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Tiananmen Square
June 16, 1999
Timothy J. Brook, Danxuan Yi, Jing Chang


Introductory Remarks by David Theroux

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux, and I’m the president of The Independent Institute. I am delighted to welcome you to our Independent Policy Forum on the Tenth Anniversary of the events in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. This evening’s program is part of an expanded series of lectures, seminars, debates, and panel discussions at The Independent Institute. This evening, we are particularly featuring the superb book by Tim Brooks, Quelling the People, recently released from Stanford University Press in an excellent paperback edition.

As many of you know, The Independent Institute regularly sponsors programs featuring outstanding authors, scholars and policy experts to address major social and economic issues, especially as they may relate to important new books. For those of you new to the Institute, you will find background information on our program in the packet you received when you registered. The Independent Institute is the non-profit, non-politicized, scholarly public policy research organization that sponsors comprehensive studies of major social and economic issues. The results of this work are widely distributed as books, our quarterly journal, The Independent Review, and other publications, and are publicly debated through numerous conference and media programs.

In your packets, please also note the information about our upcoming Policy Forum, “Liberty and the Failures of Government,” on July 20th with economist Walter Williams of George Mason University and his new book, More Liberty Means Less Government. On September 21, historian Joyce Malcolm will be speaking on “Guns and Violent Crime,” her acclaimed book from Harvard University Press, To Keep and Bear Arms, and on October 20th, we will have a special program on “Virtual Money, Privacy and the Internet,” geaturing Peter Thiel, CEO of Confinity and Richard Rahn, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and author of the new book, The End of Money and the Struggle for Financial Privacy.

In addition, I want to take this opportunity to note that our one-week Summer Seminar in Political Economy for high school and undergraduate college students will be held next week. The program is directed by Professor Joseph Fuhrig from the economics department at Golden Gate University and is intended to equip young people with an excellent, integrated understanding of the fundamentals of a free society, and covers economics, history, law, political theory and related topics. I believe that there may still be some room to be included if you know young people who might be interested.

In the Spring of 1989, hundreds of thousands of protesters had gathered at the heart of the city of Beijing. The original concerns were: an end to the inflation then eroding skimpy state salaries, greater academic freedom, stiff punishments for corrupt officials, the removal of aging leftist leaders, freedom of the press, and greater democracy in the country. On June 4th, fearing the same fate as what occurred in the demise of the Soviet Union, Chinese government officials were determined to regain legitimacy, and as a result, ordered the military to intervene and open fire on the protesters, killing hundreds. Since then, tens of thousands who have spoken out have been imprisoned, tortured and killed, and the government has refused to even admit that such atrocities have occurred. For instance, about two weeks ago, a court sentenced dissident Zhang Youjo to four years in prison for handing out leaflets five months earlier calling on the government to lift its condemnation of Tiananmen protesters. And today, Amnesty International says that 241 people remain in jail for anti-government protests 10 years ago. Most important, the Chinese Communist Party resists any democratic constraints on its power. Judges still report significant legal cases to party committees for rulings. Censors can stifle efforts to expand press freedoms. The seven-member Politburo Standing Committee makes all major decisions.

Yet, China is rapidly changing on many fronts. China has increasingly allowed economic liberalization and privatization to proceed, effectively addressing some of the protesters original complaints. And today, even the Chinese edition of the free-market economist F. A. Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom, has become a best-seller. So, can the government there then keep up its policy of oppression of poltical dissent? And of course, must U.S. and other government and business leaders play down the on-going repression for their own political and economic interests?

This evening, we are delighted to have three distinguished experts who will discuss the actual story behind the Tiananmen Square events and what bodes for the future. The format we will use is to have each speaker speak for about 20 or minutes and then we will open up the discussion up for questions from the audience. To begin the program, our first speaker is Professor Timothy Brook. He is the author of Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement. Tim had recently joined Stanford University, where he is a specialist in Chinese history. He received his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University and before joining Stanford, he had taught Chinese History for 10 years at the University of Toronto. He just told me that for personal reasons he is going to be moving back to Toronto, so his stay out here has been short but we are delighted that he has been out here. In addition to his book of Quelling the People, his books on China include Praying for Power, The Asiatic Mode of Production in China, Culture and Economy, China and Historical Capitalism and The Confusions of Pleasure. It was beginning with his work as an exchange student in China from 1974 to 1976 when he began his interest in human rights and worked with Amnesty International. The result was the authoring and then later publication of this book in 1992, so I am very pleased to introduce Tim Brook.

Timothy Brook
Professor of History, Stanford University

I want to talk to you about memory today. The film we just saw was an example of memory. It’s remembering Tiananmen in a certain way, and what I want to do in the 15 or 20 minutes I am going to speak here is to ask how should we remember Tiananmen? What does this memory mean? Why might it be important? And why might it not be important? Anniversaries are powerful moments. Anniversaries are moments when we try and remember things. We try and remember things that were important in our life that perhaps have slipped into inattention with the daily life. Anniversaries are points when we can try and take stock of what we have been doing with out lives and where we have gone. Anniversaries are also opportunities, if one side forgets, for the other side to get annoyed. I constantly do this with my wife. She’ll eventually get used to the fact that I always forget our anniversary. But there are certain historical anniversaries that are hard to forget.

China is a country in which anniversaries are extremely important, perhaps because there is not much of a public sphere. People can’t discuss all the issues they would like to. And certain moments on the calendar, certain years in a decade, will become more important than others. 1999 is the 50th year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the beginning of the rule of the Communist Party in China. It’s also the 10th year of Tiananmen Square. I am delighted that The Independent Institute has chosen to remember Tiananmen this year. There have been a number of other venues around North America to think about Tiananmen and think where we stand now.

Let me start, though, with the fateful moment. Mr. Theroux has given you some sense of the issues that were in play in June of 1989. The moment that turned these issues—which are issues of democracy, accountability, personal responsibility, clean government; these issues, of course, are universal around the world—no longer simply issues but something more, came about 10:45 on the night of June the 3rd. The People’s Liberation Army started moving in on the city. You saw some of this on the film clip. They started moving in on the city of Beijing late in the afternoon of June the 3rd. There were columns coming in from all the points of the compass. Two of the largest columns were coming in from the West and from the Southwest. The column coming in from the West got stopped.

It wasn’t students that stopped the Army nor was it by and large students who died. Most of the people who fought the Army and died were ordinary citizens. The column coming in from the West was stopped about 8:30 PM. The soldiers were told to chant, “We will put an end to the turmoil. Soldiers don’t stop until the turmoil stops.” You certainly saw turmoil on the film a few minutes ago. The question, of course, is who started the turmoil? Did the government try and stop it or did it, in fact, get it going?

Around 10:00 PM, warning shots were fired into the air. People scattered, but they immediately came back. In fact, the crowd was angry with the warning shots and called out, “Put down your arms. Put down your arms,” to the soldiers. By 10:30, the officer in charge of this group was losing patience and he screamed, “Charge, you bunch of cowards. Sweep away this trash.” At 10:35, several dozen stun grenades were tossed. Now, stun grenades don’t hurt unless you actually get hit with one, but they make a terrible noise. They stun you, they terrify you and you run away. The stun grenades didn’t work. The soldiers got another 100 meters down the road and then again people just poured in and stopped the Army. At this point they radioed to the military central command for permission to go ahead “at any cost,” which is the euphemism for using live ammunition on unarmed civilians.

The permission came in just before 10:45 PM, which is when an eyewitness I talked to saw the first bodies being removed. The column coming in from the Southwest went through the same experience. They got permission to move ahead “at any cost” at 10:48 PM and the firing started there as well. This had happened all around the city. Some columns didn’t get permission until 2 or 3 in the morning of June 4, but eventually the permission came in and the Army had made it to the Square and occupied the Square on June 4th.

So, that’s the moment that turned what was a largely peaceful, somewhat confused but always lively attempt to talk about democracy in China into the massacre that we remember today. Without that order to go ahead at any cost, we wouldn’t be here today 10 years later trying to remember the event.

Some people say we should forget Tiananmen. They suggest that China is changing: “The forces that caused the violence 10 years ago have now passed. We need not worry about it any more.” The urge to forget is also tied to certain interests. Perhaps certain business interests that don’t want boats rocked. Perhaps with certain government interests, certainly in China, elites who are in power wish to remain in power. How do you forget? You say that Tiananmen doesn’t matter. I was at a conference on June 4. A conference was organized there to remember Tiananmen, and a political scientist spoke. He said his view of Tiananmen was the hiccup theory; that is, Tiananmen was just a hiccup: “By and large the changes that got going in the 1980s, the economic liberalization, has carried forward and Tiananmen doesn’t matter.” I tend not to favor the hiccup theory. I think remembering is important. So why remember an event this atrocious? I overheard someone in the audience saying she didn’t like to look at death on the video. Neither, frankly, do I. I don’t care for this footage. But I think every death is a loss. Equally importantly, states have a responsibility to protect the lives and property of their citizens and in this case this didn’t happen.So, how do we remember Tiananmen? Well, there have been many efforts of different sorts to remember what happened in 1989. The first thing was to start building replicas of the Goddess of Democracy. They’ve appeared all over the world. Most cities with a large Chinese community put up some kind of a memorial to Tiananmen in 1990, 1991. It seemed that the first urge was to mourn, but something more is needed. Starting about 1993, there have been efforts in China to get the government to rethink what happened in 1989, to rethink its decision.

In 1993, a famous document called the Peace Charter was published. Several prominent and less prominent Chinese put their names to it calling for a more peaceful process of transitional China. It was followed in 1995 with a somewhat more strongly worded document called Draw Lessons From June 4th. These documents wanted to do what is called in Chinese reversing the verdict to change the judgment on Tiananmen.

One of the people who was involved in this was a student named Li Hi. He had been collecting information about people who had died. He had put together files on about 900 of the people who died. He was arrested in 1996, and he was put in jail for 9 years for doing this. His mother continues to campaign for his release. She is only campaigning for him. Her first concern is the memory of her son’s freedom, but she hopes that her campaign will unlock the cages to several thousand more people who are held on political charges in China.

In 1997, the Legislative Council in Hong Kong did the same thing; they passed a motion calling for a reappraisal, a reversal of verdict. To reverse a verdict is a major thing to achieve in Chinese politics. China’s political voice is unitary, it’s univocal. The only voice, by and large, is the Communist Party. For it to reverse its verdict means for it to say it did something wrong. Most of us don’t like to admit doing wrong and the Communist even more so because the issue is: if it admits it was wrong, perhaps it is admitting that it is no longer the legitimate voice in the government.

Asking for a reappraisal is politically a powerful thing. But in the last couple of years, there is yet another wave of thinking of how to remember Tiananmen Square. This is to call for a judicial tribunal—to ask for an investigation that has legal consequences that may result in some people going to prison for their activities on June 4. The first outspoken person to do this Dingxalin. Dingxalin is a now retired professor from Beijing University. She had one son, Jong Jilian, and Jong disappeared on the night of June 4 into the crowds and he eventually died. Ding has been working tirelessly since 1989 to try and bring together the victims of 1989 and their families and to get them to agitate for some kind of redress. But in 1997 she submitted a petition to the National People’s Congress calling for a legal tribunal. So, no longer is it simply, “we want to reverse the verdict.” The call now is for some kind of judicial proceeding to be mounted.

It fell on deaf ears, but it was a powerful first statement. She has repeated this this year, and it’s not only her voice but many other voices are saying that China needs to have some kind of a judicial inquiry into 1989.

There are some who wonder what the purpose of this is, particularly in a world in which we have more atrocities than any of us can deal with; we have Yugoslavia, we have Kosovo, we have Rwanda, we have Somalia, we have Iran, we have Kuwait. The list is almost endless. Why care about a couple of thousand people dying in Beijing? I think we can’t all care about everything, but I think it is important that when violence is used by the state in protection of its own interests, it is necessary for people to speak out against it and I think for consequences to be applied.

I thought what I would do, in fact, is end my comments with a message that Dingxalin circulated this March to talk about her efforts to try and find out about the victims of June the 4th. She goes on in some length to talk about the very stories she can tell about what she has done to try and track down the victims. By and large, victims’ families don’t want this kind of news to get out. She finishes her report by saying:

“I’ll stop writing now, because this is not a story. It is not meant to just provoke the easy tears of readers. I often consider the fact that people have only one life; only one. Life is sacred, but death also is sacred. If everyone could see life and death in this way, maybe we could decrease the number of calamities and massacres. As Chinese people, we may have many goals and dreams, but I think we must put a priority on establishing a moral system in which the reckless disregard for human life is put behind us. If someone were to ask me, why did you choose to document death? I think that this would be my answer.”

So, I would say the same thing, in fact, for the book that I ended up writing Quelling the People. It’s a book about violence. It’s a book about death and destruction. I felt, as a Chinese historian, I had a responsibility to create a public record that some day will be more widely accepted. Hopefully, perhaps, even heard in a court of law.

Thank you for coming tonight, and I’m just the Professor. You have two student leaders who are actually going to talk to you. So, let me turn it over to them.

David J. Theroux

It’s pretty widely recognized, I think today, that if you’re interested in the real story as far as best we can surmise, this is really the book on the incident. So, if you’re interested, seriously, I can’t recommend it more highly.

Our next speaker is Danxuan Yi, who is one of the founders of the Gengxou Patriotic Student Federation. After June 4, 1989, he was arrested by the Chinese Government because of his leadership in the Student Democracy Movement and for organizing underground activity after the crackdown. At the time he was a college sophomore studying business administration. Later he was sentenced to two years in prison. After his release from prison in 1991, he went back to school only to find himself not only expelled from the school he was at before, but also refused by every school he tried to get into in China, because the government, of controlled them. Eventually, he immigrated to America, and he is currently majoring in computer information systems at San Francisco State University. I am delighted to introduce Danxuan Yi. I think he will give you a pretty interested perspective.

Danxuan Yi
Co-Founder, Guangzhou Patriotic Student Federation

I did my homework. I told Carl I’m not good speaking in English, but I did my homework and hopefully you can understand my English with grammar errors. Just like Mr. Brook said, some people said we should forget June 4th, they suppose because a lot of change in China has occurred. I don’t agree with that. Actually, just a couple of weeks ago, on June 4th, many reporters asked me, “Do you think anything has been changed after 10 years, since the Tiananmen Square Massacre?” My answer was always: “No.” Why do I say that?

Ten years ago on May 17, 1989, I represented the students in Canton. I delivered a petition to the Canton province government. In the letter, we demanded the central government to do seven things.

1. To protect the citizens’ freedom of speech, to remove all restrictions from press. Also put Mr. Chim-pan Lee back to the general adjunct position of the World Economic Guardians. Mr. Chim-pan Lee was dismissed at the end of April. The World Economic Guardians was a newspaper in China which was prohibited to continue to publish after they reported some discussion about the event—the death of Hu Yao Bang—which caused the student movement to begin.

2. We requested to publicize the property of the leaders and their children.

3. To re-evaluate the anti-spiritual pollution and anti-capitalism freedom movement.

4. We demanded the department of security to stop controlling and watching the Chinese people.

5. Also improve their remuneration.

6. To hold a fair and direct election of the people’s representatives.

7. To recognize the leaders of the student organization and movement. We wanted an official recognition. But ten years later, none of them have been proved or done. Even like the very simplest step, number five, we also wanted to increase the [inaudible] operation of education. None of them have been approved and done. And that’s why my answer to that is no, nothing’s changed.

Speaking from another side of this view, the student movement failed. We have to accept that. Yes, it failed. Hundreds of students were killed, and thousands of them were arrested and put in jail. Millions suffer because of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the June 4th pro-Democracy movement. But also I can say it succeeded. It succeeded because it’s impact is positive and profound in shaping the foundation of China’s democratization.

Today, first, I would like to talk about the reason of this failure of the movement. And then I would talk about the movement’s impact on the process of China’s democratization.

There are many reasons I think why the movement failed. One of them, I think, was that the military is not neutral. We know, probably many of us know, Mao Zedong’s favorite saying, “Power comes from the gun.” The Communist Party, they do believe in violence. They always said the Party should direct the guns. So why do the guns always listen to the Party when they ask them to open fire on the students and the citizens without arms?

I think the reason is because of the soldiers’ ignorance and also their lack of information. The Chinese Communist Party controls all the media in China. The flow of information is monopolized in this autocratic society. All dictators fully understand that if they fully want to control people’s bodies, then they have to control the brains first. Actually, before the soldiers were sent to Beijing, all the soldiers were prohibited to read newspapers and also listen to radio, watch TV. All information they got came from the officials. I mean, official ways. So, if they had all the information about the students’ movement and the movement going on in Beijing, would they open fire, and also would they turn around their guns against the dictators like in Romania? I mean, in Romania, like the soldiers did in Romania? I think these are the questions.

The second reason, I think, is something related to the leaders’ psychology. I also think some things relate to the culture. I recall the philosophy of fighting. In Chinese history, competitors have never had a sense of sharing. And when they fight, after the fight, “either you die or I die.” There’s only one that can survive. The competitors never get a chance to survive. Although we thought we were not competing for power with the Communist Party—we just wanted to push them to do a reformation—they treated us like competitors. That’s what Dong said to his followers. He said, “Take over the power, thousands of our heads will fall on the ground.” He deeply felt that they would lose the power and his head would be cut off. Actually, the fact is well known—the students never gave up their non-violence principle, even when the army opened fire. And I think this probably was Dong’s fear and why he moved so many soldiers, armies against students without arms.

And another reason, the third reason I think the students’ movement failed, is because we lacked a coherent and strong national opposition party of our organization to lead the movement. The ’89 student movement was a nation-wide student movement, but all local student organizations were independent of each other. In order to let you know something about the local student movement, I would like to take Canton as an example and explain it a little bit, so you can have a sense of the local student movement. The Canton student movement began in the end of April and lasted until August. Before June 4th, we also organized the hunger strike, simply a parade demonstration and sitting still continually in front of the provincial government post. After June 4th, we did block a major bridge and a major traffic intersection in the city, but we immediately withdrew back to school as soon as we knew that the government wanted to use the army, the military, against the students, against us.

Afterwards, we concentrated on two tasks—I mean the student federation in Canton. One is, we made many copies of the video and newspapers from overseas like Hong Kong, and sent them to the North and sent them to other people. We tried to break the blockage, the news blockage by the government. And the second thing we did is we covered and helped the students and other dissidents from North China, and helped them to escape overseas. But this underground activity didn’t last long. The major leaders of the movement were arrested and the movement also was suppressed by other cities—because we didn’t have a national organization and lacked a long-term and a nation-wide strategy to keep the movement alive.

And I think this can illustrate other reasons why the movement failed, for example, in 1989. It was not a movement all social classes participated in. Only the students and probably the international social elites participated. So actually, we then realized if we want to achieve the goals, probably we would need to mobilize the farmers and the workers. But we were too late at that time.

Although the movement failed, I think in some degree it succeeded. It did have some impacts, positive impacts, on the process for Chinese democratization. First of all, it shook the legal foundation of the Communist authority, the government. In order to maintain the power, the Communist party had to do more economic reformation. Right after June 4th, Deng said we should never drop the open policy. It means open to foreign countries, because he understands the Communist Party would totally lose control over the people if he couldn’t develop the economy. With the development of the free economy, people have more choice and freedom of speech. Also they have more freedom to do other activities. Like in the South of China, in Sen Sing Quan So, a lot of students on June 4th were dismissed by the school. They couldn’t find a job in Northern China. They all went to Southern China, because they could find a job, make a living, and develop their individual goals in a private company, joint venture, and foreign companies. So the economic reformation did provide some more freedom in Southern China. It also helped those students survive who were involved in the June 4th students’ movement and make a living. And this has become some kind of preparation of the later democratic opposition movement in China.

Also, the Tiananmen Massacre and the later persecution awoke a huge amount of the people who surely believed in Communism before. But after June 4th, they totally are desperate to Communism, and many of them became Democracy fighters. Like last year, the first time the Chinese people first organized publicly organized the party, the China Democratic Party, to challenge the Communist Party. Most of these leaders were involved in the students movement in 1989. Also, I think because after June 4th, many people criticized, said the people, especially young people, they don’t care. They are frosty to politics, and some people feel kind of disappointed. But I think for the long term, this is probably not a bad thing, because all this, especially young people, they just changed their mind, and they pursued their own interests. And so individualism now pervades in China, which I think is the necessary kind of condition which leads to a Democratic society. So for a long time I think this is good for China. The ’89 students movement failed, but also it succeeds. I think it succeeds because for the long term, it has a profound impact on the process of China democratization. Thank you.

David J. Theroux

Thank you, Dan. Our next speaker is Jing Chang. Jing is general secretary of the Tiananmen Generation Association. Born and raised in Xin Jiang, he went to study atmospheric physics at Peking University in 1986. During the 1939 student movement, he was one of the seven founders of the Preparation Committee of the Autonomous Student Union of Peking University (ASUPU). ASUPU was the first autonomous student union in Beijing in the 1989 movement and the most influential member of the Federation of the Autonomous Student Unions in Beijing. Throughout the movement, he worked in ASUPU as an executive director of the standing committee, the general secretary and the vice president. After the June 4th crackdown, he was wanted by the Beijing municipal government. With the help of the Hong Kong Alliance, he was able to leave China and come to the United States. He has since received his B.S. from the University of San Francisco and his M.B.A. from Columbia University School of Business. And he is currently starting his own business in San Francisco.

Jing Chang
General Secretary, Tiananmen Generation Association

Good evening, ladies and gentleman. First of all, I would like to thank the Independent Institute for giving me this opportunity to speak here. I would also like to thank Carl Close for arranging this panel. Today, my topic is the Tiananmen Student Movement and the future of China. Being a participant and a student leader in the movement, I would like to share with you my thoughts on this movement from the prospective of the history of China, based on my understanding of the history. I would like to cover three areas: What did we did in 1989, what is the impact of the 1989 Student Movement on China, and what should be done to ensure a peaceful transformation for China to become a democratic country.

Before I get into the first area, I would share with you my prospective of the historical context of the movement. As many of you here know, before 1989, China had experienced a series of historical events, which set the ground for the democracy movement. In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party drove the nationalist government away to Taiwan and established the People’s Republic of China. Mao called his revolution a New Democratic Ideology Revolution (“Xin Ming Zu Zu Yi Ge Ming” in Chinese). His party was fully supported by the Chinese people, intellectuals, workers, peasants and event many businesspeople. Chinese people were all expecting a great new China, in which “people would become masters of the country.” Unfortunately, they only found themselves in one “man-made” disaster after another: “Anti-counter revolutionaries movement,” “anti-rightists movement,” “Great Leap Forward,” “three years ‘nature disaster’,” the Cultural Revolution,... According to unpublished official statistics, 80 million Chinese died unnaturally from 1949 to 1979.

In 1979, Deng Xiao Ping, a Communist reformer removed by Mao during the Cultural Revolution, established his authority in the Party and launched the “reform and open-door” policy. From 1979 to 1989, the Chinese government conducted economic reform and some political reform, mainly in the areas of restoring the economic development and social order that were destroyed by the Cultural Revolution. The economic power of China and the living standard of the Chinese people were greatly improved as the result of the reform. However, Deng’s reform barely touched the key problems of the political system. A one party system without any checks and balances, and the planned economy with very limited private ownership and economic freedom, resulted in serious corruption and social injustice. Economic reform seemed to reach a dead end without compatible political reform.

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, some Chinese intellectuals had been thinking about the cause of China’s tragedies and the solution for a modern China. Some of them, like Wei Jing Shen, saw the problems with the dictatorship and advocated Democracy. Some of them, like Hu Ping, saw the problems with the communist ideology and launched “China Spring” magazine overseas. Some of them, like Fang Li Zhi, saw the problem with freedom of thinking and advocated “liberty of thoughts.” However, their activities were limited to small circles and their movements were cracked down or contained by the government.

Because of the government’s crackdown over the democracy movements in the past, most of the students in 1989 were unaware of the work done by our earlier generations. However, many of us had experienced the student movements in 1986 and 1987. As some of you may have known, Hu Yao Bang, a liberal Communist leader, stepped down in 1986 because of his sympathy towards the students and intellectuals who were calling for freedom of speech and westernization of China. Nevertheless, many of the students had felt the strong dissatisfaction about the reality and the urgency of calls for change.

Hu’s death in April of 1989 triggered another spontaneous student movement. Learning from our lessons in the 1986 and 1987 student movements, the students of Beijing University established the first independent student union in the 1989 student movement to lead and organize the students, the Preparation Committee of the Autonomous Student Union of Beijing University. I happened to become one of the seven founders of this organization. Unlike the underground student organizations in the past, it operated publicly, it was very popular among the students, and it sought legal existence in China.

Although we had very limited knowledge about democracy and freedom, we had learned China’s constitution, in which it stated that every Chinese citizen had the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of protest. We had learned the history of the May Fourth Movement, even though in the Communist Party’s version. We had read about Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Poland’s Solidarity. Many of us had read Gorbachev’s New Thinking. Besides organizing the students in peaceful demonstrations, the Autonomous Student Union of Beijing University made five achievements:

1. Set clear political demands for the movement, which incorporated the demands for Democracy and Freedom from the students with the demands for better living and social justice from ordinary Chinese people.

2. Set the principle of “peace, rationality and non-violence” for the movement.

3. Initiated the dialogue with the government.

4. Helped workers and Beijing citizens to establish their independent associations.

5. Experimented and practiced the principles of Democracy.

In order to set a clear direction for the movement, right after my organization was established, we published 7 Demands based on Wang Dan’s draft. The 7 Demands included re-evaluation of Hu Yao Bang, freedom of speech, anti-corruption, publication of the personal properties of high-rank officials, review of education policy and re-evaluation of the “anti-capitalist freedom movement” in 1986. The 7 Demands later became the main theme of the student movement and mobilized support and sympathy from workers, intellectuals and event government officials.

The principle of “peace, rationality and non-violence” was further advocated by the hunger strikers. Although there were some partial confrontations between the students and the police when the police attempted to crack down the demonstrations, the whole movement was carried in peace and order. According to reports from some official Chinese newspapers, the public order and security during the student movement were better than any time in Beijing’s history. I heard that even the thieves stopped stealing to support the students.

From the beginning of the movement, we had been calling the government to hold a dialogue with the students. However, the government had cheated the students with several fake dialogues with so called “student representatives” appointed by the government officials. In order to avoid the legitimacy issue of the Federation of Independent Student Unions in Beijing and to push the dialogue through, we advocated the establishment of the Delegation of Dialog and drafted the “12 Conditions for Dialog.”

At the beginning of the student movement, in order to keep the movement under control, we excluded workers and Beijing citizens to participate in our demonstration. Later on, we realized that not to include the workers and ordinary citizens in our movement was a mistake, we began to encourage them to organize their own independent organizations. We sent student advisors, provided funding support and office space and cooperated with them on many issues.

When we first started the independent student union, we didn’t even know how to hold an efficient meeting. All of the committee members hid in a small dormitory room, arguing with each other for 24 hours a day. Every one was so eager to talk about his/her ideas but each had less patience to listen to the others’ ideas. One could easily and rudely interrupt another person’s speech. Gradually, we learned that we must have rules in our meetings and we must respect each other’s opinions and ideas. We tried to get more students involved in our decision making process. We conducted a survey before we made the decision to launch a strike. We set up a functional group under the department of secretary to collect ideas and opinions from the students. It became one of the busiest functional groups of our organization. We tried to organize a general election for the students to elect their leaders. The well being of my organization had contributed a lot to the well being of the Federation of Independent Student Unions in Beijing and the order of the movement.

The impact of the Student Movement on China? There are positive and negative impacts. Let me talk about the negative impacts first.

Negative impacts are mostly short term. The movement ended in bloodshed. Many of the participants were punished by the government with various means, from demotion to execution. Many families suffered from losing their be-loved members. The liberal wing of the Chinese Communist Party was seriously damaged. The conservative wing took control of the power for a few years in China. They tightened their policies on political and economic reform. However, the conservative wing’s control over the government was quite temporary. In 1992, Deng realized the danger of the conservative policies and initiated a new round of economic reform. The old people died one by one. In 1997, the Chinese government officially endorsed a free-market economy. President Jiang and Prime Minister Zhu started the anti-corruption movement. China achieved significant economic growth in the past 10 years.

The positive impacts are mostly long term. The 1989 student movement initiated the first large-scale opposition mass movement in China. It also forged a strong opposition movement with continuity both overseas and in China. It increased Chinese’s awareness of democracy, freedom and human rights issues. It forced the communist government to continue reform and to pay attention on human rights issues, environmental issues, and other sensitive issues. It set the principle of “peace, rationality and non-violence” for the opposition movement.

I consider the principle of “peace, rationality and non-violence” the greatest contribution of the 1989 Tiananmen Student Movement to the modernization and democratization of China. It has set a new direction for the pro-democracy movement in China, “peaceful transformation” rather than “evolution.” “Revolution” and “class struggling” have been the two key elements in Mao’s ideology. The emergence of the “peace, rationality and non-violence” principle indicates that the younger generation in China has begun to throw away Mao’s ideology and to look for new ways of thinking and living for themselves.

The “peace, rationality and non-violence” principle is a major step forward towards a democratic China and it will become a key factor in China’s peaceful transformation.

The 1989 Student Movement captured the world’s attention and made the issue of democracy and human rights in China an international issue. The democracy movement in the Communist China used to be very isolated and lonely. Today, it has support from the international community and from people all over the world. I think that it implies that China is no longer an isolated Communist country. It has been fully integrated with the international community, not only economically, but also politically and socially. No doubt, with the influence from the international community, China’s progress toward democracy will be accelerated.

What should we do to ensure the peaceful transformation? There are two areas of work we need to do to ensure the peaceful transformation in China. One area includes the work we are doing right now: continue growing the opposition movement and pressing the Chinese government on issues such as constitutional rights of Chinese citizens, human rights and social justice. The second area focuses on rebuilding the Chinese culture to change China into a democratic society.

In the first area, I think that the Chinese pro-democracy movement is doing very well in the past 10 years. I was very happy to see the emergence of the Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) at the beginning of the year. The CDP movement has pushed the opposition movement in China to a new height. It indicates that the opposition movement in China and overseas has become very mature. It is, no doubt, a milestone in the democracy movement in China. The CDP seeks peaceful co-existence with the Chinese Communist Party. The founders and members of CDP have no intention to overthrow the government. They simply exercised their constitutional of freedom of speech and freedom of association. Still, the Communist Party cannot tolerate its existence. It has launched a crack down on the CDP movement very recently. Three CDP leaders were arrested and sentenced from 7 to 15 years. Many more CDP members have been arrested and put on trial.

In the second area, we haven’t done much work yet. In the 50 years of the establishment of the Communist China, the Chinese people have been brainwashed and poisoned by the Communist’s ideology and culture. Although we saw the younger generations of Chinese seeking their own ways of thinking and living, in many ways we still think and act like the Communist. The Communist Party culture (we call it “Dang Wen Hua” in Chinese) is still a part of us. I see this extremely difficult and time-consuming task in the Chinese Democracy Movement. It requires us to not only change our own Communist way of thinking and living, but also completely revise the Communist way of thinking and living of the Chinese people, to change what we value and believe in our daily life!

In the past 10 years, the overseas Chinese pro-democracy movement has experienced many high and low points in her short history. Many people left us because they were blinded by the economic growth of China. The number of people involved in the movement has been reduced radically in the past five years. However, it doesn’t necessarily represent that the movement is weakening and dying. On the contrary, I see the movement becoming stronger and more mature. With the continuous support from the international community and the people like you, the opposition movement in China and overseas will continue playing a critical role in China’s peaceful transformation, especially during the time of radical change in China.

David J. Theroux

Thank you, Jing. Some of you may have been here in late April, when we had George Ayittey speak on Africa, and he termed the abuse of statism as the Mafia state and the vampire state, and other terms like that. And obviously, you can see a certain continuity in this issue. So we’d like to open it up to questions.

QUESTION #1: Thank you. The question is for Timothy Brook. You said it started it at that evening, roughly 9:30, from what reading I’ve done, and I certainly haven’t done the reading you’ve done, if in fact, the government had tried troops before that, but they were local troops, and they had to bring in distant troops that didn’t know the situation before they could be successful. Would you elaborate on this, if you know anything about it?

Timothy Brook

You’ve asked an extraordinarily complex question. The question was simple, but the answer is going to be a little complex.

The government began to move the army. They began to move several of the group armies based on the North China Plain, into the vicinity of Beijing in the second week after the Democracy movement started. The movement started on April 15th with the death of a former Communist leader, who was viewed sympathetically by students and intellectuals in the country. His death became a moment of memory and commemoration and political activism. The government began to move the two closest group armies into some kind of outlying position around the city, without any particular plan of what they were going to do, but they wanted to just have troops on hand. They decided that when—well, this requires a little more history.

Gorbachev was visiting China on May 15, 16, 17. This was the historic end to the Sino-Soviet split, or it was supposed to be, and it became a great press opportunity for the student leaders. The government decided that they would use military means but they had to wait until Gorbachev left. It looked perhaps embarrassing to bring the soldiers in while another state leader was in town. He left on the 18th, and they brought the army in on the 19th.

Now this army was actually composed of units from many parts of China. It wasn’t just a local army. But it was composed of units from many parts. They went in without the order to go ahead at any cost. They went in, by and large, without live ammunition. The idea was that you send the army in, a representative sampling of the entire army of the country comes in, and their moral authority is hopefully so popular, so high, that people will give way, and they’ll let the army come in and it will be a happy resolution. That didn’t work.

The army was stalled for three days, and eventually the order went in for them to retreat. Now when they retreated, they regrouped outside the city, but then had the political command felt that they wanted a representative unit from every group army in the country, and there are roughly two dozen group armies around the country. So that the idea for the final suppression was that it’s not going to be one army, or even five or six armies, but it’s going to be every army, if you like, is going to show solidarity, or if you like, is going to share the blood, if there’s any blood to go around. The logic here is that you don’t want a split in the army. You don’t want one part of the army doing it, and then the rest of the army said you’re engaging in shenanigans that we don’t approve of.

Now in fact, there appears that there were causalities from friendly fire, as it’s called, during the suppression, when soldiers of one group army shot by mistake soldiers from another group army in the back. And there seems to have been a military face-off for a couple of days. It took the Chinese leadership a week before it would actually say anything about the massacre. And that was because there was a lot of political wheeling and dealing that had to go on. So in a sense, your question is right in asking what are the sensitivities in the military to all of this. Of course, after it was all over, every soldier that you talked to said, “Well, I wasn’t involved in it. My unit wasn’t involved in it. It was somebody else.” And everyone hustled very quickly to deny that they were involved.

My sense—well, let me share with you a personal thing here. I was a student in China in the mid ’70s, as was mentioned, and my roommate was in the People’s Liberation Army. And we had fallen out of touch, but when I was back in October of 1989, to do the research for the book, after I left, he got in touch with me, indicated that there was great unhappiness in the military about what they’d done. I think—if you like, the junior officer corps didn’t like being used for this kind of thuggery in the streets, and there was a lot of division within the army, and the way in which the government has handled that over the last 10 years is to increase the military budget, which they’ve done with great glee, and in one way, this sort of buys the military off, and in another way, it’s also trying to keep the military—I mean, there’s a kind of curious logic here. That if you give the military lots of money, then they’ll go away and they won’t interfere in politics. And I think that’s been some of the logic. I’m sorry, I turned your simple question into a long answer, so I’ll stop with that.

QUESTION #2: This is for Professor Brook. In this connection, in which you just discussed, I remember something in the local paper within two months after the massacre that some 40 or 50 officers, army officers, were shot for, I guess, not carrying out orders, or for being in sympathy for the movement. Can you speak to that?

Timothy Brook

Yes, that’s a rumor that I also heard. And in fact, when I was visiting Beijing, some people claimed they could say where the executions were carried out. I have never found any reliable confirmation that that happened. It may have been wishful thinking on the part of the people of Beijing, who felt that the military had behaved so badly that somebody should have taken them out and shot them. Or alternatively, that many of the soldiers and officers didn’t want this duty, that they had refused to do it and they had been shot for it, but it’s nothing that I’ve ever been able to confirm from my own research.

QUESTION #3: This is a question addressed to anyone on the panel. Why was the loss of life so horrendous? Was it simply because the soldiers had no training in crowd control, or was there an attempt to make an example of the demonstrators and to attempt to stamp out the movement by this slaughter that actually occurred?

Jing Chang

I just gave my version of the story. I think this is a very complicated issue. Basically, based on my understanding, why the soldiers started killing people—one big reason is the citizens in Beijing really tried to stop the soldiers. I think the soldiers got orders from the high-ranking, higher-rank officials to enter the city with any necessary means, so there might be some confrontation between the Beijing citizens and the soldiers. Some of them may be hurt, or some of them may be angry. I don’t know. But when somebody starts shooting, I think they would not stop. So when you see the first blood, then they just continue doing it because after they committed this crime, it doesn’t matter how many people they shoot. One or two or 20 or even 100. Dan?

Danxuan Yi

And the other reason the Jing said why the soldiers continued to open fire and also killed the people. It was necessary to kill them. There is social class conflict here. Most of the soldiers were from the countryside, and they—usually the soldiers are from the countryside, from the farms—they were poor. We know the social gaps are very big in China, so that’s why the soldiers, before they entered the city, they already had some kind of an angle, so when they had the order, also like Jing said, some other reasons, they opened fire, and they just continued to do it and killed innocent people.

Timothy Brook

Perhaps, if I might also add, using semi-automatic weapons in an urban setting is usually a formula for high casualties, because it’s different than on a battlefield. People are scattered. Hundreds of people massed on the street, you open fire into that group, and you have very high casualties very quickly. So in part, it’s the technology that was in use. I don’t think that the army was thinking about teaching anyone a lesson. They got desperate and their political masters told them they had to solve this by morning, and so they ended up doing what they did. So I’m not sure that there’s any sort of more ulterior kind of motive going on here. I think everyone, not just the students, but the casualties shocked the soldiers and the government, and I tend to think that the numbers went into the low thousands and didn’t remain in the hundreds.

David J. Theroux

One question I had to follow up on. The immediate killings in Beijing went up through what period of time would you say?

Timothy Brook

Well, the killings started on the night of June 3rd and went on until about June 7th. There continued to be sporadic shooting of civilians by soldiers who were driving by in trucks, and they would open fire.

Jing Chang

I also have to point out what I saw in Beijing. I think that after the June 4th massacre, the soldiers themselves were frightened, and when I passed the China (sp?) Street, when I tried to leave the Beijing city, I saw the soldiers. They grouped them together, back-to-back, tried to watch everywhere to see if there’s any suspicious person coming through, whatever. And whenever they saw something they didn’t like, they just went ahead and shot into that direction. So I still saw people go up there and try to call them by names, and they shot them and those people that tried to escape. So that’s what happened. I think a lot of soldiers were frightened.

David J. Theroux

Even though, of course, the citizenry is totally unarmed in Beijing too.

QUESTION #4: What happened to the student that stood out in front of the tanks and what was his name?

Timothy Brook

Amnesty International reported soon after the event that his name was Wong Wei-Lin and that he was not a student but somebody working in a business, but that was then later retracted, and no one seems to know. It’s a great mystery because the photograph that we saw today of the man standing in front of the tank is, of course, one of the memorable photographs of the 20th century, and the man has not yet been identified. I fear that the Chinese government identified him, and has removed him and we may never know who it was.

QUESTION #5: For the student leaders, what policy do you think the United States government should be pursuing towards the Chinese government to promote the Democratic reforms at this point? Is there much that the United States government should do, or would efforts likely be clumsy and counter-productive? Do you think it’s effective? What would be effective?

Jing Chang

I think the United States government has a lot of influence on the Chinese government, but they probably don’t realize that, and I feel like the US government right now tried to threaten the relationship with the Chinese government using the great excuse of engagement. Personally, I agree with engagement, but how can you engage with the Chinese government? Agree with everything they did? That’s probably not the right engagement. I think US government, if they really want to influence China, they have to have confidence in themselves, not being directed by business interests, and also I think in the long term, a better China, democratic China, is good for US business. And I think they should continue to pursue the human rights issues in China, and they should continue to say no to the Chinese government on whatever they did wrong.

Danxuan Yi

Yeah, I think when the American government deals with the Chinese government, mostly in politics and in trade and business, I think when they deal with the Chinese government, do they really weigh the value belief or weigh that a little bit more or weigh the profit a little bit more? I think that’s probably the key point.

QUESTION #6: I’d rather not be the last questioner. My question might not be that profound, but I’m an economist and I really hope for the kind of solution that Jing is mentioning, that economics can bring about the eventual political change needed.

My concern is that in talking with Chinese—young Chinese in China who share those very same hopes, but are believing that China, because of its very basic and long-standing culture, is going to be very slow to change. It’s not even so much dislike of the Communist Party. As a matter of fact, they believe perhaps the Communist Party needs to be a part of the change, but the concern that it’s so deeply embedded in the Chinese culture that many of the people are already blaming really the students and the people who brought about the 1989 demonstrations for having a great disruption. Feeling to them more like previous years. So the question is: just how serious is that and what is the likelihood of bringing about real change?

Jing Chang

Well, I agree with you. The economic progress doesn’t necessarily result in political change in China. It doesn’t necessarily result in a democratic China. I think it’s only one part of the condition. I think the other most important part that I mentioned in my speech, there are two major tasks we have to carry forward. One is to continue to support the opposition movement inside China. I think the opposition movement is a key factor as appointed of the peaceful transformation of China, because the opposition movement will bring in checks and balance into China’s political system, and they will continue to put pressure on the Chinese government to make changes.

The other point is the cultural issue. I think the Chinese people do not have much of an idea about what is real democracy, because I think democracy is not necessarily a system, it’s more likely a system of system values. What do you believe in? Do you respect other people’s opinions? Do you respect opposition? The existence of opposition? Do you tolerate different ideas? Do you believe in other people’s rights to speak differently? Do you believe in other people’s human rights? So I think there’s a lot of issues we have to solve here in the Chinese culture. So that’s why I’m personally thinking that we should rebuild the culture of China, to build in modern values into the traditional Chinese culture. And then that way we probably can fundamentally resolve the problem.

QUESTION #7: OK, this is for all of you. Sometimes the situation in China looks very hopeful, sometimes it looks absolutely, depressingly futile, and so I’m just curious to kind of end off here. As three experts on the subject, could you give us your expert forecasts on how long will it be before China finally achieves freedom and democracy?

Danxuan Yi

Personally, I hope it comes as soon as possible. But that’s just a wish. I think to treat the real democracy and freedom in China, you would take not only one generation, probably several generations. A long process we need to work. But I do believe probably we will have some changes. I mean, like political changes in China several years later. Because I think the people’s minds will always change. Like Jing and I both talked about, the culture in China, we said, the Communist Party not only tries to manage your children for you, they also try to manage your bedroom for you. So the controls are everywhere. They control every extent of your life. So I think we do need—besides the change, the system political fields, we do need to change the culture and the traditions. That’s a long way we have to go.

Jing Chang

I’m not a fortuneteller, but I’m pretty optimistic about the changes in China. For example, just 10 years ago, you virtually saw no opposition movement in China as I mentioned, but now you see the dissidents everywhere, not only in the United States, but also in China, like the Chinese Democracy Party, like Ding Velin (sp?), like Lee-Hi (sp?), like many of them who’ve been put into jail, but after they come out they continue fighting for democracy. They continue persistently fighting for democracy. So as long as we are persistent, we continue our efforts, maybe for five years, maybe for 10 years, maybe for one generation as Dan said. I think one day we will achieve, and I think we just need to be patient, and we need to be persistent, and we need to continue work on it.

Timothy Brook

As a historian, I get to predict the past, rather than the future. And I think the only thing I would just support what Jing has said, and what I would add is that we should be prepared to perhaps not to recognize democracy when it comes to China. Democracy is not any one thing, it is a set of standards, relationships and ideas that are going to vary in every culture setting, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect China to turn out the way the United States has, nor however, can we use that to say, “Well, they do something we don’t like, but it’s Chinese, and so we won’t worry about it.” I mean, at some level there are some basic rights I think that have to be respected in all societies. The most basic being that you don’t kill somebody. And once that right has been respected around the world, I think the world as a whole will be a far more democratic space.

David J. Theroux

I want to thank all of our speakers; particularly I want to thank Professor Brook for his really pioneering work. It’s a lot of work to do what he’s done, and I want to thank our two Chinese leaders for the real heroism and commitment to principle that they’ve exhibited for years.

A couple of things I also want to mention, in reference to the last question and also their comments. If democracy means dictatorship by the majority, that’s not exactly what people are talking about. They’re talking about democracy in the way Tocqueville talked about it in his book, Democracy in America, a system of civil institutions in which people have liberties and the ability to pursue their lives without the threat of indiscriminate violence, and they’re secure in themselves and their property and their families and so forth.

I do think that one of the things that China and any society like that is facing, which they cannot control, is the revolution of technology. And the technological revolution is making the ability to impose order by regimes more and more difficult with every passing day. So that is a tool that I think that we will see more and more evident as time passes.

One other small thing before, I’ll just wrap up quickly, is many people also don’t know that the Goddess of Democracy and the Statue of Liberty and other symbols have very interesting and ancient historical roots. The two are essentially beacons from the ancient worlds, and these beacons were largely lighthouses, and so I’ll just point that out since I’m standing in front of one.

Also Professor Brook has indicated that he would be delighted to autograph copies of his book, Quelling the People, if you have a copy. If you don’t, you should get one. Also, we do have posters of the famous tank line-up in front of the students, and if I can recommend, I would think that our two student leaders would be interested and persuadable to autograph copies, if you were interested in getting copies.


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