Tuesday, May 19, 2009

20th anniversary of May 19

The Ghost of Zhao Ziyang,
a Chinese Gorbachev

And more China Support Network news as
we prepare to commemorate the 20th anniversary
of the Tiananmen Square massacre

May 19, 2009 (CSN) -- Is anything new in the Tiananmen Square matter? Yes, in fact. Here in 2009, it is the 20th anniversary of the events that transpired at Tiananmen Square, and we are two weeks away as we approach the anniversary of that massacre. (On June 4, 1989, the Chinese government used its "People's Liberation" army to clear Tiananmen Square of civilian demonstrators, who were in a peaceful protest. The army used tanks, troops, and live ammunition -- killing over 3,000 people.) The issues remain mass murder, and the demonstrators' demand for political reform, freedom, democracy, and human rights.

The Ghost of Zhao Ziyang, a Chinese Gorbachev

Posthumously, a deceased leader is projecting his presence into this year's observances. Twenty years ago today, former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang was last seen in public. He was refusing to call out the military to deal with the student-led pro-democracy movement. He was in fact a reformer, and he had just lost a power struggle within the top echelons of the Communist Party. The hardliners such as Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng pushed him out, and on May 19 they were preparing the announcement of martial law. Zhao Ziyang went to Tiananmen Square and spoke to students with a bullhorn. He was apologetic, saying "We have come too late," and he urged the students to end their hunger strike and to care for their own safety.

Zhao Ziyang spent the rest of his life -- sixteen years -- under house arrest. He died in 2005 and that caused the China Support Network to raise its estimate, from 3,000 dead to 3,001 dead in the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Now in 2009, his memoirs are being published. This leads to a new view of the history of the Communist Party at that time. "Prisoner of the State" is the book now being published in English, based on voice narration that was furtively recorded by Zhao onto cassette tapes during his time of house arrest. The publication of these memoirs is being supervised by Bao Tong, who was an aide to Zhao and who spent time in jail after the crackdown. Bao Tong is a famous Chinese dissident himself.

Speaking to the Epoch Times, Bao asserted that Zhao "believed China should adopt a western style parliamentary democracy. I believe this is his most important conclusion."

The publication of Zhao's book has already led to much comment in Western mainstream media, including CNN and the neoconservative Washington Post. In its preface, Harvard Business Review editor in chief Adi Ignatius says, "It is the first time that a leader of Zhao's stature in China has spoken frankly about life at the top. He provides an intimate look at one of the world's most opaque regimes. We learn about the triumphs and failures, the boasts and insecurities, of the man who tried to bring liberal change to China, and who made every effort to stop the Tiananmen Massacre."

He concludes, "Although Zhao now speaks from the grave, his voice has the moral power to make China sit up and listen."

Another Prisoner of the State: Zhou Yongjun

Last week in China, the family of Tiananmen Square student leader Zhou Yongjun received official notification by the government that Zhou is arrested and charged with trumped-up charges. This notice, which the law requires immediately upon arrest, came after the regime held Zhou secretly for seven and a half months.

It was also in the news recently that another leading Chinese dissident, Yang Jianli, was turned back as he attempted to enter China at Hong Kong. Authorities held him for two hours and then put him on a plane back to Taipei, Taiwan. The difference between these two cases is striking. Both are Chinese dissidents, attempting to enter China. In the case of Yang, he wanted to meet with activists based in Hong Kong, to coordinate the movement's observances of Tiananmen Square's 20th anniversary, which is upcoming on June 4, 2009. In the case of Zhou, he wanted to visit his aging and ailing parents. Yang was politely turned back at the point of entry; Zhou was grabbed by authorities, thrown in the slammer, held secretly without charges, and perhaps tortured during seven and a half months. And now, the regime has charged Zhou and threatens to keep him as a political prisoner for the third time.

The difference between these two cases, and the weak response of the U.S. State Department, led to a "Special Comment" by John Kusumi, the founder of the China Support Network. In the Special Comment, he scolds both of the governments -- Beijing and Washington -- who are mishandling the case of Zhou Yongjun. He nominates all U.S. Presidents from the time of Tiananmen Square to the present to be featured on a "Mount Rushmore of Corruption," because the U.S. executive branch never replied to the atrocity of mass murder in Beijing. And, he calls for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to resign.

Beijing and Washington are "two emperors with no clothes between them," Kusumi asserted. One can read his Special Comment at OpEd News by visiting http://tinyurl.com/p79ugp

During the past week, reports about Zhou Yongjun written by Reuters, the New York Times, AFP, the AP, DPA, and the London Telegraph were picked up and republished in hundreds of news outlets around the world.

Commemorate the 20th Anniversary of June 4

Plans are shaping up for the China Support Network and the Chinese democracy movement to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bloody massacre as occurred in Beijing to stop the Tiananmen Square movement. Every city with a Chinese embassy or consulate is likely to see vigils and protests on June 3 and June 4.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has four upcoming events. The march on May 31 and the vigil on June 4 are likely to be the largest public gatherings among those slated.
• “Reflections on June 4: 20 Years On” Forum (May 24, 2009)
• Public Calls for the Rectification of the June 4 Verdict (May 29 and June 4, 2009)
• Demonstration to Commemorate the 20th Anniversary of June 4 (May 31, 2009)
• Candlelight Vigil for the 20th Anniversary of June 4 (June 4, 2009)

Washington DC

Washington DC has three related events.
• A Washington Monument vigil, on Saturday May 30 from 6-9pm (photo exhibit in the first hour, music in the second hour, speeches in the third hour).
• IFCSS, China Support Network, and others hold a vigil at the Victims of Communism Memorial, Wednesday June 3 from 7-10pm.
• Yang Jianli's Initiatives for China holds a rally at the U.S. Capitol in the morning of Thursday June 4.

The Wednesday, June 3 event will include a speech by CSN's John Kusumi, and an appearance by the rock band Light Club, performing rock music that was written for the Chinese democracy cause.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been invited to both the June 3 and June 4 events. She has previously appeared at events organized by both groups.

Related web sites:
Hong Kong www.alliance.org.hk/english
Washington Monument www.remember64.org
IFCSS www.ifcss.org
China Support Network www.chinasupport.net
Initiatives for China www.initiativesforchina.org

Note that, in recent times, the Initiatives for China website has been inaccessible and reported hacker attacks. The URL is included because it may be fixed by the time you read this.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Review: Standoff At Tiananmen

Due to the impending 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China, it is very timely that author Eddie Cheng has published the new book, Standoff At Tiananmen.

With details never before seen in English, Standoff at Tiananmen is a riveting narrative, telling the story of the student-led pro-democracy movement which, in 1989, took over Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, China -- until the Communist Party dictatorship struck back, using its army to clear the square.

While every history of the Chinese democracy movement is a partial history, this book has more detail about these matters than ever before in English. Tiananmen Square had world press attention, so that the largest features of the story became well known--

The Short Story

In the widely known version of events, former Chinese reform-minded leader Hu Yaobang died on April 15, 1989. The Chinese students chose to mourn him in a very public way, as a show of support for the pro-reform current of political thought. The earliest images beamed around the world may have been the flowers, wreaths, and portraits of Hu Yaobang, which were placed in the middle of Tiananmen Square to mourn his passing.

The widely known events include the April 22 funeral of Hu Yaobang; the April 26 editorial in the People's Daily condemning the students (and a huge march on April 27 that was a reply to the editorial); the May 13 - 19 hunger strike, with a visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on May 15; and the period of martial law from May 20 until the bitter end on June 3 - 4, when the massacre occurred. Also well remembered is the Goddess of Democracy, a 30 foot statue which appeared similar to the Statue of Liberty. The Goddess statue was unveiled on May 30 and stood until tanks knocked it down on June 4.

Another widely known event happened afterwards, on June 5: One lone man stepped into the middle of Chang'an Avenue, to stop a line of tanks. The identity and fate of "the tank man" remains unknown, but his picture became an icon of 20th century resistance to communism.

A Closer Look

--However, it is good to have deeper and lengthier historical accounts. Now, just in time for the 20th anniversary of these events, Eddie Cheng has published Standoff at Tiananmen, and it is a valuable contribution to the literature about Tiananmen Square. For average readers, the book is engaging and readable, and for those who care about details, it adds depth to previous accounts.

It is a blow-by-blow chronology of the action, but as I mentioned, every history of the Chinese democracy movement is a partial history. There are points left out by Eddie Cheng, and those points can be gleaned from other sources.

Cheng’s book becomes a narrative of the students’ side of the story, and of the politics and decision making on their side. To account for the other side – the power struggle and decision making inside the government – is left to be the scope of others’ books, such as The Tiananmen Papers.

That choice to limit the book’s scope is fine with me – as a Generation Xer, on the side of the pro-democracy and anti-communist people, I believe that freedom is the right side of history, and I am most interested to have “our side” get its story straight.

Cheng was a Beijing University physics student beginning in 1980 and ending in 1986, when he left China. During the 1989 action, he could only watch on CNN just like the rest of the world public. But, he had remained friends with Liu Gang who was also in the physics department at Beijing University. Liu Gang had organized the “Democracy Salon” at Beijing University, a group that incubated student leaders of 1989.

A Comparison of Narratives

Before I say more about Cheng’s book, let me make a comparison between CNN coverage and another book, Tell The World by Liu Binyan.

A Chinese dissident has grumbled to me that “leading Chinese dissidents” are always creations of the news media. It’s simply whomever is getting the most attention at any given time.

If you look at CNN coverage at the tenth anniversary of June 4, they ran a human-interest retrospective that asked “Where are they now?” about June 4 student leaders. The only problem is that to watch CNN coverage, a newbie would think that only four students led the movement: Wang Dan, Wuer Kaixi, Chai Ling, and Li Lu.

For those who know better, the CNN coverage is cartoon-like in its over simplification. There were dozens of notable student leaders in the overall scene, and hundreds of individual campuses that went to the square. Even if every such delegation had just one leader, it adds up to hundreds of leaders on the scene.

The late Chinese journalist Liu Binyan provides a much better view of the action in his book, Tell The World. Tell The World was a narrative account about Tiananmen Square’s movement that was published in English almost immediately after those events in 1989. Liu Binyan was a famous and investigative journalist of high integrity, who reported for the People’s Daily in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The book by Liu Binyan formed a baseline understanding of Tiananmen’s events and informed my own views for many years at the China Support Network. That group, CSN, is one that I formed immediately after June 4’s massacre for American students to support Chinese democracy. At the time, I was a 22-year-old undergraduate of Arizona State University.

As the first book in the same genre – narratives about Tiananmen Square – Tell The World provides a basis for comparison and a yardstick by which to judge Cheng’s new Standoff At Tiananmen. Of course, these two views of the action are from 1989 and 2009, respectively. We might expect the later book to include more research and to have the benefit of more hindsight.

And that is exactly what is found in Standoff At Tiananmen. In 2005, when Liu Binyan died, the China Support Network eulogized him with high praise. Liu was an exceptional figure, and heroic to the pro-democracy movement. But, Cheng has released the better book.

Cheng’s book does an excellent job of blending myriad source narratives and anecdotes into a cohesive and coherent overall narrative. It’s more nuanced than Liu’s account, and more credible than Seeds Of Fire, another book with narrative about Tiananmen Square.

To my knowledge, Cheng has produced the best “T-Square” book yet. However, I do not read Chinese – I can only compare those I have seen in English.

Internecine Politics of the Student Leaders

It seems to me that translations between English and Chinese are often inexact. For example, the name of the student association can be translated many ways. When I met Wuer Kaixi in August, 1989, he spoke about re-constituting in exile ASUBU, the Autonomous Students Union of Beijing Universities. In the book by Liu Binyan, it is called the Interim Student Association of Beijing Colleges and Universities (ISABCU). Student leader Lian Shengde calls it the Autonomous Federation of Universities Inside Beijing (AFUIB).

In Eddie Cheng’s book, it is called the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation (BSAF). Lest my readers worry, I can assure you that these are four alternate translations for one name. In each case we refer to the same group.

The group is “autonomous” because it sprang up independently of the government. With prompting from Liu Gang behind the scenes, it was announced by Wuer Kaixi on April 21. On April 23, it elected Zhou Yongjun as its first president. Riven by disagreement, the group replaced Zhou with Wuer on April 28. On April 30, it replaced Wuer with Feng Congde. On May 5, it expelled Zhou. On May 6, Feng passed the baton back to Wuer Kaixi. On May 14, Feng returned. On May 15, it expelled Wuer.

However, the organization had lost its relevance because it was not Hunger Strike Headquarters. On May 11, Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi participated as the autonomous federation passed a resolution to not have a hunger strike. However, they and Chai Ling decided that they would lead a hunger strike, but as individuals outside of their affiliation with the autonomous federation.

The hunger strike ran from May 13 – 19. Hunger Strike Headquarters became the operation run by Chai Ling as its Commander in Chief, with Li Lu as its Vice Commander.

The autonomous federation also had another challenge to its relevance, because Xiang Xiaoji and Shen Tong ran its Dialogue Delegation, which sought to negotiate with the government, as a splinter group.

In fact, as we learn from Cheng, the autonomous federation was supposed to rotate its presidency among campuses, not individuals. In another view of this matter, that is in fact what happened. Its first three presidents, Zhou, Wuer, and Feng, hailed from the University of Politics and Law, Beijing Normal University, and Beijing University, respectively.

But no one could have anticipated rotation and turnover at the breakneck pace as was happening at Tiananmen Square. On May 29, Tiananmen Square got a new commander named Yang Tao, a student from Beijing University. He lasted less than a day, but at least he gave Chai Ling a day off.

May 29 was deep into a new phase after the hunger strike – namely, martial law. At that point, residents of Beijing had been holding off the army for ten days, and on that day, art students were assembling the new Goddess of Democracy statue, which was unveiled the next day in Tiananmen Square.


As the world knows, martial law troops entered Beijing on June 3, and opened fire with live ammunition at anyone in the way and even at bystanders, killing some 3,000 civilians of Beijing on their way to retaking Tiananmen Square. A tank knocked down the Goddess of Democracy statue in the early morning hours of June 4. The government of China has still not acknowledged or admitted to its crime against humanity, and there has been no accountability, no restitution, and no peace for the victims.

Those who remain outspoken continue to be harassed, or worse, by the Chinese government. For all of China’s development in the twenty years since June 4, political reform, progress, and development has been nil. China continues to be a one party dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party – which has committed more human rights abuses in recent years, such as crackdowns against the Falun Gong health / exercise / spiritual group, and against Tibetan monks who follow the Dalai Lama.

Standoff At Tiananmen is an excellent blow-by-blow account of the matters which it covers. However, it is not the “Everything” compendium. My only quibbles with the book are the things that it does not mention.


There are people who became important to the movement in subsequent years, and it would be helpful if a book expressed where they were during 1989’s action. Yang Jianli, for one example, is a figure with great stature today, but Cheng’s book does not connect him with the action, nor indeed mention Yang at all.

The same can be said for those from outside Beijing who can trace their fame to the June 4 uprising – Lian Shengde, Tang Baiqiao, Liu Junguo. Lian traveled from Tianjin to Beijing; Tang organized in Hunan province; Liu organized in Guangdong province. Lian headed the Autonomous Federation of Universities Outside Beijing; Liu presided over the Autonomous Student’s Union of Guangzhou Universities.

Cheng’s book also says very little about the incident with paint filled eggs, thrown at the giant portrait of Chairman Mao, on May 23. In years after the June 4 uprising, the story became legend about the “Three Gentlemen” – Lu Decheng, Yu Zhijian, and Yu Dongyue, all from Hunan province – who defaced Mao’s portrait.

The omission of those stories does not detract or take anything away from Cheng’s book; it is excellent and commendable work – as far as it goes. I did say that any history of the Chinese democracy movement is partial, and the extra stories could make a book more complete, but not totally complete. While I am not a historian, I can clearly see that this is a pitfall of that profession.

A Sequel?

Such is life. On June 5, 1989, one lone man stopped a line of tanks on an avenue in Beijing, and American students started moving to form the China Support Network. That’s where I came in, and that is where I continue to work today. A sequel book that tells what happened to the democracy movement afterwards in exile would very likely include a lot of information that the CSN can report from first hand experience.

Perhaps Cheng will write that book, or perhaps I will. Because the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law is not yet won, the story continues.

I highly recommend Mr. Cheng’s book, Standoff At Tiananmen. I also urge interested readers to stay tuned by watching the China Support Network, where we often release contemporary news and activities for democracy in China.