June 13, 1989
The Seeds of Civil War
By James Ridgeway
By yesterday, the battle between the army and the students had died down, but the battle for control of the Peoples’ Liberation Army was just beginning.
In Beijing, elements of the crack 38th Army, renowned in China for routing Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, was believed to have come to the aid of the students. In early skirmishes, the 38th reportedly engaged units of the 27th Army, the instrument of the Party hierarchy in Saturday’s massacre. An exchange of gunfire was reported in the western suburbs at a military airport, followed later by an attempted assassination of Li Peng.
In downtown Beijing Tuesday morning, Michael Morrow reported a general strike had shut down the city. Emotions were running high. The people are rebellious, defiant, and determined above all to liquidate the 27th Army, now viewed as an army of assassins. “They can kill as many of us as they want,” a resident said, “but they can’t kill us all.”
The troops of the 27th are skittish, moving along streets in patrols, usually under covering fire. Passport control and airport security are lax at the Beijing airport. Troops (possibly from the 38th) along the road into the city are friendly, and not until visitors reach the downtown does a sense of great tension take hold.
“You must be careful how you walk in the streets, being careful not to gesture or speak, lest you come under fire,” Morrow said. “People are being killed by stray shots. The people place perhaps undue hope in the 38th, believing that troops loyal to the people of Beijing will arrive to liquidate the 27th.”
Although sporadic firing could be heard in the streets of the city as well as rumors of firefights between troops from the different armies, it was difficult to pin down any actual exchange. Some of the firing may have come from snipers. Visitors and reporters in Beijing found it difficult to move around the city, and watched troop movements through binoculars from their hotel windows. But they were getting their best information on what was going on at a nearby street corner from CNN out of Atlanta.
To begin to understand the maelstrom of events in Tiananmen Square, one must have some idea of the complex organization of the Chinese Army. From now on, the outcome of the struggle could depend on the army.
The Chinese armed forces number about three million peasants, no more than a third of whom are in the air force and navy. About half the remainder are regular forces, whose job it is to maintain internal order. The other half are specially trained, heavily armed members of some 40-odd field armies.
The country is broken down into seven military regions, each one including several different provinces. The Beijing region, for example, encompasses four provinces. Each region includes several field armies trained to be deployed against foreign invaders. In addition, each region maintains separate and differently trained troops to maintain internal order, not unlike the state National Guards in the U.S. Finally, there are the local police.
The Beijing region has the largest concentration of military forces in the country, including eight different field armies. Among them is the 38th Army, which refused to attack the students during the hunger strike two weeks ago; instead, the soldiers deserted, dropped their guns, or simply burst into tears. Based 40 miles south of Beijing, the 38th is the best-equipped army in the country, forming a strategic reserve in the event of a possible Soviet attack.
The 38th consists of six divisions totaling about 60,000 men, including three infantry divisions, one tank division, an anti-aircraft division, and an artillery division. The army not only is well-equipped, but has high morale.
When the 38th refused to move on the students, Deng traveled to the southern part of the country to recruit military support. During the civil war in the late 1940s, Deng was political commissar to the second of four big front armies, which were deployed in the south after the war. Deng turned to his old comrades for assistance in implementing martial law last month, quietly moving their troops north to the capital. In addition, he enlisted the support of commanders of other field armies, apparently including elite units stationed along the Soviet border. These battalions were then dispatched to Beijing and the troops prepped to put down a student revolt.
On Saturday, June 3, when the troops moved into Beijing, the first units were from the 27th Field Army, whose former commander, Chi Hao Tian, is now head of the general staff of the Liberation Army. The 27th’s current head is Yang. Chin Qu’un. The 27th is intertwined with top party leadership, and very hard-line. It ferociously attacked the students and played a major role in the savagery mounted against them. Following the 27th came the 38th, whose soldiers again refused to fight, and instead shouted, shot into the air, even gave their guns to the students. Appearing next were elements of the 79th Independent Division, a vicious attack force from the coastal city of Jinan, which proceeded to chase down students and civilians, shooting them in the back. The 40th Army, from Shenyang to the northeast, and the 42nd Army, from Canton in the south, were both reportedly deployed in the capital streets. The 42nd was thought to be taking positions in support of the 38th. ■
This article is based on additional reporting and analysis by Yu Bin, a political scientist from Beijing University now studying in the United States. He served on a divisional planning staff in the 38th Army, and is currently a commentator for the Pacific News Service.
Revolution Without Borders
By Yuen Ying Chan
The Tiananmen massacre has generated a giant wave of protests among Chinese-American communities across the country. Thousands of Chinese students and long-time U.S. residents of Chinese heritage have taken part in demonstrations condemning the regime for premeditated murder and atrocities against its own citizens. Taking their cause to the White House, the steps of Congress, and the United Nations, they have issued an urgent appeal for international support.
Gone are the pleas for government reform that dominated student discussion only a week ago. In their place, Chinese studying at American universities (the largest single group of foreign students in the U.S.) openly call for the overthrow of Deng Xiao-ping and Li Peng. “The task is to overthrow the fascist and reactionary clique ruling China. This is the agenda of the day,” said Xia Wen, an organizer of student protests in New York.
The New York Chinese community — which has always been torn between allegiance to Beijing or its arch-rival, the Kuomintang government in Taiwan — has come full circle to discover common ground in the politics of their homeland. Since the student protests erupted almost two months ago, New York Chinese newspapers representing opposite political orientations are suddenly speaking the same language; Chinatown organizations that were suspicious of or antagonistic to each other in the past now find themselves voicing their indignation in a similar pitch and tone. The selflessness and ultimate martyrdom of the Chinese students have struck a universal chord among Chinese around the world.
This Friday, thousands of Chinese immigrants and students will gather at the United Nations and march across town to the Mission of the People’s Republic of China at West 66th Street near Lincoln Center. Billed as the largest ChineseAmerican demonstration ever, the coffin-carrying march is expected to include every part of the Chinese community spectrum — millionaire entrepreneurs and toilers working at below-minimum wage, immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters, the communist sympathizers and the anticommunists, the “uptowners” and the “downtowners” — who will converge in a massive outpouring of anger against the Chinese government.
“This is your time to do something for China,” said Peter Lee, a protest organizer and former Chinatown reporter who quit his job two weeks ago over his publisher’s call for a crackdown on the students in Beijing. “If you don’t stand up now, you may never stand up for anything else in your life.” Chinese students in New York are racing to construct a replica of the “goddess of democracy” crushed in Tiananmen Square for the march, to show that Chinese around the world have taken up the cause.
Accusing President Bush of a double standard in his human rights policy — his angry and very specific denunciations of rights violations in the Soviet Union contrast sharply with his guarded warnings to the Chinese leaders he befriended as envoy there in 1974 — has become the vogue since the recent turmoil began. One might as well go for a field day hunting down double standards in Chinatown.
In the face of the monstrous criminal acts committed by the Chinese government against its own citizens, the lines between the genuine and the fake in Chinatown have been submerged — at least for the time being — by the higher call for freedom and democracy. In the past month, the leaders of the Chinese Consoliuated Benevolent Association, an umbrella organization of 60 family organizations in Chinatown, has become a strong advocate for democracy in the People’s Republic — even though it has maintained a stony, 40-year silence on the military rule of the Kuomintang in Taiwan.
No less ironic is the case of Fred Tang, one of the chief organizers of Friday’s march for justice. As president of the Chinese-American Planning Council, a multimillion-dollar social service agency, ‘Tung oversees a revolving-door cheap labor program for the City of New York. In the name of “training,” the CPC, a contractor for the city, pays immigrant workers $5 an hour (without medical insurance or other benefits) for doing rehabilitation work in rundown neighborhoods. The CPC also sets a limit of six months of employment. Prevailing wages for similar work in the general construction industry run between $12 to over $20 per hour.
Thus, the massive show of strength and unprecedented unity by the Chinese community masks the real contradictions and challenges confronting the city’s Chinese-Americans. For the last hundred years, events in China have always had tremendous impact on Chinese communities overseas. “Since Chinese immigrants were denied the right of naturalization [until after World War II] and thus effectively disenfranchised from the democratic process, most Chinese in the United States channeled their energy and resources into strengthening China as the only means for achieving full protection and respect from Americans,” said Berkeley professor of Asian-American studies and community activist Ling-chi Wang.
It wasn’t until the tail end of the civil rights and antiwar protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Chinese began to fight for equal rights in this country. In the past few years, with the easing of tensions between Taiwan and the mainland, divisions based on loyalties to the motherland seemed to give way to healthy disputes over local Chinatown issues like city politics and school board elections.
But against the backdrop of the epochal tragedy in China, issues such as the city’s charter revision or minimum wage enforcement in Chinatown seem mundane. Yet it is precisely these concerns that would empower the Chinese-American community. After all, the most far-reaching impact of the events in China will be in matters of daily survival, such as jobs, housing, and education for one’s children.
Already, residents of Hong Kong, due to return to China in 1997, are talking in hushed voices of massive emigration to any country in the world that might take them. Many Hong Kong students here, who were undecided over whether to return or make a career in the U.S. just one week ago, have received midnight phone calls from panicked parents at home. The messages are all similarly direct: “By all means, stay. Find a way to get residence papers. You are now the hope of the whole family.”
Dick Netzer, senior fellow at New York University’s Urban Research Center, says that if Hong Kong is persuaded that things will really be “bad” after the Chinese takeover in 1997, “an enormous wave of immigration from Hong Kong could be triggered very quickly.” He estimates that perhaps one million people would emigrate, of whom 300,000 to 400,000 could settle in the New York region. It can hardly be disputed that events of the past week in China would meet the “really bad” criterion.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the recent tragic events in China will act as an explosive push factor in the global Chinese diaspora. Statistics from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services between 1983 to 1987 showed that Manhattan’s Chinatown had attracted the largest number of Chinese immigrants (mostly from the mainland and Hong Kong), while the more affluent immigrants from ‘Thiwan prefer Chinese neighborhoods in Queens. An influx of legal or illegal immigrants will put additional strains on housing, the schools, and social services in the area.
At the same time, one cannot expect the new money pouring in from the other side of the Pacific to filter down to the bottom of the community. Indeed, past experience has shown that the new riches have in fact created a community polarized between the haves and the havenots. Real estate in Chinatown is such a high-stakes game now that local brokers admit that, increasingly, only the transnational consortiums with big cash and “staying power” can manage to buy. A local store owner cannot even dream of buying a modest building in the neighborhood in case his lease expires.
Already, the influx of money from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the rest of Southeast Asia is drastically changing the face of Manhattan’s Chinatown. In 1984, the BCC building on Canal Street became the first dilapidated factory loft building to be converted into a modern office complex on the Canal Street corridor. Now at least eight more major factory buildings within the 12-block area around the Lafayette-Canal intersection have undergone similar conversions, with another seven targeted to go. Along Canal Street, squalid, century-old brick outer walls are giving way to glittering glass facades, and their tenants, mostly immigrant women who work at Juki sewing machines, are being replaced by young pin-striped Chinese yuppies (called Chuppies) who sit at computer terminals. A Chinese developer pointed out with glee that the center of Chinatown is shifting from good old Mott Street to Lafayette and Canal, where investors have found good housing stock, better access to the subways, and room to grow towards Soho, Tribeca, and the City Hall area.
In other parts of Chinatown, new construction is booming. Chinese developers, many in partnership with Hong Kong investors, are rushing to build on any empty lot they can lay their hands on. Learning from their defeat in a mid-’80s zoning battle that effectively killed the city’s plan to give luxury high-rises a free ride in Chinatown, developers are building “as-of-right” to avoid the hassle of seeking variances or community approval. The slogan of the industry now is to build and build fast. The new construction is for the upper-middle class nevertheless, selling at $300-350 per square foot, and the Hong Kong gentry are a prime marketing target. Working people who cannot afford the high prices of these condominiums have no choice but to double up in crumbling Chinatown railroad flats or move to Ridgewood, Sunset Park, and the few remaining affordable neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.
Even before the massacre, major banks from the colony had already landed in New York in a big way, in part to provide a more convenient conduit for the expected influx of money in 1997. At least two premier Hong Kong banks are planning major expansions in New York’s Chinatown. The Bank of East Asia, which is owned by the most affluent and influential Chinese elite in Hong Kong, has just moved from its Fifth Avenue offices downtown to Mott Street and installed a full-service branch. And if all goes according to plan, East Asia will have the distinct honor of being the only bank in Chinatown housed in new, custom-designed headquarters at Canal and Mulberry, the heart of old Chinatown, by early 1991. The new bank, estimated to cost $10 million, will replace the loft building now standing at the site, which the bank bought for $5.5 million in 1986, a bargain in retrospect.
Not to be outdone, the Hang Seng Bank, the leading consumer bank in Hong Kong, is completing its rehab of the five-story cast-iron building on Canal Street that it bought for $7 million last year. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Bank, the de facto central bank of Hong Kong (which has nine branches in New York), recently switched its advertising agency and is launching a new market campaign.
Canal Street now boasts eight bank branches within a 10-block area. On the other side of Chinatown, East Broadway, with another nine banks, competes with Canal for the title of the “Chinatown Wall Street.” And the banks are still rolling in — two more branches are currently under renovation on East Broadway.
The construction boom has not given Chinese immigrants, among whom skilled construction workers number in the hundreds, a chance to enter New York construction unions. In major construction work in Chinatown, elite plumbing and electrical jobs remain in the hands of mostly white union workers. When Chinese workers are lucky enough to be hired, they can only expect to work at wage scales far below those prevailing in the industry as a whole without benefits or job security. Just last year, an undocumented Chinese worker from Malaysia was killed in a Queens house under renovation when slabs of concrete collapsed from the ceiling. The Chinese employer boldly announced that the unfortunate victim was “just a visitor” who happened to be there, looking for work.
Such inequities render the cheap labor program run by the Chinese-American Planning Council even more repugnant. Is there a link between the real estate industry and the CPC, which operates a separate Local Development Corporation and has publicly stated its interest in sharing the city’s $500 million in public housing money? By staunchly defending its practice of paying $5 an hour for construction jobs, CPC institutionalizes cheap labor and does a service for real estate interests — and tries to give coolie labor a good name.
Only two weeks ago, a protest against martial law at the Chinese consulate in Washington, D.C. — attended by 3000 Chinese students from across the eastern seaboard — had an almost surrealist air as the students marched under fluttering red flags in this belly of the beast of capitalism. Over and over, the marchers sang the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China and the Internationale, the battle hymn of international communism.
This past Sunday, the day after the massacre, a march by many of the same students in New York City took on a decidedly different mood. Mourning the dead in Tiananmen, angry students with black arm bands carried wreaths and wore white paper flowers pinned to their chests. The red flags and cries of “Arise, ye prisoners of starvation…” are gone.
Gone too was the national anthem, a song written in the first years of the Chinese Communist Party. But at the same time, isolated shouts of “Down with communism!” seemed to receive little support.
One can only surmise that the shift of symbols signifies a profound soul-searching among these young democrats of the republic. The problem they face is nothing less than the viability of world communism itself.
As chants of “Down with the fascist clique” roared through the crowd and reports on the mounting toll in Beijing were circulated, Xia Wen, a doctoral student in sociology at Columbia, said, “It’s irrelevant to count the dead now. The important thing is that we are continuing the struggle. China will not be the same China, and the people will no longer be the same people.”
That determined optimism is shared by Ming Ruan, a deputy director of the theoretical office of the Chinese Communist Party Cadre School until he was purged from the party in 1982. “The fascist ruling group is unable to control the situation with their reign of terror. The people are more angry than scared by the bloodshed. And they are still defiant and fighting. The days of the hardliners are numbered.”
Ming now believes that it is not enough to change the party’s political line. China’s governing institutions must also undergo fundamental reform to introduce freedom of the press and checks and balances.
“This is a transition point for the Chinese people and a new beginning,” Ming said. “Today’s winners are bringing their own demise, and will be tomorrow’s losers.” ■
It All Started With Jan & Dean
The student movement in China didn’t begin with the hunger strikes last month. James Ridgeway pieced together the following account, drawing statements made by students and professors from Orville Schell’s recent book, Discos and Democracy. Schell recorded these texts during numerous trips to China over the last two decades.
In December 1978, Chinese students began to express themselves for the first time since the Cultural Revolution, and their elderly leaders found it to their advantage to appear to support dissent. At the time the protests were limited to putting up posters on a street wall, called Democracy Wall, in downtown Beijing. “Democracy Wall is good,” Deng told visiting journalist Robert Novak.
Among the famous posters was “Democracy: The Fifth Modernization,” written by Wei Jingsheng, a young former solider who worked as an electrician at the Beijing zoo. It was sharply critical of Deng’s modernization efforts: “Do the people enjoy democracy nowadays?” Wei Jingsheng wrote. “No! Is it that the people do not want to be their own masters? Of course they do. This was the very the Nationalist Party… The slogan of ‘people’s democracy’ was replaced by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ making a very small percentage of the hundreds of millions of people the leaders. But even this was cancelled, and the despotism of the Great Helmsman took over. Then came another promise. Because our Great Leader was just so great, we arrived at the superstitious belief that a great leader could bring the people far more happiness than democracy could. Up until now, the people have been forced time and time again, against their will, to accept ‘promises.’ But are they happy? Are they prosperous? We cannot hide the fact that we are more restricted, more unhappy, and the society is more backward than ever…
“If the Chinese people wish to modernize, they must first establish democracy and they must first modernize China ‘s social system. Democracy is not a mere consequence, a certain stage in the development of society. It is the condition on which the survival of productive forces depends… Without democracy, society would sink into stagnation and economic growth would encounter insuperable obstacles.”
In the autumn of 1979, Wei was brought to trial on charges of leaking military intelligence on China ‘s war with Vietnam and “openly agitating for the overthrow of the government of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist system in China.” He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in a Beijing jail, where Amnesty International reported he died.
Among the main supporters of the student movement was Fang Lizhi, vice-president of the university in Hefei, where early protests broke out in the fall of 1986. In November of that year, Fang Lizhi gave a speech at Tongji University in Shanghai.
“We now have a strong sense of urgency about achieving modernization in China,” he said. “Chinese intellectual life, material civilization, moral fiber, and government are in dire straits… The truth is, every aspect of the Chinese world needs to be modernized… As for myself, I think all-around openness is the only way to modernize. I believe in such a thorough and comprehensive liberalization because Chinese culture is not just backward in a particular respect but primitive in an overall sense… And frankly, I feel we lag behind because the decades of socialist experimentation since Liberation have been — well, a failure! This is not just my opinion; it is clear for all to see. Socialism is at a low ebb. There is no getting around the fact that no socialist state in the post-World War II era has been successful, nor has our own 30-odd-year-long socialist experiment… I am here to tell you that the socialist movement from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and Mao Zedong has been a failure…
“Clearing our minds of all Marxist dogma is the first step… We must remold our society by absorbing influences from all cultures. What we must not do is isolate ourselves and allow our conceit to convince us that we alone are correct…
“The critical component of the democratic agenda is human rights. Human rights are fundamental privileges that people have from birth, such as the right to think and be educated, the right to marry, and so on. But we Chinese consider these rights dangerous. Although human rights are universal and concrete, we Chinese lump freedom, equality, and brotherhood together with capitalism and criticize them all in the same terms. If we are the democratic country we say we are, these rights should be stronger here than elsewhere, but at present they are nothing more than an abstract idea [enthusiastic applause].
“I feel that the first step toward democratization has come to mean something performed by superiors on inferiors — a serious misunderstanding of democracy. Our government cannot give us democracy by loosening our bonds a bit. This gives us only enough freedom to writhe a little [enthusiastic applause]. Freedom by decree is not fit to be called democracy, because it fails to provide the most basic human rights… In a democratic nation, democracy flows from the individual, and the government has responsibilities toward him… Science should be allowed to develop according to its own principles, free of any ideological straitjacket… The products of scientific knowledge should be appraised by scientific standards. We should not be swayed by the winds of power. Only then can we modernize, and only then will we have real democracy.”
Almost simultaneous with the protests at Hefei, students in Shanghai took to the streets. The first wave of protests followed the appearance of the American surf rockers Jan and Dean in November and December 1986. In Shanghai, the protests brought downtown to a virtual halt for four days.
One Shanghai handout, an “Open Letter to All Fellow Citizens,” said, “Between the past and the future, there is only the present. We cannot rewrite history, but we can change the present and create the future. In the face of the reality of poverty and autocracy, we can endure. However, we cannot just allow our children to grow up abnormally in shackles and in the absence of freedom, democracy, and human rights. We cannot just allow them to feel poor and abused when standing together with foreign children. Fellow citizens, please understand! Bureaucracy, obscurantism, and the lack of democracy and human rights are the roots of backwardness.”
At People’s Park in downtown Shanghai, a political science student addressed the crowd: “So long as there is one-party domination and no rule of law, the enterprise of liberation is not finished.” He ended by saying he would shed blood “for the early achievement of real democracy in China.”
Soon after the student demonstrations abated in Shanghai, they broke out in Beijing. Students demanded a debate with university officials over democratization, and soon marched into the streets chanting such slogans as “Long live freedom and human rights ” and proclaiming solidarity with their fellow students in Shanghai. A small group broke away to march on Tiananmen Square, but were turned back by the police. As the days went by and the students continued to march in Beijing, the demonstrations spread to at least 11 other cities. Alarmed, the government took steps to ban demonstrations.
But the students were determined, and before dawn on December 29, 1986, students marched from Beijing Teahers’ University to Beijing University, shouting, “We want freedom.” More wall posters went up. Some were exhortations: “Beijing University comrades: The circumstances for democracy are ripe. Raise your hands in an iron fist. What we must now do is act like heroes.”
Others were sarcastic: “…In the United States there is the false freedom to support or not to support the Communist Party. In our country we have the genuine freedom of having to support the Communist Party. In the United States there is the false freedom of the press. In our country we have the genuine freedom of no freedom of the press.”
On New Year’s morning, several thousand students began a march on Tiananmen Square. A few got through security lines. Most of them, turned away by police, dissipated.
By the end of 1986, student demonstrations had engulfed more than 150 university campuses in 20 cities across China, representing the largest mass movement in the country since the Cultural Revolution.
In interviews the protesting Chinese students have never been especially specific about what they mean by democracy. Perhaps two Shanghai wall posters in the winter of 1986 came close:
“I have a dream, a dream of freedom. I have a dream of democracy. I have a dream of life endowed with human rights. May the day come when all these are more than dreams.
“When will the people be in charge?” ■