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Analysis of Tiananmen Papers

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 5 years, 11 months ago

Tiananmen Papers' Analysis


Chronology of events during the spring of 1989


1) April 25 meeting minutes: conversation between Premier Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping leading to the infamous April 26 editorial in the People's Daily calling the demonstrations "turmoil." (Note: excerpts from The Tiananmen Papers come from "Tiananmen and After" at foreignaffairs.com)


Apr 25.pdf




2) May 13 meeting minutes: "Strains among the leaders" (Deng Xiaoping and General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and President Yang Shangkun discuss the escalating crisis just prior to the hunger strike and before Gorbachev's visit.)




Scan 1.pdf


3) May 16 emergency evening meeting of the five member Standing Committee as the leaders attempt to find a solution to the fallout from the student hunger strike on the very day that Deng meets with Gorbachev. The next day, May 17, the Committee meets with Deng Xiaoping who concludes that the army should be called in and martial law declared.


Scan 2.pdf


Scan 3.pdf


Scan 4.pdf


Scan 5.pdf 


4) May 18 morning meeting of the Standing Committee (Zhao Ziyang not in attendance) and the eight elders: martial law will be implemented. General Secretary Zhao's career is essentially over, having lost out to the Party hard liners.


Scan 6.pdf


Scan 7.pdf


5) June 2 morning meeting of the party elders and Standing Committee (only three of the five members present): the decision to have the army clear the square and put an end to the "turmoil" is made.


Scan 8.pdf


Scan 9.pdf


Scan 10.pdf


6) June 3 emergency meeting at 4 PM with the Standing Committee and Yang Shangkun (Deng's confidante) and military officials: the order to clear the square is given. Deng Xiaoping wants the "problem" solved by dawn on June 4. 


Scan 11.pdf


Scan 12.pdf


As we have seen before in this class, China has been quite willing to assign blame to foreigners, particularly Westerners, when there are domestic crises occurring that threaten stability at home. Whatever the party line, China's social elite continues to be quite willing to send their sons and daughters to elite educational institutions in the West---Xi Jinping's daughter graduated from Harvard in 2013, Jiang Zemin's son has a Ph.D. from Drexel, and Deng Xiaoping's gransdson was born in the U.S., for example---as well spend liberally in buying up real estate in the United States.


While Chinese have unmistakable pride and patriotism in their nation's significant accomplishments since reform and opening up began in the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping's leadership and continued with even greater vigor not long after Tiananmen in 1989, they also possess, as Orville Schell notes, a "wariness about the future" and an uncertainty about "the durability of their country's political system" that may be pushing the wealthy "to send their kids abroad to be educated, ... and seek US green cards and even citizenship." (NY Review of Books, 11/20/14, 53.)


Another China scholar, Perry Link, goes further when he states,


If people in the Chinese elite were truly confident in their system of Leninist capitalism, they would not need a huge budget for domestic repression, would not keep a Nobel Peace laureate [Liu Xiaobo] in prison, and would not be looking to emigrate. ... they find Western criticisms of their one-party rule to be condescending. But that very fact reveals their ambivalence about the West. If they were really confident that their system is superior, they might simply pity the misguided West. That they feel "condescended to" shows that, at one level in their minds, they are still according the West an elevated position. (Ibid)


Perhaps. But conceivably, at a different level in their minds, the Chinese elite today might very well continue to subscribe to what Columbia's Andrew Nathan wrote in his introduction to The Tiananmen Papers back in 2001.


But the Party also believes it has learned from Tiananmen that democratization is not an irresistible force. There is a widespread view in the West that where globalization and modernization occur, fundamental changes in the Party-system are inevitable, leading to the rise of civil society and some form of democracy. Whether this is right or wrong, the leaders in power in China do not believe it. For them, the lesson of Tiananmen is that at its core, politics is about force. ... The Party believes that as soon as it gives in to any demand from any group it does not control, the power monopoly it views as the indispensable organizational principle of the political system will be destroyed. (Zhang Liang, Nathan, Link, eds. The Tiananmen Papers, lix-lx.)


As Stanford history professor, Timothy Brook, in addressing the question, "Why did the Chinese government adopt a military solution to a political problem?" in an afterword to his book, Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement, (1992), concluded that Deng Xiaoping had no choice but to call in the army if the Party was going to retain its monopoly of power. 


Students leading the democracy movement in the spring of 1989 were arguing in varying degrees that the state belonged to the people and not the Party. Chinese citizens in Beijing (and in a number of other cities around the country, notably Chengdu as Louisa Lim writes about in The People's Republic of Amnesia), inspired by the students, protested that their city did not simply belong to the government. Therefore the PLA had no authority to occupy the "people's space" Tiananmen Square. Stopping the army from reaching the square was "civil society" in the making according to Timothy Brook.


Since the establishment of the PRC in 1949, China's totalitarianism has been a response to the subordination of 3rd world countries like itself by the developed capitalist world. Whereas Mao shunned the outside world and its capitalism, Deng embraced it, but his xenophobia focused on Western "spiritual pollution" notably in the form of political liberalization. The resort to force on June 4, 1989 had been (and continues to be) replicated in many 3rd world nations. As Brook concludes (writing in 1998, one year after Deng Xiaoping's death),


On June 4, the leaders of China demonstrated that they lacked the political imagination to reestablish stability in any way except at a cost of thousands of lives. The dead remain unacknowledged, and the men who engineered their deaths unrepentant. This is so not because ... the rulers living in the leadership compound in Zhongnanhai continue to think like the emperors who owned that pleasure park when Deng Xiaoping and Yang Shangkun were mere babies. Rather, Deng and his associates, like desperate modernizers elsewhere in the Third World, understand that history will judge their economic failures more harshly than their violations of human rights. (Brook, Quelling the People, 213.)


As for the making of civil society, it is true that China is taking more steps under President Xi Jinping towards the rule of law. But we must remember that China's rule of law is not the same as that in western democracies when it comes to individual rights and a fully independent judiciary. There is a long history, moreover, of the absence of individual rights dating back to Imperial times.


7) June 6 meeting of Deng Xiaoping and other Party elders and new General Secretary Jiang Zemin: a post mortem on what took place on June 3-4 including the justification for violence and the government's official casualty statistics. 




Scan 14.pdf


Scan 15.pdf


Stanford's historian Timothy Brook was highly skeptical of the CPC's casualty statistics. 




Brook stresses how difficult it was (and still is) to determine an accurate number of casualties, both dead and wounded. Conclusive evidence about the real number of casualties has eluded all including the government. Why? Some wounded (and those attending to them) might have been reluctant to go to hospitals in Beijing for fear of being charged as counterrevolutionaries when the day of reckoning arrived. Families of counterrevolutionaries would face fines, so they might have disposed of their bodies. 


Accounts suggest that the PLA collected bodies and disposed of them before they could be counted. The subject of cremation has been raised. One Beijing Normal University leaflet claimed that the army had used bulldozers to shovel bodies into piles and then burn them. Reports surfaced that the government told radiologists in at least hospital to destroy all X-rays of bullet wounds in patients. As time passed, citizens became increasingly afraid to challenge the government's casualty statistics and most began to accept the government's figures, even the international press. (Brook, 162-69)


Zhang Xianling is a retired aerospace engineer. Together with Ding Zilin, a former professor of philosophy at the People's University of Beijing (whom we saw in the film, The Gate of Heavenly Peace), the two women who both lost sons in the early morning of June 4, 1989, have formed a group called "Tiananmen Mothers," dedicated to forcing the Chinese Communist Party leadership to reveal the truth about what happened that night, to admit responsibility and to compensate the families who lost loved ones. They have relentlessly worked to compile a list of names of those killed by the government's troops, clearly an act "that challenges the Communist Party's monopoly on information." Thus far, they have over 200 names. Since 1995 they have written over 36 letters to the government without one reply.


Remembering the events of June 3-4 has proved painful for the participants. Deciding whether or not to explain what happened to their children and how to do so has also been exceptionally agonizing.




1989 Tiananmen Spring

Link to Tiananmen home page

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