Home > 2019 > Thirtieth Anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre

Mainstream, VOL LVII No 25 New Delhi June 8, 2019

Thirtieth Anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre

Sunday 9 June 2019

Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, which took place in China on June 4, 1989, we are reproducing the following article by N.C. (comprising two of his despatches from Hong Kong) that appeared in Mainstream (June 10, 1989). We are also reproducing the “Political Notebook” that appeared in the same issue by S.C. who was then the Associate Editor of Mainstream

From N.C.’s Writings

End of Maoist Monolith

Anarchy has gripped China. The massacre of unarmed people by tanks and armoured carriers could not bring a semblance of order even in the capital city of Beijing. Instead, the horror of ghastly killings—estimated anywhere between 1000 to 2000 in the course of a single night—has so infuriated the citizens that spontaneous clashes with the army are reported to be continuing in Beijing. The mood in the city is one of angry defiance.

While the Indians in Beijing are safe, the ambassador, C.V. Ranganathan, has promptly advised them all to come and take shelter in the Indian embassy premises and diplomatic residences. It is learnt that troops patrolling in weapon carriers in the central part of the city are indulging in indiscriminate firing. Even the Chinese personnel in diplomatic missions have to return home early because of the great risk of being fired at.

A dipomat in Beijing told this correspondent on the phone that there was no order anywhere in Beijing today, no government offices were functioning. The army can enforce its authority only around Tiananmen Square through its sheer physical presence. Transport has stopped and very few shops are open and that too only for short periods.

Reports received in Hong Kong speak of large-scale confrontations in Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Canton, Xian and Tiensin.

The authority of the government has practically collapsed. A rift within the party and also in the government is now widely known. Even the People’s Liberation Army is divided. The contingent which had been sent to Beijing since the declaration of martial law to suppress the students did not agree to fire upon unarmed people, thereby nullifying the martial law order. Other contigents were, therefore, rushed in on Saturday to perpetrate a massacre ten times the size of Jallianwalabagh.

In Hong Kong eyewitness reports by daring correspondents, as also live television shorts, give an idea about the magnitude of the heinous drams now being enacted in China.

To quote three out of many cases of terror killings, yesterday morning saw a crowd of unarmed citizens watching the army attack students in Tiananmen. Suddenly soldiers fired upon this innocent crowd without warning. This horror took place in full view of foreign visitors living in the Beijing hotel. Thirty could be counted dead after just one salvo.

A wounded teacher from the foreign language institute said at a hospital that a girl in the crowd heard that her younger brother had been killed. She rushd out, even as others tried to hold her back. The soldiers opened fire and shot her seven times as she was crawling.

A doctor narrated how a four-year-old girl was killed by a bullet as she held her mother’s hand, a few blocks away from Tiananmen Squre.

In the British colony of Hong Kong, which is to be turned over to China in eight years from now, the stock market tumbled heavily with shares across the board shedding 25 per cent of their value. Large queues have meanwhile formed in front of the Bank of China and all other mainland controlled banks with people withdrawing their money in protest against China’s military slaughter.

Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people from all walks of life—Chinese and non-Chinese, including Indians—marched yesterday chanting “Down with Li Peng, Down with Deng Xiaoping”. Workers, students, businessmen, traders, taxi-drivers and others in Hong Kong united to demonstrate their solidarity with the Chinese democratic movement. As a result, the deliberations of the basic law (Hong Kong’s mini-constitution after 1997) drafting have been indefinitely postponed. A general strike has been called for Wednesday (June 7).

More than one report from Beijing says that it was Deng Xiaoping who personally ordered the army to move against the massive demonstration for democracy while he was in a hospital in an advanced stage of prostrate cancer. The monolith of Mao’s communism is crumbling before our very eyes, with the army of legenday fame, meant at one time to liberate the people, being used brutally to crush the most phenomenal upsurge of democracy in the world of recent times. (June 5)

The situation in Beijing has grown more tense in the last 24 hours and foreign nationals have started leaving the city.

Foreign residents from countries friendly to China say that the gravity of the situation can be gauged from the latest steps taken by the military controlling the city. Warnings are repeatedly being broadcast that both Chinese citizens and foreigners must stay indoors and not venture out onto the streets. There is heavy concentration of tanks around the diplomatic enclave. And the Chinese Airline services are disrupted presumably because of heavy troop movements. All these point to the probability of serious infighting within the armed forces.

The division within the 34 lakh strong PLA is the most serious development for the integrity of the Chinese state. Even at the height of the turmoil unleashed by the Cultural Revolution, the PLA’s solidarity was never breached. Nor could the “gang of four” capture it. Now, by the horrendous decision to stamp out the student-citizen demand for democracy, the dominant section of China’s present leadership has destroyed the unity of one of the pillars of the Chinese state.

There is speculation that a conservative die-hard junta of Generals got Deng Xiaoping to order this massacre, which was planned as just the opening gambit of an all-scale pogrom against reforms and return to Maoist orthodoxy. Hence, the clamour for democracy is being denounced as a “conspiracy” to install “bour-geois liberalism”—a familiar phrase of communist dogmatists everywhere battling against forces of new thinking. It needs to be noted that when tanks were approaching Tiananmen Square, the student protestors, who pleaded with soldiers not to fire, were singing the Internationale.

There is, however, very little chance of a take-over by the primitive hardliners. For one thing, the army itself looks like having been split. Secondly, the Chinese Communist Party is divided with the General Secretary of the party, Zhao Ziyang, put aside by hardliners. Thirdly, the 11 year-long economic reforms have created conditions by which it is not possible for China to go back to the Maoist days. The Cultural Revolution itself failed and to try to repeat it is most likely to lead China into the abyss of a fearsome civil war. (June 6, 1989)

(Mainstream, June 10, 1989)

China Today and Tomorrow

Figures have lost all meaning in the conditions prevailing in the People’s Republic of China today. The fact is that what began in the early hours of June 4, 1989 at Tiananmen Square in the heart of China’s capital, Beijing, culminated in a veritable bloodbath turning the ‘Square of Heavenly Peace’ into one of earthly hell. Whether the number of those killed was 1400, 3000, 7000 or 10,000 is immaterial. It is pointless to ask if those wounded in indiscriminate firing add upto 10,000 or less. The stark reality is that the guardians of law and order deemed it necessary, prudent and politic to callously brand the massive and spontaneous non-violent demons-tration for democracy—which has had few parallels in recent times—as a show organised by “counter-revolutionaries” before mowing down countless people—young and old; men, women and children—in one of the most tragic incidents in China’s history, besmirching in the process the noble ideals of socialism for which the Chinese masses endured innumerable hardships and underwent untold sacrifices in their glorious struggle for national emancipation and social regeneration.

It is futile to apportion blame at this stage. The truth is that China is experiencing a traumatic convulsion as the ruling clique clings on to power in the face of mounting waves of protest, to suppress which it has employed the most bestial methods that have earned it the epithet of “fascism” from the common citizens who were eyewitnesses to the barbaric inhumanity perpetrated at Tiananmen Square on what is now popularly described in Beijing as “Black Sunday”.

On this occasion, while offering one’s homage to the Tiananmen martyrs (many of whom perished singing the Internationale), one is reminded of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the poet laureate of India, who had expressed the anguish of his sensitive heart in the following words:

All the sorrows of the earth,

its sins and crimes,

its heart-breaks and its lust for violence,

have swelled like a tidal wave,

overleaping the banks,

blaspheming the skies.

Whom do you condemn, my brother?

Bow down your head—

The sin is yours and mine.  (The Oarsman)

One is reminded of Bishnu Dey who wrote in similar agony:

Be afraid of the darkness no more,

Cover your face with my hands....

The intolerable light burns today by hatred;

I have no taste for the foul day,

Darkness alone is holy,

Love’s orchestra is silenced by hatred.

Cover your face with my hand. (With my hands)

And one is reminded of Faiz Ahmed Faiz who had this to say:

Look at those others instead,

the ones who have freely given

the shining coin of their blood

in our streets.

Though they have vanished

all their wealth remains their own

in their grave.

Look at those whose outstretched bodies

adorned the cross that is truth.

They are immortal,

seers and prophets

to this day.      (Don’t Look At Them)

But whatever the trials and tribulations China is compelled to undergo, the Chinese are incorrigible optimists. And that is revealed best in the poetry of Shu Ting, the young Chinese poetess who came to India to attend an International Poetry Festival at Bhopal early this year. We know not where she is now. But her soul-stirring poems still resound in our hearts. She had written:

Suddenly the phoenix trees stop swaying,

The sound of the bicycle bells is suspended

And the earth rolls back

To that night ten years ago.

Now the phoenix trees begin to sway again.

Flower petals are ground beneath the wheels

To fling their perfume through the pulsing streets

The heaven-light of memory blends

With the sight of you.

Perhaps nothing happened: I didn’t see you at all

Hallucination caused by this familiar road,

But even if it did,

I’m used to not shedding tears.

(Unexpected Meeting)

The pitch-darkness which has currently gripped China, we know, is the precursor of a new dawn that awaits it as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lie divided and a civil war overtakes the country in the aftermath of the tragedly at Tiananmen Square. Only we don’t know yet the price the Chinese people would still have to pay in coins of blood to reach that dawn.

Whatever the price, it is the Shu Tings who mirror the Chinese people’s boundless capacity to surmount the heavy odds that have befallen their fate. And the remarkable battle that the people of China have launched since June 4 against an insensate leadership bears testimony to that capacity while bringing into focus their grit and resolve to restore socialist principles on sound democratic foundations which several leaders of colossal stature successfully undermined with all strength at their command.

In this setting it is deplorable to find several governments, including our own, hesitant to call a spade a spade and openly denounce the slaughter in Beijing while some of our parties proudly proclaiming themselves as “Marxists” (for whose activities Marx must surely be turning in his grave) have, in effect, defended the despicable crime before which Jallianwala-bagh pales into insignificance. Nevertheless, there is no gainsaying that the people of China enjoy, more than ever before, the solidarity of peace-loving democrats across the globe—both Marxists and non-Marxists, striving to build a world without war, hunger, want, destitution, exploitation and oppression, a world of genuine freedom where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.

No matter how the present Chinese leadership “celebrates” its “victory” today, tomorrow belongs to the people of China!

As Indians nurturing the best of feelings for their Chinese brethren in their hour of trial, we are convinced: come what may they will overcome!

June 6 S.C. 

[(‘Political Notebook’ by S.C., Mainstream (June 10, 1989)]

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)