Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tiananmen Mothers Call for Reckoning

It has become an annual ritual. Every spring, the National People's Congress and the People's Political Consultative Conference will hold their respective sessions in Beijing. Every year, Tiananmen Mothers writes an open letter to the delegates urging for an investigation of the events that led to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

This year, their letter bears the signatures of 127 parents and relatives of the victims, plus a list of 19 names of those who have since passed away.

Fang Zheng Arrives at US

Fang Zheng, who lost both his legs under the track of a crazed tank in the early morning of June 4, 1989, has arrived at San Francisco. He and his wife are sponsored by an organization called "Humanitarian China." It's not clear how long they will stay in the US.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chas Freeman on Tianamen Massacre

It is reported that Chas Freeman will be the chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the Obama administration. The choice has stirred up controversy for his views of Mideast politics. Apparently Chas Freeman knows Chinese pretty well as he served as Richard Nixon's chief translator in China in 1972.

But it is the Weekly Standard who dug up an old email Chas Freeman posted on a listserv in 2006, addressing the Tiananmen Massacre:

From: []
Sent: Friday, May 26, 2006 9:29 PM

I will leave it to others to address the main thrust of your reflection on Eric's remarks. But I want to take issue with what I assume, perhaps incorrectly, to be yoiur citation of the conventional wisdom about the 6/4 [or Tiananmen] incident. I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, i.e. that the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than -- as would have been both wise and efficacious -- to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo's response to the mob scene at "Tian'anmen" stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action.

For myself, I side on this -- if not on numerous other issues -- with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be. Such folk, whether they represent a veterans' "Bonus Army" or a "student uprising" on behalf of "the goddess of democracy" should expect to be displaced with despatch from the ground they occupy. I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China, allowing students to occupy zones that are the equivalent of the Washington National Mall and Times Square, combined. while shutting down much of the Chinese government's normal operations. I thus share the hope of the majority in China that no Chinese government will repeat the mistakes of Zhao Ziyang's dilatory tactics of appeasement in dealing with domestic protesters in China.

I await the brickbats of those who insist on a politically correct -- i.e. non Burkean conservative -- view.


There may indeed some brickbats coming his way soon. But the position he is being appointed to does not require Senate confirmation.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tiananmen Mothers and Mrs. Edgar Snow

The reporter Edgar Snow is well known both in China and in the west for his early reporting on Chinese communist and especially his book Red Star Over China. When he died in 1972, part of his ashes were buried in China, by the picturesque Unnamed Lake on the campus of Peking University, where he had taught journalism during the 1930s. His tombstone was inscribed with "In Memory of Edgar Snow, an American Friend of the Chinese People," calligraphed by Marshal Ye Jianying.

Snow's widow, Louis Wheeler Snow, had been a state guest of the Chinese government for many years until 1989 when she was so upset with the Tiananmen Massacre that she refused to visit China as a guest of the government. It was not until 2000 when the seventy-nine years old Mrs. Snow visited China on a personal tourist visa. She sought to meet Tiananmen Mothers. A meeting with Professor Ding Zilin was foiled by the government. Yet Mrs. Snow managed to meet another member of that organization, who was later detained by the police. Mrs. Snow had not been back to China since.

With shared sympathy, the Tiananmen Mothers took up the task of visiting Edgar Snow's grave on her behalf on February 15, anniversary of Snow's death, each year. They are forbidden to use the "Tiananmen Mothers" label on the wreath they place at the grave so they use their real names.

They reported that they are the only people who visit Snow's grave regularly through the years. It appears that the grave site has been ignored and fallen into disrepair by both the authority and the public. It falls on them to clean up the site on each of their visits.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Songs of 1989: Last Shot

Technically, Last Shot was not a song directly associated with the 1989 movement. But the song acquired a new meaning when the pop star Cui Jian sang it in public concerts barely half a year after the massacre.

People who attended the concerts described that Cui Jian wore a faded army uniform and a red bandanna as he usually appeared. The stadium was dark and then filled with blinding light pulses and blasting heavy metal as if machine guns were blazing. As he went through the moving lyrics, there was no escaping of the memory of the massacre.

The song itself was written in 1988, a year before the massacre. It was another song that was dedicated to the martyrs of the Sino-Vietnam border war. Nonetheless, Cui Jan's tour in 1990 was quickly shut down. Later, this song was performed without any lyrics.

A record with the lyrics is available here.
A stray bullet hit my chest.
Suddenly, memory swells in my heart.
I have tears, yet without sorrow.

If this were to be the last shot,
I would like to accept this magnificent honor.
Oh, the last shot.
Oh, the last shot.

Don't know how many, how many words I have yet to say.
Don't know how many, how many pleasures I have yet to enjoy.
Don't know how many, how many people who are like me.
Don't know how many, how many last shots there have been.

Lying peacefully on this warm earth,
With morning dew, sunset, and flowers blossoming,
Oh, I leave nothing but those words
To be with this world.

A stray bullet hit my chest,
Suddenly, memory swells in my heart.
Oh, the last shot.
Oh, the last shot.

哦 只有泪水
哦 没有悲伤
哦 最后一枪 
哦 最后一枪

哦 只有一句话 

哦 最后一枪 
哦 最后一枪

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Songs of 1989: Blood Colored Glory

Blood Colored Glory is a patriotic song written in 1987 and dedicated the martyrs of the Sino-Vietnam border war. Its lyrics and music glorifies the utmost sacrifice of individuals for the nation in the typical style of China at the time. It became a very popular song.

During the 1989 student movement, the glory-through-sacrifice theme struck a chord with the students, particularly after the launch of hunger strike. The song was frequently played and sung at Tiananmen Square during that period.

The theme of sacrifice took a brand new meaning after the bloody massacre. While dissents were silenced in China, artists in Hong Kong and Taiwan, who usually despised such communist propaganda work, took up this very song and performed it in honor of the victims.

In a way, Blood Colored Glory became the anthem of the 1989 student movement.

One version of the performance, superimposed with images of the movement (Warning: there are a few scenes near the end that could be disturbing.) could be seen here.

Perhaps I say goodbye, and will never return again,
Would you understand? Would you comprehend?
Perhaps I fall down, and will never get up again,
Would you still wait forever?
If it should be so, don't you feel sad,
On the flag of the republic is the glory colored by our blood.

Perhaps my eyes will never open again. Would you understand my silent emotion?
Perhaps I sleep and will never wake up again. Would you believe that I have turned into mountain?
If it should be so, don't you feel sad,
In the soil of the republic there is the love from our sacrifice.
If it should be so, don't you feel sad,
On the flag of the republic is the glory colored by our blood.



Monday, February 16, 2009

War and Wall, Thirty Years Ago

Thirty years ago, hundreds of thousands soldiers of the People's Liberation Army crossed the border from China to invade Vietnam and opened a large-scale military conflict between two former "blood-and-flesh" brothers. The declared motive was to respond forcefully to the frequent military incursions and harassment along the border by the Vietnamese. Another goal was to engage the Vietnamese Army in release of the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia who was under attack of an invading Vietnamese force. It has also been speculated that Deng Xiaoping intended to use this war to demonstrate to Uncle Sam the independence of China from the communist family headed by Soviet Union.

The major combats of that war lasted about a month and left heavy casualties on both sides. Failing to achieve the goal of a quick and decisive win and forcing the Vietnamese to withdraw from Cambodia, the Chinese army declared victory and withdrew. Border skirmishes continued throughout the 1980s, however.

As patriotic propaganda flourished in the official press along with the war efforts, the "Democracy Wall" movement was also near its end in that winter in Beijing. Wei Jingsheng was loudly warning that Deng Xiaoping was becoming a new dictator. His voice was a lonely amid a crowd of dissidents who saw Deng Xiaoping as the hope of a democratic China.

Wei Jingsheng also bragged to some foreign reporters the names of a few commanders leading the military campaign, information that appeared to be available within the insiders' grapevine. He was promptly arrested for the dual crime of "counter-revolutionary" and "disclosing military secrets" to foreigners. To his credit, he refused to betray his sources during his trial and was sentenced to fifteen years of prison.

The fever of the war and "Democracy Wall" died down in the decades followed. By 1989, ten years later, few people were aware of Wei Jingsheng. Except for Professor Fang Lizhi, who wrote an open letter to Deng Xiaoping appealing for Wei Jingsheng's release. The letter helped lifting the curtain of the great democracy movement of 1989.

Apart from the continued border skirmishes, the People's Liberation Army saw no action for a decade until May, 1989, when many of the same troops were called into Beijing to impose martial law and then eventually carry out the massacre.

Partly due to its lack of clear success, the Sino-Vietnam war became a forgotten affair. But it also left unexpected legacies. A couple of patriotic songs dedicated to the martyrs of that war became immensely popular among the public and especially the young students. During the 1989 student movement, they adopted the songs for their own as they faced down the very soldiers the songs had been written for.

The songs will be posted in subsequent posts of this blog.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gong Xiaoxia To Run for Virginia State Legislature

Near the end of 1973, the then teenager Gong Xiaoxia (龚小夏) got herself involved with a little group of young rebellions in Guangzhou, China. The group had been publishing a series of "Big Posters" criticizing the politics of the day under a collective pen name Li Yizhe (李一哲). It was not until 1977, after the fall of "Gang of Four", when the group got into serious trouble with all its members detained.

But the young Gong Xiaoxia regained her freedom quickly in a rapidly changing China at the time. In fact, she passed the national college exam reinstated by Deng Xiaoping and was admitted into Peking University. There, she became a close friend and confidant to a younger Wang Juntao and helped guiding him through the excited time of "election campaign" of 1980.

Gong Xiaoxia eventually left China and went on to Harvard University for her study in sociology. She settled down near Washington DC and became active in local politics there. She writes a blog in Chinese on her adventures to help educating her audience on the operations of American democracy.

Today, Gong Xiaoxia announced in her blog that she has decided to run for Virginia State legislature herself and will continue to report on her campaign via her blog. She has not yet spelled out her platform but it appears that she will be running as a moderate Republican with a strong appeal to local Chinese community.

While many Chinese-Americans have participated and gained tremendous achievements in American politics, Gong Xiaoxia might be the very first with a mainland China background and from the post-Cultural Revolution generation.

Her campaign web site is here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tapping on the Great Firewall

In a what is probably the first quantitative study of the internet censorship in China, Rebecca MacKinnon, an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong, conducted extensive tests on various blog hosting services in China. Her team created accounts in these sites and posted articles with sensitive keywords over an eight-month period last year. Out of 108 valid tests conducted, they found some services consored close to half of them while others either did not care or was not competent enough to do so:

Details of their experiment and other breakdowns of data can be read in their report here. The author states:
Our tests yielded some interesting answers: First, censorship levels across 15 different BSPs varied even more than expected. Second, a great deal of politically sensitive material survives in the Chinese blogosphere, and chances for survival can likely be improved with knowledge and strategy. Third, censorship methods vary greatly from company to company, implying that companies do have at least some ability to make strategic choices. These choices are not only about how to balance relationships with government and users, but also about the extent to which BSPs value user rights and interests.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Liu Xiaobo in Legal Limbo

Professor Liu Xiaobo, the leader of the "Charter of 08" movement, was never formally arrested but had "only" been detained since early December. In early January, his wife Liu Xia was allowed a brief visit with him at a "neutral location". Other than that encounter, she has no idea where her husband is or under what condition he was living in.

At the time, the police informed Liu Xia that Liu Xiaobo has been put into "living under supervision" (监视居住), the equivalent of a house arrest. But Liu Xiaobo has not been allowed to live at home with his wife, which is usually the case for house arrest situations.

Liu Xia finally decided to seek legal help. Yesterday, a lawyer with her authorization visited the Beijing Public Security Bureau to demand information on Liu Xiaobo's whereabouts, accused crimes, and terms of his current status. They are awaiting for a response.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Avant-garde Art in Beijing, Anniversary Canceled

The 1980s was a decade when modern western art forms started to propagate in China. The very first modern art exhibition in China was initially planned for 1987. But that attempt was foiled by the anti-Bourgeois Liberalization campaign following student unrest in the winter of 1986-1987. Two years later, the China/Avant-garde exhibition finally opened in Beijing in February 1989.

It was quite a show. About three hundred art pieces from all over the country were displayed. An usual presentation of Chairman Mao Zedong by the artist Wang Guangyi (王广义) was the talk of the town.
But there was more. A couple of performance artists brought in a revolver and fired shots to their artwork, resulting a suspension of the exhibition. A few months later, the 1989 student movement broke out. Many of the artists joined in.

It is now twenty years since that eccentric art exhibition. Modern arts are no longer foreign in China. Some of those artists planed for an anniversary exhibit commemorating that event. On the eve of its opening, however, police shut it down. Apparently, anything associated with a twenty-year anniversary is too sensitive for this year.