I’m not going to rehash what happened on that day in 1989, except to repeat my bottom-line belief that there was blame to be shared by all sides, but that the massacre of Beijing citizens in the side streets around Tiananmen Square was an unnecessary and avoidable tragedy that continues to haunt the Chinese government to this day. In some corners of Beijing there were terrible incidents of violence against Chinese soldiers and I can at least understand why shots were fired. But the violence around the Square is a different story. This blog has chronicled all the eyewitness accounts, including Philip Cunningham’s excellent description of what can only be described as a massacre, and we’ve all seen the BBC footage of the shootings and read the reports from demonstrators and bystanders crushed and maimed by tanks or injured by shots, we know all about the Tiananmen Mothers, etc., etc. The students may have been foolish and misguided at times (they were), but the response was not commensurate with the threat posed by the “incident,” to put it mildly. For my complete take on the suppression of the demonstrators and bystanders along with lots of links and first-hand descriptions, go here. No need to repost it.
Only one thing I’ll add that’s new, and that’s the story of a new book by Beijing’s mayor at the time of the crackdown. The Party is trying to stop the Hong Kong publisher from printing it because it is not in synch with the official story.
A new book that offers a surprising reassessment of the Tiananmen Square crackdown through interviews with a disgraced former Beijing mayor went on sale Friday in Hong Kong despite efforts by Chinese authorities to stop the sale.
“Conversations With Chen Xitong,” which is not available in mainland China, is based on interviews with Chen, who was mayor of Beijing during the 1989 crackdown. Chen has long been portrayed as having supported the military assault, but in the book he says the crackdown was an avoidable tragedy and that he regrets the loss of life, though he denies being directly responsible.
In the book, Chen tells Yao that the Tiananmen crackdown should never have happened and that he hoped the government would formally re-evaluate the event, in which the military crushed weekslong protests, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people….
The book adds to a growing debate ahead of a once-a-decade transfer of power in China later this year from one generation of party leaders to younger successors.
The author said Friday that Chen still considers himself a communist and isn’t trying to be a dissident. Chen believes the protests could have been resolved peacefully by using dialogue, Yao said.
We all have to draw our own conclusions. I know what mine are, and have expressed them many times over the past ten years.
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.