top of page

By Journalist Nury Vittachi : The so called Tiananmen Square which happened OUTSIDE of the square.

“10 THINGS TO TALK THOUGHTFULLY ABOUT . People who have studied what actually did happen have a more nuanced understanding of the events of that tragic night. Here are 10 suggestions about things to think about when talking about it. . 1) DON'T SAY that the student demonstrations were a call for freedom. . You see that written everywhere, but scholars agree that the students were complaining about the widespread corruption that they saw as preventing the achievement of what they wanted: a fair and just communist society. The students were fiercely patriotic and proud of China and its socialist stance. They wanted their protest to echo a historical event – the 1919 May 4 student protests against imperialism. . 2) DON’T SAY that the protests were a call for democracy. . In truth, they were calling for reform within communism. It was only when students noticed that international reporters would race to photograph placards with English words such as “liberty” that democracy was elevated to a major theme. Work began on the “goddess of democracy” statue on May 27, just days before the end of the six-week protest. The sculptors modelled it on the work of Russian revolutionary communist sculptor Vera Mukhina. . 3) DON’T SAY that as armoured vehicles tried to get to the square to clear it on June 4, one brave man stood in front of them, temporarily blocking a line of tanks. . The famous “tank man” video was filmed by AP’s Jeff Widener one day later, on June 5, and shows a line of vehicles leaving the square, not entering. These facts do not take anything away from the courage of his act—but it does remove it from the mythology of that night. . 4) DON’T SAY that soldiers arrived with machine guns and started firing indiscriminately, mowing down hundreds of students. . The majority of soldiers who arrived to clear the square were unarmed. The story of “machine gunners” slaughtering students comes from an anonymous article printed in Hong Kong’s Wen Wei Po—an account disavowed by all witnesses. Separately, the student leader who claimed to have seen 200 students mown down was Wu’er Kaixi. He was disgraced after his fellow student protesters jointly confirmed that he had left the square early, many hours before the events he claimed to have personally witnessed. . 5) DON’T SAY that Tiananmen Square was the site of the massacre. . In 2011, Wikileaks revealed classified cables in which US diplomats recorded an interview with a Chilean eyewitness, and noted how it matched Chinese accounts, not Western journalistic ones, which tended to echo the Wen Wei Po and Wu’er Kaixi accounts. . The US diplomat said: “He watched the military enter the square and did not observe any mass firing of weapons into the crowds, although sporadic gunfire was heard. He said that most of the troops which entered the square were actually armed only with anti-riot gear – truncheons and wooden clubs; they were backed up by armed soldiers.” (Witnesses later said the gunshots heard were from soldiers shooting out the students’ speaker equipment.) . A protest leader, Liu Xiaobo, urged the students to depart the square. The witness, a Chilean diplomat, said: “Once agreement was reached for the students to withdraw, linking hands to form a column, the students left the square through the south east corner.” They were gone by 5.45 am. . 6) DON’T FORGET that the real tragedy took place elsewhere in Beijing. . Where did the slaughter take place? The most violent fighting was between workers groups (adults, not students) and soldiers in the West of the city. (About two weeks earlier, Ni Zhifu, chairman of China's labour unions, had threatened to “cripple” China with a general workers’ strike.) . Most of the photographs and footage of dead bodies and crushed bicycles were taken from a massive and bloody fight that took place in an area called Mixudi, several kilometers away from Tiananmen Square. . In 2009, James Miles, who was the BBC correspondent in Beijing at the time, admitted that he had "conveyed the wrong impression” and that “there was no massacre on Tiananmen Square. Protesters who were still in the square when the army reached it were allowed to leave after negotiations with martial law troops… There was no Tiananmen Square massacre, but there was a Beijing massacre.” . 7) DON’T MAKE the soldiers into the sole villains. . Yes, soldiers slaughtered unarmed people. “And to find out why the soldiers did such an atrocious thing we do not have to look much beyond those widely publicized photos of military buses in rows being set on fire by those protesting crowds,” wrote Australian diplomat Gregory Clark. . “To date the world seems to have assumed that those buses were fired by the crowds AFTER the soldiers had started shooting. In fact it was the reverse —the crowds attacked the buses as they entered Beijing, incinerating dozens of soldiers inside, and only then did the shooting begin. Here too we do need not go far to find the evidence — in the not publicized photos of soldiers with horrible burns seeking shelter in nearby houses, and reports of charred corpses being strung from overpasses.” . 8) DON’T SAY that the number of people who lost their lives in Beijing that night was “tens of thousands”. . The “tens of thousands” quote came from Tim Russert, NBC’s Washington bureau chief, in a television interview. No respected source on either side of the discussion agrees with this figure. It was 100s or maybe a couple of thousand at most—still too many people, but a far cry from tens of thousands. . 9) DON’T SAY that anyone who doesn’t uncritically accept the Western popular media version of the event is doing something evil. The truth is important—for the sake of the many dead on all sides. . “A few people may have been killed by random shooting on streets near the square, but all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully,” said Jay Mathews, former Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post, and a critic of Western journalistic coverage. . “Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under different circumstances,” he said. . 10) DO REMEMBER all the victims. . UK Journalist Brendan O’Neill explained why we need to remember all three groups of victims: the students, the soldiers, and the main victims: the workers. . “Where Chinese officials have reduced the brave uprising in Beijing to a mere ‘incident’, western observers have mythologised it as a peaceful student protest in a central square that was cut down by gun-wielding soldiers. . “They have subtly, and unforgivably, written out of history the most numerous protesters of June 1989 and those who suffered the most: the workers in the suburbs of Beijing, miles from Tiananmen Square.” . REMEMBER JUNE 4 So let’s remember the tragedy of Beijing on June 4, 1989. But let’s resist the temptation to turn it into a simple, political China-bashing fairy tale in which good guys (the students) were mercilessly slaughtered by bad guys (the soldiers). Instead, let’s recognize it as what it really was: a societal convulsion in which many people sadly lost their lives: students, workers and soldiers. I will be remembering them on June 4. Feel free to take a moment of silence and join me, wherever you are.” Journalist Nury Vittachi . . SOURCES AND FURTHER READING: . BOOK: Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China's Democracy Movement, by George Black and Robin Munro . The Tiananmen Papers, a set of leaked documents that allegedly cover internal Communist Party meetings and reports. . Wikileaks:…/Wikileaks-no-bloodshed-inside… . ARTICLE by Brendan O’Neill:…/2008/aug/08/china.olympics2008 . BOOK: Jay Mathews: One Billion: A China Chronicle . Article: "The Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press". by Jay Mathews…/the_myth_of_tiananmen.php . Article: Gregory Clark: The truth about tankman…/98…/984-the-truth-about-tankman.html . Article: Jonathan Fenby:…/…/sep/10/thetiananmensquarepeg


Search Results

bottom of page