riot, few would listen to you. Students and scholars led the demonstration, whether they were misled by West or not, whether some workers later became riotors or not, students were responsible for major part of the result, good or bad. So no matter how you explained, your argument essentially means students started this riot, though I know that is not what you means. That hurts, as 99% of students sincerely wished good things would happened from their demonstration. Also, 1989 demonstration was a country-wide demonstration, what happened in Beijng was only part of it.

    History is meaningless if few listen to you, whether you tell the truth or not.


  105. Allen Says:

    @Wahaha #104,

    About the term riot – would it be fair to say the demonstrations turned into a riot? Or would that be too insensitive?

    What about what happened in Tibet last year? Would it be fair to refer to last year’s events as the Tibetan riots? (I can see why the adj. Tibetan may not be fair, and riot may not be fair)

    I currently have no position on it. I understand your concern. But I also can see why someone like MAJ (and he can change his mind) might think riot would be an appropriate term.

  106. EugeneZ Says:

    I believe that riot is OK to use to describe part of what was going on in Beijing within the last 72 hours (6/1-6/4). Please note the key words “part” and “last 72 hours”. So does “armed resistance”, “self-defense”, and “revenge”.

    But in terms of the whole movement in Spring 1989 which was not limited to Beijing, which lasted from 4/15 until mid June in most areas, to keep emphasizing the word “riot” as in “the Beijing riots of 1989” reflects one’s moral stance, bias, and even agenda – and it is rather offensive.

    I think that it is important to point that out. Mark, I think that you are on your way of getting the point which was nicely laid out by Mr. Wahaha. Whatever piece you are trying to work on, you may consider this point in more depth and self-reflect some more – it will only make your piece stronger and more relevant.

  107. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    I have NEVER claimed that the entire movement engaged in rioting – my argument is that riots took place on June 3-4, that the firing into crowds by an inexperienced and panicky PLA with blanks, tear gas, and eventually live ammunition, was largely provoked by the violence unleashed by the rioters. I also argue that most of the rioters were NOT students, but militant workers.

    Rather than referring to this event as a ‘massacre’, I think it more appropriate to refer to it as a riot that turned ugly, that ended in the deaths of not only some of the rioters (some of whom were students), but also PLA troops and some innocent people were were sitting in their homes and were hit by stray bullets. The US government and its military, had they been on the shooting end, would have referred to such deaths euthemistically as “collateral damage”.

  108. Nimrod Says:

    Allen wrote:

    “I currently have no position on it. I understand your concern. But I also can see why someone like MAJ (and he can change his mind) might think riot would be an appropriate term.”

    Wasn’t 228 termed a riot? Or was there are another name? Incident?

    I think the word “riot” is sensitive around 6/4 because the government labelled it a “counterrevolutionary riot”. This phrase first came from Li Peng’s mouth and he was referring to “last night” meaning night of 6/3. But eventually with repeated use on television the impression made on people was that it was the government’s verdict on the whole movement, so for participants that word “riot” is sensitive.

  109. Wahaha Says:


    I think that to classifiy a protest or demonstration as a riot, at least the purpose of the organizers of the protest is to riot.

    Of course, sometime a peaceful protest turns into a riot later, but if VAST majority of the protestors have no intention causing chaos, panic and troubles, then it cant be called as a riot, IN MY OPINION.

  110. michi Says:

    20 years passed and still feel a little complex when refer it. Hu Yaobang’death fused 6/4, with political infighting and young students’ innocent. Chairman Deng Xiao ping’s iron hand maybe the best way to protect China at that time,but is also the most heartbreaking way. What past has past,I dont’t think there was who to criticize,Hu’s misery didn’t mean China was not democratic at all,it’s a complex result of history then. 6/4 maybe contain misperception , innocent and government’s helpless. Be more beautiful,China, and make some progress,CCP.

  111. Jed Says:

    The rrtrospective and historical debate about 6/4 wil go on for a long time.

    The diary does make interesting reading and makes me think back to ’89 when it seems like practically every East European government was changing by the week.

    Considering the progress and development in China, I’m really wondering if there is anything in China that would bring about such a spontaneous show of emotion for a departed political figure, as the author points out his own experience was predeceeded by reaction to the death of Hu Yaobang.

    I was here when Deng died and that was one muted affair. I know Wenjiabao is held in high esteem, but I just cant see the campuses of Tsinghua and Fudan emptying in spontaneous mourning.

  112. real name Says:

    1. tank man is not picture (only)
    2. too-soft power representatives (f.e. NPC head, right?) were filtered out by party hard core

  113. real name Says:

    Helvey trained, in Hong Kong, the student leaders from Beijing
    could any chinese comment how realistic is this message?
    i hardly can imagine someone from east germany will be trained in west berlin or vienna, not speaking about distance – why not somewhere few kilometres from beijing centre?

  114. raventhorn4000 Says:


    Riot does not require any malicious intentions of the “leaders”, when the “leaders” are not in full control of the situation.

    Mobs, or large group of people, with diverse agendas, without proper internal policing, will very likely degenerate into chaotic open violence.

    It’s simply the nature of the human beast.

    6/4 was a classic example of a “riot” where the leaders may not have intended or at least did nothing to prevent it.

    practically, it was impossible for the student leadership of that small of size to keep that huge crowd organized and prevent escalating hostility in confrontation with the police or the PLA. (They had no guidelines of behaviors, nor any means of imposing sanctions on students who went out of line. And they simply cannot be all places at once.)

    In organization and planning, it simply demonstrates the naivety of the student leaders.

    Once the violence gets out of hand, the student leaders cannot be said to be in control of the students any more.

    Then, sporadic confrontations of violence between different sets of crowds and the PLA in different parts.

    That, we call a “riot”.

  115. tt Says:

    i have seen what you said,.my english is not so good to express my expresion exectly. i am admire you living in that age with the enthusiasm to sacrifice yourself for our country’s future. when i saw someting unmoral hapend in ourland ,i always ask me that what happend to our country,what happened to our party which used to dead fight for equality of everyone in ourland.it is not an party that do something for people i think. though mao time is so poor. but the spirit of the people in that time touch me. i conculed that, all foult is our corrupt culture in bureaucracy which come up in the old age.that corrupt all the party. we need maxism but corrupt party. i think the most mistake mao have commite is not culture revolution ,it is the law .there is not low to sentence its party munber to death.

  116. Tai Slim Says:

    Hi Good post on Student’s march in Shanghai.

    You may find some of the memorable photographs of this historical event here http://www.adirondackbasecamp.com/2009/06/tiananmen-20-years/comment-page-1/

    Thanks for the post.

  117. Sabrina Yott Says:

    I am writing my university thesis on the student democracy movement beyond Tiananmen Square but am having difficulty finding information about movements in Shanghai and other cities. Your primary account has really helped me gain a better understanding of the different movements that occurred and I want to thank you for writing it. Do you have any information about other cities that held demonstrations that I could research?

  118. Tidung Says:

    I usually go to student dining hall to save money, but this meal would be a bit special, so I spent some extra money and feasted on my then favorite dish – a very sizable fried pork steak on rice, along with some vegetables. http://tidung.web.id/

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