International Tiananmen Square Day

May 30, 2013 at 10:23 am | Posted in Abuse of Office, Disinformation, Fairness | 3 Comments
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Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, May 1988, one year before the protests.  Photo by Derzsi Elekes Andor.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, May 1988, one year before the protests. Photo by Derzsi Elekes Andor.

It is now only a few days before June 4, International Tiananmen Square Day.

International Tiananmen Square Day commemorates the bravery, the good will, and the peaceful, principled behavior of the patriotic students who were killed near Tiananmen Square on June 3, June 4, and on subsequent days in 1989.

According to Wikipedia, the students “called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the restoration of workers’ control over industry.”  They also complained about “corruption of the party elite”.  All of those issues are still alive today.

A Chinese Type 59 tank at the Beijing Military Museum.   A Type 59 main battle tank on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in western Beijing. On June 3, 1989, People's Liberation Army soldiers on Type 59 tanks began firing on civilian demonstrators at Muxidi near the military museum. (Wikipedia)  Photo by Max Smith.

A Chinese Type 59 tank at the Beijing Military Museum. A Type 59 main battle tank on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution in western Beijing. On June 3, 1989, People’s Liberation Army soldiers on Type 59 tanks began firing on civilian demonstrators at Muxidi near the military museum.
(Wikipedia) Photo by Max Smith.

But International Tiananmen Square Day commemorates other brave and decent people, as well.

Many have heard of Tank Man, a single individual who on June 5 blocked tanks on Chang’an Avenue by standing in their path.  (The dramatic image is copyrighted, so it cannot be included here.  But you can see it via the hyperlink.)  The soldiers in these tanks respected this man’s rights as a citizen, and did not move forward until non-soldiers (whose identies are unknown) pulled Tank Man out of the street and took him away.  Tank Man subsequently disappeared.  He was a hero.

But the soldiers in the tanks who refused to run over him, or shoot him, or beat him, or even push him out of the way – they were heros, too.  Those soldiers insisted on treating a Chinese citizen as a citizen: as a person with a right to speak, and who deserved to be treated respectfully and humanely.  The soldiers in those first few tanks were honest soldiers, protecting their people instead of killing and cowing them.  Only insiders know for sure what happened to the commander of the lead tank.  Some claim that he was shot, others claim that he is still alive.  But there is no doubt that he was a hero, and a truer patriot than those who ordered the attack on the demonstrators, or than those who beat and shot them.

The commander of the lead tank on Chang’an Avenue was not the only Chinese soldier who acted nobly.  According to a remarkably illuminating page in Wikipedia, about two weeks before the massacre, ”On 17 May 1989, over 1,000 men from the People’s Liberation Army’s General Logistics Department showed their support for the movement by appearing on Chang’an Avenue and marching toward Tiananmen Square, all the while receiving enthusiastic applause from onlookers.”

According to the same Wikipedia page, “Martial law was declared on 20 May 1989. On the same day, eight retired generals, Wang Ping, Ye Fei, Zhang Aiping, Xiao Ke, Yang Dezhi, Chen Zaidao, Song Shilun and Li Jukui signed a one-sentence letter to Deng Xiaoping and the Central Military Commission, “request[ing] that troops not enter the city and that martial law not be carried out in Beijing.””

“The 38th Army is stationed near Beijing and therefore has a closer connection to the people of Beijing. Many students had also served in the unit before attending university and some students trained with the 38th in the summers as members of the army reserve. During the initial days when martial law was declared, the 38th Army, under General Xu Qinxian, openly refused to use force against student protestors.”

“During the Tiananmen repression an estimated 3,500 PLA officers disobeyed orders, resulting in scores of army officers being executed and several generals facing court martial, including 38th Army General Xu Qinxian.”

“The 28th Army was notable for its passive enforcement of the martial law order. The unit, led by commander He Yanran and political commissar Zhang Mingchun and based in Datong, Shanxi Province, received the mobilization order on May 19. They proceeded to lead the mechanized units to Yanqing County northwest of Beijing’s city centre. When ordered to enter the city on June 3, the 28th encountered protesting residents along route but did not open fire and missed the deadline to reach Tiananmen Square by 5:30 am on June 4. At 7:00am, the 28th Army ran into a throng of angry residents at Muxidi on West Chang’an Avenue west of the Square. The residents told the soldiers of the killings from earlier in the morning and showed blood stained shirts of victims.”

”At noon, Liu Huaqing, the commander of the martial law enforcement action, and Wang Hai, head of the PLA Air Force, flew over Muxidi in a helicopter and by loud speaker ordered the 28th Army to counterattack. But on the ground, the commanders of the 28th refused to comply. Instead the troops abandoned their positions en masse. By 5pm, many had retreated into the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution nearby. Of all units involved in the crackdown, the 28th Army lost by far the most equipment, as 74 vehicles including 31 armored personnel and two communications vehicles were burned.”

The protesters in Tiananmen Square wore something black.  It was the badge of their protest.  Wear at least one small bit of black on June 4, to commemorate the protesters, Tank Man, the soldiers who did not attack Tank Man, and the many officers and troops who refused to kill the protesters, and who were executed as a result.

Doing so will show that you look forward to the day when China – and all nations – will become humane and honorable.

As long as the government of China does not allow the Chinese people to voice their true opinions and aspirations, the policies and actions of the government of China are not those of the Chinese people.

As long as the government of China does not allow the Chinese people to voice their true opinions and aspirations, it deprives itself and China of its people’s ability to identify problems and to suggest solutions.

Since 1989 China has matured politically, and has become self-confident enough to allow people to point out selected problems.  But it still often responds thugishly, like a bully, punishing those who it should instead have thanked for speaking out, punishing even their relatives, in ways that dishonor China in the eyes of the world, and do not befit a great power.  Glaring recent examples are here, and here, and here.

Replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue at Freedom Park in Arlington, Virginia, photographed by Ben Schumin.

Replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue at Freedom Park in Arlington, Virginia, photographed by Ben Schumin.

On June 4, remember and act upon what the students stood for.

If you do, eventually China, and all countries, will be better.  They will thrive sustainably.  They will be more humane.  Their citizens will be able to become all they can be.

3 Comments »

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  1. […] 4 is International Tiananmen Square Day. It reminds us of the courage, heroism, and patriotic public spirit of the demonstrators. It […]

  2. […] previous posts (here and here) on this blog have marked the anniversaries of the massacres in Beijing and Chengdu on and after […]

  3. […] It is a day to honor the bravery and patriotism of Tank Man. […]


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