The Other Tiananmen Square, Pre-CNN

The Tiananmen Square “incident” of 1989 is still, for most of us, alive and vivid thanks to the video cameras that documented nearly its every instant. Not so for the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of April 5, 1976, when 100,000 Chinese citizens congregated in the same spot to mourn the death of their beloved Zhou En Lai. There were riots and deaths and suppression, for the demonstrators had another purpose – to demand an end to the Gang of Four’s reign of terror. This article looks at the little-remembered first TS demonstrations, and in particular at how the CCP has blacked out references to it in its history books.

Were China a free country, the significance of April 5 would be known to every school child. China is not free, but even so one might imagine that the current government, which owes its existence in part to that protest, would choose to commemorate the anniversary in some careful and controlled way.

But of course it is impossible for this government to lend even the whiff of legitimacy to an organised protest against Party authority. So each year this anniversary is passed over in deathly silence, and the first Tiananmen incident – like all of Chinese history after 1965 – is never taught to Chinese schoolchildren at all. Many educated young Chinese do not even know that there was a protest in Tiananmen Square in 1976.

Midway through, the article shifts gears somewhat and focuses on how censorship and the ignorance that comes with it dampen the spirit of free inquiry essential for creativity and innovation among the Chinese: “China cannot possibly aspire to technological leadership. If China isn’t ready for open debates about politics and history, it isn’t ready for innovation either.”

I honestly don’t know. Germany’s inventors were damned innovative during Hitler’s 12-year reich (though he did himself no favors expelling the Jewish physicists who were to prove invaluable to the US). And China’s scientists continue to impress me with their innovations in medicine and physics. Can technological innovation occur in an environment hostile to free inquiry? Again, I don’t have an answer, but it sure is an interesting question.

That aside, I appreciated this article for reminding me of another moment in China’s history that its leaders would like to pretend never happened.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

I was not aware that the 1976 Tiananmen incident was not widely known in today’s China. Wasn’t it changed from a “counter-revolutionary incident” to a patriotic expression in Deng-era Party histories?

April 14, 2006 @ 12:53 am | Comment

That’s what I always thought, Lisa – or at least assumed – until I read this. I’d need someone who grew up in China to give us the answer.

April 14, 2006 @ 1:03 am | Comment

I haven’t been here for a long time. But this article is really out of bound of usually twisted truethfulness on this board.

I grew up in China, born in 1969, left in 1996. 1976 Tiananmen is in the text book, with poems commemorizing Zhou. Although the materials are tainted with propaganda, but people knew it.

1989 Tiananmen is well know because at that time it can be widely witnessed by Westerners, for whom, 1976 might be obscure but not to Chinese.

April 19, 2006 @ 11:24 am | Comment

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