June 04, 2019
Tian An Men Square - What Really Happened (Updated)
Since 1989 the western media write anniversary pieces on the June 4 removal of protesters from the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The view seems always quite one sided and stereotyped with a brutal military that suppresses peaceful protests.
That is not the full picture. Thanks to Wikileaks we have a few situation reports from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at that time. They describe a different scene than the one western media paint to this day.
Ten thousands of people, mostly students, occupied the square for six weeks. They protested over the political and personal consequences of Mao’s chaotic Cultural Revolution which had upset the whole country. The liberalization and changeover to a more capitalist model under Deng Xiopings had yet to show its success and was fought by the hardliners in the Communist Party.
The more liberal side of the government negotiated with the protesters but no agreement was found. The hardliners in the party pressed for the protest removal. When the government finally tried to move the protesters out of the very prominent square they resisted.
On June 3 the government moved troops towards the city center of Beijing. But the military convoys were held up. Some came under attack. The U.S. embassy reported that soldiers were taken as hostages:
TENSION MOUNTED THROUGHOUT THE AFTERNOON AS BEIJING RESIDENTS VENTED THEIR ANGER BY HARASSING MILITARY AND POLICE PERSONNEL AND ATTACKING THEIR VEHICLES. STUDENTS DISPLAYED CAPTURED WEAPONS, MILITARY EQUIPMENT AND VEHICLES, INCLUDING IN FRONT OF THE ZHONGNANHAI LEADERSHIP COMPOUND. AN EFFORT TO FREE STILL CAPTIVE MILITARY PERSONNEL OR TO CLEAR THE SOUTHERN ENTRANCE TO ZHONGNANHAI MAY HAVE BEEN THE CAUSE OF A LIMITED TEAR GAS ATTACK IN THAT AREA AROUND 1500 HOURS LOCAL.
There are some gruesome pictures of the government side casualties of these events.
Another cable from June 3 notes:
THE TROOPS HAVE OBVIOUSLY NOT YET BEEN GIVEN ORDERS PERMITTING THEM TO USE FORCE. THEIR LARGE NUMBERS, THE FACT THAT THEY ARE HELMETED, AND THE AUTOMATIC WEAPONS THEY ARE CARRYING SUGGEST THAT THE FORCE OPTION IS REAL.
In the early morning of June 4 the military finally reached the city center and tried to push the crowd out of Tiananmen Square:
STUDENTS SET DEBRIS THROWN ATOP AT LEAST ONE ARMORED PERSONNEL CARRIER AND LIT THE DEBRIS, ACCORDING TO EMBOFF NEAR THE SCENE. ABC REPORTED THAT ONE OTHER ARMORED PERSONNEL CARRIER IS AFLAME. AT LEAST ONE BUS WAS ALSO BURNING, ACCORDING TO ABC NEWS REPORTERS ON THE SQUARE AT 0120. THE EYEWITNESSES REPORTED THAT TROOPS AND RIOT POLICE WERE ON THE SOUTHERN END OF THE SQUARE AND TROOPS WERE MOVING TO THE SQUARE FROM THE WESTERN SIDE OF THE CITY.
The soldiers responded as all soldiers do when they see that their comrades get barbecued:
THERE HAS REPORTEDLY BEEN INDISCRIMINATE GUNFIRE BY THE TROOPS ON THE SQUARE. WE CAN HEAR GUNFIRE FROM THE EMBASSY AND JIANGUOMENWAI DIPLOMATIC COMPOUND. EYEWITNESSES REPORT TEAR GAS ON THE SQUARE, FLARES BEING FIRED ABOVE IT, AND TRACERS BEING FIRED OVER IT.
Most of the violence was not in the square, which was already quite empty at that time, but in the streets around it. The soldiers tried to push the crowd away without using their weapons:
THE SITUATION IN THE CENTER OF THE CITY IS VERY CONFUSED. POLOFFS AT THE BEIJING HOTEL REPORTED THAT TROOPS ARE PUSHING A LARGE CROWD OF DEMONSTRATORS EAST ON CHANGANJIE. ALTHOUGH THESE TROOPS APPEAR NOT TO BE FIRING ON THE CROWD, POLOFFS REPORT FIRING BEHIND THE TROOPS COMING FROM THE SQUARE.
With the Square finally cleared the student protest movement ebbed away.
Update (June 5)
Peter Lee, aka Chinahand, was there on the ground. He just published his eyewitness account written down at that time.
Western secret services smuggled some 800 of the leaders of their failed ’color revolution’ out of the country, reported the Financial Times:
Many went first to France, but most travelled on to the US for scholarships at Ivy League universities.
The extraction missions, aided by MI6, the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, and the CIA, according to many accounts, had scrambler devices, infrared signallers, night-vision goggles and weapons.
/End of Update
It is unclear how many people died during the incident. The numbers vary between dozens to several hundred. There is no evidence that the higher numbers are correct. It also not known how many of the casualties were soldiers, or how many were violent protesters or innocent bystanders.
The New York Times uses the 30th anniversary of the June 4 incidents to again promote a scene that is interpreted as successful civil resistance.
He has become a global symbol of freedom and defiance, immortalized in photos, television shows, posters and T-shirts.
But three decades after the Chinese Army crushed demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square, “Tank Man” — the person who boldly confronted a convoy of tanks barreling down a Beijing avenue — is as much a mystery as ever.
But was the man really some hero? It is not known what the the man really wanted or if he was even part of the protests:
According to the man who took the photo, AP photographer Jeff Widener, the photo dates from June 5 the day after the Tiananmen Square incident. The tanks were headed away from, and not towards, the Square. They were blocked not by a student but by a man with a shopping bag crossing the street who had chosen to play chicken with the departing tanks. The lead tank had gone out its way to avoid causing him injury.
The longer video of the tank hold up (turn off the ghastly music) shows that the man talked with the tank commander who makes no attempt to force him away. The scene ends after two minutes when some civilian passersby finally tell the man to move along. The NYT also writes:
But more recently, the government has worked to eliminate the memory of Tank Man, censoring images of him online and punishing those who have evoked him.
As a result of the government’s campaign, many people in China, especially younger Chinese, do not recognize his image.
To which Carl Zha, who currently travels in China and speaks the language, responds:
Carl Zha @CarlZha - 15:23 utc - 4 Jun 2019
For the record, Everyone in China know about what happened on June 4th, 1989. Chinese gov remind them every year by cranking up censorship to 11 around anniversary. Idk Western reporters who claim people in China don’t know are just esp stupid/clueless or deliberately misleading
In fact that applies to China reporting in general. I just don’t know whether Western China reporters are that stupid/clueless or deliberately misleading. I used to think people can’t be that stupid but I am constantly surprised...
Carl Zha @CarlZha - 15:42 utc - 4 Jun 2019
This Image was shared in one of the Wechat group I was in today. Yes, everyone understood the reference
Carl recommends the two part movie The Gate To Heavenly Peace (vid) as the best documentary of the Tiananmen Square protests. It explores the political and social background of the incident and includes many original voices and scenes.
Posted by b on June 4, 2019 at 03:00 PM