Friday, December 30, 2011

Review of My Book: From a Next-Generation Perspective

The following review is written by a 16-year-old "bibliophile" growing up in the US, whose mother was an active participant in the 1989 Chinese student movement. It was originally posted on the author's own blog and is reproduced here with permission.


Can I have a congratulatory pat on the back? BECAUSE I. HAVE. FINISHED!
Though how much I actually remember is a different story.

Trying to collect my thoughts about it is something of a different story, because had one thing gone differently, I might not even exist. So obviously, it’s something I feel strongly about, something I feel strongly connected to, beyond just the “human spirit” and the human desire for free will and a voice that was so exemplified here.

But being emotional doesn’t help anyone in a review of a nonfiction book. So, I will try not to.


To be honest, I don’t know shit about the Tiananmen Square Protests (and subsequent massacre) beyond the (little) that my mother has told me of her own experience (she was a grad student at Beijing Normal University at the time, and was among the protesters in the Square). So I don’t know how accurate it is — and, given the secrecy of the Chinese government, I doubt we’ll ever get acompletely accurate account of what went down in the Square — especially concerning the number dead (Chinese officials say that only a few hundred died, whereas most estimates rank it in the thousands).

I am inclined to trust this account, though, simply because there is a level of objectivity in the book — though many of the protesters were his peers, the author was studying in America at the time, and he does not seek to glorify the students or the student leaders as many (mainly Westerners, I find — in watching a short Al Jazeera documentary, Wu’er Kaixi, one of the main student leaders from Beijing Normal University, does express certain amounts of regret about how they handled the incident, whereas people like my APUSH teacher and my art teacher tend to romanticise the incident as an exercise in democracy) do. He does not seek to make martyrs of the people dead — though martyrs they were — there were flaws and in-fighting and factions and a highly hierarchical "government," as it were.

And because he is a peer of the student leaders, he does have access many first-hand accounts and primary resources that make his book credible.

I get the sense that the protesters were not truly protesting for democracy but rather against totalitarianism, which is a very interesting concept, as many people regard them as one and the same. The students were very careful not to make themselves opponents of the government, but rather patriots who wanted to reform it. (My mother and her peers were raised in a society that taught reverence to the government and to Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-dong) — she remembers saying “万岁万岁万万岁 (essentially — “long live”)” to portraits of Mao, as you would to an emperor, so it’s very hard to openly and abjectly criticise something which has had a more paternalistic role in your life for so long.)


I didn’t realise how hard it would be to feel any sort of sympathy for the student leaders. I came into this wanting to revere them for their bravery and their idealism and their sacrifices, but it’s so hard to do that, especially in retrospect, when you see that if they had just listened to those who were older and wiser than they, instead of just rushing impetuously into drastic action (the hunger strike, the sit-in), they could have prevented so much bloodshed. When you see how, if they’d only kept their mouths shut at certain critical periods, if they’d only opened them during others, if they’d only done a better job organising and uniting the other students, China may have been a democracy — a true democracy, perhaps even a socialist democracy (I will not deny that that is my favourite form of government) — by now.

Maybe I’m influenced by my mother’s opinions (of course I’m influenced by my mother’s opinions), but I found Chai Ling and Li Lu to be extremely unlikeable (and I don’t mean that to be critiques of their representation, and certainly I would never say such a thing in a review of a novel, where likeability isn’t a factor into how strong the novel is, but these are real people whose actions have had real consequences for thousands of people who lost their lives or their loved ones or their futures that day). Wu’er Kaixi I can tolerate, if only by virtue of the remorse he showed. Liu Gang and Feng Congde and Shen Tong I can stand — I can like, even (I’m following Shen Tong on Twitter) — but that Chai Ling took every suggestion Li Lu had without even critiquing or thinking about them first, that she was the one who lead the students into the hunger strike (there had been rumours that the government was willing to cooperate prior to this), that she let her tears instead of her brain do the reasoning — is extremely obnoxious to me. These are real people she was toying with, not tin soldiers.


If I were honest with myself, which I should be — this whole Tumblr is supposed to be dedicated to my growth as a person, as pretentious as that inevitably sounds — the writing kind of…sucked.

It wasn’t horrid, but it was so boring. He was trying to cover too much ground. The book had neither flow nor form, and the only reason I read it is because this movement means so much to me. Had it meant only a smidgen less, I would have surely put it down. (I would recommend that everyone read it, because I think it is a relatively unbiased portrayal of one of the most important events of the 20th century and has severe implications in the 21st, but it takes a certain amount of gumption, I would say, to a person with my reading tastes.)

There was endless history about the movement — the stressing of the April 15th (was it 15th?) and May 4th movements, Tiananmen’s connection with the French Revolution, the backgrounds of each of the student leaders, the background of the American-founded Beijing University — and not enough about the movement itself (it seemed to be more of a rundown of events, and did not discuss the impact or the implications of the movement — globally and domestically — enough for my taste).

For a book about the “Standoff at Tiananmen,” rather than a detailing of each of the student leaders’ lives, I read far too much about where they came from and who their families were.

When he does get to the movement — and the massacre itself, though, it’s probably best to have a box of tissues nearby. I was literally sobbing into my pillow — not because the language he used was particularly evocative (I can’t exactly fault him for that — his English is better than my mother’s, and like her, he was an immigrant), but because what happened was simply so awful.

Overall, I would hesitate to say that this was a bad book, though certainly there were aspects of it that could have been so, so much better. The language was stilted, much of the background unnecessary (for example, we do not have to know the geography of the Beijing University, merely that it has a tradition of heading political movements), but nevertheless, it is an important chronicle of an important event.

Sorry about this rambling, half-incoherent wall of text, though. And also the lack of a conclusion. Can I blame it on my tiredness? Or is that not sufficient?

Reviews of My Book

Monday, December 26, 2011

People of 1989: Chen Xi (陈西)

When the 1989 Chinese student movement broke out in Beijing, then 34-year-old Chen Xi was a political staff in a college in the remote Southwestern Guizhou province. But unlike most of his peers in that profession, he was open-minded and already active in the local scenes, organizing a series forums and making many friends. Early that May, when students in Guizhou started to act in support of their compatriots in the capital, Chen Xi coordinated with authorizes in schools and law enforcement agencies to ensure an orderly student demonstration, escorted by the local police forces. He maintained his contacts with student leaders throughout the movement.

Yet his most daring move was on June 5, after tanks had already rolled in Beijing. That night, he and a few others gathered to form a "Guizhou Patriotic Democracy Association," calling for a general strike to protest the massacre in the capital. They were all arrested within days. A year later, Chen Xi was sentenced to 3 years of prison for "counter-revolutionary propaganda and agitation."

After he served his sentence, Chen Xi soon took part in the activities of organizing opposition parties while insisting on demanding a re-evaluation of the 1989 movement. In March, 1996, he was arrested again and sentenced to 10 years for "organizing and leading counter-revolutionary organizations." He only walked out the prison in 2005.

Yet Chen Xi never stopped what he does. In the recent years, he organized a series of symposiums in Guizhou on human rights and published hundreds of articles on Internet forums to commemorate the 1989 movement as well as calling for democracy. It is some of these articles that landed him in jail one more time.

On December 26, 2011, Chen Xi was sentenced to another 10 years for "inciting subversion."

People of 1989

Friday, December 23, 2011

People of 1989: Chen Wei (陈卫)

When the 1989 Chinese student movement broke out, Chen Wei was just a freshman in the Beijing Institute of Technology. From the very beginning, he actively participated in the campus activities in memory of Hu Yaobang. He helped leading about 4,000 of students from his school to attend the funeral at Tiananmen Square. Soon after, he played a key role in organizing an independent student organization at his school.

At the end of April, he took a trip to his hometown in Sichuan to spread the messages from Beijing movement. When he got back to the capital, he joined the effort of the Dialogue Delegation as a representative from BIT but soon joined in the hunger strike. During that time, he fainted several times and had to be taken to hospitals.

At the night of the massacre, he was on the streets trying to block the advancing troops. He later vividly described how he saw a girl being gunned down, execution style.

Chen Wei returned to his hometown soon after the massacre. He attempted to form an underground organization but was soon captured. He was later released without charge after almost a whole year of detention. That's when he started his career and life intertwined with prison terms. In 1992, he was arrested for organizing opposition parties and sentenced to 5 years. After the completion of his term, he still continued his work in local and regional organizing and became a signatory of the Charter of 08.

He was arrested this past February in a round of suppression in Sichuan. On December 23, 2011, Chen Wei was sentenced to 9 years in prison for "inciting of subversion."

People of 1989

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book Review: From the Square to QinCheng

Li Jinjin's personal memoir, From the Square to QinCheng, published in Chinese language by Mirror Books, 2011, consists two separate parts: The first is a brief autobiography of the author and two recollection essays of the author's experience participating in the 1989 Chinese student movement. The second part narrates the author's life, feelings, as well as reckonings during his detention in various jails after his arrest. The "QinCheng" in the title refers to the most notorious prison in China, in which the author had been a resident briefly.

In 1989, on April 18, just days after Hu Yaobang's passing, Li Jinjin stepped up at the stairs outside of the Great Hall of People and led a day-long sit-in which finally forced three People's Representatives to come out and publicly receive students' petition. Then, in the final weeks of the movement, he helped founding the  Workers Autonomous Federation and became one of its core leaders. He had recorded these experiences in two articles "The First Organized Sit-in in the Square" and "Remembering the First Workers' Independent Organization," respectively. These essays had previously been published in newspapers and other books before. They were also sources for my book Standoff at Tiananmen. Now republished in this book together with the author's autobiography, they lead to a deeper appreciation and perspective for the stories.

The book's subtitle, The Study of Law of a Law Ph.D. Student in Prison, indicates that the book's main content is centered on the author's experience in prison after the movement. Before his college years, Li Jinjin had served first in the army for 6 years and then as a policeman. In 1989, he had already earned his Masters degree in law and was pursuing his Ph.D. degree. With such a background and statue but being put in jail and forced to observe everything from the perspective of a prisoner was quite a unique opportunity. It is therefore remarkable that Li Jinjin never complained or involved in self-pity but spent all his time carefully observing and reflecting. He also helped his cellmates analysing their cases and fought with diginity for more humane conditions and treatments of prisoners.

One particular interesting aspect is that, although the author was a Ph.D. student, he was not jailed together with his fellow student or intellectual prisoners. Rather, because of his involvement with the workers union, he was treated as a worker and therefore imprisoned with other "odinary criminals," a distinction the government had been careful of in its handling of punishments. Therefore, his recollection of the prison experience sheds an entirely different light from those of other student leaders. His "study of law" is also more of actual legal merits, not swayed by the differences and confrontations in political opinions at the time.

From the Square to Qincheng is not a massive book and is very easy to read. (Unfortunately it is only available in Chinese.) The book provides several snapshots of the 1989 student movement and the inside operations of chinese prisons at the time. It's most valuable in its calm and matter-of-fact narrative, which greatly enhances its credibility. Perhaps because of the author's intentional carefulness, the content is confined strictly within his own experiences without much mentioning of other student leaders or participants. This somewhat limits its scope as a historical reference for the movement itself.

People of 1989: Li Jinjin (李进进)

On April 18, 1989, three days after the death of Hu Yaobang, Li Jinjin found himself sitting on the stairs of the Great Hall of People at Tiananmen Square among younger students trying to petition their government. He was excited but not quite ready to act himself.

At the time, Li Jinjin was a graduate student of law at Peking University. Unlike most of his classmates there, he had already acquired quite a bit of experiences outside of campus.

Born in 1955, he grew up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution when the education system was disfunctional at the best. When he was only 15, he joined the People's Liberation Army (with his age altered by a recruiting officer). Six years later, he was discharged and became a policeman at his hometown Wuhan city. That was the time when the national college entrance exam was reinstated and he became one of the hundreds of thousands youngsters fighting for a precious spot in higher education. In 1978, he became an undergraduate student of law near his hometown at the age of 23.

He then became a graduate student in Peking University in 1982 and graduated with a masters degree in 1985. After a couple of years of teaching, he returned to Peking University in 1987 to pursue a Ph.D. in law. During his second stinct there, he became active and campaigned to become the chairman of the school's Graduate Student Association in 1988. But he soon got into trouble by publicly voicing dissents and organizing controversial seminars. In early 1989, he was replaced in a reelection meeting that he himself was not aware of.

Having been cautioned to stay out of trouble, Li Jinjin had decided to focus on his academics in that spring of 1989. But when he observed the faltering sit-in at Great Hall of People, he nonetheless stepped up and took a leadership role. He led the latter stage of the day-long sit-in and achieved success: publicly and peacefully submitting students' Seven Point Petition to three People's Representatives. He left the scene immediately afterwards. But the crowd did not disperse and marched to the site of the government instead. It later led to quasi-violent confrontations with police at Xinhuamen.

That could have become the single odd apperance for him in the movement as he immediately disappeared. In early May, he even left Beijing to get back to his family in Wuhan due to their concerns of his involvement. It was not until May 18, when the hunger strike had greatly escalated the confrontation in the streets and a crackdown was immenient, that he got himself involved again. But this time, he took a different route.

On May 18, 1989, Li Jinjin was back on the streets of Beijing, delivering improptu speeches. That night, he happened upon a couple of workers who were trying to organize workers. He volunteered his service and immediately became the de-facto legal counsel of the budding Workers Autonomous Federation. Along with Han Dongfang and Zhou Yongjun, etc., he helped to launch the organization and drafted many of its documents and public statements.

When several members of the federation were detained on May 31 as a precursor of the coming crackdown, Li Jinjin and Han Dongfang led a group of workers and students in another day-long sit-in at Beijing police headquarters. They eventually won the release of their detained members.

Quite amazingly, Li Jinjin then left Tiananmen Square on June 2 and returned to Peking University for his Ph.D. qualification exam. In the morning of June 3, he successfully passed the exam and was spending the rest of day preparing documents to formally register the federation when news of massacre altered all his planning. He tried to return to the Square that night but didn't get past Muxudi, scene of the bloodiest battle that night.

After the massacre, Li Jinjin left Beijing and returned to his home in Wuhan, where he was arrested on June 10, 1989. He was released without a formal indictment on April 24, 1991. He travelled to US in 1993 and earned his US law degrees. He is now practicing law in the state of New York and active in the oversea Chinese democracy movement.

In June, 2011, Li Jinjin published his memoir, documenting his experience in 1989 and the subsequent prison life in China.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shen Tong Joins Occupy Wall Street

The Wall Street Journal reports that former Chinese student leader Shen Tong has joined the Occupy Wall Street movement at New York City:

Now, Mr. Shen, 43 years old and a successful businessman, can be found in the Financial District's Zuccotti Park, where he has become a sort of father figure for Occupy Wall Street.
Nearly every day, he holds planning meetings with the protesters in an unremarkable Broadway office. His responsibilities range widely—from mundane tasks like hunting down paperwork for the unwieldy group to lending advice to younger, self-styled revolutionaries.
"It's a lot of wise old man comments," said protester Max Bean, 29.
Mr. Shen didn't plan to devote all his time to Occupy Wall Street. On Oct. 17, he simply ventured 10 blocks from his home to Zuccotti Park and was intrigued to meet some protesters who knew of his efforts in China. "I was curious about the movement," he said. "Pretty soon, I realized it was not going away. But no good deed goes unpunished."
Mr. Shen soon found himself working a full day for Occupy Wall Street, seven days a week.
 The paper also quotes Shen Tong commenting: "Last time we wanted a different China, we got shot at. America can still afford to do this nicely."

During the 1989 student movement in China, dozens of 40-something intellectuals had also stayed in Tiananmen Square doing the same thing for much younger student leaders like Shen Tong himself.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

People of 1989: Liu Di (刘迪)

The name Liu Di (刘迪) did not appear in many historical records or literature of the 1989 student moment. That was probably how he liked it.

Born in 1950 in Beijing, Liu Di belonged to a slightly older generation to the students at Tiananmen. He first became famous for participating in the April Fifth Movement in 1976 and landed himself in the most wanted list back then. He was captured and put in jail later that year and served 10 months until the verdict of that movement was overturned by the government.

Along with his fellow "April Fifth Heroes" Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao, Liu Di quickly got himself involved in the 1978 Democracy Wall and then 1980 election campaign in Beijing. His home in the city often served as the publishing house of the underground journal Beijing Spring and gathering place of various dissidents. Later, Liu Di helped Chen Ziming in the founding of their influential and independent think tank.

During the 1989 student movement, Liu Di was one of many older intellectuals who volunteered to assist and advice student leaders from behind the scenes. He was one of the organizers of the Capital Joint Conference which tried but failed to gain leadership to the movement as it was falling apart after the end of hunger strike.

After the massacre, Liu Di was arrested on July 10, 1989 and spent 9 months in jail. During the 1990s, he was active in raising international awareness of the human rights conditions of political prisoners in China. For the past decades, he was consistently denied of jobs or rights to travel abroad and had to survive by his wife's wage and his parents' help. But he never hesitated to help others who are in political trouble.

Liu Di died of cancer on October 19, 2011. He was 61 years old.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fang Zheng Enjoys New Life in America

Fang Zheng, who lost both his legs during the Tiananmen massacre, is enjoying his new life in America. In the picture above, Fang Zheng is celebrating his 45th birthday with his daughter, wife, and mother-in-law (photo courtesy of Feng Congde). The happy couple is also expecting their second child.

Fang Zheng was also granted his green card recently. He is currently studying in a local community college and has his own driver's license.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chai Ling Recalls her Abortion Experience while as Student in China

In a recent testimony to the American congress, former student leader Chai Long recalled her painful experience of having multiple abortions while as student in China. It is the first time that she had revealed such a private secret and how she suffered from it. The testimony was part of her work with the "All Girls Allowed," a non-profit organization that she had founded.

Chai Ling stated that she had first become pregnant as a sophomore at Peking University when she was only 18 years old. Her father helped arrange an abortion for her at the time. She then had another one while as undergraduate student.

Her third abortion came after she had become a graduate student at Beijing Normal University. This time it was with her then soon-to-be-husband Feng Congde, who went to the clinic with her at the time.

After the couple escaped China shortly after the 1989 crackdown and reached the safety of Paris, Chai Ling had her fourth and presumably last abortion there. She said that their marriage was already falling apart at the time and she was persuaded to end that pregnancy.

By all account, Chai Ling is currently happily married to her second husband and has two kids. Nonetheless, her testimony provides a glimpse of her painful inside, already existing at the time of the 1989 movement, that was previously hidden from the public.

Her entire testimony can be read here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Boston Globe Updates on Chai Ling's Nonprofit Work

Linda Matchan reports on Boston Globe today updating the status of Chai Ling's work in her nonprofit organization "All Girls Allowed," which fights against gender-selective abortion in China influenced by the country's one-child policy.

The newspaper describes her efforts as
Into this battle steps [Chai] Ling, who has had brushes with controversy even in this country. In civilian life she is the founder and president of Jenzabar, which makes educational software; her husband, Robert Maginn Jr., is chief executive. Jenzabar’s charitable foundation has committed $1 million to All Girls Allowed, which, with the help of private donations, dispatches volunteer foot soldiers to run four projects in China. A “Baby Shower’’ program gives financial incentives to mothers who keep their daughters. A scholarship program enrolls orphan girls in schools. All Girls Allowed provides legal aid to women who have been the victims of forced abortion.

It also operates antitrafficking campaigns, in one case crossing vast rural areas north of the Yellow River, distributing 60,000 pamphlets, and setting up a hotline in a successful search for a 3-year-old girl named Little Bean who’d been snatched in front of her house in 2010. The organization also hosts a website featuring profiles of kidnapped children and practical information on how to keep kids from being tricked or snatched. A typical post: “When walking with your child along the road, always have the child farthest away from the road to prevent traffickers from grabbing them as they speed by in a motorcycle or van."

[Chai] Ling reports that so far 550 mothers have received financial gifts, 25 orphans have enrolled in schools, and four children have been reunited with their parents. It’s modest progress considering the scope of the problem: according to the group’s own data, there are 1.3 million forced abortions in China every year, 1.1 million infants abandoned, and 200,000 children trafficked.
It describes Chai Ling as passionate in her endeavor, driven by her recent conversion to Christianity.

The paper also mentions controversies surrounding Chai Ling and her software company Jenzabar, including lawsuits brought by their former investors and employees. It says the court had cleared Chai Ling for any wrongdoings.

The other, perhaps more prominent, lawsuit is the one Chai Ling brought upon the producers of documentary "Gate of Heavenly Peace." Although that suit has been rejected by the court, the paper states that "Jenzabar is appealing."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hong Kong Police Harasses Man Wearing Tiananman Shirt

Since returning to the fold of China, the city of Hong Kong has kept most of its freedom. Every year in June, thousands of Hong Kong residents gather to remember the deaths of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, the only remaining commemoration of significance worldwide.

But there are signs that more limits are being imposed on the freedom of expression. Yesterday, a man wearing a T-shirt with the slogans of "Overturn the Verdict of June Fourth" and "Build up Democracy" was forcefully taken away from the street and detained by the police. Apparently, the Vice Premier of China, Li Keqiang, was due to visit that neighborhood and could be embarrassed by the presence of the T-shirt. The man was later released.

The incident was caught on camera and played on the evening news:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ai Weiwei Talks, Ran Yunfei Walks

Almost half a year ago, during a wave of crackdown in China, many prominent dissidents were detained and/or arrested, some were charged with subversion. Among them were free lancer Ran Yunfei and famous artist Ai Weiwei.

Ai Weiwei's arrest in April caught world-wide attention and outrage. He was then released in June with parole conditions including no media interviews or participating in social media. He had kept his public silence, until now. This week, he showed up unexpected on Twitter, expressing concerns of his colleagues who were detained because of connections to him.

Even more strangely, he is now interviewed by the official newspaper Global Times. The paper describes him as "feisty" and quoted him saying "Of course you might live an easier life if you abandon some rights. But there are so many injustices, and limited educational resources. They all diminish happiness. I will never stop fighting injustice."

The interview was published in the English language edition of the paper. There was no mention in the Chinese language edition.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Ran Yunfei, who was detained in February, had just been released from prison. So far he had made no public statements.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Liu Gang Launches Protest Against US Government and Companies

1989 Chinese student leader Liu Gang was spotted outside of the White House with a home-made protesting poster yesterday. He was calling on the US government to act on what he termed as the "unrestricted warfare" conducted by the Chinese government on American soil.

Liu Gang has been embroiled in a nasty divorce after his second marriage fell apart. He publicly accused his estranged wife as a former Chinese military officer and that the Chinese government has launched a para-military campaign against him, his now-former employer, and other Chinese dissidents and American dignitaries. Almost a year ago, he sued Chinese president Hu Jintao in a New York court with similar accusations.

Liu Gang also claims that he was the initiator of the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" in China and that it made him a target of the Chinese government.

His public accusations of his wife and his former employer have led to him losing his job and being temporarily arrested a few times. But he has vowed to defy a court-ordered gag order and continue to protest his case in public. This morning, he declared he will travel around the country with his personal protests. He did not disclose details of his plan.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

This Day in 1989: July 14, Chinese Students March in French Bicentennial

On July 14, 1989, hundreds of Chinese students in Paris participated in the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution. The anniversary was a major inspiration of the 1989 Chinese student movement itself.

Also on this day, Xiao Bin, a famous "rumor-monger," was sentenced to 10 years.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Party Emblem at Tiananmen

For the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, a new but temporary symbol -- the hammer and sickle emblem of Communism -- is now installed inside Tiananmen Square, right between the National Flag Pole and the Monument of People's Heroes.

The giant emblem, about 40 feet in diameter, is part of a red, heart-shaped floral display that will remain in the square during the celebration period surrounding July 1st, the official anniversary date.

It is the very first time in history that the party emblem is so prominently placed in the symbolic center of the country.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: My Two Chinas

Tang Baiqiao's book, My Two Chinas: The Memoir of a Chinese Counterrevolutionary, came with high accolades. Its cover proudly boasts that the book was "foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama". Yet the first thing a careful reader notices is that it is not true. The book's Foreword, all of three brief paragraphs, was actually written by Dalai Lama's secretary.

This, combined with other sales pitches, such as that the author "Tang Baiqiao is one of China's most influential modern dissidents", "Tang's name became legendary during the time of the Tiananmen Square Massacre", etc., -- overly exaggerations at best -- does not lend well to the credibility of the book itself.

Although signed in the form of "Tang Baiqiao with Damon Dimarco," the book takes a first-person singular tone to narrate the personal story of its main author Tang Baiqiao, who in 1989 was a college student in the remote Hunan Province and became a student leader there. The book covers Tang Baiqiao's experience growing up as a child in rural China, getting involved in the 1989 student movement, becoming a fugitive and then prisoner in the ensuing crackdown, and his eventual escape from China and his exiled life in America.

Tang Baiqiao's personal involvement in the 1989 student movement as retold in this book is surprisingly sketchy. In early April that year, he helped organizing a few student rallies and marches in his city and was elected to be the main leader there. In May, he took a trip to Beijing, hoping to connect with the movement leader there. The trip, as he frankly admitted in the book, was a failure. Other than participating in several marches, he did not accomplish anything there. So much so that he did not even become aware of the name of one of major student leaders -- he later thought Wang Dan was a name for a female student. By the time he returned to his home city in later May, the student movement had already petered out there.

But the book does provide a rare glimpse of the movement, and student life in general, far away from the capital city. In one amazing tidbit, Tang Baiqiao recalled being on the stage facing thousands of students chanting "Long Live Tang Baiqiao! Long Live Tang Baiqiao!" (P. 87) A scene never seen in Beijing.

Since the story is told in first-person, sometimes it is difficult to judge whether it is stating facts or mere perceptions of its main author at the time. For example, the book makes many careless statements such as "Fang Lizhi was also a close friend and adviser to Hu Yaobang" (P. 56) or "During his meeting with Gorbachev, Zhao Ziyang made it known that he was a puppet, nothing more." (P. 99).

My Two Chinas serves as an addition to the existing autobiographies of the movement participants such as Li Lu, Shen Tong, and Zhang Boli. It could be interesting to anyone who would like to learn about lives in that period in China from an individual perspective. But unfortunately there is not much information about the 1989 student movement here, nothing to justify the author's "legendary" status in it, at least.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fang Lizhi Recalls his Year as Refuge in American Embassy

The day after the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, Professor Fang Lizhi and his wife Li Shuxian took refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing. The case soon became a focal point in the struggling Sino-US relationship.

Recently, Fang Lizhi wrote a three-part memoir in Chinese titled "The Sino-US Interplay in 1989-1990 as I Experienced" (see Parts A, B, and C). While there are no real surprises or major reveals from what we have already learned throughout the years, there are some interesting tidbits in the story:
  1. The Chinese government delivered a 14-point accusation of Fang Lizhi's "crimes" to the Embassy as the initial step of negotiation. The accusations revealed that Fang Lizhi's residence had been monitored and his phone bugged during the entire movement. Fang Lizhi made detailed response to each accusation.
  2. After President George H. W. Bush signed an order to allow Chinese students stay in the US regardless their visa status as a protection, a Chinese official sermoned the US Ambassador for an official protest. An hour later, the secretary of the official called the Ambassador's secretary to plead a US visa guarantee for his wife.
  3. After four months of vigorous protest, the Chinese government signals a willingness of negotiation in October, 1989. The initial conditions were passed to former President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who were visiting China at the time. Negotiations continued in November and December and cumulated in a state visit by Bush's aid Brent Scowcroft, who came to Beijing with the intention of taking the family to US. But the negotiation broke down at the last minute when China demanded an end of international sanctions.
  4. Fang Lizhi continued his scientific research work in the embassy. In fact, he published a preprint in the Fermi Lab with a temporary mailing address of the US foreign service. After the publication, he received many books and journals from his international colleagues. The work for the paper was performed on an old Apple computer left at the embassy.

  5. Negotiations to resolve the matter restarted in the spring of 1990 when Japan is seeking a way to end the sanction to China. (Loans to China from Japan and the World Bank were unfrozen two weeks after Fang Lizhi was allowed to leave China.)
  6. Because the Chinese government was eager to have sanction lifted, Fang Lizhi had the upper hand in the negotiation of his release. He refused to make "confessions," admit guilt, or appeal for "leniency" but only applied to travel abroad on humanitarian grounds.
  7. There were strong indications that Deng Xiaoping took a personal interest in these negotiations through the entire process.
  8. Li Shuxian disagreed with a part of the statement Fang Lizhi had written. She only signed on two of the three points her husband had signed.
  9. As a mother, Li Shuxian secured a guarantee of their second son's safe passage abroad as a condition of their release.
  10. At the farewell party at the embassy, Ambassador James Lilly told Fang Lizhi a secret: the US was aware of how Feng Congde and Chai Ling escaped China, "from the beginning to end." Feng Congde had maintained that their escape did not receive any help from abroad.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Issues of Tiananmen: Was there bloodshed INSIDE the Square

Throughout the night of June 3 to June 4, 1989, Beijing time, the entire world got a terrified and limited glimpse of what was transpiring in the streets of the Chinese capital thanks to (almost) live television. Tanks, Armored Personal Carriers, fully-armed soldiers with automatic assault weapons and clubs marched through dimly lit scenes like ghost figures, illuminated by battlefield flames in the distant background. Gunshots were heard too frequently and clearly, along with the chaotic screaming and shouting of victims. There was no question that a massacre was happening.

Historically, the event became named after its most recognizable geographic symbol: Tiananmen Massacre.

It was very unfortunate, as it drew attention to a place where massacre, in its literal meaning, did not actually occur. Instead, most of the killing (and wounding) happened in several main roads in the city leading to the square, but not inside the square itself.

The Telegraph reported today that "secret cables from the United States embassy in Beijing have shown there was no bloodshed inside Tiananmen Square," with the cables obtained from the famous Wikileaks. (The contents of the cable appears to be only based on a single Chilean diplomat's eyewitness account on the scene.) For the uninitiated, this may sound like a shocking piece of news. But it is actually a well-documented fact, sensational claims of "blood flowing like a river in the square" not withstanding.

The last chapter of my book, Standoff at Tiananmen, describes the mayhem of that night, based on many divert recollections and eyewitness accounts. The martial law troops killed hundreds, if not thousands, civilians as they advanced in the city, with the most killings happening on the West Chang'an Avenue in the west and Qianmen Avenue in the south. After they successfully surrounded the square itself, the troop actually halted their operation and allowed time for negotiations and a semi-peaceful and semi-organized withdraw of the remaining students.

The encirclement of the square, which was achieved around 1:30am that morning, appeared to mark a turning point in the military tactics. Before that, the army was ruthless and determined to achieve its strategic goal at any cost. They fired into crowd along Chang'an avenue at the outskirt of the square. One of the student leaders, Zhang Jian, was wounded there when he confronted an officer at point-blank range. He also witnessed death, according to his testimony.

But the troops did display patience, albeit limited, after they surrounded the square and established firm control. They did not advance into the square, where thousands of students still remain in the vicinity of the Monument of People's Heroes, until around 5:30. During those 4 hours, they used various tactics to scare most people into leaving the scene voluntarily. But most importantly, they negotiated and agreed to allow the remaining students withdraw peacefully.

It was not all peaceful, of course. There were indeed gunfires in the square itself. They were shot into the sky, either to destroy students' makeshift broadcasting speakers or to scare the students themselves. Many students later recalled the frightening and angry feeling when they saw sparks on the Monument of People's Heroes when it was hit by bullets. Some students who refused to withdraw were brutally beaten with boots and clubs. But nobody was killed in the process.

When the Chinese government spokesman Yuan Mu made the claim that "nobody had died during the final clearing of Tiananmen Square" in a press conference on June 6, the statement was widely interpreted as a categorical denial of the massacre as a whole and caused a world-wide uproar. Thus started the phony controversy of whether there was ever a massacre inside Tiananmen Square. It was as if the hundreds of deaths in the streets outside of the square were not enough.

To this day, there were no direct evidence of deaths inside the square, although indirect evidences indicate a few individuals might have fallen there. One of them was a student named Cheng Renxing (程仁兴), with second or third hand information indicating he was shot and killed under the National Flag Pole in the square.

Many have claimed that, when the army finally drove their tanks into the square and smashed everything on their way, there were still students sleeping in the tents. The account could not be verified. Before the tanks' advance, both student marshals and soldiers had separately swept the tent formation to make sure there were nobody in them. Indeed, a few students were found and led away from the tents.

Others claimed that they saw a large group of students refused to follow the withdraw formation and remained in front of the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao and were later gunned down en mass. No evidence had ever surfaced to corroborate this account.

It is perhaps the time to clarify, once and for all, that the term "Tiananmen Massacre" means a historical event, that happened in the city of Beijing during the night of June 3, 1989, as well as several days after, but not restricted to Tiananmen Square itself.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Recollections of 1989: The Making of Goddess of Democracy

On May 30, 1989, the statue Goddess of Democracy was erected at Tiananmen Square and became one of the lasting symbols of the 1989 student movement. The following is a re-telling of the making of that statue, originally published in the book Children of Dragon, by a sculptor named Cao Xinyuan:

Nothing excites a sculptor as much as seeing a work of her own creation take shape. But although I was watching the creation of a sculpture that I had had no part in making, I nevertheless felt the same excitement. It was the "Goddess of Democracy" statue that stood for five days in Tiananmen Square.

Until last year I was a graduate student at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where the sculpture was made. I was living there when these events took place.

Students and faculty of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, which is located only a short distance from Tiananmen Square, had from the beginning been actively involved in the demonstrations. When the movement wanted to honor the recently deceased Hu Yaobang, the students painted a huge oil portrait of him and propped it against the Monument of People's Heroes in the square. On May 27, a representative of the Beijing Autonomous Student Union came to the Central Academy to ask them to produce another large-scale work of art, this time a statue, and that it be completed in time for the great demonstration planned for the thirtieth. The Student Union, which gave 8,000 yuan for materials and expenses, suggested that the sculpture be a replica of the Statue of Liberty, like the one that had been carried by demonstrators in Shanghai two days earlier. But the Central Academy sculpture students rejected that idea, both because it might be taken as too openly pro-American and because copying an existing work was contrary to their principles as creative artists. What was needed, they felt, was a new, specifically Chinese symbol. But they faced a problem: how could an original, major sculpture be finished in three days, even if they worked through the nights?

Their solution was ingenious, and explains some features of the sculpture as it took shape: its slightly off-balance look and its posture with two hands raised to hold up its torch. The students, with the strong academic training that young artists receive in China, chose a thoroughly academic approach to their problem: they decided to adapt to their purpose a studio practice work that one of them had already made, a foot-and-a-half clay sculpture of a nude man grasping a pole with two raised hands and leaning his weight on it. It had been done originally as a demonstration of how the musculature and distribution of weight are affected when the center of gravity is shifted outside of the body. This was the unlikely beginning from which the Goddess of Liberty and Democracy was to grow. The students cut off the lower part of the pole and added a flame at the top to turn it into a torch; they repositioned the body into a more upright position; they changed the man's face to that of a woman, added breasts, and finally draped the whole figure in a robe.

This transformed model was the basis for the thirty-seven-foot-high statue. It was first cut into four horizontal sections, and teams of young sculptors constructed the corresponding parts of the huge work, which would be assembled on the square. The main material was foam plastic, large pieces of it carved and held together by wire, with plaster added to the surface to join the pieces more strongly and to allow finer modeling. The four sections were fairly light, each needing only five or six students to lift.

The students had intended to bring the statue in in one of the academy's trucks. But the Security Bureau sent word that any driver daring to take them would lose his license. In the end, the students hired six Beijing carts, a bicycle in front and a flat cart with two wheels behind; four of these carried the sections of the statue, the other two carried the tools and materials.

The route had been announced: turn left out of the academy, then westward to the Donghuamen, the east gate of the Forbidden City, around the road between the wall and the moat to the square. Our announcement was made to deceive the police, in case they were waiting to stop us. In fact, we turned right out of the academy and followed the shorter route, down Wangfujing, right along Changan Avenue, past the Beijing Hotel.

The site on the square where the statue was to be erected had been carefully chosen. It was on a great axis, heavy with both cosmological and political symbolism, extending from the main entrance of the Forbidden City, with the huge portrait of Mao Zedong over it; through the Monument to the People's Heroes, which had become the command headquarters of the student movement. The statue was to be set up just across Changan Avenue from Mao so that it would confront him face-to-face. When we arrived around 10:30 at night, a huge crowd, perhaps 50,000 people, had gathered around the tall scaffolding of iron poles that had already been erected to support the statue. The parts were placed one on another, attached to this iron frame; plaster was poured into the hollow core, vertical poles extended from the ground up through the center to hold it upright. The exposed iron supports were then cut away, leaving the statue freestanding. It stood on a base also made of rods, about six feet in height, which was later covered with cloth. The statue was made so that once assembled it could not be taken apart again but would have to be destroyed all at once.

The work continued through the night. A circle of students joined hands around the statue so that those working on it would be undisturbed. By noon of May 30, it was ready for the unveiling ceremony, for which many people had waited all night. Actually, only the face was "veiled" by two pieces of cloth, bright blue and red -- the students never collected enough cloth to cover the whole figure.

The ceremony was simple and very moving. A statement had been prepared about the meaning of the statue and was read by a woman, probably a student at the Broadcasting Academy, who had a good Mandarin accent. "We have made this statue," the statement said, "as a memorial to democracy, and to express our respect for the hunger-strikers, for the students who have stayed in the square so many days, and for all others involved in the movement." Two Beijing residents, a woman and a man, had been chosen at random from the crowd and invited into the circle to pull the strings that would "unveil" the sculpture. When the cloths fell, the crowd burst into cheers, there were shouts of "Long live democracy!" and other slogans, and some began to sing the "Internationale." A musical performance was given by students from the Central Academy of Music: choral rendition of the "Hymn to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, another foreign song and one Chinese, and finally the "Internationale" again.

That night there were strong winds and rain. We rushed to the square in the morning to see if the statue had been damaged. But it had endured this first serious test without harm. We took this as a good omen...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tiananmen Graffiti at Peking University

A newspaper in Hong Kong reported that graffiti calling for reversing the verdict of Tiananmen Massacre appeared inside Peking University recently. The slogan, among other non-political graffiti, was carved into wet cement used to repair the surface of a frequently traveled road.

It was later reported in twitter-land that authorities have since chiseled away the slogan.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Standoff at Tiananmen: Errata and Addenda

After the publication of Standoff at Tiananmen, several mistakes have been discovered, some by alert readers. These are, and will continue to be, documented here for reference. Thanks for helping to make the book better.

  1. Page vi: Second paragraph, "formal classmates" should be "former classmates".
  2. Page 1: In the first sentence, the day of June 5, 1989 should be Monday instead of Sunday. The word "weekend" in the third sentence should also be removed.
  3. Pages 16 and 17: "Qingcheng" should be "Qincheng" (秦城)
  4. Page 58: "Not only did it carry a preface written by Li Shuxian, it also featured an old article by Hu Ping, the winner of the 1980 election campaign, on freedom of speech." Both the preface and the article on freedom of speech were actually written by Wang Dan himself.
  5. Page 65: It should be noted that the declaration "The Chinese people have stood up from now on!" was not literally made on top of the Tiananmen. Mao actually only declared the founding of the new government there. However, that declaration was a commonly (mis)used expression in China.
  6. Page 132: In the last but one paragraph, "at a little restaurant near Peking University" should be "at a little restaurant near People University".
  7. Page 228: In the last but one paragraph, "Feng Congde rushed to Peking University..." Feng Congde later recalled that he did not go to Peking University immediately, but rather went to the Square by himself and participated in the press conference there.
  8. Page 272: According to Fang Lizhi's recent recollection, their second son did not enter the US embassy with them.

  1. Page 277: It appears that the US at least was aware, "from the beginning to the end," of Feng Congde and Chai Ling's escape process, as Ambassador James Lilly disclosed to Fang Lizhi privately.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Taiwan Media Clarifies Funding Amount on Wang Dan

A month ago, the Central News Agency in Taiwan reported that Wang Dan had once received donations in the amount of $400,000 from the island government. At the time, Wang Dan issued a strong rebuttal and denounced that the report's "essential content is absolutely not factual."

Yesterday, the same agency issued a new report and revised the donation amount. It said that, during the previously reported trial, "Wang Dan only stated to have accepted $200,000, not $400,000, donations from the government of Republic of China. The previous report was in error." The new report also explained that the $200,000 was transfered to Wang Dan through a series of private hands separately in November of 1993 and then April and June of 1995.

In his Facebook page, Wang Dan revealed that the news agency contacted him before the new report and "showed sincere attitude." Although unhappy for not receiving an apology, he nonetheless stated that "I can accept this since there is now a clarification." He did not dispute the new figure of $200,000.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

People of 1989: Wang Youcai

In the fall of 1987, the 21-year-old Wang Youcai (王有才) arrived at the Department of Physics, Peking University, as a graduate student. He appeared to have come at the right place at the right time. The student body of that department was a hot bed of spontaneous activities. Wang Youcai was no stranger to that either, he had become active in the 1986 student movement while he was at his undergraduate Zhejiang University. Only months after he had settled in Peking University, he was already involved in the 1988 student unrest after a death of another graduate student. He became a member of the "action committee," which was made up by many future student leaders.

Following the death of Hu Yaobang in 1989, Wang Youcai joined the emerging commemoration and protest from the beginning. In the earlier days, he served in the Preparatory Committee in Peking University, in charge of its external relations. After the hunger strike was launched, he stayed behind in school and organized the logistical supports for students in Tiananmen Square. When the then marginalized Beijing Students Autonomous Federation attempted to make a comeback after the end of hunger strike, he was elected to be its secretary general. He then also participated in the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square.

After the massacre, as most of the student leaders had disappeared from public scene, Wang Youcai stayed at Peking University and helped to organize a series of postmortem efforts. Among them was to dispatch student reporters to other schools and hospitals to collect data of casualties.

All his work landed him into the infamous "21 Most Wanted" list. He was captured in August, 1989 and sentenced to 4 years in 1991. However, he was released in November that year.

The freed Wang Youcai did not cease his pro-democracy activities. Throughout the 1990s, he was frequently detained by the police for his numerous initiatives. In 1998, he launched an attempt to legally register an opposition party, the Chinese Democratic Party, in China. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "subversion of state power." Under international pressure, he was released from prison "for medical reasons" in 2004 and sent directly into exile in the US in 2004.

In America, Wang Youcai chose a route not taken by most of his peers. Not only does he keep a high-profile participation in the oversea pro-democracy movement--he founded a version of the Chinese Democratic Party in the US with Wang Juntao and others, he also went back to school in his old major physics at the University of Illinois.

This spring, the already 45-year-old Wang Youcai finally earned his Ph.D. degree. He is now working in a finance company on Wall Street.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

People of 1989: Wang Zhiyong

In the spring of 1989, Wang Zhiyong (王志勇), a senior at the University of Political Sciences and Law, was looking forward to his graduation just like many of his classmates. He grew up in a poor rural area. Graduating from a prestigious college in the capital was to be a remarkable milestone in his young life.

In the evening of April 19, he also went to the Xinhuamen, the site of China's government, like many of his classmates. There, they continued a mass sit-in protest from the previous night, following the death of Hu Yaobang. After the midnight, the peaceful petition turned confrontational. The student body was broken up by police forces. Wang Zhiyong and two of his fellow students left the area and went to Qianmen to catch the subway home. What followed was described in a Big Post written by one of his classmates the next day:
In the evening of April 19, Wang Zhiyong and two other students from our school came to Tiananmen Square to participate in the memorial activities for Comrade Hu Yaobang. Around 4am of April 20, they crossed Chang'an Avenue and went on the street south of the Great Hall of People. Just then, they faced two platoons of the People's Armed Police. The commander shouted, "Who are you? Beat them up!" dozens of policemen surrounded them. Several of them rushed on and beat Wang Zhiyong's head with their metal-knuckled belts. Wang Zhiyong's head was broken and had to have three stitches later. His head was badly swollen and he could not open his left eye. After the beating, Wang Zhiyong ran to the subway station and sat there in a daze. He was sent back to school by two kind-hearted passers-by.
I was able to get contact with Wang Zhiyong, who is now in the United States, recently. He confirmed the above description as truthful. The day after, he had also displayed his blooded shirts on campus and told his own story in the student broadcasting station.

The conflict between students and police in the early morning of April 20 at Xinhuamen had been exaggerated to become the "April 20 Bloody Tragedy" at the time. There were however very few reported injuries among students. Wang Zhiyong's experience, albeit some distance away from Xinhuamen, was undoubtedly one of the most serious. It could also be the only verifiable case. The above poster was widely circulated in the college campuses in Beijing and was a major factor in leading students to further their protesting actions.

Wang Zhiyong did not shy away from the movement himself either. He participated in and contributed to the movement as a member of student martial from his school. As they were leaving Tiananmen Square after their duty in the afternoon of June 3, they could hear the approaching gunshots.

After the massacre, Wang Zhiyong escaped from punishment largely due to the protective actions by his school teachers and authorities. He worked for two years and then became a graduate student in Peking University, from which he earned a Masters degree in law. Later, he became a Christian and devoted his life to God. In 1997, he left China for theological education in the US. Today, he is a pastor in Virginia.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review: Inside Story of the Bloody Clearance at Tiananmen Square

The Inside Story of the Bloody Clearance at Tiananmen Square is a book currently only available in Chinese language. The book was published about 4 years ago at the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

This book was written by Wu Renhua, an integrate character in the 1989 student movement and in my own book Standoff at Tiananmen. As early as April 17, 1989, Wu Renhua, then a teacher at the University of Political Science and Law, had helped to organize the very first public demonstration following Hu Yaobang's death. Later on June 3rd, just as the bloody crackdown was approaching, he volunteered to lead a special team of student marshals into the Square to safeguard the hunger striking "Four Gentlemen" there. It is also because of this act, he put himself right in the middle of the actions of that fateful night. From the vantage of his location on the top of the Monument of People's Heroes, he had an excellent view of the entire Square.

After the massacre, Wu Renhua eventually escaped by swimming to Macao through icy sea water. He settled at Los Angeles and was the chief editor of a dissident newspaper Press Freedom Herald for many years. Through the paper he collected and published numerous articles on the history of the movement.

The book Inside Story of the Bloody Clearance at Tiananmen Square was the first book Wu Renhua wrote. It traces, hour by hour and sometimes minute by minute, the some 20 hours from when he arrived at the Square in the early afternoon of June 3, 1989 to the dawn of June 4, as he led the last group of the students withdrawing from it under gunpoint.

It was not just a timeline, however. The author also included much material that were written by others which added either scenes from locations the author could not witness directly or to the historical perspectives to the individuals and events.

There are indeed surprised. The most startling of which is the exact sequences of students' exit from the Monument, their last base in the Square. Previously, it was widely believed that they made a remarkably orderly retreat after a voice vote conducted by Feng Congde, therefore avoided a potentially horrendous bloodshed. Yet Wu Renhua pointed out from his own experience that only less than half students followed that decision and left in somewhat orderly fashion. The majority of them insisted to stay and left only after a combination of persuasion from their teachers and brutal beatings by the advancing soldiers. Their final withdraw was chaotic and almost fatal. At least one student leader was almost stampeded to death.

This, and much of the author's own observations that night at the Square, was adopted in the final Chapter of Standoff at Tiananmen.

Wu Renhua's book is not without shortcomings. As a self-edited and self-published book, it lacks sophisticated layout control. This is especially a problem when the author quotes substantial passages of other people's work. It is easy for readers to get lost and confused with what they are actually reading. Some of these materials used in the book had not been properly vetted for credibility and reliability and contain paragraphs that are known to be untrue or vastly exaggerated.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

People of 1989: Ge Yang (戈扬)

Born in 1916, Ge Yang was a first-generation revolutionary. She joined the then underground Communist Party when she was only a teenager in the 1930s and participated in the anti-Japanese and later civil wars. From the 1940s, she settled into working with the press and news agencies in the army and later in the New China news agency.

Like many liberal minded intellectuals within the Party, Ge Yang became a "rightist" in the 1950s and was expelled from the Party for the first time in the 1950s. She spent more than 20 years in physical labor to "reform" her thoughts. It was only in 1978 that she was able to return to a normal life with Deng Xiaoping's new regime. She became the editor-in-chief of a newly reemerged magazine New Observer, which instantly became a strong voice of liberal thoughts.

In 1989, after the death of Hu Yaobang, Ge Yang organized a large-scale symposium of more than 50 prominent intellectuals. The theme of the meeting became an appeal to correct the injustice imposed to Hu Yaobang and victims of recent ideological struggles. When its proceedings were carried in the World Economic Herald, the newspaper was promptly closed and its chief editor fired.

On April 22 that year, Ge Yang attended Hu Yaobang's funeral inside the Great Hall of People. Through the glass door she saw the thousands of college students gathered in Tiananmen Square, and observed:
After Zhao Ziyang delivered the eulogy for Hu Yaobang, we filed past to pay our last respects. As we walked by the glass doors of the Great Hall of People, many lingered for a moment to observe the many thousands of students sitting outside on the Square. Rows of soldiers stood with arms linked to separate the students from us. I felt rage as I stood there silently watching them. The atmosphere was tense. Some of the officials feared that the students might try to force their way into the Great Hall. A soldier came over and asked me politely to move on.

"My driver walked up to me and took my arm. I replied, 'I just want to stand here for a while. I belong to the Communist Party, and I was wounded serving the Party during the war. I have seen much, but I have never before seen such abuse of students by Party members like yourself.'

"The soldier listened and then left.
Later, she described her feelings in a little poem:
A land has been divided into two parts,
In the middle is a wall of brutal force.
This side is the chilly ice glaciers,
That side is the sea of true feelings.
Yaobang's body lay on this side,
Yaobang's soul is over there.
We all came from that other side,
There would not have been this side if not for the other side.

Ge Yang at Tiananmen Square on May 14, 1989.

Later, Ge Yang left Beijing to attend a meeting in America. After martial law was imposed in Beijing, the then already 73 year old woman decided to stay in the US, thus began her life in exile. After the massacre, she publicly declared her withdraw from the Party: "The Communist Party we had joined years ago was not the Party of today. I must completely break from this Party that suppressed her own people."

In her old age, Ge Yang lived on feeble incomes from her writing and supports from friends and charity. In 2002, she met the famous scholar Sima Lu (司马璐) and discovered that they had known each other years ago when they were young. (Both of them had changed their names since the war period.) They married each other.

Ge Yang died in New York City on January 18, 2009. She was 93.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Confucius Departs Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square is not a good place for Confucius, after all, at least not in plain sight. Just three months ago, a statue of Confucius was erected at the Square. Some hailed it as a new cultural landmark for the symbolic location. The contrast between the ancient philosopher and the modern leader Mao Zedong in the same Square created quite a buzz in symbolic interpretations.

Well, Confucius did not last long. The statue has now been quietly moved into a courtyard designated to be a "sculpture garden" in the same museum, but largely out of the sight.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wang Dan Refutes Media Report on Taiwan Funding

Wang Dan, who is currently teaching in Taiwan, is once again involved in a controversy of having received money from Taiwan government. This time the news came from the Central News Agency and carried in the newspaper China Times, both respectable media outlets in the island. The news report says:
The Taiwan High Court today called on mainland democracy fighter Wang Dan and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Huang Zhifang to testify in the corruption trial of former President Chen Shuibian. In the hearing, Wang Dan frankly stated that he had received $400,000 financial support from Chen Shuibian.
The report further explains: "according to sources, Wang Dan stated in court that he twice received donation from Chen Shuibian, each in $200,000, for a total of $400,000.

Within hours of the news release, Wang Dan issued a statement to rebuke the report, claiming that the report's "essential content is absolutely not factual." He pointed out that the court trial was a secret proceeding without media presence. The Central News Agency had not interviewed or confirmed with him before releasing "such a ridiculous report." He voiced a strong protest.

Although Wang Dan also indicated that, because the trial involves Taiwan government secrets, he will not provide any further explanation or response on the matter, he nevertheless provided more information today through his Facebook page. He explained that a more detailed account of his side of the story will be published in the Apple Daily on Monday.

Wang Dan stated that the money he had received before originated from Taiwan government, not Chen Shuibian's personal donation. He said, "As an oversea democracy force, we welcome all political donations that are from proper sources and not imposing political conditions." Secondly, he again stated that the amount he had received had "a very big discrepancy" with that reported by the Central News Agency. But because he has to abide the secrecy order from the court, he could not disclose the real amount. In his discussion with his Facebook followers, he repeated assured them that all the donations "have been used for efforts in pushing for democracy. All accounts are very clear." However, because some of the money had been spent for people in mainland China, he could not disclose any account due to concerns of their safety.

Chen Shuibian was the first non-Nationalist president elected by the people of Taiwan. During his presidency, he had established special account to supply government money to support mainland activists exile overseas. Because the means of money transfer was often murky, he ran into serious trouble in not being able to account for the funds. After his term, he was formally charged for corruption. He called Wang Dan to the trial in an effort to clear his name.

On the other hand, the oversea exile community is also immersed in its own financial troubles. Pretty much every significant organization had experienced serious corruption and embezzlement charges of their leaders. The investigation of such scandals are often fruitless since the leaders claim their money were spent in secret support of mainland underground.

Both Wang Dan and Wang Juntao had gone exile during the time when Chen Shuibian was the President at Taiwan. In the last few years, there had been consistent rumor that the Taiwan government had a special "Two-Wang" fund supporting them. Just last year, the long-running dissident magazine China Spring, for which Wang Dan was the Chairman, ceased its printing operation for a lack of funds. At the time, Wang Dan revealed that financial support for the magazine had stopped as soon as Ma Yingjiu succeeded Chen Shuibian as the President at Taiwan.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Document of 1989: Official Obituary for Hu Yaobang

The news of Hu Yaobang's death was first released by the official Xinhua News Agency on April 15, 1989. The April 16's edition of People's Daily carried the official obituary on its front page but without the usual fanfare for such an occasion. Following is an English translation of the obituary:

Xinhua News Agency, April 15
Obituary by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party

The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party announced with a heavy heart that Comrade Hu Yaobang, a long-tested loyal communist soldier, a great proletarian revolutionary and politician, an outstanding political worker in our army, who had served in the Party's important leadership positions for a long time and been a marvelous leader, had suffered a large-area acute myocardial infarction while attending a Politburo meeting on April 8, 1989. Despite all medical efforts, he passed away at 7:53AM, April 15, 1989. He was 73.

The life of Comrade Hu Yaobang was a glorious one, which is filled with achievements for the Party and the people. He joined the land revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party while he was still a youth and participated in the well-known Long March. From 1939 to 1945, he served as the Minister of Organization in the General Political Department of the Central Military Committee. From 1946 to 1949, he served as the acting Political Department Chief of the Jin-Re-Liao Military District and the Political Commissar of 3rd and 4th Columns of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, as well as the Political Chief of the 18th Corp. After the founding of the People's Republic, he served in various positions such as the Party Secretary and Governor of the North Sichuan area, the First Secretary of the Chinese Youth League Central Committee, the First Party Secretary of the Shaanxi Province, and the Second Party Secretary of the Northwestern Region. During the period of "Culture Revolution," he continuously fought against the counter-revolutionary gangs of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing, without regards of his own safety. In 1978, he took the position of the Minister of Organization in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and did tremendous work in restoring orders from chaos, reversing past incorrect verdicts, and implementing policies for cadres. He displayed extraordinary courage and bravery in being truthful and achieved undisputed results. During the new historical period of Socialist reconstruction, he upheld the policies established by the Party's 11th Congress, 3rd Plenum, and made important contributions in pushing forward the modernization and reform.

Comrade Hu Yaobang was a member of 8th, 11th, 12th, and 13th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. He had also served as the Vice President of the Central Party School, the Third Secretary of the Central Disciplinary Committee, General Secretary and Minister of Propaganda of the Central Committee. He was elected into the Central Politburo during the Party's 11th Congress, 3rd Plenum. He was elected to be the Chairman of the Central Committee by the Party's 11th Congress, 6th Plenum. He was the Central Politburo member and its Standing Committee member of the Party's 12th Congress. From September, 1982 to January, 1987, he served as the General Secretary of the Central Committee. He was also a member of the Central Politburo of the Party's 13th Congress.

The death of Comrade Hu Yaobang is a tremendous lose for our Party and our people. We must turn our sorrow into strength, learn from his spirit of dedication in being loyal to Party's business, sparing no efforts, and struggling for Communism; learn from his excellent work ethic in closely relating to the masses and serving the people whole-heartedly; and learn from his noble ethics in being modest and curious, yielding to the big picture, and being frugal. Under the leadership of the Party Central, we shall continue to march forward along the path of constructing a Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Be immortal, the great proletarian revolutionary and politician Comrade Hu Yaobang!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Harvard Class Teaches Freshmen China's 1989

This year, freshmen attending Harvard University had an opportunity to attend a class named "Rebels with a Cause: Tiananmen in History and Memory," taught by Lecturer Rowena Xiaoqing He. The class covers the entire history of the 1989 Chinese student movement

In 1989, Dr. He was in China and had first-hand experience with the movement herself. In an interview with the Harvard newspaper, she recalled that "we learned to lie to survive" during the ensuring crackdown.

The class at Harvard is a part of the school's freshman seminar series. Students, who were not even born at the time when the event took place, had face-to-face discussions with some of the leaders of the movement. They studied archives collected in the Harvard-Yenching Library and re-enacted some of the scenes. As an conclusion, they are organizing a conference to present their papers on the subject.

14 students attended this year's class, which is a sold-out crowd, according to Dr. He. She also said that the class will continue to be offered this fall as well.

As a significant historical event, the 1989 Chinese student movement is undoubtedly a part of many history lessons. But a class exclusively dedicated to this single event is a first at Harvard and possibly everywhere else.

Friday, April 8, 2011

People of 1989: Ai Weiwei (艾未未)

Ai Weiwei was not exactly a part of the 1989 student movement. At that time, he was a young, aspiring artist living a free life in New York City, supporting himself by drawing portraits on sidewalks, performing various manual labors, taking pictures for news magazines, and playing blackjack at Atlantic City. But in May that year, he did fast for a few days on his own to show solidarity with the hunger striking students in Beijing.

A few years later, he moved back to Beijing. At the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, he shot a famous picture showing his future wife exposing her underwear at that holy place.
Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 to a prominent family. His dad Ai Qing (艾青) was one of the most famous poet of the country. But Ai Weiwei did not grow up with a privileged life. Rather, he had to spend his childhood in the remote Xinjiang where his parents were forced into degrading labor work during the Cultural Revolution. It was not until late 1970s that his family was allowed to return to Beijing. (During the 1989 movement, the then 79-year-old Ai Qing joined a demonstration in a wheelchair.)

Ai Weiwei became an art student in the prestigious Central Film Academy in 1978. He promptly got involved in the "Stars," an early avant garde artist group which played a fringe role in the Democracy Wall movement.

His career really took off in China at the turn of the century, gaining international fame with various exhibits abroad. At home, he was part of the team that created the famous Bird Nest Olympic Stadium and was successful in painting, photographing, sculpture, architecture, and later as a blogger.

It was his blogging endeavor that gradually led him into troubled waters. He applied his avant garde style to social issues and was deeply involved in several hot topics as he sought to speak for victims of earthquake, poisoned milk, and government harassment. Even his artwork became more and more about symbolic protests to repression. Although he had been careful in staying within a carefully observed boundary, he found himself badly beaten once and his studio in Shanghai demolished.

Last Year, New Yorker profiled his life, titled "It's Not Beautiful."

He might finally have pushed the envelop too far. This week, Ai Weiwei was arrested in Shanghai. After days of silence and rumors, the government appears to be investigating him for "economic crimes."

UPDATE: After three months of detention, Ai Weiwei was released on June 22, 2011, under conditions similar to on bail.