Saturday, June 4, 2022

Never Forget Tiananmen Square 1989

From the night of June 3rd to the morning of June 4th 1989, the Chinese Communist PartyState deployed the overwhelming force of the “People’s Liberation Army” for an aggressive offensive invasion of a city.

How strange that they thought it necessary to wage war against their own capital city, Beijing. The forces they sought to overcome were… their own people who lived in the city! 

The people had succeeded in preventing armed units from entering Beijing after the May 20th declaration of martial law; they made their stand in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of students who had occupied Tiananmen Square in peaceful protests over the previous seven weeks. Under the broad category of “Democracy,” the students were calling for the freedom to ask the fundamental questions of human existence, to express the ineradicable desires of the human heart.

These young people were not satisfied with the bread and circuses of the previous decade’s “Reform and Opening” engineered by the PartyState. Many didn’t have a clear idea of what they actually wanted. But they wanted the freedom to search for it. And their desire spread like fire in the Spring of 1989.

This was enough to mark them as enemies of the State power that had arrogated to itself the right to define, and ultimately remake, human beings according to its own suffocating ideology.

But countless citizens of Beijing - ordinary people, workers, vendors, bus drivers, restaurants, even the local media - stood with the students. Finally, the 27th Division of the PLA was ordered to force its way into the city and “clear the Square” of the protestors.

The full story of that horrible night remains in part obscure, but only because the repression was so inhuman, so brutal, and so thorough in “clearing” Tiananmen Square of the protestors and the evidence that they had ever been there. First the army took the city itself by indiscriminate force in its streets, with tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) shooting down civilians frequently and at random.

Then the 27th Division, known for their efficiency and unquestioning obedience, headed for the Square, where the student protestors maintained their non-violent resistance surrounded by guards (not carrying lethal arms) of the Shenyang Military Region. What happened next? Many voices with diverse agendas give different accounts. The Chinese Communist PartyState, not surprisingly, praised the 27th Division for quelling “counterrevolutionary riots” on that night, and put the death toll at about 200. The general consensus is that “thousands” died in the city and in Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians and students. Their may have been some success, at some point, by mediating faculty members - including the at-that-time young professor Liu Xiaobo (for whom Tiananmen was a decisive turning point in his becoming a radical public dissident) - to open up “corridors of evacuation” for some of the students to escape with their lives.

But there were no iPhones in 1989 (or even video cameras small enough to escape confiscation) or Twitter live feeds to record and/or broadcast the carnage in the Square, and no possibility of a “body count” before  the PLA’s 27th had finished their grim assignment. If the citation below is accurate, we are not likely to find “mass graves” anywhere. Not that an atrocity of this magnitude depends for its universal condemnation on how many people were murdered. Yet the Chinese government forbids all discussion of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and vigilantly roots out any mention of it in the educational and social communications of its 1.5 billion people.

There is one report, only recently made known, that deserves our attention. Documents declassified by the British government in 2017 include a secret diplomatic cable from Britain’s ambassador to China in 1989, Sir Alan Donald. Information was relayed to him by a consistently reliable intelligence asset who received it directly from a member of the highest organ of central government, the State Council.

This excerpt from the asset’s report - as presented in the BBC news - speaks for itself. I should note that this text describes some very disturbing - frankly, just plain sick - behavior. Apparently, when the army arrived, a deceitful announcement was made:

“Students understood they were given one hour to leave square but after five minutes APCs attacked.

“Students linked arms but were mown down including soldiers. APCs then ran over bodies time and time again to make 'pie' and remains collected by bulldozer. Remains incinerated and then hosed down drains.

“Four wounded girl students begged for their lives but were bayoneted.”

Today, thirty three years later, the Chinese Communist PartyState has nothing to say about this crime against humanity, which not only crushed untold human lives, but also tried to crush the human heart’s aspiration for something beyond material prosperity, that deep and mysterious awakening of the core of the human personality that people seek to express when they use the word “freedom.”

Freedom can be distracted by false and superficial promises. It can be deluded, misdirected, discouraged, and even turn toward destructive behavior. Those of us who live in the “Free World” have demonstrated all this beyond any reasonable doubt.

But the fundamental impetus of freedom cannot be crushed. Its “crying-out” cannot be silenced.

By the time Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, he had spent 21 years in and out of prisons and labor camps in China, struggling for freedom, for recognition of the dignity of every human person. In part his efforts were sustained by a sense of obligation toward the students who died on June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square. His relentless testimony is eloquent, enduring, and in many ways shattering. Again and again he gives words to the indestructible cry of freedom, of the heart, of suffering - the question that begs for an answer.

“Ten years ago this day

dawn, a bloody shirt

sun, a torn calendar 

all eyes upon

this single page

the world a single outraged stare

time tolerates no naïveté 

the dead rage and howl

till the earth’s throat

grows hoarse.”

~Liu Xiaobo

excerpt from the poem Standing Amid the   Execrations of Time (June 4, 1999)