Tiananmen Square in the Newspapers

Ungoverning China: Crushing of Protest Weakens Ability of Any Successor Leadership to Rule

By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times

BEIJING, June 4 — Whoever wins the power struggle now under way in the Communist Party will find the challenge of ruling China incomparably greater after this weekend.

News Analysis

By ordering troops to fire on unarmed crowds, the leadership has created an event that almost surely will haunt the Government for years to come. It is unlikely to be seen not only as a sign of the party's remoteness from popular opinion, but as a powerful rallying cry for change.

In South Korea, the Government suppressed a popular uprising in the southern city of Kwangju in 1980, killing hundreds, and the incident became an increasing burden on the authorities. "Kwangju" became a byword for the insensitivities and intolerance of the regime, and it still casts a shadow over the Korean political process.

The Stuff of Legend

The massacre at Tiananmen Square this weekend seems likely to become China's Kwangju, a part of the folklore of resistance that will magnify the shortcomings of the Government and stain its prestige.

It would have been difficult for the Beijing authorities to devise a more comprehensive method of undermining their own support. The student movement for democracy, until it was violently crushed, achieved unparalleled support throughout the nation, drawing more than a million people to the streets of the capital at one point and hundreds of thousands more throughout the nation.

"No movement in Chinese history has had such support," a physician said today as he took a break from treating students with bullet wounds. "This is different from all previous movements."

In addition, repressing students is a particularly dangerous business in China because of a traditional respect for students and scholars. Students also have a long record of being in the vanguard of the nation, so repression of students is regarded by many as almost unpatriotic.

Right to Rule Undermined

A few weeks ago, it would have been difficult enough for the Communist Party to regain a moral legitimacy, the "mandate of heaven" that ever since imperial days has been the justification for political power in China. But now, after troops have killed students, it will be doubly difficult for any leader to rebuild that reservoir of good will that is at the foundation of political power in China.

It is still far from clear who the next leader will be. Prime Minster Li Peng has gained some ground in the power struggle, but he still is widely regarded as little more than the mouthpiece of several old officials who are not well-liked because of their perceived hostility toward the nation's program of economic and political restructuring.

Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party General Secretary and Mr. Li's rival, has dropped from sight and is believed to have been stripped of his power though not of his post. One man who is often mentioned as a likely replacement for Mr. Zhao is Qiao Shi, a Politburo member whose attitudes toward political and economic issues are scarcely known.

The temptation facing any new leader will be to try to buy support, perhaps with new subsidies for food or housing. The risk of such attempts to buy support is that these will simply involve more spending and faster growth of the money supply. That would add to inflationary pressures, which is one of the nation's greatest single causes of political instability.

Aversion to Unrest

There are other economic difficulties that will face a next leader, and they are likely to compound the tension between the need for austerity to deal with inflation and the need for spending to increase political support.

Strikes seem to be a growing possibility, and they could begin in connection with the killings on Tiananmen Square. There is a deep fear in the Chinese leadership of industrial strikes; already in Shanghai, a small strike began today to show support for the democracy movement in the capital.

Foreign investment and tourism are also certain to fall, after a period in which scenes of unrest in China are beamed to the West. It will take time for foreign investors to regain the image of China as a stable place.

Diplomatic difficulties may also become more complex as a result of the suppression of the student demonstrators. President Bush has deplored the use of violence in China, and such criticisms are likely to be deeply resented within the Chinese Foreign Ministry. If there is further suppression, the Bush Administration will be required, for political reasons, to take some further action.

Increased Power of Military

China's next leader will also be in a more precarious position than before because in the last two weeks the army has demonstrated some independence, as have the old Communist Party advisers. They may give the next leaders less room for initiative than before.

Much of a future leader's ability to get results will depend on his moral legitimacy, and that may be difficult without a reappraisal of the student demonstrations. There is a troubling analogy with the early years of Nationalist Party rule over the unified Chinese mainland. The Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-shek, tried to establish order, and they became infamous for their harsh treatment of intellectuals and leftists.

The perception that the Nationalists were pointlessly cruel became an albatross for the Nationalists, and slowly undermined the public assessment of their right to rule as well as their ability to control strikes and other forms of unrest.

[From The New York Times, June 5, 1989. Reprinted with permission.]

Unleashing the Dark Methods of the Cultural Revolution

By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times

BEIJING — The scene could have come straight from the Cultural Revolution: 26 workers who had participated in the democracy movement were forced onto a stage before a packed meeting hall, so the masses could jeer at them. The workers' heads had been shaven, and some of them wore placards around their necks, giving their names and "crimes." Their public humiliation was a prelude to the next punishment: reform through hard labor in a work camp.

Until two weeks ago, the Cultural Revolution had seemed a distinct and distant era, relevant primarily for the horror it evoked. Thousands of people were killed and millions injured or sent to the countryside during the fervor and chaos of the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and is now regarded as lasting until 1976.

Indeed, for the last decade, the official line has been that the Cultural Revolution was a national tragedy, its revolutionary ideas discarded. Then in the last few weeks, some old customs seem to have reappeared: the ways of speech and thinking, the methods of mobilization and controlling the population.

Of course, there is a crucial difference, aside from scale, between the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and those that began two weeks ago. The earlier terror was the largely unplanned work of zealous mobs unleashed by Chairman Mao Zedong. The terror of the last two weeks has been the carefully planned labor of the nation's leaders.

"In the Cultural Revolution, the terror was implemented by true believers at the grass-roots level," said Andrew J. Nathan, a China scholar at Columbia University. "People carried out terror on one another. But today there are very few people with any conviction, and the terror is carried out by police."

Still, the air of intimidation is similar. Perhaps most striking, China from a distance again resembles a nation of robots. A few weeks ago, the society was a patchwork of different ideas, aspirations and criticisms; today, the Chinese in public again seem to have a single voice. These days it is dangerous for them to tell a foreigner what is on their minds. This xenophobia, this attempt to separate foreigners from Chinese, also recalls the values of the Cultural Revolution, and it found expression a few days ago when armed guards began to intervene to prevent foreigners from bringing Chinese with them into the compound where many diplomats and journalists live.

"It is not against the rules for you to have a Chinese guest, but for your own protection we cannot allow you to have a guest," a guard explained to a journalist, with Cultural Revolution-style logic. One Chinese woman was certain there was not risk in meeting a foreigner; but after a casual five-minute meeting she was detained for three hours.

Those who are detained often face beatings, and they are pulled along with their heads forced down and their hands twisted up behind them, a modified version of the "airplane position" that was a standard method of abuse during the Cultural Revolution. The Government has turned television film of arrests into propaganda to demonstrate the power of the state. And the propaganda once more has a tinge of Maoist methods: condemning in ideological terms the "thugs" and "ruffians" who staged the "counter-revolutionary rebellion."

Party members are busy studying the speeches of Deng Xiaoping, the senior leader, though not so diligently as they used to study the speeches of Mao. There is a hint of a personality cult these days, though not nearly so comprehensive as the cult of Mao.

Students and intellectuals, who had led the democracy movement and used it to demand "better treatment for intellectuals," are finding themselves under attack for what they already have. The attacks have not reached the level of the vituperations of the Cultural Revolution, but the People's Daily sent tingles down many spines last week when it published an indictment against students.

"Students are conceited and do whatever they wish," the newspaper said, quoting a letter it said it had received from a graduate student. "They are pampered by the masses, and treated with leniency by the Government."

Even the justifications for repression recall the earlier era. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a phrase that over the last decade had become unfashionable until this month. The press has also invoked the "class struggle," which was a rationalization for brutality in the Cultural Revolution.

The revival of such concepts now inspires fear that China will somehow slip back toward the terror that marked the last decade of the Maoist period. The death sentences handed down to 11 people last week have added to the apprehension.

Still, Mr. Deng has always seemed more afraid of chaos than anything else, and it would be difficult to imagine him consciously unleashing such chaos again. Of course, he has fewer qualms about repression, and has justified the crackdown in part by saying that otherwise China risks another Cultural Revolution.

There are various explanations why the authorities are pulling the old ways out of the closet. Some say they are calculated to intimidate. Others believe the leaders genuinely feel that they neglect "thought education" over the last decade. Still others believe that this is the only way the authorities know to deal with such a challenge.

Byron S. J. Weng, a China scholar at Chinese University in Hong Kong, suggested that the authorities feel insecure and threatened, and are therefore turning to those whose political purity is unassailable.

"So many people have come out in support of the students that unless the people in charge are mad, the leaders must understand the challenge is serious and feel very, very threatened," Mr. Weng said. "They cannot possibly trust many people now. They are left with little choice but to go back to trusting the element of 'Red.'"

[From The New York Times, June 18, 1989. Reprinted with permission.]

To Be Young and in China: A Colloquy

By Richard Bernstein
The New York Times

The poem seemed to express an individual yearning, a personal agony only tenuously related to the pro-democracy slogans recently heard in China. But Wuer Kaixi, the 21-year old exiled student leader who read his short verse at a public meeting in lower Manhattan on Wednesday night; said it reflected the inner life of the student uprising, its wellsprings in alienation and thwarted idealism. The verse goes:

I pour my heart out to the white cloud,
I, the homeless wanderer.
O, float back to my native land
And drop the tears I shed for my mother.

Mr. Wuer was among several Chinese student leaders, writers, poets and American scholars at the meeting sponsored by American PEN, the organization of writers that promotes free expression. The ostensible subject was the struggle for human rights in China. But many simply spoke of China's contemporary youth culture, using it to explain the forces that pushed thousands of young Chinese to risk their lives confronting troops during the recent upheaval in Beijing.

Several themes emerged. One, discussed by Mr. Wuer and other student leaders, was that the students who occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing in May and June were very different from their elders; they are of a generation, influenced by Western ideas, that is restive under the weight of China's tradition of obedience and insistent on sexuality and feelings.

The Favorite Word Is No

Mr. Wuer compared traditional Chinese culture and what he called its complete negation of the individual and patterns of well-defined hierarchical personal relationships with the emerging youth culture of China, with its stress on immediacy, sensation and the self.

"In recent years Chinese college students have been rebellious against all sorts of authority," he said. "The favorite word among the youth in China is No."

"You might find it strange, but I do not," he said, "that one aspect of our movement was the student who stood naked on top of a university building shouting, 'I am what I am.'" But because the preoccupation with who they are is totally contradictory to the reality of our system, Mr. Wuer continued, young people are "lost and disoriented." They seek identity and consolation in part from the songs and poems that Mr. Wuer described as the cultural accompaniments to the political movement.

Among the most popular songs is one that begins "I am a wolf from the north" and then describes a kind of lonely wandering through a desolate land, a wandering full of longing and nostalgia or "that beautiful prairie" that is, it seems, a land of unfulfilled dreams.

Mr. Wuer said volumes could be written to explain the sensibility behind the words of that song and why it appealed so strongly to young Chinese. The image of the wolf, a lonely, isolated creature, is an uncomfortable one in the context of Chinese culture, with its stress on the family and the group. The song, which could be heard playing on hundreds of little tape recorders during the students' two-month occupation of Tiananmen Square, was an expression, he said, both of the students' despair and of their idealism. The students found meaning in the image of the lonely wanderer trapped in a bitter, empty landscape. They dreamed at the same time of something better.

Mr. Wuer's remarks and those of other student leaders now in exile in this country led a Western participant, Robin Munro, a researcher on China for Asia Watch, to talk of a "political economy of libido moving from a primitive to a more advanced stage" among China's young people.

Mr. Munro was speaking of remarks by some student leaders that the experience of greater sexual freedom was an important part of the democracy movement. The students gave no details, but they seemed to be describing an element in Mr. Wuer's notion of increased attention to the self, one not all that different from the sexual liberation experienced by students in the United States during the protests of the 1960s.

In the past, Mr. Munro said, the sexual energy of Chinese students had been channeled by Chairman Mao Zedong into a frenzied, proto-fascist worship of himself, particularly during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 70s. This time, he said, the youthful libido found an entirely different expression, in both a new exaltation of selfhood and in political outrage at the conservative gerontocracy bent on imposing its values and its will on its children.

And that, in turn, was related to another issue arising at the colloquium: whether China's hostility toward greater freedom is embedded in the nation's traditional culture or whether it is something that comes from 40 years of Communist rule. Jonathan Spence, a historian of China who teaches at Yale, enumerated aspects of the Chinese tradition that seemed to explain the country's modern-day dictatorial nature and the violent suppression of the democracy movement in June. Specifically he said, there has long been a tradition of protests by intellectuals against immoral leaders and an even stronger tradition of repression, all of which was played out in Beijing this year.

"China has never been able to come up with a concept of a loyal opposition", he said. "For 3,000 years, the authorities have tried to keep people from getting together and speaking freely."

A different view was offered by Su Wei, a writer and critic who escaped from China in June. Mr. Su said that the last 40 years had imposed on China a "Communist Party culture," which, he said, is similar to the culture of underground organizations. Each person, he said, has to answer to the Communist Party, or, more specifically to one of the Communist Party warlords, since the party itself is divided into factions.

"That's where you get your culture, your identity." Mr Su said. "It's very similar to the society of the Mafia."

Thus in Mr. Su's view, China's present circumstances are more a product of this "Communist culture" than they are of tradition. One result of the Communist culture, he said, has been "the systematic destruction of the most brilliant in China." The "best and the brightest," those who show independence of spirit, are crushed, leaving behind "the most retarded, the most dictatorial, and the most moronic."

Moreover, the methods used by the cultural authorities have given rise to new and malevolent cultural traditions, Mr. Su said. He identified these as the tradition of lying, the tradition of threat and the suppression of memory.

"This is what we have to fight against", he said. "It is a culture dominated by the party that has suppressed free thought and is sustained by lies, by threats and by a requirement to forget."

[From The New York Times, October 7, 1989. Reprinted with permission.]