Sunday, January 31, 2010

Feng Zhenghu Will Return to China

After living at an airport terminal in Japan for 90 days, Feng Zhenghu finally got the good news he had been waiting for: the Chinese government will allow him to return to his home country. A couple of days ago, officials from the Chinese embassy in Japan visited Feng Zhenghu in person and it looks like they have successfully resolved their differences.

Feng Zhenghu announced that he will host a press conference at the terminal on February 2. He will finally enter Japan on the 3rd and return to China after a few days of rest. He is looking forward to spend the Chinese New Year in China.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

People of 1989: Luo Haixing

Luo Haixing (罗海星) was born in 1949 in Hong Kong. His father was a prominent magazine editor there and also a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Luo Haixing spent his childhood in mainland China and became a Red Guard during Cultural Revolution while he was in high school. However, his faith in communism was shaken in the 1980s when his father became a victim of a political struggle.

During the 1980s, Luo Haixing spent most of his time in Beijing working for Sino-Hong Kong trade. He was in Beijing when the student movement erupted in 1989. After the massacre, he joined the efforts organized by people in Hong Kong to rescue movement leaders. The details of his involvement is still sketchy, but he was apparently successful in helping a few leaders reach safety in Hong Kong through a makeshift underground route.

Later that year, in an effort to rescue Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, Luo Haixing fell into a trap and was arrested by the Chinese government on October 14, 1989. He was sentenced for five years. He ended up serving only two years, when he was released on the account of British premier John Major's visit to China in 1991.

Luo Haixing passed away on January 14, 2010, at the age of 61.

People of 1989

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Zhou Yongjun Sentenced for Nine Years

A local court in China has sentenced Zhou Yongjun to nine years in prison on charges of attempted fraud. He was also fined 80,000 Yuan ($11,700). The AP story describes his case as:

Details of the charges against Zhou remain murky, as is common in China's opaque legal system.

Chen says the case stems from a complaint by Hong Kong's Hang Seng bank about a suspicious request for the transfer of funds out of an account registered to Wang Xingxiang — the name in Zhou's fake passport.

The signature on the transfer form did not match that of the original account holder and the name Wang Xingxiang was placed on a money laundering watch list, according to Chen.

He said the amount of the attempted fraud was listed as $6 million Hong Kong dollars ($773,000), but declined to give other details of the case or Zhou's defense.

Zhou denied the fraud charge, saying he was the victim of bad luck and mistaken identity. He says he obtained the fake passport through an immigration agency, a common practice among Chinese exiles who often find themselves stateless after Beijing refuses to renew their passports.

Hong Kong's government refuses to comment on Zhou's case. Visitors whose travel documents do not meet requirements are usually returned to their "place of embarkation or origin," it has said in the past.

As a student leader in 1989, Zhou Yongjun has been profiled here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

People of 1989: Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang came to national prominence when he was appointed as the Premier of China in 1980. Along with the then General Secretary Hu Yaobang, he was considered young and upcoming in the ranks of communist officials. For almost a decade, he skillfully guided the reform effort advocated by the behind-the-scene supreme leader Deng Xiaoping and earned a well-deserved reputation as a pragmatic leader.

His fortune first changed in January 1987, when Hu Yaobang was sacked in disgrace after a wave of student demonstrations. Zhao Ziyang's own role in Hu Yaobang's downfall is still unclear to this day. However, he became the one who succeeded Hu Yaobang as the General Secretary and the apparent heir to Deng Xiaoping.

When the student movement broke out in 1989 following Hu Yaobang's death, Zhao Ziyang was not a favorite figure, partly due to his beneficiary status in the Hu Yaobang episode. In fact, there were rampant rumors about corruption within his family, particularly his son, making him one of the targets of the movement.

Zhao Ziyang's very first public move during that movement was a puzzling one. Following Hu Yaobang's funeral and just as student movement was gaining momentum, he left the country for a lengthy state visit to North Korea. While abroad, he approved the publication of the infamous April 26 People's Daily editorial, a move that perhaps sealed his fate a few weeks later.

After returning to Beijing in early May, Zhao Ziyang pushed for his non-confrontational approach toward resolving the crisis and briefly won the upper hand within the government. Most significantly, he abolished the censorship in official media and allowed the movement being freely reported. He also advocated dialogues with the masses. But for reasons that are still unclear today, he did not promptly initiate direct dialogue with the students until very late.

On May 16, 1989, during his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Zhao Ziyang made a surprise revelation that Deng Xiaoping was still the supreme leader in China, turning the movement toward targeting Deng Xiaoping. It was yet another mysterious move of his that has not yet been properly explained. It did not work out for him. The government moved on to impose martial law and he resigned in protest.

Zhao Ziyang later appeared in Tiananmen Square himself and made a passionate, impromptu speech to students, during which he famously uttered "we are already old, it does not matter to us any more." He was going to be seen in public ever since.

After years of house arrest, Zhao Ziyang passed away on January 17, 2005, at the age of 85. Four years later, his secret memo was discovered and published posthumously. Yet the best-selling book fell short in telling his story.

Zhao Ziyang is remembered mainly for his refusal to endorse the martial law and the eventual massacre. He is also frequently criticized for being weak, especially in comparison to the Russian leader Boris Yeltsin who later courageously joined the masses in a somewhat similar crisis situation.

People of 1989

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tiananmen Mothers' New Year Gathering

As Beijing is experiencing the coldest winter in decades, Tiananmen Mothers, family members of the victims of Tiananmen massacre, has their annual gathering on the 9th.

It is reported that it was relatively easier for them to have this meeting this year, without the police harassment they experienced last year at the cusp of the twentieth anniversary of the massacre. The parents exchanged information on those harassment and found a commonality in police tactics. Their handlers were making personal appeals to them not to gather in terms that it could cause trouble to their handlers themselves.

Tiananmen Mothers discussed the case of Liu Xiaobo, who was recently sentenced to eleven years in jail. They vowed to continue to seek dialogues with the government and live on with dignity.

They also mentioned that they will change the means of their appeal this year based the fact that the government had always ignored or harassed them in the past. No details on this impending change of tactic are given.

There was no mention on the numbers who attended the gathering this time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review of My Book: "Not a Hagiography"

Jeremiah Jenne is an American graduate student currently teaching and doing research in China. He also writes for his wonderful Jottings from the Granite Studio blog which focuses on Chinese history.

Jeremiah reviews my book, Standoff at Tiananmen, on his blog (I had to look up for the word "hagiography"):

Part personal memoir, part history, Eddie Cheng’s Standoff at Τiananmen is a straightforward chronological retelling of the events which led up the 1989 student demonstrations and crackdown in Τiananmen Square.

Eddie Cheng was a student at Peking University in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the first half of the book reads like a personal memoir of those turbulent and exciting times. It is here the book makes its greatest contribution: While the stories of 1989 have been oft told, the critical events of the early 1980s, which gave shape to the ideas and actions of the students in the square, are too often shunted off as a mere prologue or a quick bit of expository background before getting to the truly dramatic images from the “Beijing Spring.”

Cheng’s book clearly chronicles the student agitation at Bei Da and other universities in the early 1980s. Student demands in the handbills posted in Peking University’s famous “Triangle,” or the speeches by Fαng Lizhi and others seem brazen by 2010 standards. Cheng even spares a moment for the absurd, including a story of how then Shanghai mayor Jiang Zemin responded to student hecklers by reciting a part of the Gettysburg Address in English “to show his knowledge of Western democracy.”

While clearly and openly sympathetic to the student movements of the era, Cheng does not spare the students (or their leaders); this is not a hagiography. Students of the 1980s demonstrated a complex mélange of motivations: individual expression, economic security, as well as a desire for political change. The students in Cheng’s book often appear much more excited by the chance to study abroad as they do about reforming society back home.

(One priceless image is that of the student demonstrators in 1989, sitting in the square under the warm May sun, studying their TOEFL and GRE books to pass the time.)

Nevertheless, to dismiss demands for greater political openness as a naive rabble led astray by “bourgeois liberalization” or to set up opposition to Party policies as a zero-sum competition between stability and chaos is also to miss the point.

The Chinese government today overreacts to even the slightest challenge to its authority, cheered on by Party lackeys at home and by their apologists abroad. The Party, having in 1989 suffered a breakdown of order and the most direct challenge yet to its very legitimacy, realized the problem of intellectual openness. Their response was chilling in its brilliance. After 1989, the Party retreated from so many areas of society, giving the illusion of a lighter touch even as it vigorously rooted out any hint of a challenge or dissent. The urban middle class found comfort in a Faustian bargain that guaranteed them the material markers of success in exchange for their acquiescence.

It’s wise to remember that the greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince the world he didn’t exist.

Like many of his generation, Eddie Cheng left China in the early 1980s to study in the US and so the second half of his book, and his narrative of the events of 1989, relies on the memories of the student leaders who participated directly in the demonstrations.

This is problematic, because as most know, much has been made of the self-serving behavior on the part of those leaders both in the square and in the years since. When Cheng switches from his own memories to those of others, the book loses a great deal of its analytical heft, though to be fair Cheng does not shrink from describing the foibles and infighting among the different groups of students. In particular, Cheng portrays Chαi Ling and Wυ’er Κaixi – to put it kindly – as having a keen sense of the moment.

(In fact there are times in the book where – and let’s keep in mind the relative ages of the actors here – the bickering and bantering read a bit like “Real World: Τiananmen” with less tequila and more tanks, but I digress.)

What Cheng’s book lacks in critical analysis of student motivations, he makes up for in telling details (people cheating on hunger strikes, the yearning to go abroad, the sexual frustration of the young) that remind the reader that the simplistic formulations of good/evil as seen on CNN masked a much more complicated situation. On the government side, Cheng’s book also highlights the attempts by CCP official Yang Mingfu who attempted to act as something of an honest broker and defuse the situation. Yang’s role gives a more nuanced view of official accommodation beyond “Ζhao Ζiyang in the square crying into his megaphone.”

Standoff at Τiananmen is a good book for the non-specialist who wants a blow-by-blow account of the events of 1989 or for students of recent Chinese history seeking more insight into the nature of student activism in the early 1980s.

Reviews of Standoff at Tiananmen

The following are reviews in English language for my book so far. Reviews in Chinese language can be found here.

More to come, hopefully.

  1. A 16-year-old, Daughter of the Tiananmen Generation, December, 2011
  2. Jeremiah Jenne, Jottings from the Granite Studio, January, 2010
  3. John Kusumi, China Support Network, May, 2009
  4. Merle Goldman, Professor of Boston University and Harvard University, March, 2009