Welcome to the World Wide Web Home page of Road to East Asia
Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 2, January-February, 1997
It was a prominent hope of the students, workers, and citizens who took part in the 1989 democracy movement that the people of China and of the world would rally together behind them in their fight for democracy. But this did not happen. This hope may never come true as long as Beijing continues to manipulate the way the people of China think, and as long as the government can use its military power to suppress those who think differently.
On June 3 and 4, 1989, China's military reportedly killed unarmed, peaceful demonstrators. Reports in the West estimate the number of deaths to be between 3,000 and 7,000, including protesters and innocent bystanders. The military blocked first-aid teams attempting to enter the square to help students and the wounded. The first medical vehicle that tried to reach the square was reported to have been shot at by the soldiers. There are also accounts of armored personnel carriers crushing people as they tried to leave the square. Those who tried to fight back threw mostly rocks and a few flaming cocktails.
The Chinese government, however, gave a different account of the events. The soldiers were described as heroes who acted responsibly and courageously in their suppression of the counter-revolutionary rioters. Only a few hundred people were injured and a small number of bystanders were killed. Beijing also claimed that no one who tried to leave the square on the morning of June 4 was killed. Instead, it maintained that a number of soldiers lost their lives during the offensive and justified the use of military force to restore order.
It was this official account that had been widely disseminated to the Chinese citizens through the media, as all unofficial reports were censored. Eye-witnesses of the tragedy were silenced. Xiao Bin, a worker who saw some of the ways the protesters were dealt with by the soldiers, spoke to a news reporter from ABC (American Broadcasting Corporation). He was caught and sentenced to ten years in prison to serve as an example to others who might want to speak out against Beijing in the same manner. How can the voices of so many witnesses be silenced? The military obviously had carried the government's order efficiently.
How can one control the military? Through fear, I presume. Individuals in the military are given no choice. Anyone who opposes or disobeys the government is branded as a traitor and faces persecution and possibly death. There may be a number of soldiers who question what the government wants them to do, but how can individuals know that they are not alone in their opposition. The only way is to express their opinion. But they will receive severe punishment if their view is not supported by the rest of the troops, leaving them to stand alone or as part of a feeble minority who dares defy the ruling of the almighty government.
Some members of the military did not want to have any part in using military force to suppress the students. The Beijing commander of the People's Liberation Army was the last to formally agree to Li Peng's decision to impose martial law, and booked himself into a hospital to avoid having to lead an offensive in Tiananmen Square. As a result, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. As well, letters written anonymously by soldiers to the students expressing support for them were published in a book titled Voices from Tiananmen Square.
It seems that the masses will not rise up to defend the noble cause as the student protesters had hoped. But does the rest of the world have a conscience? I feel the CCP has so much power because it is not accountable to its people. The Chinese government, however, does not control the media of the rest of the world. Knowledge of what happened has escaped. We have eyewitness accounts as well as video footage. We know of the injustice and violence yet we have done little in response. Why do our governments go on trading with China as though nothing had happened? The Autonomous Student Union of Beijing Universities, for one, appeals to all peace-loving individuals "to use effective economic and diplomatic sanctions to support" the struggle for political freedom. If we do not respond to the cries of the victims, the purpose of the thousands of people who shed their blood and laid down their lives is defeated. They will have died for nothing!
Gordon, Richard, and Carma Hinton, dir. The Gate of Heavenly Peace. Long Bow Group with Independent Television Service, 1995.
The International League for Human Rights in China. Massacre in Beijing--The Events of 3-4 June 1989 and Their Aftermath. New York, 1989.
Mok, Chiu Yu, and J. Frank Harrison, ed. Voices from Tiananmen Square. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1990.
Smith, Dorrance, prod. Tragedy at Tiananmen: The Untold Story. Coronet with MTI Film & Video, 1989.
Illustration by Julie Shim