By late May 1989 between three and five million people were roaming Beijing.
is no evidence anyone died in Tiananmen Square.
The February 28 Incident still haunts Taiwan.
|WHO WERE THE PROTESTERS and how many were there?
Popular perception is that the vast crowds of protesters in Tiananmen Square
were mainly students, young, intelligent, and full of youthful optimism and idealism. The core group of organized protesters, it is true, were students and they came
not just from the elite schools of Beijing but from all over China.
At the height of the protests over 56,000 students entered the capital
in one day alone. Most came by rail. The railways leading to Beijing were overwhelmed by the
endless stream of excited youth. Most of the students demanded to ride without
paying for tickets and essentially took over the trains on their journey
to Beijing. They used the public-address systems on the trains to broadcast messages, roamed the
cars and asked passengers for contributions, hung posters in and on the cars, and even
demanded free food. Crowds from at least 319 different schools were in Tiananmen at the
height of the protests, most from outside Beijing. In fact, many Beijing students
returned to their campuses or went home before the demonstrations ended.
There are no clear estimates of exactly how many people were camped out in Tiananmen
Square or took part in the mass demonstrations. The figure of one million has gained
popular acceptance as the best guess of the size of the crowd at its height. But the
crowds camped out in Tiananmen were only part of much larger group of protesters who
were not students. By late May 1989 between three and five million people, many unemployed workers, were roaming Beijing
streets angrily denouncing the government for double digit inflation and mishandling
the economy through corruption. The capital of China was sliding into anarchy.
WAS THERE A MASSACRE in Tiananmen Square?
To paramount leader Deng Xiaoping,
the situation in the Chinese capital was a vivid reminder of the excesses suffered during the not-so-distant Cultural Revolution and
he feared civil war. The police gave up attempts to contain the crowds and stood by idly as Tiananmen Square
was barricaded. In the early hours of May 21 martial law was declared in the five central urban districts of
Beijing. By this time, Tiananmen Square was a giant cess pool. Sanitation workers tried in vain to cope with
mountains of human waste and prevent outbreak of disease as the temperature swelled. The rest of May 1989
was a hopeless stand off between the government, which felt threatened and without options, and the core
group of student protesters who wanted impossible concessions.
Early morning June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square was cleared by army troops. A Spanish
television crew filmed the retreat of the remaining 5,000 students and hunger strikers
from the square just before dawn. They had negotiated safe conduct from the military at
the last minute. Deng Xiaoping wanted no deaths to result from breaking up the demonstrators and clearing Tiananmen Square.
Chinese leaders instructed the army that soldiers should not turn their weapons on innocent
civilians, even if provoked. For the most part, this desire was realized. But as troops and tanks made their
way to the square confrontations erupted on the streets of Beijing. According to government and eye witness reports,
most of the deaths occurred when tanks crashed through barricades erected at the Muxidi bridge, in the western
suburbs of Beijing.
press reports of 2,600 to 3,000 casualties in Tiananmen Square were prompted by the USA
Central Intelligence Agency, according to respected Dutch journalist Willem Van Kemenade.
Immediately throughout the world, press agencies and wire services reported that thousands had died. A USA State Department
Briefing the morning of June 4, 1989, reported 180 to 500 deaths. Renowned sinologist and Yale University professor Jonathan Spence
has used the figure of 700 deaths in his writings on the events in Tiananmen Square.
On June 6, the Chinese government
released information that 300 people were killed in clashes on city streets (but not in
Tiananmen Square itself) including 23 students. Another 400 soldiers were either missing or killed. Five thousand soldiers and 2,000 civilians
were reported injured. But by then the idea that thousands (even ten or twenty thousands) of "pro-democracy demonstrators" had died in Tiananmen Square
was already rooted in popular conciousness throughout the world.
than the official Chinese information, no reliable evidence of deaths
has ever been produced by anyone on either side of the issue. As Jay
Mathews, former Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post has
said, there is no evidence anyone died in Tiananmen Square.
Yet no journalist or politician outside China has ever attempted to
correct the record. Instead the myth that thousands of unarmed people
were deliberately mowed down by their own government is spread as
part of an unacknowledged campaign of misinformation led by sinophobic
press and politicians.
COMMENTS on Tiananmen:
"...I knew Deng Xiaoping was right. I have not changed my mind. There are more than 300 cities in China.
When you have that kind of wildfire, you either stamp it out quickly or you are burnt out yourself. ...You have to remember
that this is China. When you attack the emperor, that's it. He paid in blood for the right to govern."
Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew in an interview at the
2001 World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland
"Deng [Xiaoping] asked Henry [Kissinger]
why we were so shocked over Tiananmen when the Cultural Revolution was going on when we opened relations with the
PRC. He pointed out that surely that was much worse. He had a point."
Former First Lady Barbara Bush relating
a November 1989 dinner conversation with Henry Kissinger who had just returned from China. In
Barbara Bush: A Memoir. New York: Lisa Drew Books, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.
"How the GPRC [government of the People's
Republic of China] decides to deal with those of its citizens involved in recent events in China is, of course,
an internal affair. How the USG [United States of America government] and the American people view that activity is,
equally, an internal affair. Both will be governed by the traditions, culture, and values peculiar to
Declassified USA State Department document entitled
"Themes" dated June 29, 1989.
WHY HAS TAIWAN BEEN SILENT?
Why have the Chinese governments controlling Taiwan not made more use of the Tiananmen crackdown for propaganda?
It may be because Taiwan had its own bloodbath many years before. In fact, at the heart of the independence
movement for Taiwan is a true massacre committed by troops sent by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in early 1947.
After the Japanese (who had occupied Taiwan since 1898) were ousted at the end of World War II, governance of Taiwan
fell to the corrupt Nationalist or Guomindang (Kuomintang) government based in Nanjing (Nanking) under
Chiang Kai-shek. The Nationalists proved more unpopular than the Japanese occupiers and rampant corruption prompted
large demonstrations by the indigenous population of the island. On February 28, 1947, the protests were
forcibly ended. The army was ruthless in its suppression. The report from the American consul in this instance was
that 10,000 had perished.
A campaign of silence was maintained on the massacre until 1991 when the Nationalist government finally agreed to
an inquiry. An official report, issued in 1992, said that all told 18,000 to 28,000 persons were killed or executed
without trial. The Nationalist government has never offered an apology but has compensated each family of identified
victims with $250,000 (USA dollars) in reparations.
To Help You Understand:
The Tianmen Square Uprising QUIZ
Refer to this page and
the previous article when
answering the questions.
(1) How did the United States government respond during the Great Depression
when a large group of protesting citizens in the national capital refused to disperse after their demands were ignored?
(2) Why did the leadership of China decide to end the demonstrations
in Tiananmen Square by force?
(3) How did the police respond?
(4) How many people died in Tiananmen Square?
(5) What role has the American press played in
defining the Tiananmen Square uprising?
(6) Hypothetical: Could unsanctioned demonstrations on the scale of
those in Tiananmen Square in 1989 happen in the USA or another country?
(7) Hypothetical: If you were China's leaders, would you
have handled the situation differently? If so, how?
©Sinomania!, 1999-2002. All
Tiananmen Papers: Real or Fake?
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