Monday, May 19, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Focus On The Hunger Strikers

On May 19, 1989, New York Times finally focused its attention to the hunger striker students, calling them the heart of China protest:
The hunger strikers have become the focus of a growing nationwide movement for democracy, and while they are bold young people who dared to rebel against the authorities, they are also inexperienced not only in fasting but also in leading a movement that has risen to dimensions beyond what many of them had imagined.
Their fasting has weakened almost all of them to the point that they spend most of their time sleeping. And yet they are still looked upon by their fellow students as leaders. They are still deciding what strategy and tactics the rest of the students will follow in the struggle with the Government.
A group of seven or eight strikers is the driving force behind the movement, working out the policy options that will be put to the hunger-striking students, although they work closely with many other student leaders who are not fasting. Some of them have been catapulted into prominence in the last month: Wang Dan, a Beijing University history student, and Wuer Kaixi, a freshman at Beijing Normal University, are the movement's most conspicuous leaders.
Mr. Wang, like some other student organizers, initially took part in the hunger strike but then was persuaded to start eating again so that he could negotiate more effectively. Mr. Wuer has continued the hunger strike, and its effects on him are showing. In a nationally televised meeting today with Prime Minister Li Peng, he fainted from hunger and exhaustion.
For the record, Wang Dan had denied NYT's assertion and insisted that he had been faithful to his hunger strike oath throughout the entire time. It's likely that NYT had based the report on the rampant rumors and hearsay in the Square.

The story was more about a 21-year-old student by the name of Xie Wanjun, who had by now ended his own hunger strike:

But if Mr. Xie is willing to take on the Government, he is more cautious in dealing with his family. He has still not told his parents that he joined the hunger strike in the capital and kept with it for 84 hours. After he lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital for the second time, the medical authorities in his school persuaded him to drop the fast, and now he is eating once more and helping the other hunger strikers.
In the meantime, the Premier Li Peng finally met with a few hunger strike leaders, with the meeting broadcast on TV:
The televised discussion on Thursday, while almost universally regarded by students as unsatisfactory, would have been unthinkable just a week or two ago. Prime Minister Li, who is usually shown on television suffused in dignity, had scarcely sat down in the Great Hall of the People when a student leader named Wuer Kaixi - a freshman from the northwestern Xinjiang Province - rebuked him for being late.
Mr. Wuer and another student leader, Wang Dan, also called on the Prime Minister to stop evading the issues and begin a serious conversation, and they warned that the Government would bear the responsibility for any disturbances.
''In the last few days, Beijing has fallen into a kind of anarchy,'' Mr. Li declared angrily. ''I hope you will think it over. What will result from the situation? China's Government is responsible to the people. We will not sit idly by, doing nothing. We have to safeguard people's property and our students' lives. We have to safeguard our factories. We have to defend our socialist system.''
The sharp exchanges marked perhaps the first time that a Chinese leader has been subjected to the public humiliations that politicians regularly endure in the West.
It also reported that the situation was deteriorating all over China. There had been general strikes in a few factories and blockade of railway traffic in a few cities. In his last-ditch gesture and very last public appearance, Zhao Ziyang went to the Square in a surreal manner:
In another gesture of conciliation, Mr. Li and the Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang, went to Tiananmen Square in central Beijing before dawn today to visit some of the 3,000 hunger strikers whose protest has galvanized the nation into mass demonstrations of support.
''We've come too late,'' Mr. Zhao told the students, according to the official New China News Agency. ''You have good intentions. You want our country to become better. The problems you have raised will eventually be resolved. But things are complicated, and there must be a process to resolve these problems.''
Mr. Zhao added that ''the whole of Beijing'' was discussing the hunger strike, and he called on the students to end the fast.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gorbachev wrapped up his much-disrupted visit in Beijing and headed for Shanghai, where demonstrations were also brewing.

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