The most striking aspect in the Tiananmen incident (and the subsequent massacre of the students on the Square) was the crucial role played by the so-called Elders and particularly Deng Xiaoping, who at that time had no official position in the Party or the Government.
You may think that the situation is different now and that things have changed. It is however not certain that the Chinese are today able to rule the Middle Kingdom in a more constitutional way.
In 1975, the CIA internally circulated a secret document entitled, "The Art of China Watching". The document declassified in 1994, is about the techniques used by professional China-watchers to decrypt China.
A para, 'The Pecking Order' explains:
Another favorite tool of the analytical trade is the scrutiny of leadership appearances. The order in which Chinese leaders are listed can be a reliable gauge of their relative standing in the leadership. The Chinese have often circumvented this system by listing their leaders in the Chinese equivalent of alphabetical order. On major holidays, the Chinese used to hold mass rallies in Peking, with the entire leadership standing before the assembled crowds. Who stood next to whom was another clue to the importance of individual leaders, but in recent years the rallies have been abandoned. Instead, several small groups of leaders appear in different parks in Peking, thus avoiding a public display of the entire pecking order.Yesterday, The South China Morning Post (SMCP) reported that the name of former president Jiang Zemin has been officially placed behind those of members of the CCP's Politburo Standing Committee.
When several important officials fail to appear over an extended period of time, it often means that a leadership meeting is in session. When at the same time the top officials in many of China's 29 provinces do not appear at home, the betting is that Peking has called in leaders from the provinces for a large meeting.
China Central Television said that at the funeral service for General Yang Baibing (brother of the former President, and one of the main actor on the Tiananmen Square in 1989), who died at the age of 93 in Beijing, the wreath placed in Jiang's name came behind that of President Hu Jintao , party general secretary Xi Jinping and the other members of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Observers are nevertheless of the opinion that Jiang may continue to play an important role behind the scene. The SMCP believes that the 86 years old Jiang "played a key role in the framing of the new leadership line-up for the party's 18th national congress, succeeding in getting allies including Zhang Dejiang , Yu Zhengsheng and Zhang Gaoli on to the Politburo Standing Committee."
Has Jiang now fully retired?
Beijing-based independent political analyst Chen Ziming told the SMPC that: "Jiang can still exert his power, even if he has no ranking in the top leadership", while Hong Kong-based Johnny Lau Yui-siu told the Hong Kong newspaper that the ranking did not necessarily mean that Jiang would play no role in Chinese politics from now on: "On the contrary, I think that his political influence will extend for quite a while at least."
One thing is sure, no reform will come through as long as the old man control (or remotely control) scores of senior officials in the Party.
And there will always be the danger of new wounds (such as the Tiananmen incident) in China's history.
The Wound of History
June 4, 2008
Blindfolding us, you expect us to see no moreJune 4, 1989 will forever remain a wound in the history of modern China.
Plugging our ears, you want us to hear no more
Yet, the truth is in our heart
The pain is in the chest
How much longer do we have to endure
How much longer do we have to be kept silent?
If tears can wash away all dusts...
If blood can be exchanged for freedom...
Let tomorrow remember today's outcry
Let the whole world see the wound of history!
On that fateful night, hundreds, if not thousands were killed. Nineteen years later, the Chinese government maintains that no one died on the Square itself (only on the adjacent avenues) and it has still not released the list of those killed.
A few days after the event, Yuan Mu, the then spokesman of the State Council, declared that only 23 students had died, along with some ‘ruffians’.
A year later, Beijing tried to make their version more plausible. The Time Magazine quoted the official report of the upheaval: “Chen Xitong, Beijing's hard-line mayor, claimed that 200 civilians were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded.” But Chen insisted that casualties were mainly soldiers and policemen.
The Time continued: “[Chen’s] figures for civilians are almost universally dismissed as outrageous underestimates. On the day of the crackdown, Chinese Red Cross sources told reporters that 2,600 people died and 10,000 were injured, although the organization later denied it.”
Nicholas D. Kristof, the New York Times correspondent wrote: "The true number of deaths will probably never be known, and it is possible that thousands of people were killed without leaving evidence behind.”
One can immediately draw a parallel between the massacre of Tiananmen and the riots in Tibet in March/April this year. Soon after the events, when someone asked me: “How many people were killed?” I replied “We will never know!” Nearly three months after the March 14 incident in Lhasa, the Chinese authorities still claim that 13 people, mostly Chinese were killed, while the Tibetan Government-in-exile alleges that in Lhasa alone, nearly 100 Tibetans lost their lives. The analogy does not stop here. As in June 1989, according to Beijing the casualties in Lhasa were mainly policemen and paramilitary staff (People’s Armed Police) while according to the Dalai Lama’s Administration, it was mostly Tibetans who were shot at.
In both cases, the Chinese troops quickly removed the bodies and cleaned up and the consequences for the surviving participants in both cases were ruthless. One young Tibetan who managed to escape to India after the March events recounts: “[one day] around one hundred soldiers entered my house, broke down five doors, checked everything and threw it all on the floor and hit everyone present there. It was like a robbery or burglary. There were a lot of firearms and they were very rough with us. I was arrested. They took me with them, with my thumbs tied behind my back, very tightly, resulting in the whole area being numb for the last two or three months. They treated us very harshly. Talking to each other, they said, "This is our chance", and they beat us.”
The Tiananmen Square episode was prompted by the death of former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary General Hu Yaobang who had resigned from his position on January 16, 1987 (after some minor students’ unrest). At that time, the People's Daily had expressed some sympathy with the students while affirming that "the limits of official toleration were being approached". A US Embassy official had noted "political stability has always been a critical consideration in China. There can be no doubt that the authorities will crack down, and crack down hard, if stability seems to be being called into question."
It is what happened in June 1989, hardly 2 years later. In the case of Tibet, Zhang Qingli, the Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region declared that the punishment will follow the principles of "quick approval, quick arrest, quick trial, quick execution". The above testimony is a proof that it was not mere words.
As often in China, an external event (the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989) was the excuse which triggered the demonstrations against lack of democracy and corruption in the Middle Kingdom. During the first days, the Party was not directly targeted, but an Editorial of the People’s Daily on April 26 which termed the student movement as ‘turmoil’ (a highly pejorative word used during the Cultural Revolution) enflamed the students; their number on the Square began swelling. This Editorial quoted Deng Xiaoping who, though he had no government position was still taking all important decisions. Deng accused some "extremely small segments of opportunists" of plotting ‘turmoil’.
Interestingly, the Tiananmen Papers, the most remarkable collection of documents on the events of 1989 and the inner functioning of the CCP, show the crucial role of 8 Elders led by Deng Xiaoping. Though outside the Party structure, it is they who decided the course of the event.
During the following weeks, one of the main demands of the students was the withdrawal of the April 26 Editorial. (Incidentally, Premier Wen Jiabao also spoke of ‘turmoil’ in his press conference soon after the Lhasa incidents in March 2008).
What was the true motivation of the student movement on the Square in 1989? This question deeply divided the Chinese leadership who began to rally behind either Zhao Ziyang, the then General Secretary of the CCP or Li Peng. In his introduction to the Tiananmen Papers, Editor Andrew Nathan analyzed: “Zhao Ziyang’s instincts were to loosen up politically in order to invigorate the economy, accepting a consequent loss of control but maintaining authority through a more consultative style of leadership. Li Peng’s instinct was to focus on stability and keep political control”.
It is probable that these two tendencies are still prevalent among the top hierarchy today. But in June 1989, the latter hard-line prevailed, demonstrating at that time that tough decisions only could save China from going the Soviet Union’s way.
Gorbachev’s visit to China is usually considered as the turning point in the history of the events of the Square. The Soviet leader as proponent of the perestroika (or restructuring of the State) was a role model for the students; further the Sino-Soviet friendship was important to the leadership in Beijing. The details of the visit were discussed at the highest level of the Party. The transcript of a discussion held on May 11 between Deng and his ‘assistant’ Yang Shangkun (President of the PCR) put Gorbachev’s trip in perspective. “Deng Xiaoping: When Gorbachev’s’ here, we have to have order at Tiananmen. Our international image depends on it. What do we look like if the Square’s is a mess?
Yang Shangkun: “Tiananmen is our national face. Especially when Gorbachev’s here, we just can’t let it turn into a stinking mess. I’ll make sure that they [the top leadership] are clear on this”.
To save the face has always been crucial for China. This explains Beijing’s anger after the recent unrest in Tibet and the subsequent large media coverage of the riots. Beijing loose face before the Olympics.
On May 13, 1989, two days before Gorbachev’s arrival, the students started a hunger strike. Deng made it clear to his protégé Zhao Ziyang that this should be stopped; the welcoming function for the Soviet leader on the Square was to be held in a dignified manner.
Unfortunately, Zhao was not able to fulfill the Old Emperor’s wish; Gorbachev’s visit to the Square had to be cancelled.
During the following days and weeks, the consequences quickly followed: martial law was imposed; Zhao Ziyang was sacked; Li Peng was given the task to implement the decision of the Elders; Jiang Zemin was selected to replace Zhao (“he’s got it just right politically, has strong Party loyalty and can see the big picture” remarked Deng). The built-up of events culminated during the night of June 3-4 when the tanks of the 27th Army rolled on the Square. We know the rest.
Though Deng managed to keep the economic reforms on track, the West announced that it would boycott China until democracy was introduced. But business is business, two high US Officials, Scowcroft and Eagleburger returned to Beijing in December 1989 to "explore the possibility of developing a ‘road map’ toward better relations."
So goes the world, but nineteen year-old wound remains wide open, especially after the Tibet events. In fact, it is doubtful if the ‘negotiations’ between the Dalai Lama and Beijing can ever succeed as long as the ‘stability’ hard-line, today led by Hu Jintao prevails in the party.