4th June 1989, the images are still fresh (link is to Four Corners program). Time will tell if the State can erase memory of 4th June 1989 from future Chinese generations.
I learned last night watching the Four Corners program that soldiers came to the homes of students in the middle of the night to take them away. Hours later the parents would be given papers to sign acknowledging that their children had died in an accident or while trying to escape if they wanted their bodies returned for burial.
Meanwhile, 4th June 2019, with less worldwide publicity “for some reason” —
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/05/sudan-death-toll-rises-to-60-after-khartoum-pro-democracy-sit-in Jason Burke is the author of a book surveying the rise of Islamist extremism that I have discussed here. See posts at https://vridar.org/?s=Jason+Burke
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15 thoughts on “Tiananmen Square — Khartoum”
It was a tough year for me too… all apocalyptic in someway… an ending… a dismantling of every structure or ) pillar or temple of something higher… but all the pillars of ancient christianity in its earliest years fell….
not only because of religious beliefs but horrifics political decisions made by many…
I was about to go to the US in 1989 summer…. and lived there for two years.. even during the Bush war call…
I was sure glad I was a Canadian,,, I would have had a worse time…
I had totally forgotten about this event Neil until raising it now….!
we are living in precarious times my dear friends…
It’s horrific. I am listening now to the impact of Chinese government influence in Australia. Chinese language newspapers in years past were able to advertise notices of commemorations of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 but in more recent years they are reluctant to do so. Pressure is on advertisers to withdraw support for such “unpatriotic” newspapers.
Further, the Chinese official story of the 42,000 Chinese students who were overnight allowed to stay permanently in Australia as a direct government response to the massacre, — the Chinese account is now that those students had “to struggle” to stay in Australia.
Chinese who hear of the events for the first time are as likely to say, “so what? so long as we all get along now and we have economic progress — that’s all that matters” — another consequence of the education system’s indoctrination to wipe the events out of historical memory.
As in many things I do not know enough.
I do know that there are websites that raise significant questions about the behavior of the governments of the “West” and their media and academic supporters. In their excitement, many of their commentators are all too eager to overlook problems in the governments of, say, China, Russia, or Iran.
However if I look at such sites or elsewhere I have the impression that the Tiananmen Square incident may not tidily fit into the depictions that either “West” or the PRC put out. For example, this morning I came across a link to an article citing a Wikileaks-released cable that fit neither narrative well:
I have read disparate things on the topic. There are various conflicting powerful interests, not necessarily all of them either wholesome or fastidious, and all sorts of secondary mechanisms of distortion.
I know I was not there and there was some nasty stuff though.
Or what do I make of this one?–
I don’t know either Japan Times or the author, Gregory Clark, ‘vice president of Akita International University and former China desk officer for Australia’s Foreign Service’. For all I know Akita International University is a small office set up by the Chinese government (though this opinion piece does not seem at all flattering to the Chinese regime of the time), or lizards from outer space.
Hall of mirrors? Squares of mirrors and smoke? The older I get the less I know.
It can’t be easy to unpack the “secondary mechanisms of distortion.” See also:
A recent MoA open thread is where I found the citations above. The MoA piece you cite was not up yet. I will look at it.
I recently displayed my (acknowledged) ignorance about classical literature by offering some speculative comments about classical novels, partly in order to provoke interesting and informative discussion. I was badly wrong. I know about as much about the goings-on in China and Chinese politics as I do about classical literature, so let me offer my current #1 favorite way of looking at things, informed by the discussion from the MoA piece linked to by Bob Moore.
I would suspect that ‘azpnaz’, discussing at ~#30, has it about right in saying it Tiananmen Sq was elite-vs-elite; that it would have been children of the privileged who would have been ‘entitled students who know best’. I suspect others are correct in suggesting that it the demonstrations occurred in a setting of a fight between party factions, in which the students were allied with an ascending group hostile to the then dominant faction. I also read of reference to manifestations of discontent elsewhere in the country by the poor, and violence between them and the authorities. Also that the distinctions between students and the poor at other locations might have been indistinct, and that there probably was significant violence both ways at other sites. I have no way of knowing, but I do think that there would be plenty of reason for discontent on the part of the poor.
I have to be highly skeptical of comments that there was a CIA-provoked attempt at a ‘Color Revolution’. I don’t think outsiders would have been allowed to get away with even starting to do this stuff. I would have bet that there were ample stresses within already, and ample competence at expressing them without even minimal outside influence.
I do not know one way or another about the assertions of violence against the military in T Square. As for violence against the protesters there, I am strongly inclined to suspect that the ‘West’ has markedly exaggerated it to turn it into something like a cartoonish brand or trademark, possibly with far less connection to reality than I had realized until now. However I am skeptical that ‘Western’ reporters would have entirely made up the accounts from zero. Thus even my favorite hypothesis is pretty vague.
I would love to be attacked and shown what is correct since I am likely as wrong as I was about classical novels. I do not know.
Please indulge me more. In an update the proprietor of MoA has added a reference that I believe may make my comments and many others’ elsewhere silly in comparison. It is by an eyewitness, Peter Lee, written by him fairly soon after the events in question but not published until now on his blog. I cannot vouch for him, but I have previously had the impression that he is astute and probably careful.
Lee’s account I would characterize as far more nuanced than most accounts and interpretations. Many representations can find some basis in Lee’s account but seem oversimplified compared to it. Most notably the usual representations of the events in the ‘West’, if oversimplified and not necessarily fully in correspondence with all details of reality as described by Lee, seem (to my reading) to reflect significant reality if Lee’s account is more or less correct though they leave a lot of key points out. But please read and don’t use my interpretation of it.
Peter Lee’s article looks sound enough from what I recall of the time — apart from one small paragraph near the beginning saying that by the 4th June only a rag-tail number of protesters remained in the square. Later details of his article actually contradict that point. I cannot comment on all the details of political machinations between individuals but the general picture looks close to what many of us recall seeing, hearing and reading about at the time.
Excuse ignorance — what does MoA stand for?
The students over time began to win support from workers. Workers were suffering considerable hardship at the time — wages falling well behind living costs. Students are in a position to take the lead at such times simply because they have the time to discuss and organize. Most others are trapped by the need to do all they can to earn enough for the week to ensure basic survival expenses can be met. It is a mistake to say that there was a black and white divide between students and workers. That was not the information that was coming out to us in the lead up to June 4 1989.
I prefer to avoid discussions that focus on western attitudes towards China then and now, and supposed western roles in the events. I prefer to treat the events as a Chinese story and to understand it through Chinese interests and stakeholders.
Violence by students against the military? That’s bizarre. Just look at the top picture to see how bizarre that idea is. Yes, there were a handful of images of students clambering on to a tank after it had crashed through barricades endangering lives of protesters… not quite an equivalence of force, there. There are far more images of students attempting to win soldiers over.
MoA is Moon of Alabama
At the time (4 June 1989) a cable from embassy staff was sent to Australia’s prime minister informing him that tanks had run over students in Tiananmen Square and then reversed and rode over them again. It has since emerged that those reports were untrue and that there were, by comparison, not so many killings in the square itself. Most of the killings had apparently happened in the side streets that were also packed with protestors and in the days and weeks following with the round-ups of participants. (I heard at the time that it was lower-class people who were being shot while protestors belonging to well-to-do family members were not always but more likely to be spared, death commuted to a limited jail term, for example.) We simply have no way of knowing if we should be looking at hundreds or thousands of murders.
It looks like the “related posts” mechanism is not operating. There should be a link to my post last year at this time on the same. I spoke then of my visit to China some years back and was somewhat disturbed that my host only spoke about the events of 1989 as if they involved a few troublemakers who were rightfully suppressed by the government. She explained that soldiers also came to her house soon after 4 June to make enquiries but went away satisfied when parents and neighbours all assured them that she was “a good girl” and not mixed up with any of the hooligans.
Oh, the things we do to cover up “Shame” at so many levels!!!
Many take various advantages with such shame and sorrow over such events and their outcomes… and as in other posts… stories, true and false circulate, and then we have to make it out for ourselves as to what probably happened… sort of sounds like the gospels… driven by fear and apocalypse, etc… every element that goes into the making of a piece of writing meant for readers, not Joe Bumpkin down the road. At least Mark’s Gospel and Paul’s gospel seemed anarchic to “outsiders” and such and even by “insiders”…. the pillar people standing…
and then comes the destruction… people gone, temple gone, lots of things just gone..
I am no knowledgeable historian of that era and so my comments reflect more philosophy and approach and correlation with many other things we are talking about here…
Plus, it is just downright depressing and I need to save my energies in the present.
All so highly informative to me.. thanks…
There are a lot of complex issues with this, and it has overlap with Israel and Antisemitism issues as well. We also have problem with America with Indians and how India is covered in school textbooks, etc. There is a lot of opposition to how things like pre-colonial India is discussed and dealing with things like racism and the caste system in India, etc. So there in an Indian lobby that really works to whitewash Indian history in America, and this is true of many groups, the Chinese being another example, and of course Israel. And they often position any criticism or negative coverage of a culture or nationality as “racism” as a way of shutting down that coverage. I mean it even comes up with Mexico and coverage of the Aztecs.
There is huge tension between real racism and the use of accusation of racism or ethnocentrism to hide real problems.
On another note, the Tiananmen are widely misunderstood as being “pro-Western”, but they weren’t exactly. The students were largely pushing for “real communism”, not an adoption of capitalism. What they were protesting against was what they saw as the hypocrisy between the teachings of Marxism and how the Chinese Communist Party was actually operating. Marxism of course advocated real democracy, which is what the students were protesting for, but it was real democracy in the Marxist sense.