Sunday, May 4, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Students' Ultimatum For Dialogue

The day before the anniversary of the May Fourth movement, on May 3, 1989, New York Times reported that 6,000 students marched in Shanghai, the biggest demonstration outside of the capital so far. Near the end of that report, however, was an update of what was happening in Beijing:
In Beijing today, student leaders gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the Government to approve their conditions for talks, and warned of demonstrations on Thursday if the Government did not agree. About 70 student leaders rode their bicycles together to several Government and party offices to deliver letters outlining their demands.
The letter was a response to the Government's announcement last week that it would enter into a ''dialogue'' with the students. Since then, Government officials have held three of these dialogues with students, and some delicate issues have come up.
But most students appear dissatisfied. They complain that the students whom the Government chose to take part are mostly friendly to the Communist Party, and that the Government edited the videotape of the first dialogue before showing it on national television.
Of the 12 student conditions for talks, the three most crucial were that the students themselves choose their representatives, that the talks be broadcast uncensored on national television and that the Government be represented by officials at the level of Deputy Prime Minister or Politburo member.
The "ultimatum" was the handiwork of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation (BSAF). Emboldened by the tremendous success of the April 27 demonstration, this young organization made its first big misstep: delivering a demand for dialog that was loaded with pre-conditions. The demand was backed by the threat of another demonstration on May 4, should their conditions were not met. It did indeed sound like an ultimatum.

But BSAF also made another move at the same time. In order to prepare for the anticipated dialog, it decided to organize a separate entity, the Dialog Delegation, dedicated to the handling of the dialogs. Xiang Xiaoji (from the University of Political Sciences and Law) and Shen Tong (from Beida) were chosen to be the co-leaders of the Delegation.

Xiang Xiaoji and Shen Tong recognized from the very beginning that the confrontational stance of BSAF would lead to problems. Therefore they decided to separate the Delegation entirely from BSAF activities and adopt a more moderate stance of their own. This critical decision would unfold quite dramatically later on, in the hopeful rise and tragic fall of an dialog with an open-minded officier Yan Mingfu (阎明复). But we would be get way ahead of ourselves here.

Meanwhile, in a separate news on the same date, NYT reported on a small symposium held in California on the 70-th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement. The symposium was planed way ahead of time and only happened to coincide with the ongoing student movement at the time. Many prominent intellectuals attended the symposium, including Ruan Ming (阮铭), Ge Yang (戈阳), Liu Binyan (刘宾雁).

As the situation in Beijing worsened in the coming weeks, these conferees stayed in the United States and became part of the exile community. Liu Binyan had since passed away.

According to NYT, Fang Lizhi was also invited to the symposium but was unable to make the trip because the government refused to grant permission. A video interview of Fang Lizhi was shown at the meeting, in which Fang Lizhi advocated "a new brand of patriotism":

They applauded as Mr. Fang explained his view of patriotism, saying that calls for democratic freedoms represented a higher form of love of country than did calls for party obedience.

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