25 yeras after Tiananmen massacre, China desperate to hide the truth
It was very early in the morning of June 4, 1989 when the unmistakable sound of a large body of marching troops approached about 5,000 demonstrators left in Tiananmen Square. Most of the protestors had cleared out after they learned that hundreds of demonstrators had been killed by soldiers as they marched toward the Square..
Then, shots rang out. Demonstrators began dropping all over the Square as many soldiers fired indiscrimantly into the crowd. APC's ran over tents with hunger striking demonstrators.. A tank roared through a crowd of retreating demonstrators killing 11. Residents of Beijing - some of them parents of demonstrators - tried to retake the square only to be fired on by troops twice before they fled.
Most of the dead were killed outside of the Square when the army began it's march from the outskirts of Beijing. Horror stories abound but perhaps the worst is that of a young student trying to negotiate with the army who was shot dead where he stood.
The "official" death toll was 300. Most scholars put that number at 3-10 times that of government claims. Somewhere, in some dusty archive of the Communist party, the real toll is written down. But that information, along with most other details of the crackdown on protestors, remains hidden.
But in recent years, scholars have had access to secret papers showing that there was chaos in the Chinese government and military in the lead up to the crackdown. There was one instance of a high ranking general who refused to carry out the order to kill students.
In a stunning rebuke to his superiors, Maj. Gen. Xu Qinxian, leader of the mighty 38th Group Army, said the protests were a political problem and should be settled through negotiations, not force, according to new accounts of his actions from researchers who interviewed him.
“I’d rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history,” he told Yang Jisheng, a historian.
Although General Xu was soon arrested, his defiance sent shudders through the party establishment, fueling speculation of a military revolt and heightening the leadership’s belief that the student-led protests were nothing less than a mortal threat to the Communist Party.
The new details of the general’s defiance and the tremors it set off are among a series of disclosures about the intrigue inside the Chinese military preceding the bloody crackdown in Beijing on June 3 and 4, 1989, some contained in army documents spirited out of China in recent years and others revealed in interviews with party insiders, former soldiers and other people directly involved in the events 25 years ago.
Contrary to rumors at the time, the documents show that army units did not fight one another. But they show that General Xu’s stand against the threatened use of lethal force fanned leaders’ fears that the military could be dragged into the political schisms and prompted party elders to mobilize a huge number of troops.
Even after a quarter-century, the night of bloodshed remains one of the most delicate subjects in Chinese politics, subjected to unrelenting attempts by the authorities to essentially erase it from history. Yet even now, new information is emerging that modifies the accepted understanding of that divisive event.
To head off any repeat of the protests, China has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent people from recalling the massacre:
On the mainland, China's ruling Communist Party forbids citizens from discussing the movement. Hundreds perhaps thousands were killed on the evening of June 3 and during June 4,1989, when the same party sent army troops into central Beijing to quell protesters.
About fifty people have been detained in the past two months in a pre-anniversary crackdown that Chinese activists and human rights groups have called the most severe ever.
As usual, China's state-run media all but ignored this highly sensitive date, while the censor's trigger finger was busy Wednesday blacking out television screens showing CNN and BBC whenever the foreign broadcasters aired segments on Tiananmen.
The White House urged China to account for the victims of the June 4, 1989 crackdown, in a statement Wednesday supporting "the basic freedoms the protesters at Tiananmen Square sought." In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei asked the U.S. to "stop making irresponsible remarks related to issues of China's internal affairs."
At a regular briefing Wednesday, Hong said China had reached a conclusion a long time ago about the "political turmoil" in the late 1980s. With familiar phrases, he reiterated the official view that China's chosen path of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" has delivered great economic and social achievements.
At the square, and all roads leading to it, larger than normal numbers of armed police, SWAT teams, and plain-clothed security personnel screened and monitored all pedestrians wanting to visit the square, which remained open Wednesday. Some 850,000 security "volunteers", mostly seniors with red armbands, watched over Beijing's roads and alley-ways, according to the Legal Evening News.
It's hard to forget what happened that night and early morning in Tiananmen Square. To help us recall, Policy Mic has published 13 photos of the demonstrations that recall the optimism, the determination, the courage, and the terror of those days - including one of the most iconic photos of the 20th century:
China is hardly more free today than it was in 1989. The Communist party still rules with an iron fist, controlling the media, the internet, and all other forms of communication. Inequality is a far greater problem in China than it is here, with 70% of the population still living in rural villages, relatively untouched by the modern world.
Someday, there will be another Tiananmen. And at that time, the Communist party is likely to come crashing down, finally overthrown by a people too long living restlessly under its yoke.