Thursday, June 12, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: A Famous "Rumor-Monger"

On June 12, 1989, New York Times reported the case of a famous "rumor-monger", as the government cracked down on any expressions of the massacre:
An extraordinary series of broadcasts over several nights on national television illustrates the tone of the propaganda effort. For two nights, both the early and late evening news programs broadcast segments of a street interview done by ABC News in Beijing shortly after the army's assaults. A man is shown being interviewed, his voice rising with anger and his arms imitating the motion of a machine gun, as he describes a scene of terrible carnage committed, he says, by the army.
''Tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled over students, squashing them into jam, and the soldiers shot at them and hit them with clubs,'' the man was shown telling an American interviewer. ''When students fainted, the troops killed them. After they died, the troops fired one more bullet into them. They also used bayonets. They were too cruel. I never saw such things before.''
A caption on the bottom of the screen during the interview identifies the man as ''somebody spreading rumors about the cleanup of Tiananmen Square.'' After the man speaks, the news announcer warns the public to beware of believing such rumors, then says that the man is wanted by the police and he appeals to the public to turn him in.
Tonight, the national news showed the same man, looking haggard and terrified, in police custody, retracting in front of the cameras what he had said to ABC News. The news announcer says that the man, whose name he gives as Xiao Bin, identifying him as an unemployed 42-year-old factory worker, was turned in one hour after the appeal to the public by two shop assistants who recognized him from his picture. They said they caught him in the act of telling someone that 20,000 people had been killed in the military crackdown.
''I never saw anything,'' Mr. Xiao says of the Beijing crackdown. He goes on, his head bowed, ''I apologize for bringing great harm to the party and the country.'' He also admitted that he was a counterrevolutionary. [ ABC News, in a statement issued in New York on Sunday, said, ''We are deeply distressed to learn that in this instance the Chinese authorities intercepted unedited news material that was being satellited, and used it for political purposes.'' ] Television broadcasts such as this one are being shown all across China, generally twice each night on news programs that have expanded from a half-hour to 90 minutes.
For his act, Xiao Bin (肖斌) was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The length of the term was outrageously surprising, as it was longer than that received by any of the captured student leaders.

The same day's edition of NYT also carried an eyewitness account of the massacre by an anonymous student from Tsinghua University. While most of the story seemed plausible, it's dramatic description of students dying in waves to overturn an armed personnel carrier did not agree with what we know today.

Meanwhile, 17-year-old Michael Chang won the French Open on this day in 1989. He became the youngest player ever to win a grand slam and the first American to win French Open since 1955. He was also the first ethnic Chinese to achieve stardom in tennis. After his victory, he said "God bless everybody, especially the people in China."

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