Wednesday, June 5, 2013

People of 1989: Chen Xitong (陈希同)

Born in 1930, Chen Xitong was a student of literature in the famed Peking University in 1949, the eve of the founding of People's Republic of China. That was when he joined the Communist Party and started a career in the new China's political bureaucracy. By the early 1980s, he has risen to the top level in the city government of Beijing and become the mayor of this capital city in 1983.

By most accounts, Chen Xitong and his city government took a hard-line position against the student movement in 1989 from the very beginning and helped to establish the official stance that the movement was "turmoil" that had to be suppressed. As the mayor, Chen Xitong himself was rarely seen in public during that fateful period. Notably, he was a minor participant in the disastrous meeting between Li Peng and some of the student leaders.

On the night of May 20, 1989, Chen Xitong, in his official duty as the mayor, signed a series of orders on behalf of the city government that put the martial law in motion. It is not clear what a role he actually played in the execution of the martial law and the eventual massacre.

After the bloody crackdown, Chen Xitong, once again as the mayor of Beijing, submitted a lengthy report to the National People's Congress on how the turmoil and "counter-revolutionary rebellion" was suppressed. It was and still is, by far, the most detailed account of events from the government's perspective.

Post-1989, Chen Xitong was elevated to national leadership position as a member of the Politburo. But his fortune quickly collapsed in 1995 when he was accused of grave corruption and embezzlement. Soon, he lost all his official posts, striped the Party membership, and was sentenced to a 16 year term. He had been on medical parole since 2004.

Chen Xitong died of cancer on June 2, 2013, just short of the 24th anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre.

People of 1989