Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wang Dan Acts On His Citizenship Right

In a follow-up to their appeal for citizenship rights about a month ago, Wang Dan released a statement today on his action on the issue:
I was exiled to the United States in 1998. At the time, I held a passport of the People's Republic of China. The passport expired in 2003. I have been applying for a renewal to the Chinese Consulate at New York according to the regulations but have never received any response. It has been 5 years and I have been a person without a nation for these 5 years. But I have never applied for a US citizenship because, despite of my exile status, I still love my motherland and hope for returning to China some day, being a Chinese, and contributing to China's progress. I have also asked a return of my passport through various channels in these 5 years. But I still haven't received any constructive response.

In order to defend my rights as a citizen and the dignity of being a Chinese, I, as well as several other Chinese citizens facing the same illegal treatment by the Chinese government, decided to fight for our rights. Today, I have sent out my application for the return of my passport to the Chinese Consulate in New York via expressed mail. We have also prepared to start legal actions in China against the relevant agencies. According to the regulations, The Consulate must respond to us within 15 days of receiving our application. We hope the Consulate will respect its own law and positively respond to our appeal.

At the same time I must also declare, if the Chinese agencies continue to ignore our appeal, we have no choice but taking further actions. We will not rule out the possibility of conducting a hunger strike protest in front of the Chinese Consulate. We call on all the people to pay attention to our status, understand our will to be able to be a Chinese, and support our actions.

Unlike the previous statement cosigned by many dissidents in exile, this one is signed by Wang Dan alone.

NYT Archive 1989: A Dialogue with Officials

The glorious protest march on April 27, 1989, caught everybody by surprise, not the least the government. Even before the students got back to their campuses, words were spreading that the government had agreed to hold dialogs with students, a key demand of the protest. Even better, the dialog would be broadcast to the nation, another huge victory to the students.

But of course the government was not ready to capitulate completely either. Holding on the line that the many solidarity-style organizations formed in the last week or so were illegal, the government only allowed leaders from the official student unions as representatives in the dialog. As such, the dialog played out more like a press conference during which the State Council Spokesperson Yuan Mu (袁木) answered most soft-ball questions with the usual format answers. It was definitely not what the protesting students had expected.

Several of the new leaders of the independent organizations did get invited as individuals by their friends in the official unions. Some attended the session, others, like Wuer Kaixi, decided to boycott.

Nonetheless, the students showed that they were a force to be reckoned with. And even during this staged dialog, a couple of students, notably Xiang Xiaoji (项小吉) of the University of Political Sciences and Law, managed to post pointed questions that had embarrassed Yuan Mu et al on live television.

Sheryl WuDunn reported in New York Times on April 30, 1989, that
Television viewers were treated for nearly three hours tonight to the extraordinary sight of Government officials being interrogated by ordinary students, who raised sensitive questions about corruption, beatings, the deployment of troops and the isolation of the nation's top leaders.
In a clear sign of the influence that students have gained through their demonstrations, the Government conducted the informal talks with student leaders who had been condemned just days ago, and then broadcast the discussions on national television.
The Government's leading spokesman, Yuan Mu, also told the students that Prime Minister Li Peng thought China's student demonstrators have the same aims as the Communist Party and Government. Mr. Li's remarks appeared to be a turnabout from the Government's stern warning against the student protests.

''We called on Prime Minister Li Peng to come out,'' one angry student said in front of tens of millions of television viewers. ''Why can't the people's Prime Minister meet the people?'' The atmosphere of the meeting seemed more like that of a lively news conference than an informal talk, with frequent bitter exchanges and criticisms voiced by both sides. One student walked out of the meeting because he did not think there was fair representation on either side.

What was remarkable was not just that the meeting took place but that the Government televised nearly all of it, apparently as a concession to a student's demand. The official New China News Agency also gave a long, relatively balanced account of the event.
In the same issue of NYT, Nicholas Kristof provided a commentary of the significance of the April 27 protest:
One can only imagine the expressions on the faces of China's old revolutionary leaders as a cacophonous rendition of the Chinese national anthem wafted into the Zhongnanhai park where they live and work. ''The peoples of China are in their critical hour; everybody must roar his defiance; arise! arise! arise!'' tens of thousands of voices sang defiantly during a vast illegal march on Thursday. Despite all the old guard's sniping about how the young Chinese today care only about money, it seemed that they had inherited a penchant for revolutionary ideas, after all.
Some Chinese see the demonstration as a turning point, the first time that students and workers truly joined forces to express dissatisfaction, and the first time in the history of the People's Republic of China that the people - lowercase ''p'' - defeated the People's Armed Police and the People's Liberation Army. The glee was unforgettable, and everybody jostled for a place in history: the ice cream vendor who gave her cart of popsicles to the marchers, the businessmen who bought food and drinks for the students, and the young workers who blocked the army troops sent to stop the marchers.
The last two weeks of demonstrations have been an extraordinary humiliation for the Government, and especially for Deng Xiaoping, China's senior leader, who personally ordered the repression of the student movement. But more fundamentally, they suggest that the Government may be losing its grasp on what the emperors called ''the mandate of heaven.''

Monday, April 28, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: A Glorious Day of Protest

The demonstration on April 27, 1989, was one of the most remarkable events during the 1989 movement. The mood on the streets was quite nicely reflected on New York Times' report on April 28, 1989:
More than 150,000 demonstrators openly defied official warnings and a concentration of troops today to march for 14 hours through the capital, repeatedly and effortlessly puncturing lines of policemen and soldiers sent to stop them, in one of the biggest displays of dissatisfaction in 40 years of Communist rule.
The student-organized demonstration in support of democracy and against corruption was a stunning humiliation for the Government, which responded this evening by agreeing conditionally to the students' demand for discussions with officials.
Most worrying for the authorities was the fact that crowds of cheering workers lined the entire route and hailed the core of student marchers almost as a liberating army. Workers vigorously applauded the students, waved encouragement from office windows, and frequently sent them food and drinks to show support.

On at least three occasions thousands of workers surrounded hundreds of soldiers and and prevented them from approaching student marchers.
Workers sometimes pushed aside police blockades even before the students drew near, and the marchers in the four-mile-long parade were easily outnumbered by supporters who walked and bicycled along with them for at least part of the way.
Beijing residents said the security forces, including army troops called in from surrounding areas, had made their greatest show of force in recent memory, but it was dwarfed by the sea of demonstrators.
Including the onlookers who waved and cheered as the parade went by, perhaps half a million people took part one way or another, often climbing trees and lampposts when there was no ground to stand on.
The threatening People's Daily editorial a day earlier was meant to put an end of all the unrest but it failed miserably. Understandably, NYT missed on the background stories of how difficult this march did come about. Under tremendous pressure, the young leader of the newly formed Beijing Students Autonomous Federation had indeed called off the march in the 11-th hour. But students came out anyway, from all campuses. At the gates of some campuses, school officials and professors had tried to stop them with tears and genuine compassion, fearing for their students' lives. Beida's contingent was supposed to only have a symbolic march that day. But once the procession was out of campus, nobody could have prevented it from becoming the biggest protest march to date.

NYT did have several sharp observations:

For the first time, the pro-democracy movement, which in the past has been overwhelmingly limited to students and intellectuals, seemed to draw fervent support from others. The students encouraged this not only by pressing their previous demands, like freedom of the press and more money for education, but also by raising populist themes like official corruption and inflation.

Aside from some shoving, there was no violence. Indeed, students once rescued soldiers sent to block their march. Several truckloads of troops were surrounded by angry mobs, who allowed them to leave only when persuaded to do so by students waving their university identification badges.
To many workers, the students seemed to represent not a focused, alternative agenda, but simply a cry of discontent that struck a deep chord.
''They represent people's thinking, the sense that we the people are in control,'' said one of the marchers, Lin Yulin, a 52-year-old worker wearing a Mao Zedong button as a sign of his discontent. ''The leaders cover everything up. People don't know anything, and we are no longer the masters. That's why there is this uprising.''


The Government appeared dumbfounded by the size of the day's demonstration, and the television news did not mention it tonight. The official New China News Agency mentioned it briefly and suggested its effect only indirectly when reporting that it had caused ''huge traffic tie-ups'' affecting 300,000 people.
In an accompanying article, Sheryl WuDunn elaborated more on the confusion in students' demand, which centered the abstract concept of "democracy":
''I don't know exactly what democracy is,'' said a 22-year-old physics student from Tianjin University. ''But we need more of it.''
What emerges from interviews with several dozen students over the last few days is the feeling that democracy is as much a moral issue as a political one: that it would bring about a cleansing of the corruption that many people believe has become customary for Government officials in China.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Gathering Storm

April 26, 1989, the day between the infamous People's Daily editorial and the biggest defiance showing in the history of the People's Republic was a very tense day. In the April 27th edition, New York Times captured the mood of the previous day rather well from several perspectives.

First, the banning of Shanghai's World Economic Herald escalated:

In a clear move to clamp down on criticism, the Communist Party dismissed the editor of the nation's boldest newspaper today and announced that the paper would be reorganized.
The decision to dismiss Qin Benli, editor of the World Economic Herald, and reorganize the newspaper seemed certain to send shock waves throughout the country. Mr. Qin, 70 years old, is a Communist Party member whose newspaper, which is based in Shanghai, has for several years been regarded as the most outspoken and perhaps the best newspaper in the country.
The decision was announced in the middle of the night, and so there was no immediate reaction.
A little more than two years ago, in the last crackdown on ''bourgeois liberalization,'' or Western influences, the Government shut down a few local publications, including a newspaper in the southern city of Shenzhen that had urged the retirement of the senior leader, Deng Xiaoping. But the Herald, a weekly with a circulation of 300,000, is far better known and respected than any of the publications that have faced ''reorganization'' in the past.
The newspaper has enjoyed strong support from those in the Communist Party who favor more rapid political and economic change. Such prominent Communist Party members as the theorist Wu Jiaxiang and the economist Li Yining frequently write for the Herald. In the past, the Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang, is said to have intervened to save Mr. Qin from dismissal, but Mr. Zhao is now on a trip to North Korea, and in any case his influence is widely regarded as waning. 'Violations of Discipline'
The official New China News Agency reported that the Shanghai city government had decided to dismiss Mr. Qin ''on account of his serious violations of discipline.'' This probably referred to the present issue, which the Government banned after discovering that it quoted a range of prominent people criticizing the Government and supporting the student demonstrations.

Then, there are signs of the looming confrontation:

The party also summoned urgent meetings of 20,000 Communist Party officers in Beijing and Shanghai to press what it called a ''grave political struggle'' against student unrest.
Despite widespread fears that a crackdown is beginning, university students today planned a march for Thursday that could lead to a direct confrontation with the authorities.
The Government also declared three student organizing committees illegal, and residents of the northwestern district of Beijing, where several universities are, reported that they had seen soldiers moving in the area. There were widespread but unconfirmed reports that at least 10,000 troops from the 38th Army Corps have been moved from Hebei Province to Beijing.
If the troops were indeed moved to Beijing, they were not directly used until early June. For now, the students only had the regular police forces to contend with.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: The Infamous People's Daily Editorial

After the Hu Yaobang funeral, neither the government nor the students knew what would happen next. While the students in Beijing continued to boycott classes and their leaders busied themselves into organizing solidarity-style leadership, they still hoped that their actions could be recognized by the government as patriotic and well-intended.

That hope received a huge, if not fatal, blow in the evening of April 25, when a People's Daily editorial, to be published the next morning, was broadcast. The language of the editorial was so incinerate that the New York Times immediately reported it under the title "Beijing Hints at Crackdown on Students", in the April 26, 1989 edition:
In its strongest public comment so far on the pro-democracy student demonstrations of the last 10 days, the Communist Party called tonight for ''a grave political struggle'' against student unrest.
The harshness of the message, which charged that the unrest was a conspiracy to wrest power from the party, immediately prompted fears among students that a crackdown was imminent. Similar wording was used in warnings that accompanied crackdowns against unrest in 1987 and in 1976.

Understandably, the immediate reaction from the students was an emotional one:
Several thousand students gathered tonight at Beijing University to discuss strategy after the announcement. The mood was angry.
''We must persist to the end and the victory will be ours,'' one woman said over the public address system.
A science student said: ''The mood is very, very defiant. I think people are all going to stick together and fight for it.''
Beijing University student leaders said tonight that they were still planning to continue their student strike, and planned to hold ''large-scale activities'' on May 1 and May 4, to commemorate the anniversary of famous student demonstrations that took place on May 4, 1919.
Students at Qinghua University nearby seemed somewhat more shaken by the announcement. Several thousand Qinghua students gathered tonight on the campus to discuss the situation, and decided that while they would continue their class boycott, they would not give the Government any pretext to intervene.
As the mouse-piece of the Party, People's Daily editorial carries the most authority in China. Open defiance was still unheard of in China by that time. But coming off the spectacular show of force during the Hu Yaohang funeral, this generation of students had no fear. As it turned out, the students did not even wait till May to show their determination.

Friday, April 25, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: The Banning of The World Economic Herald

While "it appeared that almost all students at Beijing's universities were honoring the boycott [of classes]", New York Times on April 15, 1989, reported a more startling development in the southern city of Shanghai:

In its firmest action so far to stem the growing student campaign for more democracy, the Communist Party today banned an issue of a popular newspaper that published comments openly supporting the demonstrators.
The latest issue of the banned weekly newspaper, The World Economic Herald, had already been printed and contained some of the boldest criticisms of the Communist Party ever published in a major Chinese newspaper. But the party today prohibited the distribution of the newspaper, according to Chinese familiar with the order.
Qin Benli, the editor in chief of the Shanghai-based newspaper, which has a circulation of 300,000, was not in the office this afternoon. The deputy editor in chief, Zhu Xinqun, confirmed in a telephone interview that the newspaper was not distributed today as it normally is on Mondays. Mr. Zhu declined to say why it did not appear.
Several people familiar with the banning said that a Politburo member, Jiang Zemin, who is also party leader in Shanghai, gave the order that The Herald could not be distributed. It was not clear if the order originated with him or someone higher.

The banned issue of the World Economic Herald contained a six-page long proceedings of a symposium of prominent intellectuals commemorating Hu Yaobang. The speakers have included Yan Jiaqi and Dai Qing. Yan was quoted in NYT as saying, "the main problem China has had, up to today, is the lack of democracy." and "Some people who were in charge of ideology have no right to mourn Hu. They stabbed him in the back. They should be tried by history."

This sweep action by Jiang Zemin appeared to have served himself well. Coupled with a "swift management" of the student movement in Shanghai during the period, Jiang ended up becoming the chosen successor of Deng Xiaoping.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Students Start To Organize

After the exhausting funeral and the big emotional letdown, no students in Beijing were in the mood to return to their regular classes. Therefore, a call to boycott classes was natural and well received. On April 24, 1989, New York Times reported that students were planing for their next actions:
University students in the capital were busy today planning their next round of protests in the campaign for more democracy, and some were bracing for a stern Government reaction to rioting in two Chinese cities.
The planned protests include a class boycott that students said would continue until their demands were met.
Xiong Wei, a 22-year-old student leader at Qinghua University, said that all the universities in Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin would boycott classes and jointly send out telegrams to universities in other parts of the country calling for their participation.
At Qinghua University, posters urged students to boycott classes, and students seemed full of fervor as several thousand gathered to pick representatives to plan the next protests.
Although the last sentence above strongly hinted an organizational effort, the NYT once again missed out on the story. In the evening of April 23, Liu Gang had gathered dozens of student leaders he had come to know, including Wuer Kaixi, at his place in Yuanmingyuan, and established the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation (BSAF). Those who attended the meeting were then sent back to their respective schools and organized elections for official representatives to the Federation. That was what Qinghua was doing.

At Beida, however, things are a little bit different. Beida already had its own Preparatory Committee and their leaders felt that it was not time yet for a inter-campus structure like BSAF. They chose to go their own way. At noon of April 24, Wang Dang and other leaders organized a mass meeting of thousands students in an athletic field. The agenda was to democratically disband the official student union and elect their own "solidarity" union. But the meeting quickly disintegrated into chaos as student leaders accused each other for being spies.

Nevertheless, the NYT report captured a list of demands by the students, based on the original 7-points drafted at Tiananmen Square a week or so ago:

As revised and agreed upon by a joint committee of delegates from Beijing area universities, the demands include: a reappraisal of Hu Yaobang, the former party leader whose death on April 15 touched off the protests; press freedom; more funds for education and better treatment of intellectuals; reassessment of the 1986-87 student demonstrations for democracy and the subsequent crackdown on intellectuals; acknowledgement that students were beaten last week; punishment of corrupt bureaucrats, and full publication in the newspapers of facts relating to the recent protests.
It also included details of the riots outside of Beijing:

The television news reported extensively tonight on rioting Saturday night and early this morning in two central Chinese provincial capitals, Changsha and Xian. According to the official reports, the clashes lasted more than seven hours in Changsha and more than 12 hours in Xian, although residents said both cities were quiet today.
The violence was a rare sign of social unrest in China and represented a major new challenge to China's leaders, already struggling to cope with illegal pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital that at their peak attracted more than 100,000 people.
The news reports said that in Changsha, rioters smashed and robbed 24 shops, overturned one car and hijacked two others, and ran into the train station where they broke shop counters and looted. The official New China News Agency said that several police officers were injured, one seriously, and about 100 looters detained.
In Xian, the police began 24-hour traffic control at key intersections this morning, after crowds attacked the provincial government headquarters, burning several buildings, 20 houses and 10 vehicles. About 130 security officers were injured in the attacks, the news agency reported. A bus carrying tourists from Taiwan was also attacked and its windows smashed. Anguish Over Hu's Death
It is not clear how much of a connection there was between the growing pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital in recent days and the rioting.
In both Changsha and Xian, the clashes came after students gathered in memory of Mr. Hu, who won the respect of many students after he was forced to resign in January 1987 after pro-democracy rallies in several cities. Today's official reports attributed the violence to hoodlums, not students.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: After the Funeral

After staying in Tiananmen Square all night and an emotional experience during the funeral, students in Beijing were totally exhausted. It was all quiet in Beijing the day after. With no new development to report, New York Times on April 23, 1989, took the time to reflect what happened the day earlier:
In Beijing, the Government leaders could see the challengers directly, when more than 70,000 university students rallied on Saturday in central Tiananmen Square, defeating the authorities' attempts to seal off the center of the capital. The students mourned Mr. Hu by shouting demands for more democracy as the nation's leaders held their own official memorial service next door.
The students' triumph over Government attempts to block the rally was a significant embarrassment for China's leaders, who called out thousands of army troops and the police to shield themselves from the students.
The authorities apparently had planned to clear the square, but they changed their minds in the pre-dawn hours after tens of thousands of people began camping there to be sure that they would not be kept out by a police cordon to be set up later.
The authorities concluded that the students were too numerous to dislodge by peaceful means, according to a Chinese journalist familiar with the Government's thinking. He added that security forces regarded the student demonstrations as among the most serious challenges they have faced.

The students left the square Saturday afternoon, and most said they were too exhausted after being up all night to think of whether there would be further demonstrations. But there were indications that the unrest would continue, though not at the same level.
The students said they would boycott classes until May 4, the 70th anniversary of nationalist demonstrations that are among the most famous episodes in recent Chinese history.

Meanwhile, a violent incident broke out in the western city of Xian:
A week of growing anti-Government protests turned violent for the first time on Saturday, spreading to the central Chinese city of Xian, where protesters attacked the provincial Government headquarters, injuring 130 officers and burning 20 houses, the official New China News Agency reported this morning.
The rioting, which included an attack on foreign tourists, continued for about 12 hours, the agency said. The volatile situation in Xian presented the Government with the substantial new challenge of controlling major unrest not only in Beijing but in other cities.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hu Yaobang's Funeral

Hu Yaobang's funeral on April 22, 1989, was one of the most dramatic event in the 1989 movement. However, the report on New York Times that day was disappointedly simple and flat and missed most of the drama:
A crowd defying a ban on public protests swelled to more than 100,000 Friday night in Beijing's central square to press demands for more democracy. It was by far the biggest protest in China since the end of the Maoist era more than a dozen years ago.
Tens of thousands of university students later camped all night in the square, to foiling Government plans to close off the area in the morning and keep them from holding a mass rally today.
As the students chanted for democracy, China's top officials, guarded by the military, entered the Great Hall of the People this morning for memorial ceremonies for the former Communist Party leader, Hu Yaobang, whose death last week touched off the demonstrations.
The sheer size of the crowd and the level of dissatisfaction it reflected seemed certain to put new pressure on the Government, although no one seemed to know whether China's leaders are more likely to react with concessions or with a crackdown.
The day before, it had been publicly announced that the Tiananmen Square would be sealed off at 8am for the funeral possession. On the same day, Big Posters bearing the signature of the "Provisional Action Committee", concocted by Liu Gang and Wuer Kaixi in the rain, showed up in all campuses in Beijing. It announced that all students should march to Beijing Normal University by 9pm, each person with enough food and drink to stay the night in the Square.

So they came, at Beijing Normal University, student possessions, with their school flags, kept pouring in from 7pm, almost like the parade of nation in the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games. Wuer Kaixi displayed his remarkable leadership skill for the first time in public. Riding on a bicycle with a bullhorn, he zigzagged throughout the field and managed to arrange all the schools in an orderly formation. Then, at 9pm, he climbed on top of a pair of parallel bars abd made a brief speech. He declared the establishment of a "Beijing Provisional Student Union", although no such thing actually existed. But it was okay, he was greeted by a thundering applause.

Then the students marched out, in five columns, with picket lines on each side. They reached the Square just after midnight. Caught off guard, police there couldn't do anything but let them marching into the Square. As the night turning into dawn, more and more students and even residents joined in.

As the funeral started at 10am, the 100,000 strong students in the Square stood in attention, listening to the broadcast from loudspeakers. A thick wall of police stood in front of them, guarding the entrance of the Great Hall of People. Ge Yang, a prominent magazine editor who attended the service inside remarked later that "a wall of brute force" had split the land into two sides, on one side laid Hu Yaobang's body, but on the other side was "his soul".

The "wall" of security was not necessary, as the students never planed to rush the funeral. They stood there waited, and waited. The custom of such funeral was that the funeral possession carrying Hu Yaobang's body would slowly drive around the Square before heading for the crematorium. The students waited for that to pay their last respect. But they waited in vain. Finally they learned that the hearse had skipped the Square all together and already left.

That's when the anger and chaos took over. The idea of storming the Hall crossed Wuer Kaixi's mind. But other student leaders nearby stopped him just in time. Three of them, Guo Haifeng, Zhou Yongjun, and Zhang Ziyong, took a copy of their 7-point petition and somehow walked through the police line and got on the stairs of the Great Hall of People.

Right there, with nobody from inside to greet them, Guo Haifeng knelt down and raised the petition high above his head with both hands. The other two followed suite. The three of them froze in their pose, right under the national emblem on top of the Great Hall.

A shock wave swept through the crowd in the Square. Everyone was in tears. Wuer Kaixi was screaming, to no one in particular, "I did not kneel down! They did!! But I did not kneel down!!!" He later remembered:
The soldiers began to beat us when we tried to leave the steps of the Great Hall. They really beat us, too. When we were finally out of Tiananmen Square, I fainted from hunger and exhaustion.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: China's Date With Destiny

After exhausting protests and scuffles with police at Xinhuamen for two nights in a row, April 21, 1989 appeared to be a relatively quiet day. On that day, New York Times only caught a glimpse of a small group of students marched into Tiananmen, whose spirit damped by the pouring rain. But the real actions were inside the campuses, unseen by NYT.

That morning, Wuer Kaixi had stood alone, in the rain, at the campus of Beijing Normal University, giving speeches to anyone passing by. He was talking about the police brutality at Xinhuamen the night before. By mid-afternoon, he only managed to gather a few hundreds students and led them to another march to Tiananmen. A thunderstorm quickly dispersed his team. But the dozens or so marched on. By the time they made to Tiananmen, there were only a handful with him.

Even earlier, just past midnight, thousands of students had gathered at the Triangle in Beida. After a series of speech, they "voted" to abolish the official student union and establish their own, in the form of a "Preparatory Committee". The committee included Wang Dan, Yang Tao, Xiong Yan, Feng Congde, Shen Tong, and so on. These names would become more and more familiar as time went on. The Preparatory Committee's first action was to organize a march to Tiananmen, protesting the "Xinhuamen Incident". Because of the rain, they only got a thousand or so for the march. Most likely, that was the group seen in the NYT report above.

There were similar actions all over other campuses as well. Big Posters were everywhere, with crying headlines such as "The April 20 Tragedy!" and "The Blood at Xinhuamen!". Contingents of students also marched on Tiananmen, but not all coordinated.

Liu Gang managed to meet up with Wuer Kaixi at the Tiananmen Square. They talked the need to create an inter-campus leadership. In a hurry, they decided on a name "Provisional Action Committee" and started to plan an action which would lead to thousands of students attending Hu Yaobang's funeral in the Square.

But in that quiet and rainy day, Nicholas Kristof of the NYT also sensed bigger things might be coming. He had quite appropriately titled his report as "China's Date With Destiny":

The students have learned to march on Zhongnanhai, the compound where Chinese leaders live, and their success in doing so is not something they are likely to forget. Even if the current demonstrations soon peter out, perhaps their legacy will be the boldness of the students to besiege the seat of power and call for the dismissal of those who rule the country. If the demonstrations continue after Saturday, that boldness will be difficult to contain.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Protest at Xinhuamen, Again

While the first protest at Xinhuamen was easily dispersed by police in the pre-dawn hours, news and rumors spread all over Beijing the next day. In defiance, a second wave of protest reached Xinhuamen on the very next night, as documented in April 20, 1989's edition of New York Times:
Defying a ban on political protests, tens of thousands of people poured into Beijing's central square Wednesday night, and then at least 10,000 of them marched for the second time on Communist Party headquarters, where police officers beat some of them.
''They hit me on the head and face with a belt, and I have a one-inch cut that required three stitches,'' said a 23-year-old student at the University of Political Science and Law, who gave his name only as Mr. Wang. He said three other students with him were also hit on the head, and other students said the number of those beaten appeared to be in the dozens. Nobody was reported to be seriously injured.
Earlier, the demonstrators pushed back and forth for more than an hour in a test of strength against a unit of security men guarding the walled Zhongnanhai compound, where Prime Minister Li and many other Chinese leaders live and work. ''Li Peng, come out,'' they shouted.

Violence broke out that night as police once again tried to disperse the crowd. The exact extent of the police brutality is difficult to assess, as it varies from one witness account to another. Other than the quote above, the NYT's description was inconclusive:
At about midnight, less than 24 hours after the first march on Zhongnanhai, more than 2,000 police officers filed out of several nearby buildings to disperse the student demonstrators. The crowd was separated into smaller groups by lines of police, and foreign journalists were ordered to leave. It was difficult to determine whether the remaining students were beaten or taken into custody.
When the police began to push the crowds back, they were met with resistance from the crowd of expectant onlookers, who shouted, ''No beating,'' and ''Running dogs, go away.''
One significant event that NYT had missed that night was the emergence of Wuer Kaixi (吾尔开希), a student at the Beijing Normal University. Many witnesses remember seeing him standing on a flatbed tricycle, bravely and passionately giving speeches and defying the police. He was carried away by his classmates when the violent clearing started.
Wu'er Kaixi would be heard and seen, more than anyone else, throughout the movement.
But on that night, at Xinhuamen, he also caught the eyes of Liu Gang, who was in the crowd observing quietly. Impressed, Liu Gang would seek out Wuer Kaixi later to form a new leadership for the movement.

NYT Archive 1989: From Tiananmen To Xinhuamen

One of the interesting aspects of the 1989 movement following Hu Yaobang's death is that the spontaneous memorial activities became a pro-democracy protest almost from the very beginning. The phenomenon itself is quite understandable, given that Hu had been purged two years ago for being lenient to the then student pro-democracy movement. There was a wide perception that Hu took the fall for the students and now, with his passing, it should be the students' turn to seek justice for him.

But the rate of the escalation is still quite amazing. On the same day Wang Dan and his friends formulated a seven-point demand, hundreds of students already staged a sit-in on the stairs of the Great Hall of People, inside of which Wang Dan was trying to hand in the demands as a petition. This sit-in only received a very brief mention in April 19, 1989's edition of New York Times:

All day on Tuesday, students and onlookers gathered in the square to mourn Mr. Hu and to campaign for democracy. Several hundred students staged a sit-in in front of the Great Hall of the People, at one end of the square, demanding that officials come out and receive their demands.
In retrospect, this is a bit unfortunate, since the sit-in, organized and led by Li Jinjin (李进进), a Beida graduate student, was one of remarkably orderly and well-organized action in the early phase of the movement.

It was easy to overlook this sit-in, however, as a more dramatic and radical development was already showing:
More than 10,000 people took over Beijing's central square on Tuesday night in a rally for democracy. Several thousand students then marched to the Communist Party headquarters, where those in the front of the crowd tried to force their way in to see the nation's leaders.
For several hours early today, the students engaged in a shoving match with startled guards who were blocking the entrance to the walled Zhongnanhai compound, where most of China's leaders live and work.
While the sit-in crowd at the Great Hall of People maintained a peaceful posture, this crowd at Xinhuamen, the front gate of the Zhongnanhai compound, was distinctly more confrontational:

''Long live freedom! Long live democracy!'' the crowd shouted. ''Down with the bureaucracy!'' Two hunger strikers dozed in a central place of honor, and a sign announced that the strikers would not leave until the students' demands for democracy were met.
It was not clear how serious those two hunger strikers were. There were multiple mentions of them in various memoirs, but none included their names and intentions. In any case, this confrontation did not last long that night:
The defiance ended at 4:30 A.M., when at least 1,000 police officers arrived to clear the area. The number of students had dwindled by then to 1,000, and they left quietly. No students were publicly arrested, and the police seemed to be trying to use as little force as possible.
As they dispersed the students this morning, the police used loudspeakers to advise them that recent actions honoring Mr. Hu had been abnormal and that those acts would no longer be allowed.
As noted in the NYT report, protest at Zhongnanhai was extremely unusual. It perhaps signaled, as early at that time, that this movement would become something nobody had seen before, or since.

Friday, April 18, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Memorial Turns Into Protest

The April 18, 1989, edition of the New York Times has a lengthy report in its Science section on the delay of building the Three Gorges Dam. In a sign of growing democracy, the government decided to delay the project so that more debates on its environmental impact could be conducted. Curiously enough, public opposition of the Dam, led by famous journalist Dai Qing (戴晴), has been long tolerated. Eventually, of course, the Dam has been built.

But certainly the attention should be shifted to Tiananmen Square from now on. Beida's students had reached the Square, following those from the University of Political Sciences and Law. And they had come up with their demands:
Several thousand students marched through the capital in predawn hours today, chanting democratic slogans and singing revolutionary songs as they mourned the ousted Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang and called for a more democratic government.
The demonstration was the most significant sign of unrest in China since student demonstrations for democracy were crushed more than two years ago.
One student leader announced to a cheering crowd that the students had three demands: an official reappraisal of Mr. Hu, an apology from the Government for various unspecified mistakes, and a ''collective resignation,'' apparently of all the country's leaders.
Later, other student leaders added further demands, such as democratic elections, the release of China's political prisoners, and freedom of the press.
The students were ostensibly mourning the death Saturday of Mr. Hu, whom they regarded as a protector of intellectuals. But the mourning seemed overshadowed by displays of protest.
''We want democracy,'' explained a radio electronics student from Beijing University as he walked his bicycle with the other marchers. ''Hu Yaobang's death is not the reason for this demonstration. It is the excuse.''

The NYT report did not identify any leaders at this stage, nor the details of the student demands. Wang Dan, who would eventually become one of the faces of this movement, played a significant role in this early march. He also helped, with feedbacks from the crowd, to formulate the demands into a 7-point petition. This petition became the rally cry in the early phase of the movement.

The report did include some vivid details of how the protest was formed in Beida (Beijing University):
The demonstration was organized shortly after midnight today at Beijing University, the most important educational institution in the nation and the one that the children of many high officials attend. A snowballing crowd of students marched from building to building, calling for reinforcements.
At one point the crowd broke down the door of a women's dormitory that had been locked to keep the residents inside after the curfew.
The demonstration was a clear challenge to the Government, but even the students say they have no idea if there will be further protests.
... ...

In the predawn demonstration, the Beijing University students decided to march for 10 miles to Tiananmen Square, bypassing People's University, where they summoned their friends to join the march. At that point there were probably more than 4,000 people gathered, but nearly half dropped out along the route.
The authorities did not interfere, except to divert traffic away from key intersections. While such demonstrations normally are illegal, the police appeared eager to avoid a confrontation. They declined to say whether the march was legal or illegal, although one said that an expression of mourning was permitted.
Once the police appeared particularly nervous: when the marchers paused at the entrance to Zhongnanhai, the walled compound where many of Chinese leaders work and live. Several police cars rushed up, and the marchers sang the ''Internationale,'' the anthem of revolutionary workers, as they walked on.
At Tiananmen Square, the students erected a huge white banner that honored Mr. Hu and proclaimed him the ''soul of China.''
After that, Wang Dan and his friends decided to hand in their 7-point petition to the officials in the Great Hall of People, on the west side of the Square. He was not very successful at that. But his efforts led to a dramatic sit-in on the stairs of the Great Hall. Meanwhile, Xinhuamen, the entrance of Zhongnanhai, would become a battleground.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

So It Starts, With A Smashed Little Bottle

The spontaneous memorial activities immediately followed Hu Yaobang's death made its first appearance in New York Times on April 17, 1989:
In a nation where there are no opinion polls to assess the popularity of national leaders, what people do with small bottles may be the best indication of the remarkable rise and fall in the popularity of Deng Xiaoping.
''Xiaoping'' in spoken Chinese can mean ''small bottle'' - although the written character for ''ping'' in Mr. Deng's name is not the one used for ''bottle'' - and people seized on the symbolism a decade ago, when Mr. Deng was struggling to power and embodied the nation's hope for non-revolutionary prosperity. At that time, ordinary people registered their support for Mr. Deng by leaving small bottles in conspicuous places. These days, some people are expressing their feelings by smashing small bottles.
A decade ago, it was more talk than action, and these days, too, more people speak of breaking bottles than actually smash them. ''What's the point?'' explained a young man in Beijing. ''If you smash it in public, you might get arrested, and if you smash it at home, you just have to sweep it up.''
In any case, even Communist Party officials acknowledge that the public is growing tired of Mr. Deng. Some of the pent-up hostility has come into the open after the death Saturday of the former party leader Hu Yaobang, who was ousted two years ago after being criticized by Mr. Deng for tolerating intellectual dissidents and student unrest. Deng's 'Stature Isn't Going Up'
In the early hours this morning at Tiananmen Square, the center of Beijing and the political focal point of China, white paper flowers fluttered in the breeze where mourners had left them to honor Mr. Hu. The only sign of litter was a freshly broken small bottle.
The last sentence is particularly interesting as it refers to "a freshly broken small bottle", in the singular form. Was there only one smashed bottle in the Tiananmen Square that morning?

The first big wreath to reach Tiananmen Square came from the University of Political Science and Law. Normally an ultra-conservative school, UPSL was never known for political activism. That was Beida's job. But in 1989, a group of graduates from Beida has settled in UPSL and formed a core of young teachers in that school, including Chen Xiaoping and Wu Renhua.

Chen Xiaoping learned about Hu Yaobang's death on the same day, before it was broadcast. He brought the sad news to UPSL and gathered his fellow young teachers in his dorm room. Wu Renhua proposed to build a wreath and place it under the Monument of People's Heroes at Tiananmen Square. They spent a day building the wreath, a big one indeed, and placed in front of the main building on campus to raw attention. An announcement accompanied the wreath, declaring the intention of sending the wreath to the Square next day. There was no organizer on the announcement, just a note saying anyone interested could join.

At 1pm on April 17 (Beijing Time), Chen, Wu, and others led their contingent of several hundreds out of the campus, with the wreath on a flatbed tricycle. Wu Renhua had a bottle of Maotai, the most famous spirit in China. He tied the bottle to the wreath, as a dedication to the dead in the traditional Chinese fashion. He didn't think much of it. But it would eventually come back to bite him in the aftermath of the Massacre, as the bottle was re-interpreted as an insult to Deng Xiaoping.

On that day, however, the possession marched through main streets of Beijing without incident, under the watchful eyes of police. They reached Tiananmen Square by 5pm. By now they had drawn a crowd of more than 5,000. Fearing for the situation getting out of control, they rushed through a simple dedication ceremony, sang The Internationale, and placed the wreath on the basis of the Monument.

The bottle on the wreath disappeared soon after they left. Someone might have smashed it in the Square. But there is no way to know if that is the one reported by NYT's Nicholas Kristof.

Beida's students, having been late out of the gate, also reached Tiananmen Square in the pre-dawn hour that night. They placed a gigantic banner, inscribed with three huge Chinese characters: China's Soul (中国魂), on the monument. More would be coming in the following days.

The Beida contingent was led by Wang Dan. And they did not immediately leave the Square the next day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hu Jia Denied Appeal

This just in:

BEIJING (AFP) - China has illegally blocked dissident Hu Jia from appealing a prison sentence, his lawyer said Thursday, in a case that has shone a harsh spotlight on Beijing's human rights record ahead of the Olympics.
Hu, a prominent human rights activist, was sentenced on April 3 to three years and six months in jail on charges of inciting subversion, and under Chinese law had 10 days from that date to challenge the verdict.
But he has been held incommunicado and barred from consulting with his legal team to discuss an appeal, lawyer Li Fangping told AFP.

NYT Archive 1989: First Mention of "Democracy Salon"?

In the middle of Orville Shell's story about Fang Lizhi on April 16, 1989's New York Times article, there is a little passage:

In May 1988, while Party officials were busy celebrating the 90th anniversary of Beijing University in a nearby stadium, Fang suddenly appeared elsewhere on campus, and before a crowd of several hundred enthusiastic students spoke of the ''urgency'' of stressing ''freedom of the press, of ideas and speech.''
This "crowd of several hundred enthusiastic students" is none other but the first meeting of the "Democracy Salon" organized by Liu Gang. The salon will later become very famous for having gathered many of the student leaders in the 1989 movement. Liu Gang had personally invited and arranged the "sudden" appearance of Fang Lizhi, as well as his wife Li Shuxian, at this meeting.

The Salon has also been erroneously attributed as founded by Wang Dan, a younger leader. But in fact Wang Dan inherited it after Liu Gang was forced out of Beida campus after his graduation.

But the Salon itself was not well known outside of the crowd itself. So, the paragraph above might just be its first, albeit indirect, mention in press.

NYT Archive 1989: Dissidents' Lives in the Early 1980s

The April 16, 1989 edition of the New York Times reprinted the same story on Hu Yaobang's death the day before, this time in the obituary section. Other than that, there were no immediate reactions to the event. It had to wait for another day, literally.

But the paper carried two long stories, or book excerpts, on the lives of dissidents at the time, under the overall title of "Human Rights in China".

In great detail, Orville Shell described what had happened when Fang Lizhi was denied from attending a banquet by the visiting American President George H. W. Bush. Fang and his wife Li Shuxian had been invited by the U. S. side as a gesture of support to China's human rights issue. But in the evening of February 26, 1989, they were stopped by the police and rudely treated. Things could have been worse if they didn't happen to have another banquet goer with them: the American Professor Perry Link. But the police did everything they could to prevent them from even getting close to the hotel where the banquet was held.

It is interesting to note that, in the aftermath, President Bush expressed "regret" but failed to protest for the incident. On the Air Force One leaving China, Bush's Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater was quoted saying "Human rights is one aspect of the relationship [with China]...we wouldn't want to say that it is the cornerstone..." Bush himself later expressed his preference in "quiet discussions" on this issue.

Fang Lizhi, on the other hand, believes that "it is not enough", "Some say that Bush was too soft....I will only say that the West should not operate on a double standard by criticizing human rights in the Soviet Union but not in China."

The other story was written by Richard Bernstein, who a few years ago had helped to publish dissident Liu Qing (刘青)'s diary in TIME magazine. That was right after Wei Jingsheng's 15 year sentence during the crackdown of the Beijing Spring movement. Liu Qing had worked for Wei's defense and got thrown in jail himself. His friend, Lu Lin (路林), in turn, helped to smuggle out Liu's diary and passed along to Bernstein. For that, Lu was sentenced for six years.

Bernstein returned to Beijing and found Lu Lin in a free market, selling clothes. Bernstein had felt responsible that his own carelessness had helped putting Lu in jail. Lu dismissed that, "it's nothing."

In his story, Bernstein also looked back at his time in Beijing around 1982, providing a glimpse of the lives of dissidents at the time.

Coincidentally, Danwei had republished a news item by Graham Earnshaw of the Daily Telegraph in 1981, describing the troubles of Li Shuang (李爽), a young artist with a French diplomat boyfriend. Li was also mentioned in Bernstein's story. Her case was rather famous in Beijing at the time. It was also rumored/believed that she was involved in the effort in smuggling out Liu Qing and Wei Jingsheng's papers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Hu Yaobang Died

The passing of Hu Yaobang was reported in New York Times in a matter-of-fact manner on April 15, 1989:

"Hu Yaobang, who helped navigate China away from orthodox Marxism and led the world's largest Communist Party for six years until he was forced to resign in disgrace in January 1987, died today, the Government announced. He was 73 years old.

The official New China News Agency said Mr. Hu suffered a heart attack on April 8 from which he never recovered. Mr. Hu suffered the heart attack during a meeting last Saturday of the Politburo."

The NYT article was essentially an obituary for Hu, summarizing his life and career as a Communist and leader. Quite notably, it said:
Nothing was sacred to Mr. Hu, not the memory of Mao Zedong, not even chopsticks. On a trip to Inner Mongolia in 1984, he suggested that the Chinese might start using Western utensils.
''We should prepare more knives and forks, buy more plates and sit around the table to eat Chinese food in the Western style, that is, each from his own plate,'' he urged. ''By doing so, we can avoid contagious diseases.'' Mr. Hu dropped the idea after his startled colleagues reproached him for criticizing a Chinese way of life.
In a nation where caution is often prized, he was the exception. Mr. Hu was one of the first Chinese leaders to abandon the Mao suit in favor of jacket and tie. And when he was asked which of Mao's thoughts were applicable in China's efforts to modernize its economy, he is reported to have replied: ''I think, none.''
Of course, there was not a single trace of speculation or hint that Hu's death could have any immediate impact in the stability of the Chinese society. After his forced resignation from the Party's top post in 1987, Hu was by now almost the forgotten man in the leadership.

In the same pages of the NYT, meanwhile, was another report on the growing economic problems in China at the time: a desperate shortage of cash at local government level. Farmers were being forced to sell part of their crops to the government but could not get any cash in return. They received i.o.u.'s which they could neither spend nor redeem. There was wide-spread resentment in the countryside, but, as the article duely noted, no rebellion.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Beijing's First Private Restaurant: An Original Report

Danwei has located an original news report on the Beijing's first private restaurant, in The Daily Telegraph, published on November 6, 1980. Isn't this internet thing wonderful?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

China's Official Media Blasts Pelosi, But Skips 1989

China's official media People's Daily carried a very strongly worded article today, criticizing Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House. It started with the speculation that, if a poll were conducted in China for the least likable characters, Pelosi would be among the top few. Because she "had mixed truth and falsehood and reversed black and white on the Tibet issue; she had held up a double-standard and repeatedly interfered with China's internal affairs; and she had continuously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and damaged the Sino-US relation."

The article listed many of Pelosi's past "sins" regarding China, including her decade-long opposition to China's "Most Favored Nation" status, her criticism on the US government's sold stance on China's human rights issues.

The article also mentioned the fact that Pelosi had once unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square with two other members of House Representatives in 1998. However, it failed to mention what was written in the banner and what the purpose was. Pelosi's banner read "To those who died for democracy in China", a clear reference to those who had perished during the Tiananmen Massacre. The article simply called it "an ugly anti-China act".

More importantly, the article neglected to mention any of the actions Pelosi taken in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, while a new comer to the political scene, including the Chinese Stduent Protection Act.

The flamboyant article concluded that, should Pelosi not change her ways, she would forever be a persona non-grata in China.

NYT Archive 1989: Hu Yaobang Hospitalized

We now know that Hu Yaobang first felt sick in the morning of April 8, 1989, during a politburo meeting. He was rushed into hospital that afternoon after emergency procedures were taken right at the meeting location.

But nobody in the pubic knew it back then. Information on the health of top leaders were, and still are, regarded as top secret. It was not until April 13, 1989, that Hu's condition was revealed. New York Times on that day had only a couple of short paragraphs, stating that Premier Li Peng disclosed that Hu Yaobang had been hospitablized for an undisclosed ailment.

Hu would pass away two days later, triggering the start of the great 1989 student movement.

But on that day, the big news regarding China on New York Times was a report of a group of Tibetans had finally made out of Tibet and reached Nepal. They were the first Tibetans to exit China after the Lhasa uprising and ensuring crackdown.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Christianity in China

In 1989, China was no longer the same country it had been a decade or so ago, emerging from the Culture Revolution. On April 12, 1989, Nicholas Kristof wrote on New York Times that there were more than 7,000 official Christian churches in China, and many more unofficial ones. The report put the number of believers at the time as 3.4 millions for Catholics and 4 millions for Protestants.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Zhou Fengsuo Harassed During the San Francisco Torch Relay

Fueled by the unrest and crackdown in Tibet, the Tibet Independence crowd has been the main force behind the protest against the Beijing Olympic torch relay in London, Paris, and San Francisco. Their voice and action has overshadowed many other concerns, including the human rights situation in China (besides Tibet), especially with the jailing of Hu Jia.

Perhaps bowing to the extreme nationalist sentiment, most Chinese dissidents in exile are in support of Beijing Olympics, with only few noted exceptions. They are also noticeably absent in any protest or support rallies during the Olympic torch relay.

But not for Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁), one of the 21 Most Wanted student leaders after the 1989 massacre. A web site reported that Zhou was in San Francisco, attempting to protest the human rights and the Hu Jia case during the torch relay. But he and his friends were harassed and even beaten by the large pro-China crowd.

According to Zhou himself, they were near the AT&T park in the early morning. After they put on T-shirts with Hu Jia's picture and the words "Don't Forget June 4", they were quickly spotted by the crowd. He heard people asking each other: Are they "their people"?

They tried to talk about human rights issues on the crowd, but they were shouted down and separated. The crowd took away their flags and banners, which were made for the Tiananmen Massacre. One of them was hit at the back of head so hard that he is left bloody. There were police nearby but they chose not to interfere.

During the mayhem, Zhou also saw a few other people were beaten as well. One of them wore a white T-shirt and carried a black flag with the word "For Justice" on it. Zhou went to help him and learned his name is Leo.

Zhou recalled that he felt like he was in one of those crazy and violent mass abuse sessions during the Culture Revolution when he was constantly harassed, cursed, and pushed by the crowd.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Beijing's First Private Restaurant: An Oral History

Deng Xiaoping's reform officially kicked off near the end of 1978. Partial privatization was allowed in the countryside, where farmers gained limited freedom in what and how to plant in the field. They were also encouraged to form small-scale semi-private enterprises. However, it took quite a while for these reforms to enter the lives of city folks, not to mention in the capital city.

The first private restaurant in Beijing opened its door in 1980, by a housewife named Liu Guixian (刘桂仙). The restaurant is still open today, at No. 43 Cuihua Hutong (翠花胡同43号):

(The panel at right says: "The First Private Restaurant in China")

Liu Guixian, who is now 75 years old, recent gave an interview to China Youth Daily in the form of oral history. Those who can read Chinese should check out the original, as the rough translation below will certainly not do justice to the unique elegance in her tone, delivered in the typical old-Pekingese style:
Hey, let's have some tea here!

I am the kind of person who speaks it as it is. So, I will tell you the story from the beginning. Otherwise, if I got sidetracked, I would confuse myself. From the very beginning, people have been asking me, how did you come up with the idea of opening a restaurant? Well, because I am a cook, I cook delicious dishes.

I was doing odd jobs back then, helping people to cook. So I learned many cooking skills from the masters. How should I put it? The dishes I made has my own distinct flavor. They come from my innovation upon what I had learned. They are all my own design and make, nobody else could make the same. Until today, if you have a dish in my restaurant, you won't find the same flavor in any other restaurant. So you have to come back here. I have a lot of regular customers.

I have five kids, four sons and one daughter. We were very poor. The seven of us used to have only two bed covers. How did we cover ourselves? Daddy and I just slept with our cloths on. But how could I feed so many kids? They were all growing. So, one night, I was listening to the little radio. It says that a couple in the Northeast were making Baozi (包子) to sell on the street. Ah ha! I got the idea. I learned to cook well. I could open a little restaurant.

Back then, there was no such term as private enterprise (个体户). I talked to my old man. He said, who would allow you to do that? Where is any private restaurant in Beijing? To open a restaurant, you have to have a license. If the government does not approve, you can't open one yourself. So I said, let me go apply for one.

The next day, I went to the the Business Bureau (工商局). I am not like any other woman. Nor any ordinary man. When I make up my mind, I will go for it, no matter how difficult and exhausting.

I remember back then, the Business Bureau was very far from my home. I didn't have a bicycle, so I had to walk. I got there, and told them I would like to open a restaurant. They asked me if I had room for it. I said yes, I could use the room we were sleeping in. "Where would your family sleep then?" they asked. I said, "On the roof. We could sleep on the roof." Everyone in the room laughed so hard. Finally, they told me to go back. They said I could go ask for assistance from my old man's work unit (工作单位) because I had many kids and hardship. They could not help me here. There was no such policy.

I had to walk for one an hour from my home to the Business Bureau. So I walked there every day, begging them and sometimes even doing it shamelessly. For a whole month, I did not miss a single day. Probably any ordinary person would have quit by then. They were pretty warm with me in the beginning, trying to talk me out of it. But after a while, nobody would pay any attention to me any more. They simply said, "here you came again, just sit down". And I would just sit in their office while they minded their own businesses.

I didn't know how, but a reporter got words about me and wrote about it in a newspaper. It said that there was a female comrade named Liu Guixian who went to the Business Bureau every day, begging for opening a restaurant herself. It must be an interesting news since there were no private business back then. After that, I did not know whether the Bureau got permission from up above, or that they just decided on their own. But they agreed. When I went there again, they told me: "Okay, we will do it first before we have permission. You go open your restaurant. We will get you license later. Go home and get ready."

So our whole family worked on it. We did not have money to buy building material. We went to the old man's work unit and begged for a wagon of waste material, old bricks, old pads, woods, and such. We opened the front of our room and built a little kitchen in the back. We had a little space to wash dishes. We made stoves, dug channels for wastewater. The Bureau people came by and inspected everything. They provided guarantee for us to get a 500 RMB loan from a bank.

We used that money to buy a refrigerator. It was a discounted one because it lacked painting on the door. But that was all we could afford with the money. We couldn't afford a better one. Then I went and bought 4 old tables, a dozen or so little stoles, 4 plastic table top. Then we lit up firecrackers and we opened for business!

What about cash flow? I had none. The day we opened for business, I had only 36 RMB in my hands. Later on, they did a show on TV about us. The host asked the audience to guess how much money I had on the opening day. Nobody got it right. The minimum they guessed was 50,000 RMB. Ha!

Today, nobody believed that I only had 36 RMB. But that was what I had. I went to the market with that money. At the time, everything was rationed except for ducks. So I bought 4 ducks.

Did I have any customers on the first day? Hey, let me tell you. There was a huge line, along this Hutong, that went tens of meters long. It was a raining day. But people were standing there with umbrellas. I just had the 4 ducks. So I made several dishes out of them: crispy duck, spicy duck, eight-treasure duck. I sold them 1 RMB for each dish. All were sold out immediately. After I had sold out, people still didn't want to leave. They insisted in standing in the line. Why? They said: "We missed this batch. We will wait for next batch." The line just stood there. Oh my goodness! My old man came home that day and saw so many people by our house. He thought we had some kind of emergency. At that time, there was only this one private restaurant. Everyone was curious!

I sold all the 4 ducks by noon that day. With the money, I went back to the market and bought 7 ducks. The 7 ducks were gone by that evening. So, with these ducks, I had my cash flow. I did that again and again for a whole week. Now I had some money!

With more money, I started to buy fish and meat and other things. I could cook more than 30 dishes now. I could sell jumbo shrimp, I could sell turtles, I could sell eel, I could sell anything! I got all these stuff from markets all over town.

When we opened the restaurant, everything was still rationed. We needed coupons for rice, sugar, meat, oil, and so on. I didn't have them. So I traveled to Hebei and Tianjing. They got farmer's markets there. I gathered information on when and where the markets were and headed there in the pre-dawn darkness. I traveled by train or long-distance bus. I would buy two big sacks of stuff and returned home by noon. Then I would prepare for the food. My kids were all little then. The old man was working. We did not dare to hire any help. So, it was only me. I bought and cooked and cleaned. I really couldn't handle it all. So we could only open for one meal a day, for dinner only.

I think only I could have done it. Nobody else could have gone through it. I was having a harder time than that White-Haired Girl. I had a hard time sleep, cook, or going to the market. We put up a tent on the roof of our house and a ladder by the wall. Our whole family just climbed up the roof and slept in the tent at night.

Aye, I was so tired, so exhausted. I was lucky that I was healthy and strong back then, like a little tiger. Now, when I recalled the exhaustion back then, I would want to kill my self by knocking my head on a wall.

Back then I would just think, I had to persevere no matter how tired I got. I wanted my dishes to become famous. I wanted people to say that the restaurant opened by Liu Guixian had delicious dishes and was kind-hearted too. I did not care much about expenses. I kept thinking of how to make the dishes better. All the vegetables I cooked, I marinated them in sesame oils first so they had the best flagrance.

Overnight, my dishes became famous! They were delicious and cheap. There were more and more customers. I could only place 4 little tables in the small restaurant. They were so little, even smaller than the center part of this table here. I could only take care of fourteen or fifteen customers a day. So they had to make reservations. Sometimes, they had to wait for more than 60 days to get a reservation. I had a little book with their phone numbers. When their reservation was up, I would call them. As soon as I called, they would be here. Nobody ever missed.

People from foreign embassies came too. The first time they came, they followed maps. Those were hand-made or copied maps. This was a little restaurant in a Hutong. How did they know? Hey, there were all special agents in embassies, of course! There was a time that all my customers were foreigners. Chinese could not even get in. They kept telling each other, so all foreigners knew about us.

They came to my restaurant to eat. One reason was that the dishes were really good. They did not exist in the big restaurants. And they were cheap, less than 1 RMB a dish. But they also came to the restaurant to check us out. They tried to get some information from me. You could imagine. How did a private restaurant suddenly appeared in Beijing? They did not exist for all these years, how came one showed up now? What was up with that? Was the Communist Party changing? Where was China heading to? They kept asking these: "How did you choose to open your own restaurant? Who told you to do it?" "Could this little restaurant open for a long time?" "Are you afraid of another Culture Revolution? That they will come after you? Are you practicing Capitalism?" I just said: "I am not afraid. The worst would be returning all the money I made. I say I believe in one thing, that is, everything will be okay as long as I follow the Communist Party!" They all laughed. They said I was good at speaking. They couldn't get anything out of me.

Do you know? There had been reporters from 77 countries who interviewed me. The busiest time, I had 20 or 30 reporters coming in a day. I always wanted to cry when I saw many reporters show up. Why? I was anxious. They came to interview me, either distracted me from cooking or taking my time away from shopping. There was a little window in our little kitchen. So I would let the reporters stand in the courtyard while I was cooking in the kitchen by the open window. They would ask questions outside and I would answer them while cooking. Some reporters did not want to leave after the meal. They looked around everywhere, asked about everything. Some came several days in a row, almost lived here.

People in my neighborhood hadn't changed their mindset much yet. Now, everyone is looking up to rich people. But back then, everyone hated me. Most people thought I was practicing Capitalism. That doing private business was going against the Communist Party. They saw many foreigners came to my restaurant and thought I became a special agent. The neighbors would tell me: "Ain't you afraid of being a special agent?" "You are a special agent now!" "Just look, there will be a day for you to be sorry sooner or later. The country will give you what you deserve." I said, "You don't scare me. I am doing this just for my kids. I need to feed them. I am not afraid." But I was, I couldn't sleep well at night.

A week before the first Spring Festival, I was called to the Public Security Bureau. They told me that leaders from the national and city government would come to visit me and I should get ready for that. I couldn't tell my kids. It would be a secret. So I went home and cleaned up the entire restaurant and bought two big sacks of firecrackers.

When the Spring Festival came, two Vice Premiers showed up at my home: Yao Yilin (姚依林) and Chen Muhua (陈慕华). They first visited the "Big Bowl Tea" at Qianmen, then the Xidang Market, and then they came to our restaurant. These were all the new things at the time. They wanted to visit all of them.

That noon, people from the US embassy happened to be there as well. We had Jiaozi for the Chinese New Year. Yao Yilin and Chen Muhua went around and inspected all corners of the restaurant. They told me to take good care of the kids, make sure the dishes are good, and separate the cold and hot food. They also told me to make more cold dishes to accompany drinking and make more popular dishes.

Wow, It was such an occasion back then! People were stuffed in the Hutong. Nobody could even move. I lit up all the two sack-full of firecrackers. The way they went exploding!

I saved money. The restaurant was way too small. I wanted to expand but there was no room. I asked around the neighbor and nobody wanted to sell. With great effort, I finally persuaded one family to sell with a lot of evening chatting and dishes. I bought a new house for them at Gu Lou. I also gave them 10,000 RMB for their moving expense. That was 1980s, when 10,000 RMB was worth 100,000 RMB now. So, like that, I bought this house in the Hutong. There are 12 rooms. I opened another restaurant.

By then, my kids were helping me out. They served as waiters, did cleaning work and shopping. Some of them would disappear from their work and went out to play for a whole day. Once, my youngest kid was going out to shop. He went out with his bicycle but did not return by late afternoon. I was worried and headed out to look for them. I saw his bicycle and the stuff he bought on the side of the road. He had gone to watch people fighting.

Private enterprise was no longer news. There were restaurants all over the place. In Cuihua Hutong, there were 7 or 8 restaurants came about all at once, probably following my example. But they did not last long and all disappeared soon. Ha ha. I did not move anywhere. I stayed in this Hutong. No matter what the weather was like, there would always be customers came to my restaurant.

Ay! Then, there was such a boom. There were so many private enterprises. People selling cloths, opening restaurants. Many of them were much bigger than mine. But now you look. Not many had survived. Some lost money. Some made big but spent them all. Some got into drugs, prostitutes, and jails. They did bad to themselves. Some are still lingering at home now. Some divorced. Of course, some made rich too. But very few.

During the boom, the young fella would come to my restaurant to eat and brag. I heard what they were talking and did not like it. I told them: "You little fella are all short-sighted. The way you are doing it can't last long." "Hey, you are old-fashioned. You have to brag to do business now. It's not like your restaurant. People would know it by tasting your dishes." They would tell me.

We started early. So we had quite some money by then. But my kids grew up fine. They didn't get into the bad behavior of these other kids. They didn't gamble or play with women. I swear that as long as I am alive, nobody in my family can play Majang, gamble or visit prostitutes. I tell my family every Chinese New Year day.

My youngest likes antiques and old furnitures. He had asked for 80,000 RMB to start a business buying old furnitures. I did not agree. He is still complaining about it today. He thinks that he would be rich now if I had given him the money then. But he did okay himself. He has a decent antique store. He buys old furniture from Guangxi and Guangdong. Got them here by the train, refurbish and sell them. He did this for 20 years and made some money.

Although I made money myself, but I always felt that I didn't have money. Looking back the 30 years, the thing pains me the most is that I lost all the money I had made through hardship.

It's been 10 years. How did I lose the money? I opened a carpentry factory and made a huge mistake.
Liu Guixian's adventure in the carpentry factory ended up losing 6 million RMB, her entire savings at the time. But her restaurants survived. The restaurants have provided for four generations of her family. Today, she has a staff of more than 20. But she still comes to the restaurants every day to make sure they are run right. She is looking to pass the restaurants along to one of her grandsons.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Professor Salary and A Dissident's Release

For a few years pre-1989, people in China's academia had not been too happy about themselves. The reform was going on from the country-side to the cities. Many people were getting rich. But not the scholars and the students who saw themselves as future scholars. New York Times reported on April 9, 1989, that the average salary for a professor was $39.50 a month, far below that of a waitress at an international hotel.

Even Deng Xiaoping acknowledged that: "Our biggest mistake in the last 10 years has been that education has not been developed sufficiently."

Meanwhile, on the same day, a dissident by the name of Yang Jing was released from jail without much fanfare, after completing his 8 year sentence for his involvement in the Beijing Spring movement.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Open Letter Signature Gatherer Deported

In a sign that the government was growing impatient with the amnesty call initiated by Fang Lizhi at the beginning of the year, New York Times reported on April 8, 1989, that the man who had been gathering signatures supporting Fang had been deported abroad.

Although labeled as a "prominent dissident", Chen Jun (陈军) was actually quite an unknown figure. When he started his signature drive within the circle of prominent intellectuals in Beijing, practically nobody had heard of him before. But nonetheless he was able to collect dozens of such signatures and provided much of the momentum in the call of amnesty. (There were also controversies that a few of the signatures might be forged or improperly collected.)

It also appeared that Chen Jun was a member of the Chinese Democracy Alliance, a dissident group based in New York and denounced by no other than Deng Xiaoping himself. At the time, Hu Ping had become the head of that group but was involved in an ugly power struggle with its founder Wang Bingzhang.

As of himself, Chen Jun practically disappeared after his deportation.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Chen Ziming Talks About Possibility of Reconciliation in 1989

The "Chinese Reconciliation" think tank had published the proceedings of their first symposium. Since the meeting format allowed only 10 minutes for each speaker, most of the speeches tended to be on the superficial side. Among the participants, Chen Ziming was the only one who brought up the topic of 1989. Indeed, his entire speech was about the possibility and efforts in reconciliation before the massacre.

He started with the fact that, in the early months of 1989, the government had started to reach out to liberal minded intellectuals, even including ones like himself, who had been in and out of jail a few times. That effort was of course interrupted by the student movement.

During the movement itself, there had also been attempts at reconciliation. For that, Chen Ziming brought copies of three documents: the hunger strike declaration of four intellectuals (two of them, Liu Xiaobo and Zhou Dou were also at this symposium) on June 2nd of 1989, and two editorials of Chen's Economic Weekly at the same time.

Citing passages in each of the documents, Chen stressed that, even at the heated moments of that movement, at least he himself and his comrades had been advocating reconciliation and compromise.

NYT Archive 1989: Taiwan's First Official Delegate to Beijing

On April 7, 1989, Sheryl WuDunn reported on New York Times that Taiwan had decided to send its first official delegation to Beijing for the Asian Development Bank conference in that May. By the spring 1989, the relationship across the Taiwan Strait had improved greatly. It had become very common for people from Taiwan to visit the mainland or even invest in various business activities. But still there were no official contacts between the two governments.

Just like the Gorbachev visit, this historic occasion would end up being completely overshadowed by the student movement unfolding. Indeed, Zhao Ziyang used the Asian Development Bank conference itself as a forum, just as he used his meeting with Gorbachev, to send his signals to the movement.