Friday, May 23, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Rumors Are Flying

One of the most curious happenings during the 1989 movement was why the martial law troops waited so long in the outskirts of Beijing. They were blocked by students and residents and then they just sat there for days, without taking any pro-active action. Even today, we do not know much more about it than back then, as everything was still a state secret in China.

On May 23, 1989, New York Times took a letter by ex-military leaders as evidence that the army might not be obeying its orders:
In a major blow to the authority of Prime Minister Li Peng, seven senior military figures formally objected on Monday to the Government's plan to bring troops into the capital and suppress China's democracy movement.
The signers of the strongly worded letter, among them a former Defense Minister and a former army Chief of Staff, command great prestige and influence, although they are no longer on active duty.
''In view of the extremely serious situation, we as veteran soldiers demand that the People's Liberation Army not confront the population, nor quell the people,'' the letter said. ''The army must absolutely not shoot the people. In order to prevent the situation from worsening, the army must not enter the city of Beijing.''

The letter was the clearest indication yet of the opposition within the military to the crackdown begun early Saturday by Prime Minister Li and Deng Xiaoping, China's senior leader.
While the army might be trying to avoid a crisis, the report went on to say that Li Peng was solidifying his power by taking over the propaganda work himself, replacing Hu Qili. There were so many rumors going around that some had to make it into NYT pages too. Beijing had also become a city under siege.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the National People's Congress, Wan Li, suddenly became a major figure. He had been on a state visit in North America and met with American officials this day. Back home, Wan Li had become the last hope to restore order into national leadership, now that Zhao Ziyang was gone and Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping were popularly denounced. In the US, Wan Li said there would not be bloodshed in Beijing.

As the upheaval spread over the entire country, the uncertainty was hampering China's neighbors. Market fell in Hong Kong, with people there selling off gold for the American dollars.

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