Chapter 80 – Tiananmen
BETWEEN FIVE WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN, PERU AND AUSTRALIA.
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and FIVE LANGUAGES
Tiananmen – A Story of Brutality and Mendacity
Probably the most soul destroying – certainly the most disillusioning and time-consuming – event in my journalistic career was the so-called Tiananmen massacre event.
From the beginning it should have been clear that our image of Tiananmen Square, June 3 and 4, 1989, events was being manipulated.
We were being fed images of armed troops marching in and firing indiscriminately into helpless crowds of protesting students – unprovoked murder..
But on the internet there were also photos showing Chinese PLA soldiers in various stages of extreme distress – scorched bodies strung up on the sides of buses for mutilation, charred corpses hanging over crowded intersections, badly burned soldiers hiding in doorways.
What came first? Soldiers fleeing angry civilians or civilians fleeing angry soldiers. The chronology is quite clear. Some how, someone had been able to unleash extraordinary violence against PLA soldiers BEFORE the time we were being told the soldiers were killing civilians
Equally impressive was the uncaring attitudes of the crowds witnessing the atrocities against the soldiers.
So why the hatred of the few and the uncaring attitudes of the majority. And why the almost complete failure of mainstream Western media to report these facts?
Some background is needed:
To say the Communist Party began its rule in China with popular support is to say the obvious. Even the refugees I met in Hong Kong in the early sixites admitted that while they could not live under a communist regime China at the time had no choice.
And for a while the regime performed well. But then news of the stupidity and egoism of Mao Tsetung’s Great Leap Forward began to trickle out to us in Hong Kong – mass starvation, and even cannibalism.
Things recovered somewhat as moderates like Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping took over the stage. But it was not long before the fanatics were back – this time with a monster called the 1966 Cultural Revolution.
Those of us who saw the remnants of this disaster when China opened in the early seventies should have been appalled – Potemkin factories producing slogans rather then goods, constant stories of people who were ’struggled against’ (beitoufa) for minor infractions of Maoist dogma, rumours of past bourgeois connections, and so on.
On farm visits I wandered through the useless pig iron remnants of valuable farm and house utensils thrown into crude three meter high mini-furnaces ordered by Mao and his regime. China was going to beat the UK in steel production, it was claimed.
Later I was to visit Shanghai slums. There the frustration of the proletariat had turned to anger directed at anything in sight, including me. I escaped, but barely
In the universities, libraries had been purged of almost all but useless communist tracts. To provide sensible books would be a sign of bourgeois weakness and an excuse for bei toufa.
Some sanity returned in the seventies and eighties but it was slow and hesitant.
This was the setting for the Tiananmen Square protests. The record of the US Embassy and other reliable sources makes it clear the regime at first wanted to handle the students with kid gloves; after all, many of the students were the sons and daughters of the communist elite.
Unarmed soldiers were sent in, though subways and by buses, to persuade the students to leave.
The subway contingent was met by angry ladies at the exits and told to go home. The bus contingent was less fortunate. Unarmed and having to struggle for the exits from burning vehicles, many ended up as our photos have shown.
It was only then, a day later, that armed troops were sent in.They were not sent in to suppress student protestors. They went in to get revenge for the atrocities unleashed by the crowds against their fellow soldiers.
Most did not get near the Square,
Most Western observers in the Square, a Spanish TVE television crew in particular, reported they saw no violence and that the students left peacefully in the early hours of the morning of the next day.
In short, the Tiananmen Square massacre was a myth.
But the anger of the masses against the regime was no myth.
That said the regime also has its excuses. It did try to reach out to student leaders, only to be rebuffed by the more ambitious, cunning or violent among them.
And it is an undeniable fact that hundreds of troop carrying buses were torched as they tried to enter assembly points near the Square. The photos are there for all to see.
Many of the dreadfully burned soldiers scattered in public places, must have come from those buses.
Would it be surprising if the surviving soldiers from those buses sought wild revenge on their believed tormentors?
And maybe there was some outside involvement. Chinese protesters did not have a record of using Molotov cocktails. Who educated or helped them?
Perhaps the most accurate account of events comes from State Department records:
“.. the initial moves against the students suggested to many that the Chinese leadership was still, as of the morning of June 3, committed to a relatively peaceful resolution to the crisis.”
From there we go to:
“fascinating eyewitness accounts of the disorganized and confused retreat of PLA soldiers from the center of Beijing after their advance on Tiananmen Square was halted by crowds of demonstrators on the morning of June 3.’ ..the soldiers were ridiculed by Chinese citizens and scolded by elderly women who called them “bad boys” and “a disgrace to the PLA.”
On the day after, on June 4, however: “thousands of civilians stood their ground or swarmed around military vehicles. APCs were set on fire, and demonstrators besieged troops with rocks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails.”
Clearly something happened between the morning of June 3 and June 4 to enrage the masses and I suggest it was the arrival of armed troops following the events of June 3.
The most famous photo to emerge from Tiananmen events has been labelled Tankman.
But this is not a photo of a brave student protestor confronting the might of the Chinese army.
The man is a shopper playing with a tank with his shopping bag.. The AP photographer also records that the tank was going away from, and not towards, the Square
And it the day after, not before, the June 3-4 events.
The most egregious distortion to emerge from this potage of lies and violence came from the newspaper that likes to pretend to be the paper of record – the New York Times.
Quoting from a dubious Hong Kong newspaper, Wen Wei Pao, it claimed:
The machine gunners took a prone position, with their backs to the Gate of Heavenly Peace. As soon as the placements were established, a huge number of soldiers and police appeared.
TURMOIL IN CHINA; Student Tells the Tiananmen Story: And Then, ‘Machine Guns Erupted’
Strangely no one in the Square at the time saw any of this.
Even the Times reporter, Nicholas Kristof, in the Square at the time had to try to play down the story but was largely ignored.
The BBC, that other voice of record, was equally guilty.
But instead of showing a picture of the claimed Tiananmen massacre, the BBC used a picture of a burning Tank.
The Australian media were also guilty of distortion even though its Embassy reported a soldier being killed and disembowelled by its front gate.
Please see some first hand reports and commentaries by others.
They are attached to let the reader draw his or her own conclusions of what happened.
Tiananmen Square “Massacre”? The Power of Words vs. Silent Evidence (The Art of Media Disinformation is Hurting the World and Humanity) (Volume 2) [1 ed.]
Columbia Journalism Review