Category Archives: Tiananmen

“Banned in China on Tiananmen anniversary: 6, 4, 89 and today”

Mark MacKinnon on what the censors did to hide history today:

Each year, the Communist Party’s censors go to remarkable lengths to prevent Chinese citizens from accessing, or spreading, their memories of what happened on June 4, 1989, when an unknown number of people were killed during a military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in the centre of Beijing. Since Sunday night, even simple numbers like 6 (the month of June), 4 (the date) and 89 have been banned search terms on Chinese social-networking sites.

And so all day today users in China got bizarre replies from their search engines. “According to the relevant laws and policies, the results of your search ‘89’ cannot be displayed,” was the head-shaker I just read on my own screen. Typing “Tiananmen Square” – in English or Chinese – gets the same answer on the popular Sina Weibo site, which boasts over 300 million users. Pity the poor tourist just trying to find the plaza in the middle of the Chinese capital.

Eventually even “jintian” – the Chinese word for “today” – was a banned search term on such social networking sites, as the powers and weaknesses of those who rule China were simultaneously displayed.

Chinese Internet users are a wily bunch. Last year, they briefly evaded censors by referring to the date of the crackdown as “May 35th” rather than June 4th, a move that forced the conversation-killers to ban a non-existent date this year.

The censors subsequently decided that even some non-words pose a threat, disabling a function on Sina Weibo that allowed users to post a tiny drawing (or “emoticon”) of a candle.

And some things will always remain beyond the control of even China’s hard-working censors.

The weakening outlook for the global economy hit Asian markets hard Monday. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was among those that saw losses, falling precisely 64.89 in trading – a random reminder of the very anniversary Beijing was working so hard to help people forget.

Those who saw the data might have recognized the familiar numbers. But they would have had to be quick. Shortly after trading ended, the words “Shanghai Composite Index” temporarily joined China’s long list of banned terms.

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“Fang Lizhi”

A great loss for China, even if the government won’t acknowledge it (via The Telegraph):

He launched an ambitious decentralisation plan at Keda, allowing staff to join administrative panels in discussions about funding and promotions. Furthermore, he established exchange programmes with foreign universities. “I am determined to create intellectual and academic freedom,” he told an interviewer from The Atlantic magazine.

Initially his initiatives were welcomed by the Chinese authorities. But by the end of 1986 students at Keda took the liberalising campaign to the political stage, demanding the right to nominate candidates at local elections. Soon tens of thousands of students were protesting on campuses across the country.

As his experiment spun out of control, Fang rapidly fell from favour. Stripped of his job at Keda, he was reassigned to the Beijing Observatory. In January 1987, he was denounced by Deng himself and expelled from the Communist Party.

The move simply cemented Fang’s position as an opposition figurehead. Over the next three years he hinted at greed and nepotism in the senior ranks of the party. By early 1989 his apartment had become a focal point for pro-reform meetings. In January that year he wrote to Deng demanding the release of political prisoners. Then, in February, he was invited by George Bush to attend a Texan-style barbecue that the American president was hosting on his first state visit to China.

Fang set off for the party with his wife, but was pulled over by a traffic policeman. They resumed the journey in a taxi, only for that to be stopped too. Proceeding on foot, they arrived at the home of the American ambassador, who was not in. Spotted by a Canadian diplomat, Fang soon found himself at the president’s press centre, giving a blow-by-blow account of the harassment he had suffered to the world’s press.

Two months later, reacting to the death of Hu Yaobang, the reform-minded Communist Party General Secretary, students began a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square; in June the tanks rolled in.

On June 5 Fang and his wife were granted refuge inside the American embassy, which considered them in “personal danger”. But it took a year of delicate negotiations before the pair were allowed to leave the country.

Once in the United States, Fang became a physics professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. There he continued his research into the origins of the universe, dropping the odd hint at faculty drinks parties of his unusual career path. He is survived by his wife and a son.

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“Signs of a New Tiananmen in China”

A sensationalist headline from Minxin Pei, who thinks the same factors that lead to Tiananmen are starting to resurface in Chinese society:

Despite disagreement among participants in this incipient post-1989 Chinese intellectual renaissance, the discussion is fast converging on three critical issues. First, there appears to be a widely shared consensus among China’s thinking class that the country’s economic reform is either dead or mired in stagnation. Second, those who believe that economic reform is dead or stuck argue that only political reform, specifically the kind that reduces the power of the state and makes the government accountable to its people, will resuscitate economic reform (some advocate for more radical, democratizing changes, although the consensus on this particular point has yet to emerge). Third, the status quo, which can be characterized as a sclerotic authoritarian crony-capitalist order, isn’t sustainable and, without a fundamental shift in direction, a crisis is inevitable.

Such signs of an intellectual awakening are worth noting for many reasons. Its timing is certainly significant. Many people would connect this development with China’s pending leadership transition. In China, as in most other countries, pending changes in leadership usually stimulate discussions among the intelligentsia about the future of the country and the accomplishments or failures of the departing leadership.

One may be tempted to dismiss such discussions as idle chatter among marginalized Chinese intellectuals. This would be a mistake. Some of the participants in these discussions are influential opinion makers or advisors to the Chinese government. Their views reflect the thinking of at least some insiders of the Communist Party. So the frustrated tone and anxiety conveyed by their views could suggest that more open-minded elements in the party, some of whom may be in line to assume senior or important positions as a result of the leadership transition, share the same sense of crisis and urgency.

The voices of China’s liberal intelligentsia are now resonating among a public increasingly disenchanted with the party’s policies. In particular, such voices should appeal to China’s better-educated youths, whose numbers have increased several times since Tiananmen. Two decades of rapid economic growth, consumerism, and state-sponsored nationalism may have lulled them into political apathy. But as they experience the injustice, corruption, and incompetence of the current system in their daily lives, they’ll most likely feel increasingly swayed by voices urging a fundamental change of course.


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Filed under political reform, Tiananmen

“21 Hours in Beijing”

For a dose of horror check out Seeing Red in China, where contributor Ya Xue has translated the account of Chinese American activist Ge Xun’s detainment in China. Here’s the introduction- please do read the whole thing:

I came to the United States to study physics in 1986 and stayed and became an American citizen. I believe in universal values such as freedom and basic human rights. I admire the best of humans wherever I see it, and I do what I do openly with nothing to hide.

My mother died at 83 on January 24, 2012, in Beijing. I flew back on the 28th for her funeral. By the 31st my siblings and I had taken care of everything and made arrangements to put my parents’ remain together.

For the rest of my stay I planned to meet a few people, among them, Ding Zilin (丁子霖), or the “Tian’anmen Mother” (天安门母亲) as she has been known. She is a retired professor, and her son, a high school student, died during the June 4th crackdown in 1989. For more than two decades, she has been working hard, against harsh and persistent obstruction by the government, to preserve the memory of the event, recover more truth, and help families of other victims. Without her own son by her side, I wished to bring her perhaps a little bit of comfort and love. I called and made an appointment to visit her at 3pm the next day.

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Filed under activism, enforced disappearance, human rights, Tiananmen, violence

“China’s Unstoppable Billion”

Gordon Chang made the extremely bold prediction that China would collapse this year a few weeks ago, and seems to have been taking some flak since then. He’s made this call before and been proven wrong by the ongoing survival of the CCP, and his new piece in The Diplomat reads like an attempt to justify his predictions in the face of this criticism. His argument:

Despite how the nation’s young feel, most foreign analysts – and all of Beijing’s apologists – tell us the Chinese people don’t care about personal liberty, that they are content to reap economic gains while letting the Communist Party keep its monopoly on political power. Yet due to the repressive nature of the political system, we don’t know if China’s citizens are telling us what they really think. The best we can do is catch a glimpse of them as they make their dash into the future. Chinese society is changing faster than any other on earth at the moment, and the ongoing transformation is shaking the country, even the seemingly invincible one-party state.

Especially the one-party state. “China’s leaders may run what looks like a closed political system, and their decisions seem autocratic,” noted Clinton-era official Robert Suettinger in Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of U.S.-China Relations. “But they are struggling to keep up with a society that is changing in a direction and at a speed they cannot fully control.”

Now, in a modernizing era, the Chinese people are putting themselves back together and creating an integrated society. As a result, the people are once again having national conversations, and this permits trends to sweep the nation. The Chinese are creating change by nothing more complicated than talking to one another. And this talk has implications because now, as social scientist Yu Jianrong says, “Everyone has a microphone.”

Mao also protected his new republic from the outside, with high and strong walls. As these walls come down, all the forces that apply around the world – political, economic, and social – are changing China as well. And as these forces continue to reshape the nation, the People’s Republic is taking on the look, and even some of the feel, of the modern world.

China’s leaders recognize, at least rhetorically, this irreconcilable dilemma. As Wen says, “our people cannot be suppressed.” Yet he is nonetheless trying to repress them by maintaining a political system that no longer serves an increasingly progressive society.

Perhaps the best evidence of this struggle between the Party and the people is evident every hour of every day on the web. Even though the Chinese state maintains the world’s most sophisticated set of internet controls, commonly referred to as the Great Firewall, it is engaged in a never-ending struggle it can’t win, even when it gets its way in the short term. “One site has been shut down thirty times,” noted Liu Xiaobo before he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. “But after a month or two they open up again. You can’t shut them down completely.” Beijing officials can boast they have deleted 350 million articles from the web, but their claim indirectly confirms Liu’s point: the number of censored items is so high because netizens keep posting new pages, many of them more subversive than the ones taken down by the authorities.

Cyber China, the most vibrant part of the most exciting nation on the planet, reflects the growing interest of Chinese citizens in their society. It’s on the net that officials criticize government corruption and businessmen post tracts on democracy. Political dissent is sizzling, online, and available, at least most of the time. Chinese censors are being overwhelmed, by bad news, by the growing number of media outlets, by the new forms of social networking, by the sheer mass of users. Even when the authorities want to silence bold “netizens,” they often are intimidated by the weight of opinion in China’s boisterous online community.

And even when Beijing censors haven’t been able to completely erase history, Party spinmeisters have propagated their version of it. “The only thing I can remember about June 4 is watching television and hearing that riot police had died,” said Lu Jing, who was six at the time of the massacre, according to AFP. “I don’t believe any students died. China in this respect is democratic as China wouldn’t hurt its own people.” Ignorance of 1989 is contributing to the perception of a benign government among the younger – and most volatile – elements of the population.

Beijing now has a dilemma. Its leaders want to appear benevolent, but to do so they have had to whitewash Tiananmen. Yet whitewashing Tiananmen is far more dangerous to the regime than reveling in its brutality. The Chinese don’t take to the streets when they are angry, notes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. They do so when they think they can get away with it. “China has always operated to some degree on fear, and that fear is now eroding,” he wrote in 2003. Continual erosion means that Deng’s essential lesson of Tiananmen – that the Communist Party will resort to deadly violence on a mass scale to preserve its power – has been largely lost.

The biggest mistake China watchers make is that they think Beijing’s elite will be willing and able to once again employ brute force against massed protestors. In the newest version of New China, the options for the Communist Party are narrowing. Already, the leadership has its hands full trying to avoid a reexamination of the slaughter, and although no senior official is in favor of reconsidering the Party’s verdict on Tiananmen, no one wants to share former Premier Li Peng’s stain by being associated with another murderous crackdown. In short, it’s unlikely that Beijing’s current leaders would want to change long-held tactics and begin to rely mainly on fear.

Veteran China watcher Willy Lam, for one, says it’s extremely unlikely that the current Fourth Generation leadership would ever order another Tiananmen. For one thing, no one in today’s leadership has the personal authority to do so. For another, even if someone in the Fourth Generation gave such an order, it’s highly unlikely that the People’s Liberation Army would obey, says Lam. Even with his military record, it took Deng a long time to find a unit that would actually fight unarmed citizens in 1989. Nobody in the current civilian leadership has the same stature as Deng, and such an order might split the military and cause a revolt in the officer ranks. Finally, even if the top brass followed an order to shoot, it’s unlikely that ordinary soldiers would kill ordinary citizens on behalf of a regime that has lost the love and loyalty of its people.

There’s a lot more; certainly worth a read. I mostly agree with his reasoning about the various impetuses for change, but he definitely downplays the forces fighting on behalf of the status quo. His conclusions about the Communist Party being unable to use force to preserve their rule… that I certainly disagree with. They’d prefer not to, but when absolutely pushed? The idea that they wouldn’t be able to frame the necessity of violence against protesters the same way they routinely frame interactions with minorities- as a necessary way to stop forces seeking to destroy China- seems naive to me. They stress loyalty to the Party and the puppet government above all else, and China doesn’t seem so far gone yet as to override decades of propagandizing on that front.

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Filed under Communist Party, Jasmine Revolution, Tiananmen

“Tiananmen Square self-immolation”

Crazy news from Peter Foster at The Telegraph, who uncovered a self-immolation in Tiananmen that took place… three weeks ago! How could this happen without anyone finding out? As he puts it:

The picture shows several hundred people who must have also witnessed what happened after Mr Wang, a 42-year-old man from Huanggang in Hubei, set himself on fire in protest at a court judgment that, we must presume, he felt was so unfair his only recourse was to self-immolate.

Perhaps some people did register the incident on their Weibo accounts but, as is common, they were deleted by the “net nannies” who police online discussion spaces with the same zeal that plain-clothes officers police Tiananmen Square, snuffing out dissent at the first possible sign.

As the power and prevalence of Weibo grows, it has become increasingly difficult for the authorities to suppress unwanted and unpalatable news, as has been seen this year over protests in Dalian, with the “Barefoot lawyer” Chen Guangcheng and over the Wenzhou rail disaster.

But as this incident shows, they also succeed, and in the nature of that suppression, it is impossible to know the ratio of successes to failures.

Ironically the Chinese government is in the midst of a major crackdown on “false rumours” on the internet, and yet this kind of story, when it emerges, is exactly why no one believes the government or officialdom in China, and why rumours have such currency.

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“China premier-in-waiting schooled in era of dissent”

From Reuters, on Li Keqiang:

Li Keqiang, China’s likely next premier, once huddled beside Yang Baikui in a Beijing university dorm, translating a book by an English judge, little separating the future Communist Party leader from his classmate who would be jailed as a subversive.

Over three decades ago, Vice Premier Li and Yang entered prestigious Peking University, both members of the storied “class of ’77” who passed the first higher education entrance exams held after Mao Zedong’s convulsive Cultural Revolution.

More than any other Chinese party leader until now, Li was immersed in the intellectual and political ferment of the following decade of reform under Deng Xiaoping, which ended in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that were crushed by troops.

As a law student at Peking University, Li befriended ardent pro-democracy advocates, some of whom later became outright challengers to party control. His friends included activists who went into exile after the June 1989 crackdown.

Some of Li’s classmates remember that he too was also carried along by that idealism of the time.

“The Li Keqiang that I knew in the past was quite bold. He was high-minded, bold and idealistic,” said Wang Juntao, who has been in exile since 1994 and is now co-chairman of the China Democratic Party, which campaigns for change in his homeland.

Wang was a physics student at Peking University who ran a study group with Li. He was jailed as a “black hand” for his prominence in supporting the 1989 student protests.

“Among all the younger leaders, Li Keqiang is the only one who’s lived and debated alongside these liberals,” Wang said by telephone from New Jersey.

“He understands us, he’s argued with us.”

On the other hand, nothing in his career to date suggests that liberal ideals are still any kind of inspiration to him. This reminds me of all of the “Is Hu Jintao a stealth liberal?!” speculation- more hopeful than informed.

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Filed under 12th Five Year Plan, Tiananmen

“Debating the Massacre”

Andy Yee at ChinaGeeks has a translation from a debate about Tiananmen between two Chinese writers. To those in China, the pro-Tiananmen Massacre writer (yep folks, that’s a real thing) and his arguments will sound very familiar. It’s nice to have them refuted from a Chinese perspective, though:

I cannot but ask a question: in China’s five thousand years of history, was a universal, democratic system ever being implemented? (I emphasized universal because democracy is not a privilege of the West. Japan, South Korea and Indonesia are all democracies.) Practice is the sole criteria of testing the truth. If democracy has never been implemented, on what basis can we say that it is not suitable for China? Since the Opium War, when shoots of democracy were emerging, dictators would mask their fear with the sophistry that democracy is not suitable for China.

Empress Dowager Cixi of the late Qing dynasty said that reform was not suitable for China. Then, the ‘Six Gentlemen Martyrs’ were executed. Yuan Shikai said that Chinese people still did not have the wisdom to practise democracy. Then, he became the emperor. The ‘anti-revolutionary’ Nationalist Party said that democracy was impossible in China. At that time, the ‘progressive’ Communist Party said: ‘They say that democracy is foreign and cannot be applied in China… Democracy is better than non-democracy. This is like mechanized production is better than manual labor, whether in or out of China… Some say even if China needs democracy, it has to be different, and Chinese people should not be granted freedom. This is ridiculous. It’s like saying that the West should use the Christian calendar, and China should use the lunar calendar.’ (Xinhua Daily, 17 May 1944) 70 years ago, the Communist Party told everyone that democracy is universal. How come in the 70 years that follows, democracy was never being practised, but the Communist Party switched to the side of Empress Dowager Cixi and Yuan Shikai!

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