This article comes from another self-professed moderate “middle” general. He views the government and the students in a negative way, but most of his criticisms are aimed at the government for the violent suppression.
Let’s take the recent topics of debate, one by one:
1. Why should we commemorate Six Four?
This was supposed to be the last topic, but after finishing I decided to move it to the beginning. I want to use this article to memorialize all of the students, average city folk, and soldiers who died 19 years ago. They are all innocent, and there were no Six Four winners.
During the 20th century, China has faced countless tragedies. Compared to all of that, the number of people who died during Six Four is really not a large number. But the influence of Six Four is far deeper than the number of soldiers and soldiers killed that morning. Six Four represents the death of Communist idealism. 19 years later, how many of the “little generals” today are as determined as those students were in believing that utopian Communism could be achieved?
19 years have passed. How did an ordinary memorial become an irrational, bloody clash between students and government? There are many, many things we have to deeply reflect upon from this period. After we entered the 1990s, some of the student leadership became the despicable overseas dissident movement, but another part of the student leadership deeply reflected… and that’s what left us the documentary “The Gate of Heavenly Peace“. But at the some time, where’s the reflection from the Chinese government, which bears an even greater responsibility for Six Four?? I hope we can see it, some day. Because regardless, the future of China will be decided by the current ruling government, and not the overseas dissidents.
2. Was Six Four a democratic movement?
On this question, I’m not going to render judgment. From what I see, Six Four was really a collective explosion from all levels of society, which had been repressed for many years. So, the entire movement from the beginning to end was filled with numerous conflicting voices. There were some against corruption, some against “rule by the old”, some wanted free media, some wanted better treatment for intellectuals; later it was a protest against the April 26th editorial, demands for dialog, protests against martial law, etc, etc…. for a movement that was so complicated, I’m very suspicious if we can simply grant them the moral high-ground of “demanding democracy”.
3. Was Six Four an anti-government movement?
I don’t think so. Regardless of what Chai Ling said, the square was filled with red flags. Theose who threw eggs at Chairman Mao’s painting were detained by the students and brought to the police. The police and students facing off against each other were singing the same songs… are there any anti-government movements that look like this? The dissident movement’s change into freaks was something that came after they left the country. At the time, those students and city people didn’t think that far ahead. Even those student leaders, how many of them were hoping to overthrow the government so they could claim power? People holding the perspective of “What if Chai Ling became head of the country, what would China be like”… don’t have enough historical facts to go off of.
4. Were there foreign forces behind the scenes in Six Four?
During Six Four, Voice of America’s efforts to enflame passions and fan the movement are obvious to all. But if you were to say the whole thing was designed by the CIA, sorry, the CIA’s IQ is probably not that low. To see what behind the scenes intervention by great powers look like, see the Ukrainian color revolution. They were well equipped, tightly organized, and acted very skillfully. Nothing like that crowd of 1989 students who were busy feuding amongst themselves, playing with political coups and kidnappings even as soldiers were closing in on the square… the entire student movement fully revealed the inferior aspects of Chinese people, which is precisely why there was so much recollection in later years, including the “Gate of Heavenly Peace” documentary.
5. Were there feuding Communist Party forces acting behind the scenes?
High-level feuding amongst the Communist Party was always a secret. Without clear evidence, it’s hard for me to say conclusively. I can only say that I personally believe there were high-ranking members in the Party who were pushing the student movement… but they might have outsmarted themselves. During the middle of May, students were still begging for dialog. Suddenly comes this May 17th proclamation, demanding the end of “old people” politics. To me, it’s clear that after Zhao Ziyang said “all of our decisions must be approved by Comrade Xiaoping”… Yan Jiaqi and others thought that Zhao Ziyang had sent a signal, and quickly issued a declaration of war against Deng Xiaoping. Final result: Zhao Ziyang paid the price. The student movement’s quick transition to calling for Li Peng to step down is also a hint. After all, using popular movements to fight high-level political disputes isn’t unheard of in Communist Party history… it’s hard to not think in this direction.
6. How should we evaluate the Six Four incident?
Personally, my evaluation of both the students and the government is negative. Both sides were using irrational methods to continuously escalate the conflict. On the student side, no clear goals, and organization was chaotic. Finally, those who gained power amongst the students were the most extreme, discarding opportunities to peacefully end the protest time and time again. On the government side, it immediately defined the movement as “turmoil”, and pushed all of the students into the opposition. This was followed by confusing back-and-forth between the conservative and reform wings of the Party, making a clean finish impossible.
Of course, the greatest mistake still lies in the order to open fire. It’s not an issue of how many people died; the result of this order was the death of Communist ideology. The people lost their previous confidence in the Communist Party, and the younger generations became more selfish. Idealism was completely destroyed in China. Bottom line, both sides have responsibility, but as the party that held more social resources… the government has a greater responsibility.
7. What is the long term effect of putting down the riot?
Those who say opening fire brought China 20 years of stability is absolutely wrong. The “stability” that followed can instead be described as completely losing faith in the Communist Party; no one wanted to go on the street and lobby. Everyone were focused on the money in their pockets. The only political effect of Six Four was the reform faction completely losing power, and China’s political reforms were frozen from that point on. This is exactly opposite of what the students hoped for. There are no winners from Six Four; all of the dead, regardless of citizens, students, or soldiers, there was no reason for them to die in vain like this.
8. How did the conflict become gradually more intense?
… skipped for time …
9. By Six Four, had the situation in Beijing really become unmanageable?
It seems this is the perspective of those who support the violent suppression. I don’t agree with this. If the protesters really wanted to rise up, then probably Zhongnanhai and Tiananmen would’ve been in flames long ago. The truth is, at the end of May even as students fought each other for power on the square, morale was sinking lower and lower. Even the arrival of the “Four Princes” (four famous intellectuals/singers who started fasting in early June) couldn’t have allowed the conflict to drag on much longer. Not many in the student movement really moved in the direction of using force to overthrow the government. Of course, you can’t allow the students to control the square indefinitely… but the scene was not totally out of control, and it wasn’t yet the time to use the military to resolve the situation.
After all, killing should always be the last option. Every life deserves respect. Only when violence can prevent the flood of more blood, when the lives of some innocent people can save the lives of other innocent people should it be considered. But on the eve of Six Four, the situation in Beijing hadn’t reached this point. In my opinion, the decision to open fire wasn’t based on what was happening on the square, but rather the disputes at the highest levels of government.
Does anyone know where I can find an English subtitled version of “The Gate of Heavenly Peace”? Thanks.
That’s amazing, I had never noticed that the version on Youtube was in Chinese only. I hope someone can find an English version.
Here is the transcript, at least:
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is such an excellent, excellent documentary (produced by a “Western” company + China-raised Carma Hinton). It’s really central to understanding Tiananmen, in my opinion.
Charles Liu says
It’s about time for a change. In the past, as least in America, we have “memorialized” the TAM vicitms with a romaticized mysticism, Hollywood fantasy stuff – like “thousands of students machine gun down”, “tanks rolling over students huddled in tents”, “PLA burning corpses on TAM grounds”.
I think that’s an insult to all the students, workers, police/soldiers who died.
Bad journalism after 15-20 years is not really bad journalism anymore. A lot of the facts have come out years ago:
Charles Liu says
Opps, URL change:
John Lou says
To judge 6.4 you first need to make clear what is your standard. democracy? interest of country? interest of people?
19 years passed since 6.4. but I still dont think it’s right time to judge it. Only when China become a superpower, people can be rational and confident enough to make the right judgement.
I’m sorry, but I hope that the China’s leadership become ‘rational and confident’ before China becomes a superpower!
Charles Liu says
FOARP, was it rational to create a false WMD pretext to justify our invasion of another country?
As you can see, it’s not a prerequisit.
@Charles Liu – But it is desirable, as your example shows!