Chas Freeman on Tiananmen Square, China’s human rights, etc.

I have to give this blog credit for their argument in favor of Obama’s pick to head the National Intelligence Council. Go look at their excerpted text of a leaked memo he wrote. I’ll just repeat a portion here, from a response he wrote in an exchange on China Security Listserv.

(2) The attack on “unarmed students” at Tian’anmen (actually at Muxudi and Fuxingmen and other locations outside Tian’anmen) came after many weeks, even months, in which the Chinese leadership had lost control of security in their own capital. (The troops were, in fact, fired upon at Muxudi, though it is not clear by whom.) The only surprise to me (and other realists, including, I gather, you) was that the Chinese leadership did not act earlier to restore order. We would have done so, judging by the precedents set by MacArthur and our National Guard over the decades from 1920 – 1950. The main lesson those leaders who survived the affair have drawn from it, in fact, is that one should strike hard and strike fast rather than tolerate escalating self-expression by exuberantly rebellious kids. If June 4 tells us anything about the Chinese leadership it is that they are reluctant, often to the point of rashness, to resort to the use of force against their fellow citizens.

(3) I am frankly stunned that you would argue that China has not “become more tolerant of dissent” in recent years. No one can have spent any time at all talking to ordinary people in China over the past two decades and have this view. Of course, outright opposition to rule by the Chinese Communist Party continues to draw a sharp response from the authorities. No government, including our own, is or should be asked to be prepared to tolerate efforts to overthrow it and the constitutional order it administers. (Ironically, despite our ideological predilections to believe the contrary, I am aware of no evidence that Chinese currently consider their government less “legitimate” or worthy of support than Americans do ours — but I defer to [name redacted by TWS] and other experts on this.) Certainly, China continues to fall far short of our minimal expectations for human and civil rights in many respects but it has made very significant progress on many levels. To deny this is primarily to raise questions about the extent to which one has been able to observe readily observable reality.

(4) You did not repeat the Rumsfeld / Rice canard that China has yet to make a decision whether to integrate itself into the existing order or to stand outside it. So you cannot be accused of embracing that quaint but hystrionic absurdity about a country that has joined just about every international organization and regulatory regime that exists, while emerging as a strong defender of the status quo in each against attacks on them, primarily from the US.

Like you, I worry that we will get China fundamentally wrong. It is certiain that we will do so if we allow our idées fixes and ideological preconceptions to guide our reasoning about China rather than deriving our conclusions from first-hand and empirically validatable data.

There’s a lot of stuff there. I can take issue with this or that, but I like the way he challenges the dominant paradigm and his willingness to question sacred cows. I also like that he strives to see the good along with the bad, in extreme contrast to the Bush people who would see Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, only as terrorist groups without understanding how they are perceived by the people who elected them and the role they play in those people’s lives. (Note that I am not saying they aren’t supporters of terrorism, only that it’s a bit more complex than that.)

I know the Tiananmen Square item will create a lot of hysteria. But it’s important you look at what Freeman actually said. I can hear the emotional outcry already: “Freeman is in favor of shooting unarmed students in the back!” But look at his words and put your emotions to the side for a moment. He was surprised the government “didn’t act earlier” – which is not to say he wondered why they didn’t start killing students earlier. The way the CCP handled it was clumsy and ultimately catastrophic, allowing the chaos to drag on for months and suddenly crushing it in a way that haunts them to this day. Of course they should have acted earlier and struck hard –to keep the country functional and to avoid a bloodbath.

To “strike hard and strike fast” does not mean to murder. I think its pretty clear Freeman means it in the sense of nipping the escalating crisis at its earliest stages, maybe with more meaningful negotiations and stronger insistence that bringing the capital city to its knees was not the most productive way to effect change. Personally, my pragmatic side wishes they’d used tear gas at an earlier stage to clear the square, while my idealistic side wishes they’d struck hard and fast by thanking the students for raising serious issues, and inviting them to work with them to change things. But the worst strategy was the dithering for months, which led to breakdowns that made the massacre all but inevitable.

Unfortunately the way Freeman worded it, with the words “strike hard and fast,” will no doubt leave him open to unfair criticism. Kennedy struck hard and fast during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Freeman had said “respond quickly and emphatically” he’d be a lot better off. We Americans can get quite bent out of shape from out-of-context and misinterpreted remarks, which can damn a politician forever. We have to remember this was a note on China Listserv, not a formal policy statement.

To repeat what I’ve said so many times here: I admire what the students, for all their faults and, in some instances self-interest, achieved in 1989. June 4 is a dark cloud over China that will not go away. The government’s approach was horrific, no matter who fired the first shots (and I know all sides of the story and have seen the photos of the soldiers’ bodies on fire). I still get emotional when I think about this image, and I still remember the hope and the thrill I felt watching what seemed like a miracle unfold in the early days of the demonstrations. But it’s not nearly so simple as good versus evil. It never is.

There is too much dynamite-laced content in the memo to go through it line by line; each item could ignite an endless thread of disagreement. And as I said, I don’t agree with all of it. But I like the way Freeman seeks to clear away the clutter of fixed notions, stereotypes and myths, and I admire his willingness to put his neck on the line to challenge conventional thinking and then to back it up with an intelligent argument.

But don’t just take my word for it. Please go and read what the smartest journalist in China has to say about Freeman.

…I don’t know Freeman personally. I don’t know whether the Saudi funding for his organization has been entirely seemly (like that for most Presidential libraries), which is now the subject of inspector-general investigation. If there’s a problem there, there’s a problem.

But I do know something about the role of contrarians in organizational life. I have hired such people, have worked alongside them, have often been annoyed at them, but ultimately have viewed them as indispensable. Sometimes the annoying people, who will occasionally say “irresponsible” things, are the only ones who will point out problems that everyone else is trying to ignore. A president needs as many such inconvenient boat-rockers as he can find — as long as they’re not in the main operational jobs. Seriously: anyone who has worked in an organization knows how hard it is, but how vital, to find intelligent people who genuinely are willing to say inconvenient things even when everyone around them is getting impatient or annoyed. The truth is, you don’t like them when they do that. You may not like them much at all. But without them, you’re cooked.

So to the extent this argument is shaping up as a banishment of Freeman for rash or unorthodox views, I instinctively take Freeman’s side — even when I disagree with him on specifics. This job calls for originality, and originality brings risks. Chas Freeman is not going to have his finger on any button. He is going to help raise all the questions that the person with his finger on the button should be aware of.

The Bush administration suffered from a dearth of boat-rockers. Those who disagreed were shunted and silenced, labeled as “disloyal.” I’m impressed that Obama chose Freeman for this position, irrespective of whether I disagree with him on all topics related to China. Or the Middle East. He seems to have the kind of mind we need more of, and I hope he survives the inevitable firestorm these seemingly provocative – but actually rather down-to-earth – remarks will generate.

Update: Please be sure to see the new post I wrote about Freeman following his exit from the nomination. So much hoopla over remarks that, when looked at carefully, were well intended, non-provocative and intelligent. Such a loss for America.

The Discussion: 49 Comments

Agreed. The most dangerous thing in the contemporary age is the tyranny of mass media, groupthink, and political correctness.

March 7, 2009 @ 12:32 pm | Comment

No government, including our own, is or should be asked to be prepared to tolerate efforts to overthrow it and the constitutional order it administers.

I’d say that is the most ridiculous statement of the lot. It assumes (at least) two things: 1) the students were attempting to overthrow the government and the (cough) “constitutional order” of China. 2) You can’t ever blame any government, no matter how tyrannical, for quashing dissent with tanks since “no government should be asked to tolerate efforts to overthrow it.”

Yes, it is good to get a contrarian view — but then why doesn’t the Obama administration just hire Bill Kristol? I’d say it would be better to get someone in there who knows China, the ins and outs of all of these arguments. Someone with an understanding of these arguments from a Chinese point of view. That doesn’t necessarily mean someone who has adopted Math’s talking points in an attempt to be contrarian.

Also, on that note, I’d say if most of Freeman’s statements were made under Math’s byline, the reaction would be different.

March 7, 2009 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

I forgot his point on legitimacy. His logic seems to be that if most people in a country believe it to be legitimate (and that is a debatable claim when it comes to China back in the late 80s), then that government should be shown the same deference as any other ‘legitimate’ government around the world (and thus you shouldn’t begrudge it a little human mashed potatoes on the streets when ‘dissent’ lasts too long). That raises some interesting issues in a country with neither a free press nor elections, in which people are bombarded with government propaganda from cradle to grave.

Freeman’s view is quintessentially conservative on this point. No doubt he would have opposed the hooligans on the streets in 1789 just as much as he did in 1989.

I’m not saying all of his points are without merit, however.

March 7, 2009 @ 1:04 pm | Comment

Kristol is not a contrarian, he’s a neo-con shill. He could never in a million years argue this cogently. He’s a BSer, a Palin promoter, a snake and a conscious and persistent falsifier of fact.

As I said about Freeman’s note, I don’t agree with it all, but you have to also remember it’s not a policy statement, and he wasn’t dancing around the usual hypocritical American political correctness. You’re doing just what the nuts at Weekly Standard are doing – looking for the “gotcha” quote with which to do the guy in. If you think this reads like a piece by Math, fine. There’s no sense in arguing.

I’m tired of the John Birch element that hangs out here and am becoming increasingly in favor of free speech for all of them, on their own blog.

March 7, 2009 @ 1:06 pm | Comment

LOL. I think the problem not brought out in the media presentations is Freeman’s extensive business ties to China. It’s a problem on both sides of the aisle in Washington. The apparently conflict of interest is great with the Freeman appointment, and I hope the NIC choice goes to someone a little less invested in China. And someone who is not of the realist school, a school that has really screwed up US foreign policy over the last 40 years.

March 7, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

The main lesson those leaders who survived the affair have drawn from it, in fact, is that one should strike hard and strike fast rather than tolerate escalating self-expression by exuberantly rebellious kids. If June 4 tells us anything about the Chinese leadership it is that they are reluctant, often to the point of rashness, to resort to the use of force against their fellow citizens.

Richard, I think you are not quite right in reading Freeman as saying they should have moved faster to resolve the crisis somehow. It looks to me like Freeman is saying that they should have used force sooner and that, as the last part of that sentence indicates by its comment on the reluctance to use force — perhaps he means to say, if you choose to shoot people, you should do it early rather than late to spare lives — without necessarily approving shooting people.

Also, do you know of a handy independent account that claims the troops were fired upon at Muxudi first?


March 7, 2009 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

Freeman’s view is quintessentially conservative on this point. No doubt he would have opposed the hooligans on the streets in 1789 just as much as he did in 1989.

That’s one of the key criticisms of the realist school — that it simply reifies the existing power structure. Thus “foreign policy” in realist hands becomes an endless dance of affirming and kow-towing to the existing order, and to identify its interests as “the national interest.” From that perspective there is nothing contrarian about Freeman; he’s a creature of the Established Order, who profits from its further Establishment. Independence of mind is laudable, but useless when underpinned by values that are essentially servile.

He also writes quite a bit for CSIS.


March 7, 2009 @ 1:56 pm | Comment

I Believe The CCP’s Reponse During June 4th Was a Medical Response.

This post wants to express a unique opinion, and that opinion is, the students protestors during the June 4th anti-revolutionary riot were suffering from mass pscyhosis. And the entire incident was simply a severe episode of mass psychosis. The CCP’s actions during the incident can be seen as a medical treatment, helping the students recover from their psychotic states.

China in the 80’s was in a state of irrationality. The reform and opening up was at a crossroad, the 80’s university students at the time were induced into pyschotic mental states due to the unique nature of China’s society back then. Here I’ll present some evidence of the students’ severe illness.

Some of you may have heard Ding Zilin, a Chinese college professor who gained her fame through the death of her 19 year old son during the riot.

The night her son was killed, martial law was already given. Now, what is the meaning of martial law? It means the enitre city will be under military discipline, and will resemble a warzone, and any civillian who disobeys the soldiers who are enforcing the martial law will be killed and the soldiers will not be responsible for it. This is the essence of martial law. I am sure Ding Zilin’s son was aware of this nature of martial law. Yet, knowing about martial law, and knowing the severe danger he migtht be in if he were to violate it, he delibrately went to the streets and deliberately disobeyed the soldier. We can only conclude two possible things from this:

1) Her son was trying to seek suicide, perhaps “suicde by cop”.

2) Her son was suffering from massive delusion, and therefore a victim of pyschosis.

In any case, his death can be entirely blamed on himself and his family.

Using this example as a starting point, we can conclude that most of the students during the riot were victims of mass psychosis. Just think about those, these 19-20 year olds with barely enough pubic hair wanted to sit down across the table with state leaders, people 30,40,50 years their senior, and talk as if they are equal parties. If you watched the “dialog” between the student leader Wuer Kaixi and Li Peng, you’ll easily see that Wuer Kaixi talks as if he is lecturing a student. Putting aside the necessary respect one must pay to a state leader, what about the necessary courtesy one pays when talking to an elder? Not only that, the students gave ultimatums, gave demands, and shouted loudly during the dialog, as if they are the state leaders. An 18 year old student believed that he was in a position to give “ultimatums” to a government, if this behavior is not psychotic behavior, what is psychotic behavior?

Now, a lot of people using the word “massacre” to describe CCP’s actions during the incident. Let’s examine this. First, what is a “massacre”? Massacre is, from an engineering viewpoint, an act that removes the right to survival of another being, using violent means, when that being had no means of resisting. During the June 4th incident, the PLA repeatedly warned the students and asked them to leave the Square, and the students massively occupied the most important square in the most important city in China, for several months. They refused the warnings given by the CCP to leave the square. Therefore, you cannot say they had no choice, they had a choice to leave the square everyday for several months. It’s not like the CCP blockaded the square and trapped the students to plan their murder. Furthermore, the students used rocks, blockades, etc to impeded the enforcements of martial law, and even used fire to burn the soldiers. What happens in the USA, if you try to throw a burning object at a police officer?

Another interesting question is, how come none of the leaders of the riot was killed? Wan Dan, Chai Ling, Wuer Kaixi, Liu xiaobo, etc. They are all alive and well and living very rich lives in the USA. While the innocent students who naively believed them had to die on the square. Are those student leaders not the primary culprits in their deaths? Chai Ling, when interviewed by Western jounalists during the incident, famously said, “Bloodshed is good, we want bloodshed, the more blood the better, only when there’s bloodshed will we receive attention”. Of course she was not talking about her own blood. She would be another ruthless politician if she had the chance.

It’s pretty clear to me that this June 4th incident was a severe episode of mass psychosis of the students. They were crazy enough to go against the machinery of the state.

Therefore, the lesson for the June 4th incident is that we need to increase funding for the mental health of our students and teenagers, and perhaps more research on drugs in treating cases of pyschosis.

Also, as the 20th anniversity of the June 4th incident nears, I’d like to thank all the PLA soldiers who helped put down the riot, helped the students recover from their illness, and saved the country from sinking to an abyss.

March 7, 2009 @ 2:02 pm | Comment

Michael, it depends on how you define “force.” I wish they had used force earlier, too – tear gas and rubber bullets. I don’t think he is endorsing mass murder, but I could be wrong.

I disagree with your statement about realists over the last 40 years. Sure, there are some realists who I look to with something less than glowing admiration, like Henry Kissinger. But I would much rather have well-informed, realistic people running the show than evangelical idealists who believe that abstinence programs cure AIDS and that nation building is a simple and inexpensive chore. In a perfect world our leaders would be idealistic realists.

March 7, 2009 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

There were many ways to resolve the situation: you can say that they had “already tried” dialogue, but I would really like some details on how exactly such dialogue was conducted (as anything other than a farce). You can say that this was a threat to stability. And indeed, there were protestors located in Tiananmen, near the so-called “Great Hall of the People.” But how have we come to internalize the government talking point that they were determined to overthrow the government and toss China into absolute chaos? Would China really be so disadvantaged in 2009 if the government had not massacred people in the streets of Beijing? I certainly don’t admire groupthink, but certainly don’t encourage its replacement by another larger and even more ridiculous and even stupid groupthink.
Murdering hundreds was certainly not an inappropriate response. Creating a euphemism suggesting “acting” earlier does not necessarily make it any better. We all know what “acting” can mean for the current government in China. It’s not necessarily pretty.
While people can pull out the tired stability vs. chaos argument, no economic figures can ever justify the government’s atrocities. I can just as easily argue that China would have avoided sanctions and other economic setbacks by finding a peaceful resolution, which is probably in fact quite true. With a more democratic system, China might have even truly eliminated the outdated hukou system and created a more extensive social welfare system for all. Who knows how much GDP would have benefited? Yet we don’t hear that argument often from China’s demented nationalists…
When something is a completely rational yet frequently repressed truth, it is a bit unfair to call it groupthink. Much as I would not call popular understandings of the Holocaust “groupthink,” I similarly would not call understandings of the brutality of June 4th groupthink. We are, after all, talking about the real lives of real people. The Chinese government was not only idiotic for not “acting earlier;” it was in fact idiotic, cruel, and even inhuman for acting in the way that it eventually acted after all those weeks. And sadly it remains so, even 20 years later, through its continued repression of victims’ families and other sympathizers.
Those who are eager to present a more “balanced” perspective on Tiananmen generally lose sight of the reality of this absolute tragedy. I can only recommend that they be willing to sacrifice themselves or their loved ones like so many people, both young and old, did on that horrid night in 1989.

March 7, 2009 @ 2:30 pm | Comment

The Chinese govt has been an immoral institution established through prolonged violence rather than election (it believe that ‘political power comes from guns’). Up to the fall of BerIin Wall, it had been impossible to engender any meaningful change within it through negotiations. Historically, even peaceful opposition would be crushed and disagreement silenced. Perhaps a different approach, such as some forceful and brave actions, taken at the opportune moment and backed by the West, in the form of occupying the Square and disrupting the govt’s operations, could make the dissident point heard and heeded and induce some changes. Anyway, the govt has been evil and does not tolerate any criticism, either humble or firm.

Perhaps Freeman may imagine that a would-be pro-U.S. democratic govt in China patronized by the U.S. would not do much more favor and service for the U.S. as the current one, which has learned quickly to adapt to the new world order and recognize the leadership of the U.S, rather than remains defiant and inflexible like the N. Korean and Cuban govts. So he would not mind kissing up to it.

March 7, 2009 @ 2:44 pm | Comment

PS- Let’s not pretend that we don’t all know what “strike hard” means for the Chinese government. A series of “strike hard” campaigns have resulted in literally thousands of executions of “undesirable elements.”

March 7, 2009 @ 2:48 pm | Comment

Kevin, did you see The Gate of Heavenly Peace (doubtless blocked here)? It offers a pretty balanced picture of how the drama unfolded. But basically I agree with most of your points and have said so many times here. The students did not have to die. China would not be in chaos and ruin if they hadn’t killed them. This was one of the dark moments of the 20th century. And again, I totally agree that the way they reacted was cruel and inhuman.

The issue is, we tend to be taken over by the emotional side of the argument and forget that there really were two or more sides to what took place, and there were attempts at dialogue and compromise. If the government were totally black-hearted it would have exterminated them far earlier. There was definitely a power struggle within the CCP about how to handle the “incicent,” and the party was not monolithically evil. Unfortunately, as happens so often in human history, some characters who it seems really were black-hearted held the trump card, and the blood flowed.

Talking about this topic, like Tibet and abortion and gun control, is always treacherous. Saying that the inexcusable and barbaric massacre was nevertheless considerably different from the common Western perception of troops gunning down peaceful students in the square itself can make people immediately respond by saying you’re sympathetic to the government. I want to be clear that I’m not. I can never be sympathetic to a government that would do that to its people, and whenever i find myself thinking positive thoughts about the progress I hear, that memory provides a healthy reality check. The ensuing PR campaign, stunningly successful, is equally despicable – the notion that, thank God for the wise and knowledgeable CCP, which saved us from Russian-style chaos.

All of that said, I respect the way Freeman seemed willing step back from the emotional noise and question the common perception, which has been romanticized and mythologized. I do see the students as martyrs, many of them as brave and even magnificent. But if you look at what actually happened, it was not all black and white and not all angels vs. Orcs. It rarely if ever is.

March 7, 2009 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

Kevin, “strike hard” probably does mean what you say when the CCP says it. Freeman is not the CCP, or at least I hope he is not.

March 7, 2009 @ 2:57 pm | Comment

Fallows is right about boat-rockers; but when will China incorporate and tolerate the likes of Freeman in their own government? Where’s the dissenting voice on Tibet, Taiwan, political reform, the Sino-US relationship etc? Why doesn’t Bao Tong get to be heard at the NPC?

March 7, 2009 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

@ Math

I strongly support Freeman’s perception of opinions in China and also evidently his own view that the gravest mistake on the CCP’s part was not to have stopped the students’ protest in the earlier and most likely less deadly stage.

That said, I just can’t reconcile that view with your attack on professor Ding Zilin. She lost her son! Her son didn’t deserve to die. None of the victims did.

Just because many of us now look back retrospectively have a different overall perspective on June 4th doesn’t make it any less a tragedy nor does it reduce the responsibilities for those with blood on their hands directly or indirectly (i.e., including both the officials and so called student leaders such as Chai Ling, etc.)

20 years later, it remains vivid in my memory the sight of seeing my father crying the day after the bloodshed in B, for the first and only time in my life.

March 7, 2009 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

Fallows is right about boat-rockers; but when will China incorporate and tolerate the likes of Freeman in their own government?

Stuart, let’s not use the CCP as our role models!

March 7, 2009 @ 3:17 pm | Comment

Dj, thanks for the comment. I cried too on that day, and cried many times afterwards, as I’ve recounted here before.

March 7, 2009 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

“I respect the way Freeman seemed willing step back from the emotional noise and question the common perception”

I’m fine with questioning the common perception. After all, the planet has seen any number of even more sickening atrocities since ’89. My problem with the whole Tiananmen episode is the way the Chinese government have systematically removed it from their own history and their petty refusal to allow discourse on the issue. This is where Freeman’s argument of a regime making progress looks silly.

March 7, 2009 @ 3:20 pm | Comment

Indeed, I’ve seen the Gate of Heavenly Peace far too many times. Was not left with the impression that the government engaged in actual and sincere dialogue. Seemed far more like “dialogue” (with quotation marks required). Even if such “dialogue” is somehow acknowledged as real dialogue, it in no way justifies later behavior. I can’t discuss something with someone and then justifiably kill them without impunity. Dialogue and violence, in the end, are a bit contradictory.
The reason that discussion of Tiananmen is so polarized is that we have a verifiable atrocity, which is perpetually covered up or rationalized by an almost all-powerful government. It seems to me a bit unfair, although very PR-ish, to compare discussing Tiananmen to discussing abortion or gun control. There really isn’t that much of an unclear or gray area with Tiananmen… unless I’m sorely mistaken, there doesn’t seem to be much room for ethical debate about what happened. Even with the issues raised by later studies/ analyses, it still seems very much black vs. white. The protestors were not perfect, but if imperfection was an excuse for massacre, I would have been dead long ago. Look up the stories of those who died on June Fourth, or read about their families’ continued suffering. Oh… that content will be blocked in China. And there’s a reason for that!
Anyway, about Freeman, he seems like an alright guy who wrote something fairly idiotic. Everyone does it. Quite lucky he’s not an iconoclast up for a CCP position: ask Bao Tong. In the end, imperfection is not an excuse for massacre, either literal or political.

March 7, 2009 @ 3:20 pm | Comment

Even if such “dialogue” is somehow acknowledged as real dialogue, it in no way justifies later behavior.

Kevin, you and I have never disagreed about this. Not now, not before, not ever. That is still my stance exactly as you said it. Unfortunately, by merely saying there are different interpretations to the story, I seem to run the risk of being labeled sympathetic with one of the most malevolent deeds of my lifetime, one I’ve condemned at the top of my lungs for many years. Repeat: no sympathy, no forgiveness, no excuses, no justification. This was an act of murder. China will carry a heavy yoke around its neck until it comes clean with what actually happened. Their continuing propaganda about the murder is loathsome.

March 7, 2009 @ 3:26 pm | Comment

Indeed, there are different interpretations of the Nanjing Massacre, the Cultural Revolution, womens’ suppression, slavery, segregation, and all other sorts of issues. Quite rightly, no one ever gets a pat on the back for presenting a more “balanced” picture of these issues, and no one should receive a similar pat for similar reflections on Tiananmen.
In my opinion, his comments were just plain dumb and in many senses insensitive (can one imagine how the Tiananmen Mothers might view such comments), and I have no desire to rationalize them. Nevertheless, that certainly does not disqualify him. I am happy to see different opinions in government after oh so many years of dittoheadism… just not sure this is an ideal issue for attempting to develop supposed “nuance.”

March 7, 2009 @ 3:42 pm | Comment

I still remember that day….

It was one of the most brutally despicable acts I ever seen in my life. China will not grow up until its government faces the acts of that day. Not even the Russians during Prage spring were so… brutal.

Yes. Things have improved in CH in recent years, who can denied it. Now instead of sending tanks they have anti-riot police. And when needed things can be clamped down with stronger methods but in a more hush hush way.

At that time they didn’t have, maybe because they thought anti-riot police is only needed in decadent capitalist societies to control exploited class…, and they were the workers paradise of course. The result, only tanks available…

TIA-Square is one of the reasons I will never shake my hands any CH government official.Yes, I know, I am a bad politician. Fortunately that is not my job.

March 7, 2009 @ 4:05 pm | Comment

During the military coup attempt in Spain 1981, one of the generals ordered their troops to go out with their armed vehicles and take the street and repress citizens.

The soldiers told the general, fuck you.

A Soldier topmost duty is to protect their countrymen, nor their government nor their general nor a political party.

Who doesn’t do that, is not a solider, but something else.

March 7, 2009 @ 4:10 pm | Comment

keep in mind what Chairman Mao said: political power comes from guns. The CCP’s power, which was achieved with the use of guns, can only be and must be defended with guns. Election is not an option, but a suicide.

The CCP of course can hold dialogs with the oppositions, such as the students in 1989, with Dalai Lama, with Taiwanese leaders, but it is just a show, a gesture or a sham. When someone poses a threat to its rule and refuses to quit, the CCP will not compromise in terms of its rule, will get real and always uses the guns to defend it.

March 7, 2009 @ 4:20 pm | Comment

“But I would much rather have well-informed, realistic people running the show than evangelical idealists who believe that abstinence programs cure AIDS and that nation building is a simple and inexpensive chore. In a perfect world our leaders would be idealistic realists.”

I just think you should note that you have chosen a hyper-bad example as a “contrast” to justify your preference for Realists (capital R, political sense). Not all people of ideological mind are neocons. Moreover, you have implied that those who are not “realists” in the political sense are not informed and are not “realistic”, which I see as different from Realism in the political sense. Therefore this comment is hardly fair.

March 7, 2009 @ 6:47 pm | Comment

Sometimes during the course of human events forces are set in motion that are unstoppable. They take on a life of their own. The ending to the story has been written, the characters and their actions cannot be changed.

These events could not be stopped until they had run their course. You knew, I knew, the students knew and the (Chinese) government knew, that blood would soon run in the streets. Each had his part to play and no individual human action or emotion could change it. Unfortunately, regrettably, this, in my opinion, is whathappened on June 4, 1989. And, the world watched. In horror.

Or, stated another way, in the vernacular, sometimes shit happens.

When the first round had been fired, the point of no return had been passed.

Freeman is right. The government should have acted sooner. With or without bloodshed, it would have saved many lives.

This view is merely that of a pragmatist as seen from the vantage of hindsight.

March 7, 2009 @ 7:40 pm | Comment

Thomas, I don’t understand our comment, sorry.

Ecodelta, few things America has done sickened me more than the torture or innocents swept up in the “war on terror” or killed by Blackwater guards for the fun of it. But I can’t say because of those things I will never shake hands with anyone on the US government. I know at least a couple of people in the government here who are educated, brilliant, kind and doing their best to make a difference for a country they love. The government is also home to lot of idiots and criminals. My point being, you can’t point to one deed in history and define the government by that deed for all time. If so, we would have to condemn all governments without exception.

El Chino, it’s nice of you to comment, but do you have to be such a broken record? Is there any other insight you can offer us aside from “CCP evil”?

March 7, 2009 @ 10:06 pm | Comment

As my Chinese teacher told me at the time, “History can be changed by the stroke of a pen”. His meaning was that the CCP can write and rewrite history at will. While he acknowledged the party line was a lie he said I would have to wait a long time, perhaps a lifetime, before the truth would be revealed.

I agree with RIAC when he says

Sometimes during the course of human events forces are set in motion that are unstoppable. They take on a life of their own. The ending to the story has been written, the characters and their actions cannot be changed.

It was a chaotic time for the government. Hu Yaobang’s death and mourning, internal power struggle within the party, Zhao Ziyang’s house arrest, Gorbachev visiting Beijing, lots of people were out on the street, students were boycotting classes, factory workers joining students, Beijing PLA disobeying orders, PLA Army vs Navy, Beijing police supporting residents and students. Even after 20 years I cannot postulate a mitigating plan of action that would have calmed everyone down.

I can clarify some information though. Yes, some PLA soldiers did take fire at Muxudi early in the protest, but no one was hurt. Understand that all university students go through a month of military training and can dig ditches and fire guns. Beijing residents, like grandmas, were blocking PLA trucks and convincing them to disarm. These guns were then given to the students, who initially armed themselves. This was when the Muxudi incident occurred. A student policy was quickly sent out stating that all collected guns would be promptly returned to the PLA. This was to protect students and Beijing residents from being fired upon in retaliation. It mades sense: No one has more guns than the PLA.

The campout in the Square was about 1.5 months long, with little sanitation, no showers, bathrooms, etc. It was disgusting and a health hazard. Garbage was piling up. The stench was unbearable. After about 3 weeks of protest local Beijing students began returning to their dorms in order to shower, get sleep, eat a decent meal and regain their health. Beijing students were replaced by students from other areas of China who came in droves to join the protest. Student leaders Wang Dan, Chai Ling, Wuer Kaixi, Liu Xiaobo and others did the same. These student leaders could not have lived down at the Square for the whole duration of the protest. When the kill occurred there were almost no Beijing students or their leaders in the Square. Unfortunately there was no record of which students, how many and from which universities from outside Beijing were still in the Square. May their souls rest in peace.

Let it be known that the Beijing PLA, siding with Beijing residents, refused to enter Beijing at the time. This infuriated the CCP. A different platoon was called in from Northern China. They were kept in isolation in Northern China, away from news, from locals, from TV, and briefed only by their superiors. These soldiers were drugged. I do not fault them for their actions, as they were manipulated.

After 20 years I would hope that we would let this go. Traumatic it was, but let’s move on. I have.

March 8, 2009 @ 2:38 am | Comment

The TIA Square incident was one of those events who mark history. I am not going to mention the other to avoid a post food fight. Just say, somethings cannot bee forgotten and some of them not even forgiving.
Also in some ways the government today is still related to that incident. Prove of it is the silencing of that incident.
Want a prove, try to go to TIA Square with something related to that event and see what happens. Post something in the internet and see what happens.

@Don Tai
I agree that we should not rise this event each time CH or CCP is mentioned or discussed.
On the other hand, until CH+CCP do not confront this event it is a poisoned thorn in the political/social environment, and it may be a menace/risk in times of crisis.

China will not move on until this historical incident is openly discussed and steps are taking to heal in someway the wounds it produced. I see that time still very far away.

March 8, 2009 @ 5:01 am | Comment

As a Chinese proverb says, it is difficult to be smart, but it is even more difficult not to look so smart. Freeman is smart enough to say the dumb things and put the Chinese govt and constitution on the same legitimate level as the American ones, as he sees no Chinese rejection of the legitimacy of the regime (did anyone see the brainwashed N. Korean challenging the legitimacy of Kim’s rule?).

To share some understanding over the killing in TAM Square with the Chinese govt surely pushes the right button and makes the Chinese creditor very happy and more ready to lend more cash to the U.S. Why did the U.S govt screw up the economy and have to bet money from a low-life creditor?

It is a human instinct that you have to know how to please people and humble yourself when beg for something. Remember last year when the gas price was sky-high, Bush went to Saudi Arabia to beg for more oil? He strolled hand in hand with the Saudi King. They looked like a gay couple, kind of disgusting.

March 8, 2009 @ 5:53 am | Comment

If June 4 tells us anything about the Chinese leadership it is that they are reluctant, often to the point of rashness, to resort to the use of force against their fellow citizens.

I wouldn’t say the Chinese government would use force lightly in such a circumstance, but I would be loath to make generalisations based on the Tiananmen protests. They did happen 20 years ago. Also it wasn’t until Zhao was actually removed from office that lethal force was used.

If the events of the summer of 1989 can show anything it is that the government was divided and unsure how to react. That changed when the more reactionary faction was able to take control and get its way. I don’t think they would have necessarily sent the stormtroopers in on day 1 either, but they wanted action taken earlier than Zhao and his supporters.

March 8, 2009 @ 6:29 am | Comment

While some of Freeman’s remarks here could be said to have some validity, or could be defended as not as ‘extreme’ as they appear to be, lines like “If June 4 tells us anything about the Chinese leadership it is that they are reluctant, often to the point of rashness, to resort to the use of force against their fellow citizens.” are simply ludicrous, on so many levels.

I have just read, or tried to read, several articles and excerpts from articles by him, and it is a painful process. It is hard to discern wisdom in a man who expresses himself so tactlessly; it is hard to discern intelligence in a man who expresses himself so clumsily. Maybe I’m too much of a language snob, but I don’t like to see senior government positions going to people who write such horrible English.

My first thought was that the e-mail quoted here was the work of a fenqing hoaxer. It has all the hallmarks: weird spelling mistakes, wonky grammar, logical lacunae – and that strident self-righteousness.

I concur with James Fallows’ point about the usefulness of contrarians, but I would hope that we can find someone shrewder than Freeman to represent such contrary positions.

March 8, 2009 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

My English teacher taught me with this” Love your country,but do not trust its government”.

Based on what Freeman has said, we may conclude that he is the best person of Boss’ autobiography named “He changed China,too”.

March 8, 2009 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

The way the CCP handled it was clumsy and ultimately catastrophic, allowing the chaos to drag on for months and suddenly crushing it in a way that haunts them to this day.

It’s more like “it has been haunting everyone except 99% of Chinese to this day.”

June 4 is a dark cloud over China that will not go away.

June 4 is actually an event dispersed a “dark cloud” over chinese political landscape. June 4 marks the time when chinese became politically mature, it marks a time from then on chinese are no longer mindlessly followers.

March 10, 2009 @ 11:13 pm | Comment

[…] did not intend to comment on the Chas Freeman controversy, as it is mainly an American affair, and I’m neither American, nor particularly interested […]

March 11, 2009 @ 4:02 pm | Pingback

under #4
“So you cannot be accused of embracing that quaint but hystrionic absurdity about a country that has joined just about every international organization and regulatory regime that exists, while emerging as a strong defender of the status quo in each against attacks on them”

defending the status quo of regulatory regimes? What virtue is that? I’ll admit I’m politically ignorant, but I do know that corruption in China is the utmost, and I know that they spread their backward form of negotiating all over the world through political/economic leverage/coercion.

They are part of all sorts of international bodies, well, that just says how lax and corruptable those bodies are, like the UN. China plays a role in international human rights issues, environment etc. Does that mean it lives up to any standards or is subject to justice and scrutiny? Maybe to some people it looks that way, but to me, it looks like a big crock of nonsense.

No matter how many groups the CCP belongs to, I know that that regime is fundamentally unjust and I know that the human rights situation is horrid, people can’t even think freely because they are not granted the right to information. That place is a mess of lies, and torture is commonplace in illegal gulags for people who simply seek justice, who would actually follow just constitutions and bodies, the CCP is a liar, the constitution is spit on and those bodies that it participates in are made fools of.

leaking state secrets, subversion of state power, plotting to overthrow socialism, disturbing social harmony, these “laws” all serve one purpose to safeguard injustice and punish the people who would seek truth and justice. What is done to people accused of these “crimes”? This is no small problem. This is an epidemic that is propagated by the liar media, brainwashes the people, and terrorizes them, so maybe on the surface it looks harmonious, but is this a style of governing that should be praised and defended? I don’t think it is appropriate at all to praise and defend the regime.

March 11, 2009 @ 9:20 pm | Comment

ecodelta: @Richard
The TIA Square incident was one of those events who mark history. I am not going to mention the other to avoid a post food fight. Just say, somethings cannot bee forgotten and some of them not even forgiving.
Also in some ways the government today is still related to that incident. Prove of it is the silencing of that incident.
Want a prove, try to go to TIA Square with something related to that event and see what happens. Post something in the internet and see what happens.

Ecodelta, we are in total agreement. I have never said otherwise.

Snow, you redefine the concept of “broken record.” We all know lots and lots of bad things about China. Meanwhile, their government has a higher approval rating among its people than my own, and that has a lot to do more with economics than with brainwashing. Now is a critical moment for China as its economy temporarily stagnates. I suspect they’ll deal with the crisis well enough to hold onto power, and possibly emerge with even more. For better or for worse, that’s just how it is. Time will tell.

March 12, 2009 @ 12:10 am | Comment

I’m sure many people already knew this, but as no one had mentioned it here I thought I should point out that Freeman has withdrawn because he was concerned the controversy surrounding him would interfere with the NIC’s work.

March 12, 2009 @ 1:14 am | Comment

Nonsense. Freeman has always been controversial, which is why his appointment was so refreshing. He has never feared or shied away from controversy. Never.

He resigned because of pressure on the administration from the Israeli lobby, plain and simple. I would bet my house and savings that this was not his choice at all, and that he wanted to fight it out. Here’s a good perspective on the subject. Read it now.

March 12, 2009 @ 1:19 am | Comment

Well, yeah. He believed (according to his statement) that the complaints against him would have interfered with the NIC’s work.

“I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country.”

I’m sure he wanted to stay on, but I guess he thought there was only one way out of it.

March 12, 2009 @ 6:51 am | Comment

By the way, I meant to say the controversy/sh*t-storm surrounding his nomination/appointment. Of course he’s been controversial for ages.

March 12, 2009 @ 7:03 am | Comment

I thank you for publishing this extract. It is the first case I’ve seen of someone actually trying to explain one of Freeman’s seemingly appalling remarks, rather than ignoring them and wailing about the Israel lobby. I am now convinced that Freeman was not trying to say that Beijing should have moved sooner, merely that he was surprised that they did not, and in the future they will. You don’t have to approve of Li Peng’s butchery to consider those ideas plausible.

I would be curious to see if there are similarly innocent explanations for the “if we bomb people they bomb back” remark about 9/11 (if that’s really what he was referring to), and his claim that Hezbollah has not attacked Americans in recent decades. At the least, I’m now more prepared to entertain the idea he was being misrepresented.

March 14, 2009 @ 4:45 am | Comment

I began breathing a lot easier as I got through the posts. Reading this information about Freeman makes me wonder how he even got close to the nomination, he is a consummate politician. Whereas Obama works with the opposition, Freeman appears to be shilling for them.

He is no contrarian. Just because he has a view that bucks the popular opinion does not make him one in the least. Views which are in the opposite direction of the foundations of America are not good at all, especially when you are the guy in a strong policy making position. A public politician, ie someone like Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Pelosi are justified in tempering their remarks because they are on camera. However, their ultimate decisions, hidden in legislation, the budget, or memos are what really matter.

The chinese are fundamentally a decent people that are unfortunately not part of the process. Many of them agree with the governments policies because of the positive effects on the majority. However, being in agreement with the government does not by itself create legitimacy. I see Tianamen on the same level as Tibet and the events last year in Myanmar. The CCP promotes peace and stability, as all governments do, but they go about in much different ways than many Western governments. They have a different idea about the basic rights of a human being, and to elevate peace and stability above all else is narcissistic and evil.

Math, you are part of the problem. You are obviously not a golfer. If you think about what your basic premise is, then you must understand that there is always a cause to psychosis and so you’re arguing without the facts. And the cause is the CCP. You can say the same about US student protests about Vietnam and how they grew out of control, that the government should have acted sooner. The real problem is that the government was incorrect in their assumptions about Vietnam, which was proven by the events that ultimately transpired. Yes we all agree that students have no place to make decisions in a country, but their voice must be respected.

March 14, 2009 @ 5:53 am | Comment

Daniel, see the link in the update to the post.

GM, I agree with much of what you say about China and Vietnam. Bit with what you say about Freeman. I simply don’t see him as shilling. But I don’t think at this point we’re likely to change one another’s minds. By this logic, nearly every politician in America can be accused of shilling for Israel.

March 15, 2009 @ 12:23 am | Comment

[…] “Tianenmen massacre was justified.” It should be understood in context: consider the analysis of China blogger “Peking Duck”, or the words of Daniel Lubin and Jim Lobe at at […]

March 16, 2009 @ 10:43 am | Pingback

It is NOT Israel, it’s the future of America integrity and well function regime!
Freeman not only has extremist views regarding the Middle East and China, but he has been beholden to lobby groups that are anxious to influence intelligent assessments regarding Saudi Arabia and China. Freeman bowed out when it became clear that his highly questionable financial ties to the Saudi and China lobby would be deeply probed by inspectors general, congressional staffers and the media. He couldn’t handle the truth about his financial ties to these lobbies which do not serve the interests of the United States. The heavy thumbs of the powerful Saudi and Chinese lobbies would have subtly, and perhaps invisibly, weighed on Freeman’s intelligence assessment.
The truth is that the Freeman appointment was bad for America, bad for peace in the Middle East, bad for human rights in China, bad for Tibet, bad for the environment, and bad for “policy-neutral intelligence.” Those who challenged it performed a patriotic duty. They should be praised for helping the Obama administration avoid a serious blunder that threatened to compromise the president’s ability to act in the interest of the United States on the basis of policy-neutral intelligence. All Americans owe them a debt of gratitude.

March 16, 2009 @ 2:20 pm | Comment

Congratulations, Abe – you have fallen for every myth out there, right down the line. Be grateful you get the same old hacks who got us into a lot of our current messes. Be grateful you can remain in permanent ignorance about China. And how do you have all this inside information on why Freeman pulled out? I knew he was going to pull out, but for very different reasons from the ones you list.

March 16, 2009 @ 5:28 pm | Comment

The greatest myth of all, in our context, is blaming the “Israeli lobby” in conspiracy maneuvering the US government. Erasing borders among Israel, Israeli lobby and pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews shows Deliberated intention to project blasphemy over Israel as a country that rule the US, and the Jews as their hidden helpers.
But as I tried to say, Freeman resignation has nothing to do with his stand towards Israel. If this was the only issue he then was already sitting in office. The main Freeman’s problem is his tied connections with Chinese and Saudi oil markets and governments policies. Freeman served as the main “Saudi lobby” for years, but not as every other lobby activist he also was paid by foreign governments!!!!! He also served as a director in the “Chinese national oil company”. He also was on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which is partly owned by the Chinese government (foreign government I suppose) and has invested in the Sudan and Iran, contrary to the US laws! No wonder why he backed Sudan president on Darfur long massacre issue. Some senators demanded that the Inspector General, who’s probing Freeman, deepen his investigation to look at Freeman’s work for a Chinese oil company that did business with countries that have at times been at odds with the U.S.
1. By strange coincidence, Freeman bowed out just as the Inspector General’s Office was about to probe his ties with the Saudis and Chinese. Nothing there? Yeah right!
The fact is Freeman was never vetted. The White House failed to vet him; and the mainstream media failed as well.
Instead, he was vetted for the American public by the blogosphere. They asked the hard questions; looked into his background; and created the debate where all viewpoints could be aired; and finally, at long last, our congress people took notice.
This may not be a victory for “Washington democracy” but it’s certainly a victory for grass roots democracy.

“Israeli lobby” activists are not paid by Israel government. They are Americans that think that the best interests of the US, global interests and ME interests, will be preserved and flourished by close cooperation and coordination with Israel. You might think that they are wrong, but they are acting according the law and the interests of the US.

Freeman, in trying to divert the public discussion and spreading grey fog over his black oil hole, deliberately excused his resign by blaming Israel and the “Israel lobby”. Is that the way for one who supposes to shine as a public servant in so delicate post!

…. And I’m writing from Brussels, Belgium, if you asked. English is neither my born language, nor the second language I have studied, so pardon me if there some linguistic weird mistakes.

March 16, 2009 @ 10:42 pm | Comment

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