Saturday, May 30, 2009

Amnesty International's Online Petition

On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen massacre, Amnesty International is hosting an online petition to urge the Chinese government to "initiate an open and independent public inquiry into the events of June 1989" and "to stop the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders and activists who seek justice for the victims of the military crackdown."

Here is a short video about the petition.

The petition will close on June 10. You can sign it here.

This Day in 1989: May 30, Goddess of Democracy Unveiled

In the morning of May 30, 1989, the tenth day of martial law, the stature of Goddess of Democracy was unveiled in Tiananmen Square. The tall but lightweight structure withstood substantial wind and was cheered by thousands of students. Some remembered that it as one of the most enthusiastic scenes that came close to a stampede.

After a long standoff, there were finally signs that the government might be on the move. The official Beijing Daily reported that the motorcycle gang by the name of "Flying Tigers" had been disbanded with 11 of their leaders arrested.

In that early morning, three leaders of the Workers Autonomous Federation were also arrested. Other leaders of that organization including Han Dongfang and Li Jinjin, led hundreds of workers and students to stage a noisy sit-in in front of the Beijing Public Security Bureau. Their protest was fruitful, the three were released that night.

According to Zhang Boli, he and Li Lu had a direct contact with representatives of the martial law troops at Beijing Hotel that afternoon. The negotiation did not go anywhere and the two were informed that the troops would act soon.

Days of 1989

Friday, May 29, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 29, Chai Ling Returns, the Goddess of Democracy Comes

Amid the constant struggle and in-fighting within the student leadership, things were actually quieting down at the epicenter, Tiananmen Square. On May 29, 1989, large quantities of tents of various sizes, donated and shipped from Hong Kong, showed up. They were arranged into color-coded zones. The northern side of the Square was turning into a tent city.

In the evening, sections of a new statue were transported into the Square by four flat-bed tricycles. Students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts would spend the entire night assembling their newest creation: the Goddess of Democracy.

Chai Ling did not run away after all. After resigning from her post and leaving the Square, she returned after a day of rest. In a far better mood, she resumed the position as commander-in-chief. Zhang Boli also returned to action. He was busy at work in founding a "University of Democracy" at Tiananamen Square.

Days of 1989

Thursday, May 28, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 28, Chai Ling Makes a Videotape

Sunday, May 28, 1989, was a day for global demonstration to support the students in Beijing. There were marches in major cities all over the world by Chinese students and compatriots. But it was relatively quiet in Beijing. Students there had their own demonstrations. It was a far cry from what they had been experiencing in the last couple of months.

At the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square, many people were leaving. Even the commander-in-chief Chai Ling was depressed. She made a decision to leave as well. During the day, she met up with an American student Philip Cunningham and videotaped a "last word" interview. In the evening, she was back at the Square and resigned from her post. Yang Tao was selected to be an acting czar to reorganize the occupation.

Chai Ling's videotape would eventually become a big controversy surrounding her intention in the movement and personal character, especially after it's been used in the documentry The Gate of Heavenly Peace. At present, Chai Ling is suing the producers.

Days of 1989

Book Excerpt: Chai Ling's "Last Word" Interview

The following excerpt is from my book Standoff at Tiananmen, chapter 11, describing Chai Ling's videotaped interview on May 28, 1989. Her message in the videotape became a very controversial topic years after the event.

The Sunday of May 28 was designated as a day of global demonstration. In major cities all over the world Chinese students and nationals marched to support their compatriots at home. But it was a relatively dismal day in Beijing itself. Students here demonstrated on bicycles. In order to reach more residents, they spread their routes away from the city center. It ended up as a far cry from the atmosphere they had gotten used to in the previous weeks. Most alarmingly, there was an obvious drop in support by residents, who now appeared indifferent to the endless marches. The flow of residents coming to Tiananmen Square with food and cash donations had also declined. More students were still arriving from the provinces, however, making up for those who were leaving.

Chai Ling was feeling more depressed than ever. Having demolished the withdrawal plan, she was now haunted by the movement's uncertain future. As she looked around, she actually saw a much improved place. Large quantities of brand new tents had arrived from Hong Kong. Students were busy setting them up and arranging them into neat color-coded sections. By design, these bright red, blue, yellow tents made up ten divisions with specific functions. The new tent city gave an illusion of order and strength. Chai Ling was impressed. Li Lu, her trusted lieutenant, had been hard at work.

Chai Ling had always had a high regard for Li Lu's resourcefulness and leadership skills. She believed that he was the strong leader this movement required. Li Lu's staunch opposition to the withdrawal plan reinforced her opinion. In contrast, she had seen her own weakness.

It was now the eighth day of martial law. Rumors continued to circulate. On this particular morning, there was a "credible report" which said that a group of assassins had infiltrated the Square, ready to take out all the leaders at minutes' notice. The debacle on withdrawal also had a deep psychological impact. Several people came by to offer their resignations that morning. Bai Meng, who had polished Chai Ling's Hunger Striker Manifesto, quit in frustration. Zhang Boli informed Chai Ling that he had to take a leave as well. He wanted to write a book about the movement. Author Zheng Yi and his wife were also packing. They too had become disillusioned. Citing that they had run out of spare clothing, the couple decided that it was time for them to head back home to the remote Shaanxi Province.

So, in a matter of hours, the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square dwindled. It was now just Li Lu, Feng Congde, and Chai Ling with a small group of volunteers who were looking for directions. Chai Ling made up her mind. It was time for her to walk away as well. Before taking off, however, Chai Ling thought she had to take care of a couple of things first. She would like to leave a few words so that her thoughts would not disappear when she did. She also wanted to see her husband one more time and maybe persuade him to go with her.

Alone, Chai Ling crossed Chang'an Avenue to the Beijing Hotel. She found Philip Cunningham, an American graduate student who was studying Chinese history at Beijing Normal University. As events in Beijing escalated, many foreign students had either volunteered or been recruited into freelance reporting work for news agencies. Philip Cunningham was no exception. He was working for BBC News, through which he had gotten to know Chai Ling.

Philip Cunningham immediately sensed that the "flustered, frightened, and crying" visitor was facing some kind of threat and was ready to flee. He was asked for help in recording a few "last words" before she could run away. On the way out of the hotel, they met up with a female reporter from Hong Kong by the name of Liang Shuying, who invited herself to the occasion.

They got into a taxi and drove aimlessly for a while before Philip Cunningham decided to head to an apartment of a friend of his. In the car, Chai Ling wrote a note authorizing Philip Cunningham to speak on her behalf, presumably after her arrest or death. The young American was both shocked and frightened by her seriousness. In a tiny bedroom, he had Chai Ling sit down on a bed facing a video camera while holding a tape recorder in her hands. Chai Ling started talking right away.

She began calmly but depressingly: "I think these are going to be my last words, as the situation is getting more and more cruel. I am Chai Ling. I am twenty-three year old." She recalled the moment when she joined the movement at Hu Yaobang's funeral on April 22. When the three students knelt down for their petition on the stairs of the Great Hall of People, she saw the tears of students in the Square. She saw her husband Feng Congde biting his finger to write words with his blood on a handkerchief. She remembered the launch of hunger strike, the dialogue with Yan Mingfu, and Li Lu's proposal of self-immolation. She sprinkled her retelling of the movement with many negative observations of other student leaders who had opposed the hunger strike and continued trying to compromise with the government. She was distraught. Her voice was hoarse, pausing, and sometimes incomprehensible. Eventually, she broke down and started to sob uncontrollably. She could not face the fact that her beloved movement was disintegrating and losing its purity. As the government side started to unite and toughen up, she cried out desperately, students were moving in the opposite direction. Without giving specifics, she claimed that there were traitors, embezzlers, and special agents working for the government among the student leadership.

Philip Cunningham felt that he had to interject. He asked gently, "When was the darkest moment of the movement?" Chai Ling was ready with an answer: the darkest days had yet to come. She pointed her fingers at "all the people" who had advised students to withdraw and unequivocally declared that Tiananmen Square was the last and only ground for the students to hold. They just could not retreat.

Chai Ling appeared to be particularly upset with people trying to seize power from her. She explained that she had to cling to the post of the commander-in-chief because she needed this power to fight against the forces of withdrawal. The other leaders, including Beijing Students Autonomous Federation, the Capital Joint Conference, and all the other self-proclaimed organizations, she accused, were working to undermine her. Especially Liu Xiaobo and Wuer Kaixi, whom she singled out by name and with anger. All they cared about was seeking leadership position even though Wuer Kaixi had already caused great harm to the movement at least twice. The older intellectuals, on the other hand, only cared about making themselves look good.

Then, as if a pendulum were swinging back, Chai Ling recalled the early days of the hunger strike with fondness and deep longing. That was the best period of the movement when everyone was united as one and the movement was pure. The residents were supportive because the students had wakened their sense of sympathy. The movement reached its glorious peak, she said, when Beijing residents laid down their bodies to stop martial law troops from entering the city. But the happy thought did not last for more than a couple of minutes as the uncertain future crept into her mind immediately. With that, she spoke the words that would forever associate with her in controversy:
The students always ask me. What should we do next? What could we achieve? I feel deeply sad in my heart. I can not tell them that what we are really waiting for is bloodshed. It's when the government reaches the end of its cruelty and uses butcher knives on its own citizens. I think, when and only when blood is flowing like a river in Tiananmen Square, all the people in China could then see clearly and finally unite. But how could I tell students such things?!

Taken at face value, these words carried a sense of conspiracy of their own: that she was willing to steer the movement into bloodshed for the intention of waking up the populace while keeping that goal only to herself. But at the moment, Chai Ling was more worried about other people's conspiracies. She became more and more emotional and incoherent. She talked about her husband, about their original plan to go abroad, about her parents, and about the debt she owed to her family.

Philip Cunningham cut in again. He asked Chai Ling to describe her own plans for going forward. Chai Ling spoke more words that would come back to haunt her later:
For the next step, I think I myself will try to survive. The students at Tiananmen Square, however, will have to stay and persist to the very end, waiting for the government's last resort in washing the Square clean with blood. But I also believe that the next revolution will be right around the corner after that. When that happens, I will stand up again. For as long as I am alive, my goal will be to overthrow this inhuman government and build a new government for people's freedom. Let the Chinese people stand up at last. Let a real people's republic be born.
Carefully, Liang Shuying inquired about the plan to withdraw on May 30. In no uncertain terms, Chai Ling said that that proposal had caused tremendous damage to the movement. She regretted that she had not opposed it from the beginning. Once again, she labeled the plan as a conspiracy. If they did withdraw, China as a country would go backwards.

"Will you continue to stay in Tiananmen Square yourself?" Liang Shuying poked on pointedly.

"No, I won't."


"Because I am not the same as everybody else. I am a person who is already marked as 'Most Wanted.' I will not be content to be murdered by such a government. I want to live. That's what I am thinking right now. I don't know if people will think that I am selfish. But I believe that the work I am doing now needs someone to carry on. Because such a democracy movement needs more than one person. Could you not disclose these words, please?"

The last question seemed to indicate that Chai Ling had finally realized that her words were not appropriate for public consumption. With her "last words" taped, all Chai Ling had to do was to say farewell with her husband before she took off.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Excerpt: May 27, 1989

The following excerpt is from my book Standoff at Tiananmen, chapter 11, describing the events of May 27, 1989, which in retrospect became one of the pivotal moments of the student movement.

In the morning of May 27, Liu Gang came to Tiananmen Square with a single mission in mind. He had to get the leaders of Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square leaders into the conference to discuss a plan for the future. Li Lu had never attended the conference after its first day. He regarded it only as a farce. Occasionally, he sent Chai Ling over so that she could get away and catch some rest during those boring meetings. With his own student parliament backing the headquarters, Li Lu had neither time nor necessity to be involved in the Capital Joint Conference. Liu Gang had come to understand that, for any plan to have a chance, it had to be with the approval of Chai Ling and Li Lu.

But Liu Gang could not persuade Li Lu to attend the meeting this morning. Chai Ling and Feng Congde went with him instead. It happened to be the best attended session in days. There were about a hundred people in a large conference room. Feng Congde, who was a stranger to this scene, recognized many familiar faces. He was surprised to find Wang Dan, absent from Tiananmen Square, playing a central role. But he did not know Wang Juntao, who was there to chair this important proceeding. The agenda was to discuss the second task he had set when he opened the conference four days earlier: a clear and unified goal for the movement.

The meeting opened with Chai Ling briefing on the current situation. To the surprise of many, she gave a depressing account of deterioration. The newcomers from the provinces were out of control. They had started their own organizations to fight with her headquarters for power. Garbage was piling up and the place stank. Chai Ling was exhausted and did not appear at all like a commander-in-chief ready to defend Tiananmen Square. Yang Tao's proposal to vacate the schools was then brought up but received only lukewarm reaction. Wang Dan thought the idea impossible to implement. Wuer Kaixi concurred but added that he would be willing to travel to the provinces himself to drum up popular support for Beijing.

Wang Juntao brought the meeting back to its agenda. A couple of writers in the group had drafted another statement, plainly titled Our Ten-Point Statement regarding the Current Situation. It was a laundry list of their collective opinions and demands. To the great dismay and frustration of Feng Congde and Chai Ling, the intellectuals proceeded to argue hours over fine wording choices point by point. At one instance, a prolonged debate erupted regarding whether to use the phrase "purely spontaneous" or "essentially spontaneous" to describe the origin of the movement. Feng Congde noticed that many of the attendees were dozing off. Now he understood what Li Lu had been saying about this conference.

Wang Juntao ordered Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch. It was a meal of luxury for most people in the room. Like almost everybody else, Chai Ling had a very favorable impression of Wang Juntao. She found him understanding and supportive. A rare person in this crowd whom she could trust. Wang Juntao had been conscientiously playing out the role of his version of George Washington. He went out of his way to make sure that everybody could have a voice in the conference and avoid making any judgment of his own. He smiled and nodded eagerly even when he was listening to something he thought ridiculous or disagreeable. While his approach was winning friends and keeping the conference together, his all-pleasing style was also frustrating his closer friends. "Unprincipled," many scoffed publicly. Liu Gang worried that frequent changes in Wang Juntao's stance could be costing them precious opportunities.

During the lunch break, they learned that Wan Li, the Chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, had issued a written statement from Shanghai in support of martial law. It was yet another major setback.

The meeting continued in the afternoon on their Ten-Point Statement. The eighth point spelled out that, if an emergency meeting of the National People's Congress Standing Committee was not called, the occupation of Tiananmen Square would continue at least until June 20, the date for a regular meeting of the same committee. There was no objection to this deadline until Feng Congde rose to speak. As the person in charge of finance, he told the conference that it was not financially possible to sustain the occupation for another three weeks. In fact, he did not think it could last even a couple more days. He proceeded to explain how they were running a large deficit. He demanded that the departed Beijing Students Autonomous Federation return donated funds to the Square.

The audience was shocked. For all their grandiose visions of revolution and victory, they had paid little attention to such details as money and bread supply. Under pressure, a student in charge of finance for the Federation promised to release some of its funds right away. But he also claimed that their fund was not large either. With the burn rate Feng Congde cited, it would not come close to sustaining them till June 20.

Wang Juntao did not think the monetary shortfall was a serious threat. Sizable donations from Hong Kong and Taiwan were already on their way. But Feng Congde's numbers coupled with Chai Ling's briefing had already caused the pendulum to swing to the side of an earlier withdrawal. To the dismay of a few die-hards, the conference quickly settled on a withdrawal date of May 30, chosen to give the headquarters a couple of days to prepare. All eyes were turning to Chai Ling. It would be this diminutive but determined commander-in-chief who would have the final say.

Chai Ling was much more exhausted than determined at this very moment. She spoke up quietly and softly. It had been a grueling time for her since the start of the hunger strike. Despite all efforts, the situation at Tiananmen Square was dreadful. She was ready to have all this over. Yes, she told the conference, as she raised her hand, she agreed with the withdrawal plan. Almost everybody else followed. It was noted as an unanimous decision.

It was now late afternoon and they finally finished with their statement. But the meeting was not yet over. Liu Xiaobo, a young professor of literature at Beijing Normal University, suggested that they needed a more visible leader for the movement. One who was to be a public hero or a Chinese Lech Walesa, the famous leader of Polish Solidarity. Only with such a figure, he declared, could this movement unite the people and sustain its civil opposition after withdrawing from Tiananmen Square. He already had a candidate and he immediately nominated Wuer Kaixi for the role to be named as the "Spokesman of the People."

The thirty-four year old Liu Xiaobo had been traveling abroad teaching Chinese philosophy and literature in Norway and the United States. He was visiting Columbia University that spring when he felt an irrepressible urge to join the emerging movement. So he hopped on a plane home. As he was transferring at Tokyo, he learned about the publication of April 26 People's Daily editorial. In a moment of truth, he hesitated between continuing onto Beijing or flying back to New York. Beijing won out.

Back home, he was happy to find students from his school at the center of the storm. Now at the conference, he showered accolades on Wuer Kaixi as a natural leader. Likewise, Wuer Kaixi was ready. He followed up with a speech to claim himself the most charismatic and recognized leader of the movement. He appeared to be well received by the audience.

But Feng Congde was beyond himself. He angrily objected the nomination and accused Wuer Kaixi of being immature, lacking experience, and, worst of all, having a strong tendency to speak for himself in total disregard of rules and regulations. He was referring to the unilateral moves Wuer Kaixi had made at Tiananmen Square that had resulted in his own banishment. To his credit, Wuer Kaixi did not dispute the charges. He defended himself by saying that he could now do a better job with teachers like Liu Xiaobo as his advisers.

That was the last straw. Feng Congde and Chai Ling had no more patience left. They had already spent seven hours in this meeting and it was time to leave. As a parting shot, Chai Ling declared that her Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square was no longer on the same page with this conference. As they walked out in disgust, the motion to make Wuer Kaixi the Spokesman of the People was tabled. Wang Juntao rushed out to comfort the angry couple.

Leaving the conference, Feng Congde rushed to Peking University to follow up on funds promised by Beijing Students Autonomous Federation. Chai Ling went back to Tiananmen Square by herself. The images of Liu Xiaobo and Wuer Kaixi lingered in her mind. She had seen too many instances of people trying to wrestle leadership from her. From Beijing Students Autonomous Federation to new arrivals from the provinces, they had always tried to overthrow her headquarters and seize power. Now this Capital Joint Conference, which had backed her just a few days ago, was turning against her as well. As she got closer to Tiananmen Square, Chai Ling started having serious second thoughts about the decision to withdraw in three days.

Tiananmen Square was not her sanctuary on this day either. As she was walking in, the sad realities sank in all at once. It was a dirty and pathetic place. People were tired and angry. A young student marshal came to her in anger and disgust. He told her that he had come from Qingdao, a port city in northeast China. Hundreds of his schoolmates had come together to join the movement. Because of the school uniforms they were wearing, all of them were immediately assigned duties as marshals to work on picket lines protecting the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square. They all worked hard for many days, he told Chai Ling while crying. But what had they witnessed so far? Nothing good, he said. We saw you leaders come and go without doing anything of substance. We saw so much infighting and corruption. We did not see anything good at all! He told Chai Ling that most of his schoolmates had already returned home with profound disappointment. There were only a dozen or so left. Why did he choose to stay? He said, I just did not want to give up. I just wanted to see how bad things could get at the Square and whether our country still had any hope left!

There it was, an echo directly from the Hunger Strike Manifesto Chai Ling had written in her own emotional days. It was almost exactly the same language she had used to inspire hundreds and then thousands to Tiananmen Square. But this time, it came back at her. Her own movement was now turning her followers away. She did not have much to say to this teenager. All of a sudden, she thought of her husband Feng Congde. Commenting on the dreadful state of student infighting, he had once quipped, "Now I understand why Li Peng had to impose martial law." It was sad, depressingly sad.

Chai Ling was happy to see Li Lu, who greeted her at the Monument to People's Heroes. But the nice feeling did not last long. Upon hearing of the withdrawal plan, Li Lu was dumbfounded. "What are you talking about? It has only been two days since three hundred delegates voted to stay in the Square. How can that decision be overturned so quickly? It's against democratic procedures." Chai Ling tried to defend the decision but she was not particularly convincing. Li Lu was getting angrier and angrier by the minute. If they withdrew now, he screamed, it would be impossible to get students together again. The military would have total control. The National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting on June 20, if held at all, would be conducted under bayonets!

By the time Liu Gang and some of the Capital Joint Conference people arrived at Tiananmen Square, he found Chai Ling already had changed her mind. Chai Ling told him that it was Li Lu's call. Liu Gang immediately sought out Li Lu and briefed him on the plan. He emphasized that it was not going to be a total withdrawal, but a strategic diversion to campuses. Li Lu listened politely but showed no emotion. Liu Gang stared at Li Lu's dark sunglasses but could not see his eyes. He knew he had trouble on his hands.

Feng Congde had scheduled a press conference ahead of time and it became a rare occasion of the movement. For once, almost all prominent student leaders were present. At the base of the Monument, Wuer Kaixi, Wang Dan, and Chai Ling were standing in the middle. Li Lu, Zhang Boli, Liu Gang, Wang Juntao, and a group of intellectuals from the Capital Joint Conference sat behind them. There were rows of cameras facing the leaders, ready to record history in the making. Thousands of students and residents gathered behind the reporters. The occasion felt more like a mass assembly than a press conference.

Wuer Kaixi gave a speech first. He had not been seen in public for days and now appeared to have recovered from his illness. There were no more oxygen bags or nurses in tow. Liu Gang had intended to have him as a lead-in to summarize the achievements of the movement. Wuer Kaixi, however, took it as an opportunity for his own comeback. Happy and at ease, he casually launched into a sincere apology for his "bone-headed" move in screaming for withdrawal in the early morning of May 21, which he said might have cost the movement a golden opportunity to unite. His natural charisma won over the crowd. For once, he did not faint.

It was a tough act to follow. When Wang Dan came up next, he appeared to be the opposite of the charming Wuer Kaixi. Stiff and flat, with a pair of oversize glasses blocking almost half of his face, Wang Dan was holding the microphone in his right hand and several sheets of loose paper in his left. He struggled to read as the papers flapped in the wind. It was the long and drawn-out Ten-Point Statement. The crowd, warmed up by Wuer Kaixi, sat back in a subdued mood.

It was not until he reached the eighth point that he was able to catch the attention of his audience. After pausing for a moment, he slowly and softly read on, "It is suggested that the students evacuate Tiananmen Square on May 30." As Wang Dan continued with the statement, students in the crowd were exchanging confused looks and opinions.

Liu Gang got very worried. He spent the time during Wang Dan's speech to write down a detailed withdrawal plan on a piece of paper, mapping out how students would march out of Tiananmen Square. Knowing that most students were from out of town, he instructed them to go to specific local campuses based on the geographic regions where they came from. He handed the plan to Chai Ling who would be speaking next.

As Chai Ling stood up, she had Liu Gang's notes in one hand and took the microphone in the other. She did not bother to take a peek at the notes. Calmly, she stuffed the notes into a side pocket of her jeans and said, "The decision to withdraw on May 30 was not made by our Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square. It was not the will of the students at the Square either." Raising her voice, she turned and pointed her finger at Liu Gang, "It was them! It was only the opinion of these so-called elite intellectuals!"

The press conference ended in a confused state. Liu Gang and his fellow "elites" took refuge in a tent and could not contain their anger toward Chai Ling. When the Ten-Point Statement was printed and released publicly the next day, it had already reverted to its original language: "Unless an emergency meeting of the National People's Congress Standing Committee is convened in the next few days, the occupation of the Square will continue at least until June 20."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 26, Students Vote to Continue Occupying Tiananmen Square

Along with the new Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square, Li Lu had organized a new student parliament in the Square as a deliberate and decision-making entity. In the night between May 25 and 26, 1989, the parliament had an overnight session debating the merits of continued occupation in the Square. A vote was cast at 5 o'clock in the morning on four options:
  1. Defending the Square with a confrontational stance (坚守广场,主动出击): 162, 56%
  2. Persisting in the Square while seeking a dialogue (积极对话,坚持广场): 80, 27%
  3. Keeping the purity of the movement, no withdraw, no dialogue (保持纯洁,不撤不谈), 38, 13%
  4. Keeping the status quo, let chips fall where it may (维持现状,自生自灭), 8, 3%
It was not clear what the real differences between some of the choices, but the voting result clearly demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of the delegates to this parliament favored an aggressive and continued occupation of the Square. Li Lu would later use this result as his mandate to defeat various proposals of withdrawing.

In this afternoon, Yang Tao arrived at the Square from Peking University with his "empty campus" proposal, in which all students leave the city altogether. He appeared to have the ears of Chai Ling and Feng Congde but not Li Lu, who regarded it as just another attempt to get the students to withdraw.

Feng Congde continued to struggle with the chaotic financial situation in the Square. He had learned that the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation had taken a sizable donation fund with them when they were forced out.

At Tiananmen Square, a new red banner was installed on the Monument to People's Heroes, spelling out the new goals for the movement under martial law: "Commerce the National People's Congress, Improve democracy; Impeach Li Peng, End the Military Rule." (召开人大,推进民主;罢免李鹏,结束军管). Wang Dan posted a poster at Peking University with an urgent appeal for students to reinforce their comrades at the Square.

Days of 1989

Monday, May 25, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 25, Yang Tao Proposes "Empty Campus" Plan

It was the sixth day of the martial law. Most of the military that had been blocked and surrounded on their routes in the suburbs for days had now withdrawn to make camp in the far outskirts of the city. The government seemed to have paralyzed and left the capital for the students.

Despite the determination displayed by the new leadership the day earlier, the hottest topic debated in the students' camp was whether it was time to leave the Square and what the exit strategy would be. On May 25, 1989, Yang Tao, a student leader from Peking University who had stayed away from Tiananmen Square to work on logistic support, proposed a new idea to the now sidelined Beijing Students Autonomous Federation. He suggested that all students leave Beijing en mass and leave the city empty for the martial law troops.

At Tiananmen Square, Feng Congde volunteered to look after the financial situation and found wide-spread mismanagement and graft in the floods of donated money. Even worse, he realized that the students were running a huge deficit in supplying food for the "citizens of the People's Republic of Tiananmen Square." The deficit was covered by IOUs signed by student leaders and honored by the local business owners. But the situation was not sustainable.

As a measure of transparency, Feng Congde decided to post daily financial report at the Square.

Days of 1989

Sunday, May 24, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 24, Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen is in Charge

The newly established Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square made its first public appearance on May 24, 1989. In an elaborated ceremony, Wang Dan read a prepared statement grandiosely titled The Final Decisive Struggle between the Brightness and Darkness (光明与黑暗的最后决斗). The statement declared that the students had nowhere to retreat by will persist with their occupation of Tiananmen Square until the "Li Peng regime" was toppled.

Chai Ling, once again the Commander-in-Chief, led the rest of the officers and the crowd with a solemn oath:

I swear: I will protect the republic and Tiananmen Square with my young life. Heads can roll, blood can flow, but the People's Square can never be lost! We are willing to fight until the last person.
Officers designated for various tasks sprang into action to organize the occupation. They consolidated media operations, started to publish their own daily newspapers, launched a clean-up effort, and reorganized the student marshals. It was the beginning of what would later become half-jokingly referred as the "People's Republic of Tiananmen Square."

Lost in the shuffle was Wang Chaohua and her Beijing Students Autonomous Federation. They had lost their chance of returning to the Square and any leadership role.

Days of 1989

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 23, Mao's Portrait Defaced

On May 23, 1989, Wang Juntao put his vision of a new movement leadership into motion by rounding up all existing leaders and put them into a large conference room at the Institute of Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Zedong Thought a couple miles off Tiananmen Square. There, they formed a new coordination group that became known as the Joint Conference. Bao Zunxin was selected as the nominal leader but it was clear that Wang Juntao was running the show.

Among the many decisions they made to consolidate power and impose order to the chaotic occupation of Tiananmen Square, the most critical one was to endorse the provisional headquarters formed the day before and formally chastised it as the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square. Chai Ling and her lieutenants remained as the leaders of the new headquarters, much to the dismay of Liu Gang and others who resented her leadership styles.

It was also a hot day at the Square, as massive demonstrations continued. In the early afternoon, three men at the base of Tiananmen threw plastic shells filled with paint onto the giant portrait of Mao Zedong and left a few visible stains on the holy picture. Students, suspecting it as a government conspiracy act, detained the three men immediately. With most of their leaders absent from the scene, students made a quick decision to hand the three to police.

The three men, Yu Zhijian (余志坚), Yu Dongxiao (喻东晓), and Lu Decheng (鲁德成), turned out not to be government agents but from Mao Zedong's home Hunan Province. They were a teacher, a local newspaper art editor, and a truck driver, respectively. For their act of defacing the portrait, Yu Zhijian received a life sentence, Yu Dongxiao 20 years, and Lu Decheng 16 years in jail.

Shortly after the defacing incident, a severe thunderstorm mixed with sand and hail belted the Tiananmen Square.

Also on this day, Wan Li, the chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, cut short of his state visit in North America and returned to China. Wang Juntao, Hu Jiwei, and others had high hopes for Wan Li to open an emergency meeting of his committee to reevaluate the martial law. But Wan Li did not make it all the way to Beijing. He stopped, or was stopped, at Shanghai "for health reasons."

Days of 1989

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reviews of My Book: "A Comprehensive, Detailed Account"

Merle Goldman is Professor Emerita of History at Boston University and Associate of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. She recently provided the following blurb for my book:

Eddie Cheng's "Standoff at Tiananmen" provides a comprehensive, detailed account of the events that occurred in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in spring of 1989. Written in an engaging style, Cheng places the 1989 demonstrations in their historical context at the same time that he depicts the day to day joys and traumas of the participants. He not only describes the myriad of events that occurred at Tiananmen in 1989, but also the variety and characters of the people involved. There can be no better place to start to learn about this important event in post-Mao China than in "Standoff at Tiananmen."

This Day in 1989: May 22, BSAF Lost Control of Tiananmen Square

With the martial law troops blocked by still poised to enter the city any time, Tiananmen Square was in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. During the night of May 21, 1989, leaders of the hunger strike left the Square discreetly into hiding. Yet Wuer Kaixi, who had been banished from the leadership, returned to the Square after midnight. He too had heard "credible" rumors that this would be the night of bloodshed.

At two o'clock in the morning, Wuer Kaixi had to fight for his right to speak at the students' broadcast station at the Square. He eventually succeeded with Wang Chaohua's help. Then he screamed into the microphone to urge everyone to get out of the Square and move to the foreign embassy district for safety. His emotional and incoherent call was not heeled by the thousands of students. As he fainted, many thought he had lost his min

Although Wuer Kaixi had been expelled from the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation earlier for similar erratic behavior, most people still regarded him as the public face of that organization. Wang Chaohua had been working hard in the last couple of days to resurrect the organization as the student leadership. Her effort was now irreparably damaged.

During the day, former hunger strike leaders returned and Zhang Boli suggested that they needed to form a new leadership. He persuaded Wang Chaohua to take her Federation off-site for a reorganization and promised her that she would regain the leadership in 48 hours with a stronger Federation. Meanwhile, he engineered the formation of a "Provisional Headquarters" and installed Chai Ling as the Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, the new headquarters would look exactly the same as the defunct Hunger Strike Headquarters, with Li Lu, Feng Congde, and Zhang Boli acting as the main deputies to Chai Ling.

Wang Chaohua regarded the move as a coup. She left the Square dejected and disheartened. But nevertheless, she returned to Peking University to regroup and reorganize her Beijing Students Autonomous Federation and hope for a return in 48 hours.

Wang Juntao also spent part of this day at the Square observing the power vacuum. He reaffirmed his belief that the movement had gone beyond the students and maturer leadership was required. Yet he struggled with the thought of becoming the leader himself. As someone who was pessimistic on the eventual outcome, he was reluctant to step up and lead.

Days of 1989

Thursday, May 21, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 21, Li Lu Stages his Wedding at Tiananmen Square

After failed to enter the city two nights earlier, the martial law troops stayed put on their routes surrounded by students and residents. On May 21, 1989, the city of Beijing returned to a strange normal. Martial law was in effect only on paper. There appeared to be no authoritative governance in the city.

Power vacuum also existed within the ranks of the students. With the end of hunger strike, the Hunger Strike Headquarters was now defunct. There was no clear leadership among the current sit-in at the Square, although Wang Chaohua was making headway with her long-forgotten Beijing Students Autonomous Federation. Seeing the chaotic situation, she felt that her first priority was to find a way for student to withdraw from the Square and end the dangerous standoff. In a meeting of student representatives from 50 colleges in Beijing, she found a clear majority supporting her view.

Yet the chaos at the Square produced one of the more memorable scenes in 1989. Li Lu and his girlfriend staged a wedding at the base of the Monument to People's Heroes, flanked by Chai Ling, Feng Congde, and Zhang Boli. The "new couple" marched and danced around the Square, bringing a surreal happiness to the anxious crowd.

Not too long after the wedding, these former leaders of the hunger strike decided it was time for them to leave, as rumors of a bloody push by the martial law troops that night became more and more credible. They divided up the fund and gave each leader 200 RMB and sneaked out the Square. All except for Li Lu, who decided to stay himself.

Outside of Tiananmen Square, concerned individuals were also springing into action. Hu Jiwei, a high-rank official who was then a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, was pushing for a signature drive among his colleagues to open an emergency session of the committee to discuss the legitimacy of the martial law. He was assisted by intellectuals such as Cao Siyuan and Zhou Dou, as well as the private Stone Corp.

Wang Juntao, on the other hand, was mobilizing all his friends and connections to establish a new
leadership structure that went beyond the students. He envisioned an all-inclusive entity to coordinate the workers, residents, intellectuals, students, and alike to steer and strength the movement.

Days of 1989

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 20, Residents and Students Block Martial Law Troops

The martial law was supposed to take effect at 10am, May 20, 1989. The only sign of military in the city at that time was however a column of helicopters hovering over Tiananmen Square and dropping paper pamphlets from the air. Underneath, students and residents waved and shouted in defiance. They were more excited than angry.

Throughout the night, as martial law troops advanced, or tried to, toward the city from many directions, they encountered unexpected resistances from Beijing residents. Old ladies laid down their bodies. Truck drivers parked their vehicles in front of the military convoys. Residents came out at that night of full moon and surrounded every military column they could spot in the suburbs. Bands of motorcycle gangs, calling themselves the "Flying Tigers," circulated the city outskirts as scouts and information carriers.

By morning, every unit of the martial law troops was hopelessly blockaded on the streets. They were surrounded by students and residents, who emotionally and painstakingly lectured the soldiers.

At Tiananmen Square, students were emboldened by this latest development. The tone of the movement changed immediately. Beijing Students Autonomous Federation, the Hunger Strike Headquarters, along with a newly formed Workers Autonomous Federation, issued a joint statement calling for the impeachment of Premier Li Peng and President Yang Shankun. They also called for a general strike.

Students, who had previously forbidden residents mixing into their ranks for the "purity" of their movement, now openly appealed for support for workers and residents. Small groups of student delegations went to factories to talk to workers directly. One of these delegations was led by Xiong Yan, who had limited success at the biggest industrial complex in town -- the Capital Steels.

Similar statements came in droves from other organizations, established or new. Li Peng, the public face of the martial law, became the public enemy number one.

Days of 1989

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chai Ling Makes Rare Public Apperance

After the release of documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace in 1995, which caused a controversy on Chai Ling's character and motive in the 1989 movement, Chai Ling had rarely been seen or heard in public. She faded out from the exiled activist community, and as some of her former comrades said, "left the movement."

So, it is somewhat surprising to see her making a public appearance at a pro-democracy rally hosted by Yang Jianli at Boston. In the picture above, she is in a green shirt with Fang Zheng, who is in a wheelchair. In a brief speech, she said she has to come out to honor Fang Zheng. She urged the audience not to forget the tragedy.

As reported earlier, Chai Ling is also suing the producers of the documentary.

Book Excerpt: Ending the Hunger Strike

The following excerpt is from my book Standoff at Tiananmen, chapter 10, describing how the hunger strike finally came to an end.

The Hunger Strike Headquarters had expanded to include Feng Congde and Zhang Boli as deputies. It had also become obvious that the commander-in-chief rarely made any decisions of significance herself. Chai Ling delegated it entirely to her trusted deputy Li Lu. Whenever needed, however, she made passionate and inspiring speeches that kept everybody together. In this morning, an audio tape of Zhao Ziyang's speech during his bizarre visit was broadcast over the loudspeakers on top of their bus. A feeling of desperation slowly sank in. The dark shadow of death or permanent body damage was on the horizon.

Rumors were rampant. At Xinhuamen in the afternoon, Wu Renhua was pulled aside by a middle-aged bureaucrat who called his name. Wu Renhua and his fellow teachers and students from the University of Political Science and Law had camped out there for days since they broke off from the main hunger strike camp, effectively shutting down this main entry to Zhongnanhai. The man revealed his identity in confidence and told Wu Renhua that Zhao Ziyang had already been deposed and martial law was imminent in Beijing. Wu Renhua immediately dispatched a trusted student marshal to the Square with this information.

Meanwhile, Zhang Boli was talking with Li Lu when two intellectuals came in for him with urgent news. They literally dragged him across Chang'an Avenue to the Working People's Cultural Palace, a park bordering Tiananmen on the east. There, they told him that martial law would be declared by midnight and it was imperative for the students to call off the hunger strike. There was still hope, they urged, that if the hunger strike was called off, the martial law troops would lose their justification to enter the city.

Zhang Boli had no quarrel with calling off the hunger strike. But it was not his decision to make. So he rushed back and talked to Li Lu first and then found Chai Ling. To Zhang Boli's greatest surprise, both of them agreed instantly to stop the hunger strike. A general meeting of the student parliament was immediately called and commenced in an empty bus. Student marshals were ordered to establish a tight picket line around it. They were ordered not to allow anyone to interrupt this meeting, especially Wuer Kaixi if he showed up.

Inside the bus, the meeting was uncharacteristically brief and smooth. The rumor of looming martial law was not revealed. Chai Ling and Li Lu proposed a decision to stop the hunger strike entirely on humanitarian grounds. With their endorsement and the life-threatening danger, there was not much resistance among the previously aggressive representatives. With 173 of them voting for stopping the hunger strike, 28 against, and 7 abstaining, the decision was made.

Just then, Wuer Kaixi angrily burst onto the bus, followed by doctors and nurses holding intravenous bottles that were attached to him. He had been fighting the student marshals who at the end were no match for his fame and determination. Wuer Kaixi was not at all pleased at being excluded even though he was neither a member of the Headquarters nor a representative from his school. Wuer Kaixi had his way though. As the supreme leader in his Beijing Normal University, he dismissed the representative from his school on the spot and assumed the role himself, notwithstanding the fact that the meeting had already adjourned with a decision made. The new representative Wuer Kaixi insisted on reopening the session with a claim that he had critical information to present. It was then that Wuer Kaixi finally bothered to inquire what the decision was. Upon being told of the end of hunger strike, he raised his hand and meekly said "I agree."

Wuer Kaixi had felt the urge to see Yan Mingfu one more time that afternoon. He sneaked into the United Front Department in an ambulance with his girlfriend Liu Yan. After much cajoling, Yan Mingfu came out to meet him and give him the news of the impending martial law. Sensing the gravity of this development, Wuer Kaixi dispatched Liu Yan to get as many hunger strike leaders at the United Front Department as possible. They would have to talk it over with Yan Mingfu.

Ma Shaofang and Cheng Zhen showed up first. They were immediately overwhelmed by the news. They cried and swore to give up water or set themselves on fire in protest. Yan Mingfu, being the father-figure he was, managed to calm them down. Eventually, Wang Dan, Xiang Xiaoji, Shen Tong, and a few others arrived. Only the leaders in the Hunger Strike Headquarters were missing. Nevertheless, they had a quick meeting and reached a decision to call off the hunger strike.

Yan Mingfu was greatly relieved. He had his office cafeteria prepare a big pot of noodles for the students. Everyone ate despite the fact that their decision to resume eating was neither official nor made public. It was the best meal of their young lives. A gigantic load had just been lifted off their small shoulders. For that moment, the coming martial law did not feel like a big deal. They talked, laughed, snapped pictures, and playfully signed autographs for each other. Wuer Kaixi clumsily knocked down two thermos bottles, causing explosions that amused everyone. Then, they boarded separate vans to head back to Tiananmen Square, where Wuer Kaixi had to fight through student marshals to bring their decision to the parliament meeting.

Now that Chai Ling, Li Lu, Wuer Kaixi, and the student parliament were all in agreement, it was just a matter of announcing the decision to the thousands of hunger strikers. Zheng Yi already had a statement drafted. In the headquarters bus, Chai Ling read it calmly. It was broadcast through their loudspeakers.

The reaction was immediate and chaotic. Loud and angry shouts of "Traitor!" erupted all around. Many converged on the big bus. They pounded and shook it. As Li Lu was trying to calm down the crowd with his microphone, Feng Congde shot into the bus. He had just returned from a hospital and heard about the parliament meeting. He argued that the meeting was not properly called and that there were not enough representatives present to make such a critical decision. So, he called for a meeting of his own. In his hasty but carefully audited meeting, eighty percent of delegates voted against the ending of the hunger strike. Chai Ling, Li Lu, and Zhang Boli were outraged at his unilateral action. They refused to recognize the meeting and its result. A shouting and pushing match ensued in the headquarters bus and a deeply hurt Feng Congde resigned in protest.

Grudgingly, the breaking of the fast became a matter of fact. Li Lu carefully arranged student marshals to take the weakest hunger strikers to hospitals or back to their campuses. Others chose to stay. While slowly taking in food, they decided to continue their occupation of the Square as a massive sit-in. Zhang Boli was ushered, or rather, carried by a two people to the entrance of the Museum of Chinese History. There was a telephone waiting for him. He picked up the phone and identified himself. A voice on the other end informed him that they were the State Council and they were ready to record what he had to say. Zhang Boli read the statement into the phone. He then distributed copies to several reporters from CCTV and People's Daily.

CCTV was unusually efficient this time. At nine o'clock, as the regular news broadcast was in progress, a line of scrolling text appeared at the bottom of the screen: "Students at Tiananmen Square Stop their Hunger Strike."

This Day in 1989: May 19, Zhao Ziyang Makes Farewell, Li Peng Announces Martial Law

Before dawn of May 19, 1989, in the darkness, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang showed up on the edge of Tiananmen Square unexpectedly. The exhausted and downbeat national leader was accompanied by Premier Li Peng, Chief-of-Staff Wen Jiabao, and other aids and guards. The entourage caused quite a stir. Zhao Ziyang boarded one of the buses housing hunger strikers, shook hands, and gave an unprepared speech to a few cameras. He rumbled through begging students to stop the hunger strike but offered nothing other than the famous farewell-ish line, "I am old, I really don't care any more..."

The student leaders near the center of the Square did not get a chance to meet these leaders, who disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they showed up. They poured through some notes taken by students at the scene and could only imagine what Zhao Ziyang had personally gone through. They knew bad things were on the way.

Indeed, throughout the day, rumors about an impending martial law were coming from all directions. (In the aftermath, Zhao Ziyang, along with his aid Bao Tong, was accused of leaking state secret including the martial law. There were evidences that the information was quite widely available, even outside of Beijing.)

In their typical dramatic fashion, student leaders finally came to a decision to call off the hunger strike. Despite opposition of their messes, the fast was broken. Chai Ling was happy that their decision was announced hours ahead of the martial law. She regarded as a great tactical victory. As the hunger strikers were carefully removed from Tiananmen Square for treatment and rest, thousands other students came to participate a continued "sit-in" protest.

The martial law was formally announced late that evening in the Great Hall of People, where Li Peng addressed thousands of government cadres. The martial law troops would be entering the city that night while the martial law itself would take effect the next morning.

The students remaining at Tiananmen Square braced for a brutal and violent night. They expected to be forced evicted. They hoped that they could last until after daybreak.

Days of 1989

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Excerpt: Meeting with Li Peng

The following excerpt is from my book Standoff at Tiananmen, chapter 9, describing the impromptu meeting between student leaders and the Premier Li Peng.

Wuer Kaixi was still dressed in a hospital gown and attached to an oxygen bag as his group was ushered into a large conference room inside the Great Hall of People. The room had high ceilings and vast space like a royal palace. A ring of comfortable sofas was placed in the middle of the room surrounded by circles of chairs. End tables with elegant flowers and tea cups stood between the sofas. There were also microphones on each table to facilitate conversation. Strangely, Wuer Kaixi felt somewhat at home. This was the Xinjiang Hall, named after the northwest Uyghur region where he had spent three years of his adolescence. The room was decorated with giant murals depicting the natural beauty of the region and artifacts of the Uyghur heritage. Typically, this room was used by government officials having audiences with selected visitors from the provinces. Today, it was a group of scratchy and starved students with wide eyes. They were entering a scene they had never dreamed of. Awkwardly, they sat down in the sofas on one side of the circle and waited. They did not know what they were waiting for.

After five minutes or so, Premier Li Peng appeared at the entry, along with an entourage of high level officials including Yan Mingfu and Li Tieying. Li Peng was wearing a gray "Mao Suit" and a solemn expression. He walked over to shake hands with each student and tried to make small talk. He was curious about Wang Dan's thick jacket, to which Wang Dan responded that it was cold in the Square at night. Wuer Kaixi's hospital gown also caught his attention. But the premier looked gloomy and uneasy. The only time he managed a half smile was when a student claimed to share the same hometown with him. Finally, he settled into his seat on the other side facing Wuer Kaixi and Wang Dan. He started the meeting by apologizing for being late, explaining that they had been held up by a traffic jam outside. Then he stated that there should be only one item on the agenda for this meeting. That was to stop the hunger strike immediately based on humanitarian principles.

It did not take long for Wuer Kaixi to get impatient. He was upset about Li Peng's apology which implied that the student movement was creating chaos in the streets. As Li Peng went on with a patronizing lecture, Wuer Kaixi cut him off: "Premier Li Peng, I am sorry that I have to interrupt you. Perhaps you thought you were only five minutes late. But I have to say, you are a month late!"

Wuer Kaixi was referring to the time when he led students chanting "Li Peng, Come Out!" outside of Xinhuamen on the evening of April 19. He stated that it was pressure from students that had led Li Peng to this meeting. Therefore, it should be the students who dictated the agenda. He did have a legitimate point. But his emotion was also starting to creep into his delivery.

Wang Dan, who maintained a calmer posture, interjected that the only way to persuade students to stop the hunger strike was to address the two conditions put forward by the student movement, "Not Turmoil, Equal Dialogue."

The rude interruption not withstanding, Wuer Kaixi and Wang Dan apparently started this meeting on a good footing by emphasizing their strengths and issues upfront. Patiently and intently, the premier was listening.

Just then, however, Wuer Kaixi was getting carried away. Without giving the other side a chance to respond, he burst out even more:

"You are much older than we are so I think it is appropriate for me to refer you as Teacher Li. So, Teacher Li, the problem at hand right now is not to convince us who sit here. We also want the students to leave the Square. But the situation at the Square is not one of a minority following the majority, but of 99.9% of the people following 0.01%. That is, if there is one hunger striker who chose not to leave, thousands of others will not leave either."

This was an absurd statement. Not only that he showed disrespect to the premier personally, but he was also misrepresenting his own side. The students at the Square had worked very hard to establish rudimentary democratic procedures. The student parliament led by Li Lu had almost nightly votes on ending the hunger strike, in which ninety percent or so consistently voted for continuing the strike. Wuer Kaixi had not spent enough time at the Square himself to appreciate or perhaps even be aware of these facts. He was painting himself into a corner by representing students as desperate and out of control.

Wang Dan tried to soften the blow. He calmly explained: "After Yan Mingfu's visit to the Square, we had conducted a poll of whether to leave the Square. More than ninety percent of hunger strikers voted not to leave." Sensing that the agenda was going astray, he quickly reaffirmed the two main student demands, "Not Turmoil, Equal Dialogue." If these two conditions were met, he said, they would be able to go to the Square and persuade all of the students to leave.

As other students were invited to express their opinions, Wuer Kaixi urged them to make their points quickly and concretely. But most of them repeated the same sentiments. One student did manage to raise the stakes. With an unusual clarity, Xiong Yan, a student from Peking University who was a member of the Dialogue Delegation, told the officials that it was not entirely up to the government anyway: "No matter whether the government recognizes our movement as patriotic and democratic or not, we believe history will. So, why do we insist on the government recognizing it? That is because it represents the will of the people. The people want to see if the government is still the people's government." Sitting on the other side, the party leader of Peking University could not help but speak up on his students' behalf as well.

Since being interrupted at the start, Premier Li Peng had been sitting quietly with a stone face. It was as if he were waiting for the students to self-destruct, which they did come agonizingly close to doing. After he made sure that all students had had a chance to speak, Li Peng pointedly started with a request that he would not be interrupted.

Perhaps inadvertently, he was immediately interrupted by a student. Li Peng swallowed hard but did not express his displeasure. Instead, he asked his ministers to give the government's response. Li Tieying, Yan Mingfu, and others took their turns with lengthy speeches that toed the party line. Finally, Li Peng spoke again. He emphasized that the only issue he was interested in was getting the hunger strikers off the Square to save their health and lives. Explaining the April 26 People's Daily editorial, he repeated the familiar platitude that they had never blamed the "vast majority" of students as instigating turmoil, which implicitly left the door open for "a small clique."

Then, in a confused attempt to directly address students' two demands, he raised his voice and offered a memorable passage: "We understand your two issues. As the premier and as a Communist Party member, I never hide my own opinions. But I can't express them today. I will find a more appropriate opportunity to express them later. But anyhow I think I have pretty much expressed my opinions anyway."

With that, he appeared to be closing the doors to further discussion. For the last time, he asked the students to stop the hunger strike. Wuer Kaixi, who had been clinging to his oxygen bag and becoming visibly weaker, confronted the premier again. Putting a brave face forward, Wang Dan stressed that, if Premier Li Peng's prospect of turmoil did materialize, it would be the government, not the students, who should be held responsible.

It was Yan Mingfu's job to put the meeting to bed. He told the audience that there was a note from the Square asking for the immediate return of Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi. As soon as he said "This dialogue is now concluded," one of the students rose to protest: "This is not a dialogue. This is just a meeting." Students wanted to set the record straight that their demand for a dialogue had not yet been satisfied. Disinterested in semantics, Yan Mingfu concurred, "Yes, this was only a meeting."

The meeting, not a dialogue, lasted about an hour.

Avoiding eye contact, Li Peng shook hands with each student once again. He appeared impatient and annoyed. Wuer Kaixi had already slumped into his chair and was being attended to by several student nurses. He was suffering from an asthma attack. As everyone was filing out of the room, Wang Chaohua was still holding onto a slim hope. She shouted across the room to Yan Mingfu: "Please give me another hour, we might still be able to persuade the students to withdraw." Yan Mingfu walked away without acknowledging her. It was too little, too late.

The students walked out of the Great Hall of People on their own and informed other leaders that their talk had broken up because of Li Peng's stubbornness. Nobody was surprised. But now everyone was extremely depressed. There appeared to be no more possibility of a peaceful resolution.

This Day in 1989: May 18, Premier Li Peng Meets with Students

Tiananmen Square looked different on May 18, 1989. The hunger strike was poised to enter its sixth day, but the messy hunger strike camp was no more. Instead, about seventy city buses were parked neatly on the northern edge of the Square and all hunger strikers were moved into the buses.

The buses arrived overnight ahead of a forecast of severe thunderstorm. The Beijing city government provided the transportation buses as a temporary shelter for the hunger strikers. With millions of residents on streets continue to demonstrate in support of students daily, most public transportation had been shutdown. This would be a better use of the buses. Cui Jian, the most famous rock-n-roll star in China, showed up to perform for the striking students.

But the biggest surprise of the day happened around noon, when a few student leaders received an urgent message to go to the Great Hall of People. The unprepared group was met by the Premier Li Peng, during which Wuer Kaixi emotionally undressed the national leader. A video recording of the meeting was later shown to the general public with little editing.

The official media, meanwhile, was unquestionably turning to the side of the students. Blessed by Zhao Ziyang's request for openness, official newspapers carried emotional charged articles on the hunger strike and the demonstrations. People's Daily headlines the demonstration the day before with a title "History will never Forget this Day!" With the absence of censorship, however, the media also abandoned its objectivity and became an advocate for the cause of the student movement themselves.

At the Square, leaders of the hunger strike were also collapsing. Chai Ling, Li Lu, and Feng Congde all had spent substantial hours of this day in hospitals. Li Lu recalled in his autobiography that he had personally persuaded his hunger strikers to take food in the hospital and did it himself to set an example.

Behind the scenes, Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao finally decided that they had to get involved. At Jimen Hotel, they gathered most prominent intellectuals in town to discuss strategies. But the meeting did not arrive to any actionable conclusion or even a consensus.

Days of 1989

Sunday, May 17, 2009

People of 1989: Yan Mingfu (阎明复)

A posthumous memoir by the late General Secretary Zhao Ziyang is making the news currently. But if we had a real chance to have a peek of the inside work within the Chinese government during the chaotic weeks of 1989, the most intriguing person would not be Zhao Ziyang, Li Peng, or even Deng Xiaoping himself.

The most interesting figure would be Yan Mingfu, a career bureaucrat who was heading the United Front Department within the Party leadership at the time. Being the son of a prominent leader, Yan Mingfu had grown up a privileged life to become one of the second-generation leaders. He was once the personal Russian interpreter for Mao Zedong himself. Yet during the Cultural Revolution, he was also jailed for being accused as a Soviet spy.

At the United Front Department, part of his job was to appease and control the intellectual community which was always a potential trouble maker. With an open mind, Yan Mingfu managed to maintain close and cordial relations with many prominent intellectuals.

In the Spring of 1989, when students marched the street, it was Yan Mingfu who took the first initiative from the government side to contact the emerging students directly. In order to achieve that, he had to solicit help from people like Wang Juntao, a figure considered fringe by the government. While not being able to cross the party line himself, Yan Mingfu displayed a sincere and straightforward attitude that was absent from other officials. In the earlier stages of hunger strike, Yan Mingfu hosted a dialogue with student leaders which came closest in meeting students' demands. (Whether Yan Mingfu took these actions on his own initiative or as part of a strategy from Zhao Ziyang is still a mystery.)

After the collapse of that dialogue, Yan Mingfu made an even bolder move. He appeared at Tiananmen Square himself, the highest official ever present there, and spoke directly to students. While appealing for students to end their hunger strike, he offered himself as a hostage to ensure the students' demand could be met. Unfortunately, he did not follow through and left the Square amid a chaotic scene of Wuer Kaixi's fainting. (There were indications that he was forced into a vehicle by his aids/guards.)

Yan Mingfu's personal influence dwindled after the failed dialogue and the escalation of the movement itself. But he stayed close to a few student leaders and gained their complete trust and admiration. Wuer Kaixi and Wang Dan had come to see him as a needed father figure in their tumulus times. Behind the scenes, Yan Mingfu played a role in persuading some student leaders in ending the hunger strike and provided guidance for them in the latter stages of the movement.

When student leaders finally met with the Premier Li Peng, Yan Mingfu was also in the presence as a government representative. But he failed to side with students at the time and acted out his role according to his position.

After the crackdown, Yan Mingfu was sacked and stripped all his leadership positions along with Zhao Ziyang and others who was sympathetic to students. He disappeared from the public view for a couple of years. In the 1990s, he made a mild comeback of sort as a lower-ranked government official focusing on charity work.

Close to eighty years old, Yan Mingfu appeared to have retired. However, he still occasionally writes memoirs on his father and the early years of the Chinese Communist Party. There has been no word from him about the 1989 experience.

People of 1989

Pictures of 1989: Hunger Strike at Tiananmen

This Day in 1989: May 17, Millions March to Support Student, Targeting Deng Xiaoping

When the students launched their hunger strike at Tiananmen Square five days ago, they had dreamed that their suffering could wake up the consciousness in the general populace and make their appeal for democracy directly to the people. On this day of May 17, 1989, their efforts appeared to be paying off.

From the early morning and throughout the entire day, people marched, paraded, and come to the Square every which way they could. There were millions and millions of residents, workers, journalists, famous TV personalities, office dwellers, intellectuals, and even some monks. Indeed, the entire city of Beijing came out, and they were all in support of the students whose lives and health were under increasing danger.

The Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang released a written statement appealing for students to stop the hunger strike. He promised not to punish anyone involved. But he did not address the students' demand either.

Most other organizations within the government apparatus were releasing open statements of their own. Their tones were increasingly siding with the students with appeals to the government to resolve the crisis immediately and humanly. In the meanwhile, Yan Jiaqi and Bao Zunxin continued their assault on Deng Xiaoping personally. Posters denouncing Deng Xiaoping started to show up in Tiananmen Square.

On this fifth day of hunger strike, there were now more than 2,000 hunger strikers in their camp, many had joined in the last couple of days. Many earlier hunger strikers had fainted or collapsed many times and were taken to hospitals in ambulances. Some of them quietly ended their hunger strike while at hospital, but many returned after receiving IV fluid treatment and nutrition. Accusations of cheating within hunger strikers were also rampant.

At the newly formed Hunger Strike Headquarters, Chai Ling, Li Lu, and other leaders were trying to find an exit strategy of their own. They had proposed that any hunger striker who was taken to hospitals should not be allowed to return. As soon as the last striker fainted and taken away, they would reach the end of the hunger strike. The strategy, however, was a non-starter as more and more new people were joining in the hunger strike every day. More emotional students were refusing water and talking about self-immolation to raise the stake. The movement was tittering on the edge of losing control.

Days of 1989