We all know I’ve had my rifts with Philip Cunningham before, ever since I first saw him on CCTV-9 at the start of the Iraq war in 2003. But I have to thank him for writing a superb piece (proxy required here, I’m afraid) that makes mincemeat of the revisionist movement I referred to in an earlier post to shift all the blame onto the students and the US media.
I said from the very first day this blog shifted from a place for personal doodling to a place to chronicle my feelings about Chinese life and politics that the students at Tiananmen Square were not angels – but that I loved them anyway. Cunningham knows better than I do. He was there, he stood with them and watched them and knew them. I was only “there” as a spectator watching CNN the first year I was able to afford cable TV, and later, through the books and articles I read after moving to Asia. So I was delighted to see that Cunningham’s observations are so close to my own. This is a sampling; please read the entire article.
The students were indeed imperfect, and in unwitting ways mimicked the best and worst tendencies of their communist elders. But they did not carry out the bloody crackdown, rather certain units of the PLA did. As for the units of the PLA that refused to join the crackdown, they should be considered people’s heroes on a par with the man in front of the tank.
To blame it on the students, as many young people in China do today, is to fall for a propaganda line, to take one’s eye off the ball.
As best I could judge, from studying the crowd every day for a month on the square, is that the ever-shifting crowd largely organised and ordered itself, at once subject to the vagaries of mass psychology and the kinetics of crowd dynamics, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Countless individuals poured into Beijing’s most central plaza to create a vivid living tableau with their passion and dedication to peaceful change; they became part of a whole beyond individual control yet coherent and compelling.
The only real crime was demanding a military solution and then turning the guns on unarmed civilians.
The value of releasing Mr Zhao’s belated memoir, which goes for the jugular by singling out a hard-line clique within the CCP, on this, the 20th anniversary of an unnecessary tragedy, is to get the public eye back on the culpability of those most culpable.
Philip (and this is rhetorical, because I don’t think you hang out here much), I always knew you were brilliant. I also felt you were maddeningly unfair in your taking it easy on the CCP while going after the US with no mercy. But that doesn’t matter right now. I’ve been reading your blog and articles like the one referenced above, and I have to say I have a deep respect for you. It may still piss me off when I think back on those conversations you’d have with Yang Rui on CCTV 9 – the ones where I nearly threw something at the set because I felt you were applying such blatantly different standards to the US and China – but I think your contribution to clearing the air over the tragedy of Tiananmen Square is without parallel, and I admire you for it. There is a lot of obfuscation out there as the anniversary day nears, an insistence that the Chinese people don’t care about the “incident,” that it can all be blamed on the students and the Western media, that the CCP “had to act boldly” or else there would have been no economic miracle, that the bloodshed was all for the best…. So much bullshit. For your clearheaded, unsentimental yet passionate recounting of what actually happened and who is and who is not to blame for the bloodshed, I have only two words: Thank you.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.