【李鵬 – 國務院總理】
【陳希同 – 北京市長】
【王丹 – 北京大學學生】
【柴玲 – 北京大學學生】
【李錄 – 南京大學學生】
The death of Hu Yaobang, former Secretary General of the Communist Party of China, triggered the student movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, commonly known as the June-Fourth Event. University students in Beijing voiced their discontent towards social issues that came to light from the Reform and Opening Up, such as corruption and bureaucracy. The movement expanded and students protested for freedom and democracy in China. On the night of 3rd June, the Liberation Army raided the Square. Lethal and brutal forces such as tanks, guns and poisonous gases were deployed to clear the Square. It is difficult to estimate the number of casualties. The Central government still categorizes the Event as an anti-revolution riot. Many across the Greater China region have been seeking for an official reassessment of the crackdown and demanding for official rehabilitation of those involved with the movement.
The memories of the June-Fourth Event have been gradually fading after 28 years. Some university students in Hong Kong try to distance themselves from China as well as the Event. It is hard to tell if it is a result of the rise of localism, or simply because we have not witnessed the tragic incident ourselves. China itself has also changed over the past decades. She became the driving force of the world’s economy and rose into one of the most important superpowers in the global stage. In light of these development, how many of the students who fought for democracy in the Square retained their passion? How many of them changed their views after witnessing the rise of China as a superpower? On the other hand, how many of the decision-makers in the “Great Hall of the People” on the other end of the Square still defend their decision to put security of the sovereign first? And how many of them regret causing the death of so many students?
This snapshot will tell the stories of five people on both sides of the Square in the June-Fourth Event and what they think about the Movement today.
[Li Peng – Premier of the State Department]
Li was the Premier of the State Department when the student movement unfolded. He insisted on responding with a high hand and played a vital part in deciding to clear the Square using violent means. Before the Event, he made a strong statement against the student movement on the television, but that resulted in even more support for the students. He was also the person who signed the order to enforce martial law in some parts of Beijing. As the protest escalated, he, alongside Deng Xiaoping and several other senior figures of the Communist Party, decided to “use whatever means” to clear the Square in order to “bring an end to the riot and restore discipline in the capital”. Li continued to serve as Premier until taking up another senior post as Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in 1998. To many’s surprise, there were 210 votes against him when Li sought for re-election in 1993, which is extremely rare in the history of the Communist Party. He wrote a few memoirs after retirement, including “The Critical Moment: Li Peng’s Tiananmen Diary”. The book is prohibited from circulation in mainland China but is published in Hong Kong. The Diary shows that Li and Deng refused to make any concession with the protesting students. He seems to be proud to defend the one-party dictation with “his life and all of his wealth” in 1989 and shows no signs of regret.
[Chan Xitong – Mayor of Beijing]
Chan was the Mayor of Beijing at the time. Zhao Ziyang claimed that he was one of the leading proponents for categorizing the student movement as a “riot”. Nevertheless, he rejected the claim that he assumed the role as “Chief Commander” in the “Headquarter for the Enforcement of Martial Law in Beijing” in an interview for his memoir. He fell from power in a power struggle in 1995 and was jailed for corruption. He was given compassionate release due to his medical condition in 2004 and died shortly before 4th June in 2013. He said in his late years that “I am sorry as the mayor of Beijing. … If the event was properly handled, no one would have died. In fact, several hundreds died that day.” The author of his memoir said that although Chan retained the mindset of an authoritative governor, he showed compassion and humanity in the conversion with him.
[Wang Dan – student of Peking University]
Wang was one of the key student leaders in the Movement. He was sought after by the Chinese government after the incident and was thrown into jail twice. He was later allowed to seek treatment for his health issues in the United States. After finishing his Master in Harvard University, he taught in several universities in Taiwan. He asserted strong support for Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement and the movement for democracy in Hong Kong. He recently announced that he will move to Washington D.C. to continue to advocate for human rights and democracy in China.
[Chai Ling – student of Peking University]
Chai was the Chief Commander of the “Headquarter for Safeguarding Tiananmen Square”. She also launched the student hunger strike on the Square. She left China for the United States right after the Event. She is now the founder and CEO of Jenzabar, a high school software development company. Chai turned to Christianity in 2010 and advocated against the one-child policy. She wrote to Ding Zilin, one of the mothers who lost her child during the Tiananmen crackdown, in 2014, saying that if she was Christian at the time, she would not have asked the students to protest and launch hunger strikes. She said that she “forg[a]ve Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng, forg[a]ve the troops who rushed into the Tiananmen Square in 1989”. Other student leaders were highly critical of her forgiving attitude.
[Li Lu – student of Nanjing University]
Li was one of the 21 student leaders who were sought after by the authorities after the June-Fourth Event. He was studying Economics in Nanjing University before the incident and started to assume a leading role in the student movement in April. He fled to the United States after the June-Fourth Event and continued his studies in Columbia University. He founded Himalaya Partners, a private equity fund. Warren Buffett is one of his major clients and it was rumoured that he would be named successor of one of Buffet’s multi-billions funds. Li returned to mainland China for the first time in 2010 in a trip with Buffett, becoming the first student leader in the June-Fourth Movement to return. He taught as a guest lecturer in an investment course in the Peking University in 2015. He once wrote on his Weibo account that the unprecedented economic growth in China is owed to the effective ruling of the governing party which is capable of drawing talents.
The five characters all have their own stories. Some of them persisted in the fight for democracy; others conceded to the reality. Some remained strong in defending the government’s actions that night; others regretted the mistakes they have made. There are numerous views on the June-Fourth Event across the political spectrum. However, the more critical question for us today is whether the economic growth renders political reform unnecessary. Does democracy and freedom mean anything to today’s China?