June 20, 1989
Deng’s Purge Seeks to Split Workers From Students
By James Ridgeway
AS THE SHADOW of fear spreads across China, the outlines of a purge that could last as long as five years have begun to emerge. In city after city, the authorities are rounding up “scoundrels” and “bad elements” to be dealt with by “the iron hand of the people” — the name given the anonymous plain-clothesmen now making nightly visits throughout the country.
In its first hours, the purge hit hardest at the workers and “unionists” who had defended the prodemocracy movement in the streets. These were the “bad elements” who, in China newspeak, “agitate” the still “patriotic” students into “hooliganism.” The police have been given orders to shoot on sight, and in Shanghai three people have been executed (they originally were arrested for bank robbery, but authorities later linked them to student uprisings as well). By Monday night, upwards of 700 had been arrested.
The prospects for an ongoing underground resistance are slight. Given the long tradition of purges in China’s history and the Communist Party’s continuing pervasive political control, grassroots movements find little nourishment in the world’s most populous country. Ever since the Democracy Wall movement more than a decade ago, the state apparatus has batted the students back and forth like a bemused cat.
But this time, the time-tested routines may need to be freshened by bloodletting on a scale China hasn’t seen since the Long March. During the Cultural Revolution, workers and peasants were pitted against intellectuals and party cadres. While there were some killings, it was mostly an exercise in psychological warfare. Today, with much of the population of the cities in support of the student demonstrations and in opposition to the government, turning workers and peasants against the intellectual class is more problematic.
In the past, Deng Xiaoping has himself carried out several large-scale purges against intellectuals, most notably while he was party secretary during the anti rightist campaign against some 200,000 intellectuals in 1957. They were sent into the wastelands of northwest China, where they became outcasts. They were prevented from living in cities or holding decent jobs. Their children were denied education.
Deng led another purge in 1964–65, this time of Party subalterns, shortly before the Cultural Revolution began. During that period, work teams were sent into the countryside as a form of reeducation. Deng needs no primer on how to put down a protest.
The future of the resistance is problematic at best, and almost surely depends on alliances within wavering units of the People’s Liberation Army. Last week’s reports of disaffection within the army sprang from reports that Deng was dying or dead. Now that he has reappeared in public, whatever factional divisions existed in the military have melted away.
Still, there were problems in the Beijing military region from the very beginning. Troops from the 38th field army refused to attack the students, and the fact that Deng had to import troops from elsewhere around China clearly indicates the Beijing military district could not be trusted. During the occupation, troops from only five of the eight field armies in the sprawling capital district were deployed. In the case of the 38th, it appeared only in individual units, preceded and followed by units of other, more loyal armies.
This analysis of what’s happening in the army is not based on game theory. Yu Bin, a Chinese student at Stanford University and himself formerly a member of the divisional planning staff of the 38th, has described the cultural context in which the army functions:
“As a member of the 38th army for five years, I remember how every new recruit was taught the analogy of the fish and the water. While the fish (the army) cannot exist without the water (the people), the water can exist without the fish. This was not only a moral principle but something the soldiers in my unit put into practice every day.
“In fact, we spent more time helping the local people than in our own military training… Once, when the division’s hospital removed a 120-pound tumor from a peasant woman, we all donated blood. When local people learned of the operation’s success, hundreds came for medical help. We even evacuated part of our barracks to accommodate them. Later, thousands came from all over the country just for medical treatment.
“More important, from the earliest days of the revolution, the army followed a strict code of behavior known as the ‘Three Main Rules of Discipline’ — to obey orders, take not even a single needle or piece of thread, and turn in everything captured. Under the Eight Points of Attention, soldiers were instructed to speak politely; pay fairly for what we bought; return everything we borrowed; pay for anything we damaged; never hit or swear at people; never damage crops; take no liberties with women; never ill-treat captives.
“Even after China’s military became increasingly professionalized in the late 1970s, it still carried on this tradition of serving the people. Military service enjoyed relatively high prestige… In the late 1960s a large number of Beijing youth — including myself — joined the 38th, and those who stayed kept in constant touch with family and friends in the capital. Some were children of top officials in the government.
“During the Cultural Revolution, at least two divisions were assigned to maintain order in Beijing, going to various government agencies to help factions talk out their differences instead of fighting. This experience deepened the 38th Army’s political sensitivity.”
ALIENATED from events in Beijing, Hong Kong, with its great wealth, could well become a base for opposition to the government, perhaps even an active center of support for an underground. The British colony is at the center of a network uniting all the major southern cities into international markets, making it far more difficult than ever before for rulers of China to close the country off. The growing influence of international commerce curbs the regime’s inclination to play off the peasants against intellectual and business communities in the coastal cities.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a revolt came from the south. The Taiping Rebellion, which lasted from 1853 to 1864, originated in the southern province of Guangzi when a peasant, thinking himself to be a son of God, organized first other peasants, and then merchants and intellectuals, around nationalistic and modernizing themes. The rebels took Nanking before being crushed by the imperial army. Sun Yat-sen took heart from the Taiping Rebellion and launched his own insurgency based among the intellectuals in the southern countryside. In the early 1920s, his Kuomintang established a revolutionary government in Canton and waged civil war against the government in Peking.
If the evident fear in Hong Kong seems to be fertile soil for an underground movement, Taiwan should be an aggressive conspirator. But Taiwan has been surprisingly uninvolved so far. The government there may be leary of supporting a prodemocracy movement for fear it might backfire, resulting in calls for more democracy there as well. ■
Research assistance by Cynthia Cameras, Bill Gifford, Andrew Strickman, and the Pacific News Service.
Fang of the Revolution
by Bill Gifford
FANG LIZHI, the intellectual who has sought sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, has developed a longstanding relationship with the American scientific community. He dates his career as a dissident back to the mid-1950s, when he studied physics at Beijing University. In 1955, as a teenager, Fang disrupted the founding meeting of a university chapter of the Communist Youth League, seizing the microphone and delivering a critique of the Chinese educational system.
He survived the antirightist campaign two years later only because he was China’s most promising young physicist. When the Cultural Revolution broke out, however, Fang was not treated so delicately. His physics talent earned him the lowest social classification, as an intellectual of the “stinking ninth category,” for which the prescribed punishment was to be stuck in a disused cowshed for a year and then sent to the countryside for a bit of mind-clearing peasant work.
After the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Fang was rehabilitated and his academic career restored. Since Deng’s “opening” of China to the West in 1978, Fang has been tolerated by the government despite his continued outbursts of dissent. The periodic student movements of the 1980s have frequently claimed Fang as their spokesman.
Fang is known for his stirring speeches to university students. The following excerpts (culled from Orville Schell’s Discos and Democracy) are taken from one delivered on November 4, 1985:
“As intellectuals, we are obligated to work for the improvement of society,” he said. It is a shame that… China has yet to produce work worthy of consideration for a Nobel prize. Why is this?…
“One reason for this situation is our social environment. Many of us who have been to foreign countries to study or work agree that we can perform much more efficiently and productively abroad than in China… Foreigners are no more intelligent than we Chinese.
“Intellectuals in the West differ from us in that they not only have a great deal of specialized knowledge, but they are also concerned about their larger society. If they were not, they wouldn’t even be qualified to call themselves intellectuals. But in China, with its poorly developed scientific culture, intellectuals do not exert significant influence on society. This is a sign of backwardness…
“There is a social malaise in our country today, and the primary reason for it is the poor example set by Party members. Unethical behavior by Party leaders is especially to blame… Some of us dare not speak out. But if we all spoke out, there would be nothing to be afraid of. This is surely one important cause of our lack of idealism and discipline.
“Another cause is that over the years our propaganda about communism has been seriously flawed. In my view this propaganda’s greatest problem has been that it has had far too narrow an interpretation — not only too narrow but too shallow. I, too, am a member of the Communist Party, but my dreams are not so narrow. They are of a more open society, where differences are allowed. Room must be made for the great variety of excellence that has found expression in human civilization. Our narrow propaganda seems to imply that nothing that came before us has any merit whatsoever. This is the most worthless and destructive form of propaganda. Propaganda can be used to praise Communist heroes, but it should not be used to tear down other heroes.
“We Communist Party members should be open to different ways of thinking. We should be open to different cultures and willing to adopt the elements of those cultures that are clearly superior. A great diversity of thought should be allowed in colleges and universities. For if all thought is narrow and simplistic, creativity will die. At present, there are certainly some people in power who still insist on dictating to others according to their own narrow principles. They always wave the flag of Marxism when they speak. But what they are spouting is not Marxism.” ■
Bullets in Beijing
By Susanne Lee & Mitch Berman
EDITOR’S NOTE: Susanne Lee is a host of New York Culture for WNYE-FM and a contributing editor to DV-8 magazine; Mitch Berman is a novelist and contributor to the Voice. They left for Beijing a few days before the massacre and signed on as runners for an ABC camera crew on their arrival. When the troops opened fire, they were walking along a sidestreet half a block from Tiananmen Square.
THE ABC NEWS CREW gets out of the minibus at Chang’an and Fuyou, a long Beijing block west of Tiananmen Square. It’s impossible to tell whether our eyes are tearing because of the city’s usual mix of dust and diesel pollution or because of the residue of tear gas that police were using on protesters at this intersection a few minutes ago. All of us have tied wetted hand towels around our neck. Each bears the monogram of the Great Wall Sheraton.
Chang’an translates as the Avenue of Eternal Peace, but on this Saturday afternoon the broad, sunny boulevard is choked with hundreds of thousands of protesters. They are milling and shoving, passing rumors, and occasionally climbing to the top of an evacuated military bus to brandish captured boots, helmets, and tear-gas canisters.
Soon after we arrive, a ministampede drives us from the street, and we set up on an embankment overlooking the intersection. Small groups knot around us in the hot afternoon air to ask where we’re from, urge us to “tell the world,” ask us why we weren’t here when the police were shooting rubber bullets, examine our video and 35-millimeter cameras, and simply to gawk as we Westerners eat or giggle at how fast we write in our notebooks. A vendor with a wooden flat of watermelons sells out within five minutes.
The word on the street is that the military will mount a major offensive tonight, and teenagers scale the framework behind the billboard beside us to watch for signs of attack while their friends stockpile rocks and chunks of cement. On the hour, the oversimplified electronic strains of “The East Is Red” blast from a loudspeaker followed by some tinny chimes. Orwell’s Bells, we call them, and it would not surprise us if they were ringing.
A man comes toward us, his shoulders swiveling through the crowd. “OK! OK!” he shouts. It is the all-purpose English word, and he shows us how the police clubbed open the left side of his nose and shattered three of his front teeth.
The street swells with people getting off work. At 6:50 a government radio announcement warns that the army will now restore order, along with the conflicting admission that certain overzealous soldiers used excessive force and shall be disciplined accordingly. There will be no more violence tonight, the army promises.
By today’s standards, very little is going on now. Across from us people occasionally lob rocks over the wall of the Forbidden City into the compound where the government leaders live; for the past hour, 200 troops have been surrounded by 10,000 people at Kentucky Fried Chicken near Tiananmen Square; other troops sighted from the Beijing Hotel were stopped before they could get near the square. After 11, we decide that nothing more is going to happen tonight.
Just as our crowded taxi makes a U-turn on Fuyou to begin back toward the Sheraton, the ABC walkie-talkie lights up with reports of gunfire at Muxidi, in the west of the city.
We turn around, get out behind a hedge at Fuxingmen, and approach Chang’an on foot. The distant fire from the west sounds like corn popping. At this range, we can’t tell whether we’re hearing bullets or tear gas.
Bullets. The firing comes closer and a bicyclist screams through the crowd: “They’re killing us! They’re killing the common people!” A small group of young bicyclists charges the other direction, with helmets, sticks, and a red banner; the crowd, slowly falling back from the intersection, cheers them on. These are the heaviest arms borne by the people on Fuxingmen. The wind changes, and on it comes the sweetish musky smell of gunpowder.
The first few bullets in Fuxingmen sound like none we heard before: not popping corn nor even .22’s on a rifle range, but loud, commanding, immediate. They are firing into this unarmed crowd, and we run bent over, all of us, thousands. There are bullets in Fuxingmen.
We take refuge behind a reeking brick outhouse. People are trying to set buses afire in the intersection, but seem to be having little luck. The soldiers, now passing in full view on Chang’an, pour automatic rifle fire — hundreds of bullets — into the street where we are moving, and our bodies react before our brains know what they are reacting to. Nothing seems far enough or low enough, and we spring back to the outhouse, crouching behind a dirt mound where the residents are growing a few vegetables. Bullets tear the air directly above our heads. The sound is high, ringing.
About a dozen of us are squatting behind the garden. It takes a minute to realize why nobody is lying on the ground: even with bullets zipping around our heads, a lifetime of habit prevents us from messing up our clothes. We flatten ourselves to the rocky soil.
A very old woman smoking a cigarette comes out from the house behind us and starts yelling in Chinese. At first we think she is berating us for spoiling her garden, but it turns out that she is telling us not to get dirty, and inviting us back to her yard. She goes into her house and reemerges with a glass tumbler in one hand and a small cast-iron wheel in the other. She gives them to us and motions to the water faucet sticking out of the ground between the garden and the outhouse. There may be automatic rifle fire tearing up her windows, but the old woman wants to make certain her guests are as comfortable as possible.
Nobody has any desire to venture out for water, so we politely refuse the glass and ask her if she has a cigarette. She goes back into her house.
On Chang’an, the city buses barricading the intersection leap into flames 40 feet high just as the army convoy approaches. The troops come in trucks that each hold at least 30 soldiers. For the moment, the convoy is stalled. The old woman comes out with a pack of Hilton cigarettes, a luxury brand still in the cellophane, and half a dozen bin gur, the ice-milk popsicles ubiquitous in Beijing. We eat a couple as the producer in charge of our crew barks warnings into the walkie-talkie: “Get our people out of Tiananmen Square! These guys are launching D-Day.” The warning is sent out in diluted form by the ABC control room: on the one hand, people we know are in imminent danger of losing their lives; on the other hand, they may bring back some great footage.
As the flames reach their peak, a few armored personnel carriers in the convoy butt against the barricades. Soon the trucks are on the move through a narrow channel of dying flames. We count 20, 30, 40, and the trucks keep coming.
The bullets are coming too, but we can’t tell where from. There are buildings, trees, cars, hard surfaces all around, and the acoustics are deceptive. We dive into the dirt again when we hear the singing.
The old woman discovers that we’ve lost her good cigarettes, and she implacably produces two fresh packs of her second-string brand. She unfolds a cot for us and squats next to it.
She is well past 70, nowhere near five feet tall, so dark it is difficult to make out her features in the night. Her husky voice comes to us disembodied in the darkness: “Such a thing has never happened before. Even the Japanese didn’t do this to us.” She inhales and the ember of her cigarette casts a dim glow. “It is unspeakable.”
The convoy trucks continue plodding through the intersection, hundreds of them. Earlier in the evening, we were speculating about possible divisions in the leadership. As the first few troop trucks rolled by Fuxingmen, we were still marveling that, although we had been hearing all week about 200,000 troops hidden in the underground and behind the walls of the Forbidden City, there had been no intelligence about the massing of army forces to the west of Beijing. But now we are numbed into silence by the sheer and mounting military might being paraded past us. The crowds, crouched low in the street, hiding behind the outhouse, have begun chanting: “Tuo fan! Tuo fan!” It can be understood as “criminals” or “traitors.” The roar is deep and massed, tolling, and higher individual voices distinguish themselves to our ears. They join in from doorways, from windows of houses all around: “Tuo fan! Tuo fan!”
The old woman brings us an enormous bowl of sunflower seeds roasted in the shell. We all begin nervously munching, bent around our walkie-talkies to hear the reports as the first troops roll through the intersection and the sounds of their gunfire recede with them, become .22 shots on a rifle range, become popcorn again. It is 2:15 a.m., and at least 50,000 soldiers are headed for Tiananmen Square. ■
Scenes From a Failed Revolution
By Joe Conason
ARRIVING NEAR midnight on Monday, two days after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, we walk with trepidation through the Beijing Airport, tourist visas in hand, expecting and fearing that the customs agents in the drab China Airlines terminal will prevent us from entering their country. But our reception is the first sign that martial law is being virtually ignored outside the center of the city. The officials in khaki uniform barely glance at the contents of our bags or at our passports before impatiently waving us through.
Outside the terminal the taxi driver who agreed to take us into town mentions that the roads are too dangerous to be traveled at this late hour, long past curfew. And he reasons that the 20-minute trip was therefore worth about a hundred times more than its ordinary cost. A fair price, he suggests, might be around $300. But it takes only a few minutes haggling to ascertain that the roads aren’t so dangerous. We settle on a much more affordable fare.
The smells of raw sewage and burning vegetation suffuse the warm air as we travel the first few miles. The empty treelined roads pass through dark and silent farmland. As we approach the city, the driver becomes slightly agitated. Up ahead, along both sides of the highway, we can see a long line of parked army vehicles. In and around the trucks are hundreds of soldiers.
The car slows; the driver seems to expect trouble. But the soldiers pay us almost no attention as we cruise slowly past their outpost. Again, we are stopped briefly, and waved on.
The troops are at ease, smoking and eating, but mostly talking to the scores of local residents who, in open defiance of the curfew and martial law, have ventured out of their homes. We later learn that they are a unit of the 40th Army, one of the divisions who had defied orders to shoot their countrymen. Local residents even assert that these soldiers had opened the chambers of their rifles to prove that they were not loaded.
The people believe, even eagerly await, the punishment that the 40th and other armies will surely inflict on the 27th Army, who obeyed Prime Minister Li Peng’s orders and opened fire in Tiananmen Square on Sunday morning. The people talking with these soldiers are ordinary Beijing residents, probably young workers. The boldest go right up to speak to the soldiers while the rest watch. On this, our first night in China, no one seems afraid or poised to run away; they all appear curious and excited to be visiting with the army who is occupying their neighborhood.
On Tuesday afternoon, as we drive across the city toward Haidian, the university zone, we pass troop checkpoints and incinerated vehicles whose tires have left a black residue on the street. For a few days after the students and their supporters were driven from the center of the city, the university district became their liberated zone, with Beida — as Beijing University is called — at its heart.
Whenever no soldiers are in sight, people gather to stare at the wreckage. Outside a teachers’ college, crowds on bicycles and on foot read underground “news reports ” hastily slapped on the walls. One poster shows photocopied pictures of mangled bodies. Another proclaims a general strike: “If you are afraid or not, people are dying,” it reads. “The living must unite and strike to seek the end of all this death.”
The students are decorating their campus with white paper flowers in memory of the dead. Shaped like huge chrysanthemums or carnations, the handmade blooms cover the university’s front gates and the surrounding pine trees, and have been garlanded around the lampposts, over and across the street.
In a large, ground-floor classroom of the Communication Science building, about a dozen students have been setting up a makeshift but beautiful memorial, where meetings to honor and remember the dead will be held. On round frames of bamboo, propped up like Western funeral wreaths, they are placing the white paper flowers amid boughs of pine.
Liu, a thin, 22-year-old chemistry major, who had marched in Tiananmen Square and had lost friends in the massacre three days ago, leads us to the second floor of a dormitory. Against the background sounds of an urgent, amplified voice exhorting and pleading, most students are packing their meager belongings, saying farewell, preparing to hurriedly leave town. A few have assumed a bunkerlike mentality, and are burrowing in. “Some students told me to leave Beida, because they said the soldiers will come and kill all the students left here.” Liu holds forth in the formal, romantic style adopted by many of the younger Chinese students when they speak agitatedly about their political commitment. “We didn’t know each other, but we held each other’s hands [in Tiananmen Square] because we knew we were comrades in democracy and freedom.”
The bustling, busy hallways are dingy, the dim light from fluorescent bulbs reflecting off cracked and peeling walls. The rooms are identical: 10 feet by 15, with four desks and four bunk beds, each with its own modest bookshelf nailed above it. The litter of lives abruptly interrupted is scattered everywhere — overflowing urinal troughs in the bathrooms, bowls of half-eaten steamed buns and rice, cigarette butts and half-empty cartons of cold chrysanthemum tea.
And one of these second-floor rooms has been converted to a makeshift studio for “Voice of Beijing University,” the source of the persistent racket blaring from loudspeakers across the campus. Broadcasting news and music, the Voice of Beijing University’s very existence is an act of bravery, its abrasive volume a gesture of defiance. When announcers are not playing songs of mourning, they play the “Internationale ” — “because it calls for a new world and for freedom,” explains one boy. Occasionally, they also play China’s national anthem.
The microphone, which is plugged into an amplifier with wires leading out the window, is always manned. But a few of the broadcasters rise to speak with us; like everyone else, they want the story to get out to the world. They can’t quite believe that outside China, the world already knows. From time to time, the student broadcasters break in to the music programs to bear witness, offering despairing, personal accounts of the killings.
Wang Hui … 18 … freshman, chemistry major … son of a coal miner from Nung Xia province … fasted for seven days … returned to Tiananmen Square on June 3 to hunt for a friend … shot in the heart.
Chang Buo … 27 … chemistry instructor … presumed dead … to learn if the dead body was Buo, “someone had taken the keys from his body … they were the keys to the south chemistry building.” Buo was the only one who would have had the keys.
Qin Renfu … 30 … married … graduate student in material physics … crushed to death by a tank.
The broadcasters name who they can of the dead; they are perhaps even more fearful for the hundreds still missing.
Later that day, two students with whom we’d become friendly stand with us in the crush on Chang’an Avenue, watching as the armored personnel carriers, believed to belong to the 27th Army, and troop trucks go through maneuvers. The very presence of so many people on the most perilous street in Beijing is a sign that they are not yet cowed. Whenever the soldiers fire their weapons in the air, the people run off momentarily, but always return.
In the weeks leading up to the massacre, workers had openly demonstrated their support for the students, and now our friends introduce us to a worker dressed in Mao blue whom they’d just met themselves. He insists upon taking us to a small hospital nearby. He knows where some corpses are being stored. The students and he are convinced that unless we see the gruesome proof, we would never believe what had happened.
This is a serious violation of martial law, and the worker, whose name we never learned, is risking his safety to do it. As we learn later, it is almost impossible to stroll into any of the city’s major hospitals because most of them are stacked with scores of the dead and closely guarded.
The worker leads us to an unfinished brick building next door to the hospital. Five orange body bags have been laid side by side on the bloodstained cement floor. Our guide carefully unties the twine at the neck of each bag and a fetid stench escapes. The rapidly decaying remains of what had been three youngish men, an old man, and a woman are crawling with maggots.
By this time a few dozen people have thronged into the courtyard, and have inadvertently attracted the notice of hospital administrators. We climb on our bicycles and prepare to take off. As we pedal out on the street, we look back and see that the worker is being questioned by the officials. But the students warn us against going back, insisting that if we try to help him, we’ll only make matters worse for everyone.
So, reluctantly, we speed off. Night is falling; this is no hour for foreigners to be out in that part of Beijing. We ride the 20 kilometers across the city, passing through some neighborhoods which are very still. But in others, crowds of restless people gather at highway intersections and street corners to share whatever news they have gleaned.
One morning, an elderly woman steps inside the gates of Beida, sits down on the sidewalk, head in hands, and begins wailing her grief and rage. A small knot of students and workers gathers to console her. “She is here from Henan Province,” a young woman explains, “looking for her son who came here to demonstrate. She has five children, but this son is the only one who went to university.” She has been in Beijing five days but can’t find him. When the old woman stops crying for a moment, a man tries to soothe her. “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” he says. “You don’t know yet.”
And he is right. Nobody knows, or yet knows, exactly who was killed and who has survived. A few feet away, another small group gathers around a boy in a black shirt, who had come from a provincial college in Anhui province “looking for our students.” Unidentified and unclaimed bodies still lie in hospitals and mortuaries around the city, and the rumor persists that the military simply doused many of the dead with gasoline and cremated them at the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
The mother from Henan Province is among the first wave to come to Beijing, searching for a lost one. The echo is chilling: the Chinese government has just ushered in a generation of its own desaparecido.
On Thursday morning, four days after the massacre — days during which it was potentially fatal to walk, drive, or ride a bicycle down the city’s major boulevard — the army opens Chang’an Avenue to limited traffic. A horde of gawking cyclists rides east and west, back and forth, while vendors sell popsicles and soda. The sun has finally come o t after a gray, rainy week, and on the backs of some boys’ bicycles perch girlfriends in frilly dresses, twirling parasols.
People, tense and frightened, watch troops as they remove the carcasses of torched buses and trucks and tidily sweep up the broken glass and ashes. These soldiers, wearing red armbands and believed to belong to the 27th Army, are now performing janitorial duties to cover up what they have done.
It is prudent to keep moving, insane to take a photograph. On one block the army tows about 20 burnt armored vehicles and jeeps to a driveway in front of the city’s Military Museum. Directly across the road, and facing the junked armor, sits an enormous tourist billboard advertising the museum’s “collection of Chinese ancient arms and military relics on display.”
But signs of brave, foolhardy student resistance persist. Down at one end of the avenue, on the lawn of a public building, stands an abstract steel sculpture of a woman, in an arabesque, her hands thrust skyward: she symbolizes Youthful Vigor. But now a white wreath has been hung about her, as has a banner with characters large enough for the soldiers across the road to read quite easily. “This is for the people who died in the cruel incident of June 3. A debt of blood must be repaid with blood.” At her feet lie a pair of burned sandals.
By Friday afternoon, when we set out again to visit the university district, martial law has finally conquered Beijing. Citizens no longer gather in the open air to talk or read wall posters. Instead, the workers on their bicycles go cautiously and quietly about their business. As they had done the previous day in the city’s center, soldiers and municipal workers are cleaning the streets of burned-out vehicles. Each hulking orange wreck had attracted throngs of curious people just a few days earlier, but now the cars are guarded by heavily armed troops. People seem to know about the random shootings, beatings, and arrests that have been the fate of those who irritate the military. No one dares speak to a soldier.
Thousands of soldiers have moved into the Haidian district to set up a fortified position, complete with sandbags, on its southern edge at the Capital Gymnasium. They cruise up and down the district’s main strip in trucks, automatic weapons pointing outward. The big posters denouncing Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping that once festooned the gates of every school have been torn down. A warning has been issued against any further postering. The activists have been instructed to turn themselves in and confess their “counterrevolutionary crimes.” Students are forbidden to leave Haidian.
The loudspeakers at Beijing University are gone, too. Where the woman from Henan once sat wailing, a guard now stands at the entrance gates to Beida, taking the names of everyone who enters. The only tokens that remain of the resistance are a few white paper chrysanthemums.
Tonight on China Central TV, the government begins a propaganda campaign against the students, using carefully edited videotape lifted crudely from Hong Kong stations to portray the Tiananmen demonstrators as violent hoodlums who assaulted soldiers, mad arsonists bent on burning the city. Despite the students’ provocations, the government asserts, no one has been killed in the square. Scenes of fire and destruction on the streets at night are followed by sunny scenes of “the People’s Army… helping the people clean up the streets and restore sanitation,” and of soldiers “assisting the old people crossing the intersections.”
“We always serve the people,” said one PLA officer, smiling for the camera.
On this Friday, our last day in Beijing, we go to a park in Haidian to meet up with Lai, a gaunt, earnest student with a wispy goatee. For the first time in a week, we are all worried about being watched or discovered. As we speak, a middle-aged man wanders by several times, glancing at us — we don’t know whether he’s a sympathizer or a spy. Finally he stops, approaches us, and warns that soldiers are close by. He points south and, using both arms, pantomimes the firing of a machine gun. This has become a universal gesture in Beijing, although, unlike the cab drivers trying to fleece passengers, he doesn’t bother with sound effects.
Lai and the two other activists we are speaking with don’t want to believe the latest news. It is being said that Wang Dan, the brilliant organizational leader of the Tiananmen sit-in, was killed last weekend. Finally, Lai admits sadly, “We failed this time. I am standing out like this to help you, because I hope for help from America.” Just as they had feared that no one outside China would understand what had happened, they now fear that soon everyone will forget.
Much later that night, fresh graffiti is reported on the Third Ring Road, the major highway round the outskirts of Beijing. The big characters say: “Long Live Democracy! Destroy Fascism! This is not paint. It is written in blood!”
But our last appointment in Beijing is for afternoon tea. We visit with an elderly professional couple in their southwest Beijing apartment. Their obedient granddaughter serves us candies, peanuts, and steamed dumplings; our social pleasantries turn to the events of the past week.
Our hosts, intelligent, sophisticated world travelers, talk as if they do not know what has happened outside their windows. The old man cannot acknowledge that his government has murdered thousands of their nation’s young. Denial has set in; the crude propaganda from China Central TV has been stunningly effective. “Such a thing will be proved,” he maintains, pointing for emphasis, “if it is true.” ■
(Most of the names in this story have been altered to protect the individuals and their families from harassment by the Chinese government.)
Poem of Protest
EDITORS NOTE: As in several modern political movements in China, the students of Tiananmen Square composed poems to express their feelings and their hopes. They wrote them on large sheets of paper and pasted them on walls, fences, in subway stations, and under freeway overpasses or bridges in a sort of Chinese samizdat. The better poems are invariably copied down and circulated to inspire others and to build the movement.
This poem was copied by Chinese and Taiwanese journalists over the last three weeks and published in Taiwanese newspapers. It was translated by LingChi Wang and Franz Schurmann, both professors at the University of California in Berkeley.
Child: Momma, Momma, why are all these little aunts and uncles not eating?
Mother: Because they are thinking of the beautiful gift.
Child: What gift?
Child: Who is going to give them this gift?
Mother: They themselves
Child: Momma, momma, why are there so many people on the square?
Mother: Because it is a festive day
Child: What kind of festive day?
Mother: A day for lighting fires
Child: Where are the fires?
Mother: In everyone’s soul
Child: Momma, momma, who is sitting in the ambulances?
Child: Why are the heroes lying down?
Mother: So that the children standing behind can see
Child: Like me?
Child: See what?
Mother: A seven-colored bouquet of flowers ■
Shanghai Goes ‘Back to Normal’
By Dusanka Miscevic & Peter Kwong
TO THE 50,000 or 100,000 people gathered in Shanghai’s People Square at noon on Friday, June 9, the rally meant more than a memorial to dead civilians in Peking. They were making the last stand. While they pleaded with the Shanghai government to tell the truth and lower the national flag to half mast, the funerary music playing over the loudspeaker sounded as the last note of a lost cause. Many found it difficult to suppress tears.
“The government has destroyed everything I ever believed in,” said a weeping student from Jiaotong University. She had come willingly to express her distress in front of foreign cameras: “I will never forgive them that. I used to believe in socialism.”
All students interviewed agreed that the immediate future for China was bleak. Indeed, many of their leaders had already gone into hiding. Others were reportedly arrested during the night that followed. The protests have dwindled, leaving only the handful of die-hards that gathered in front of the Internal Security Bureau on June, 10 and 11 to protest the arrests of student and worker leaders. Local residents, used to swaying along with the changes in the atmosphere, predict “more arrests, no protests.” The prodemocracy movement has been forced underground. The intimidation by the authorities is working.
The first indication of the methods the government was to employ came with the TV appearance of the mayor of Shanghai, Zhu Rongji, last Thursday evening. He announced that the patience of many people, plagued by traffic standstills and by food and fuel shortages, was wearing thin, and that he was planning measures to bring the situation back to normal. Shanghai residents had put up roadblocks on over 130 intersections and blocked access by rail to the city. Even air traffic was interrupted for a day. Without public transportation, most of the workers failed to show up for work. In effect, the city was on general strike.
“I have heard from many workers who complain they cannot get to work,” the mayor said on TV. “We will take the necessary measures to restore transportation and communications in the city of Shanghai.” His calculation was simple: he would mobilize 10 per cent of the working force, to ensure that the remaining 90 per cent got to work. In a city of four million workers, that meant a force of 400,000. The accompanying film segment showed truckloads of helmeted men being driven out to the streets to take down the roadblocks.
At six in the morning of the next day, all the intersections were clear, and some of the city buses were running. It is not clear whether the others were grounded by a continued drivers’ strike, or whether they were merely being cleaned of the slogans written or pasted in the previous few days, slogans like: “The citizens of Shanghai oppose the reactionary government of Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, and Yang Shangkun!” “Butchers of the people, go to the guillotine!” and “People will not be scared of the fascist methods — the final victory belongs to the people!”
On this morning, however, the fascist methods were taking effect. Every intersection was guarded by 400 “order maintaining workers,” as the yellow tags pinned to their chests proclaimed. Some of the tags also read “traffic maintenance squad” — but a Western observer has called them “goon squads.” They claimed that they were volunteers, but informed Shanghai residents know that they have received 20 yuan for each day of the “maintenance” work. We have talked to workers in this city who make only 75 yuan a month and, with the creeping inflation, can no longer afford to eat meat — so the material benefits for the “voluntary” goon squads are clear. They also claimed that they would only apply persuasion, should protesters appear.
The “persuasion” they rely on is backed by the powerful state propaganda machinery. In repeated broadcasts the state television keeps announcing arrests of people involved in the protests. One detainee is shown interrogated at gunpoint. Three people have been executed in Shanghai for “a bank robbery related to the unrest.” The students, at the same time, have been warned by the authorities to abandon attempts at illegal activities and “not to go any further down this dangerous road.”
Shanghai’s official press revealed that 130 people have been detained by police for “the spreading of rumors, damaging transportation, and disruption of communications.” Public gathering and discussion have been banned, as well as the display of posters, notices, and announcements. Such gatherings and announcements have been the only way to communicate the news that did not conform to the official, highly edited version of events. In a country where authorities and the media have denied any shooting of the civilians during the Peking massacre — claiming that the only victims were soldiers — photocopies of Chinese-language reports from abroad posted in public squares have become the only access to the truth. Students have also read the Voice of America and British Broadcasting Corporation’s reports over the loudspeakers. With the enforcement of new public regulations, now those sources of information are gone. It is hard to believe that the people, already highly critical. of the official Chinese media before the current onslaught of brainwashing, will buy the government’s campaign to discredit the popular movement by presenting it as marauding by a small group of thugs. The authorities, however, obviously think that once again the constant repetition will turn fiction into facts.
Foreign reporters are being forced to leave, and broadcasts from abroad are jammed. Tapes and printed information are being confiscated on the way out as well as on the way in.
The goon squads on Shanghai streets are enforcing the order: they are there to disperse public gatherings and tear down leaflets, while officially “securing the transportation and communications.” Under their vigilant eyes, the gatherings in this crowded city — where it is extremely difficult to avoid crowds — have been reduced to groups surrounding street vendors. Gold chains and traditional medicine seem to be particularly attractive. Last Sunday morning, one such vendor was exalting the virtue of his merchandise: tiger paws for rheumatism, tiger penises for virility, water buffalo bones to relieve fever. When asked whether he had anything for the current condition of China, he waved his hand vigorously: “No, no. Nothing for that. That’s the question of ideology,” he said, pointing to his head. “My medicine cannot treat that.”
As of Monday, June 12, the goon squads are still in the streets. News and rumors of arrests persist. The independent trade unions and student unions have been branded as illegal by the city government. Citizens are encouraged to inform on each other, and neighborhood committees have been ordered to report all unusual activity. The reign of terror, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, is back in full force. But, the government reports, life in Shanghai has returned to normal — after a brief show of power and self-determination, the people of Shanghai have once again submitted to government intimidation and repression. Maybe, in. Shanghai, that’s normal. ■
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 20, 2019