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Tiananmen's Legacy of State-Sponsored Amnesia

25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square: The Chinese Perspective

Speakers: Louisa Lim, International Correspondent, Beijing, National Public Radio (NPR); Author, The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, and Xiao Qiang, Adjunct Professor, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley; Founder and Editor-in-Chief, China Digital Times
Presider: Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center on U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society
June 2, 2014
Council on Foreign Relations



SCHELL: Well, I think we should begin, while people are straggling back in.

I'm Orville Schell. I run the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. And I want to welcome you all and particularly our two guests today on this panel.

Louisa Lim who was in Beijing for a long time for NPR and has just written a very interesting book called "The Republic of Amnesia," which about Tiananmen Square, what happened there and what happened outside of Beijing as well, and with some interesting reflections on both its meaning and what China's failure to sort of process its meaning and what that may portend for the future.

Xiao Qiang is a professor, teaches at Berkeley, the School of Information, and he has founded, about a decade ago, China Digital Times, which is a online publication that really follows China in many, many different ways with a particular focus on sort of its digital activity, the "Great Firewall," its efforts to both use and control the media and particularly the digital media.

You know, just listening to the last panel, I think this moment in Chinese history in 1989 probably was one of the most significant moments of the 20th century. If you look back to May 4, 1919, which was the first big student demonstration by -- and it had an absolutely tectonic effect on Chinese history. It was relatively small, and one person died. And what happened in 1989 was significantly larger.

And I think for those of us who are in the square that spring, it was a moment I think we will never forget. I think we, in many ways, misread many of the signals.

It seemed at the time that it was unthinkable, impossible that the Chinese Communist Party would ever manage to restore itself to power, would manage to get the genie back in the bottle. It seems like it was all over, that this was an inflection point that -- from which there would be no recovery. And yet, exactly the opposite happened.

And so, it raises a lot of very interesting questions, and I thought we'd sort of try to parse through some of them now.

And the first one that I think it would be great to hear your thoughts on, what was 1989, the six and a half, seven weeks of demonstrations, what were they about?

Do you want to talk...

QIANG: What were they about?

SCHELL: What were they about? What was going on? Why did they happen?

QIANG: I grew up in China in the '80s. I went to a university in 1979. And I was one of the earliest students who, after the exams, goes into a university. So that was after the -- after the revolution (ph).

So, I kind of all embodied the spirit of '80s, which, essentially at that time, we were very optimistic, felt everything is getting better, the, you know -- yes, politically and economically.

So, my university was at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, who had a president, vice president -- professor Fang Lizhi, who's a renowned astrophysicist later on, was a dissident voice in China. I was actually his student.

The -- so, for the young generation, we were all quite optimistic about the society will be becoming more and more liberal, the country was -- is on the right direction.

And then, even back to the times out in China, I mean, meaning '82, '83, '84, '86 -- I left China in '86, I came to United States, we were talking about these things. We were talking about democracy and freedom. We're talking about Soviet Union and Eastern Europe bloc. We're talking about South Korea and North Korea, and Taiwan and China. It's obvious that we should go for democracy.

And that was the time in '86 that my university started the demonstration and it went nationwide. And that's how we are mounting to move from the position in '86.

So, to me, even that time, I was studying in United States already. But when I heard there was a student demonstration on the street for six weeks, my first reaction is they have done -- they should have done this long ago.

When I was there, we were doing it. And of course we're doing it, of course we're for democracy and of course that the students should go out on the street. So, to me, and in 1989 in the spring, that was not a surprise.

SCHELL: You've just looked through this whole period again in writing your book. Give us a sense of sort of the mix of the things, obviously democracy, openness was on the minds of students, but there were other issues as well.

LIM: Yes, I mean, I can do a whole constellation of different issues that were bringing people onto the street. And, as Nick said, I think pro-democracy became a useful shorthand for the western media, one that people could understand, but perhaps that really disguised the whole complexity of what was happening.

I think originally the demands were for more freedoms, that there were, you know, a very significant portion of people who were angered by corruption, by official profiteering.

And, in fact, Zhao Ziyang himself, a Liberal Party leader at that time, his sons were a target of the protesters because they were seen as having profiteered or, you know, gone into business. And nepotism was a big issue.

And I was interested when I was looking at what had happened in Chengdu, where they had a student protest that went almost unnoticed in the West, that ran, you know, kind of mirrored what happened in Beijing in many ways and also ended in a crackdown.

There, it seemed that -- according to people who were there, the people who were part of it, freedom and democracy were some of the issues that only very late on, you know, really towards the very end of the protest. And there, some of the protesters were driven by, you know, all kinds of other issues, like inflation was this huge issue at that time. It was running almost 30 percent. And also people were beginning to see a very big disparity emerging between those who had been making money and those who were not.

And so, there was a real sense of kind of panic and fear, I think, that the uncertainty that these -- the beginning of these reforms was producing, and I think that also led to some of the protest.

So there were, you know, economic issues that I think were also overlooked.

And some of the issues were incredibly small, you know, things like students in the university wanting more say, you know. Even, you know, protest about food in canteens, things like that.

So, there were an enormous amount of different issues that students were angered by.

SCHELL: I mean, when you actually looked at what the people in the square wanted, as you point out, they were relatively discreet. And one wonders what would have happened if the party had yielded to them.

LIM: Well, the counterfactuals are always fascinating. But at this -- and I think we did see in some instances, the party did yield, just for a few weeks, right? One of the very earliest demands was for more press freedom. And I think there was a period -- and you were there, weren't you? So, you would've -- being able to read about actually what was happening.

SCHELL: Well, there's complete press freedom for a period of two or three weeks.

Lim: Well, it was about three weeks in the middle, and all the journalists were out marching in the streets with their banners. And, of course, they suffered for it at later on. So, I mean, yes, to that extent, I guess some of the demands were yielded on, and then the government panicked and clamped down entirely.

SCHELL: You know, the last session, the question arose, what would happen in China had the demonstrations succeeded?

Do you think, Xiao Qiang, that if, in fact, Zhao Ziyang had prevailed, it would've worked out, or would we have ended up in something like we now see in so many countries in the Middle East?

QIANG: You know, as I said, at that time, I was 28, but many students on the square were much younger, you know, they were in their early 20s. And we, none of us, had much really experience in China. Students in China were very sheltered, that we were idealistic or enthusiastic. We didn't have any clue what the real political structure and politics, and how things were really run in China, who rules.

So, today, if I look back, there's no way students could win, there's no way Zhao Ziyang wins. Don't even think about it. Of course, Li Zhou Peng will rule, or that kind of, yes, conclusion will be -- it was decided from the very beginning. The -- but that does not mean China will be -- that's the destiny of China forever.

The -- Deng Xiaoping, after all, was the first generation of the Communists who went through the war, our civil war. And two people like that grabbing the power is the absolute absolute, and they do not shy away from killing, whether dozens or hundreds or thousands of people. To him and to that generation, they do not see that's a problem.

SCHELL: Why is it, then, that so many people seemed to so naively assume for so many weeks that, in fact, the party might not do that? I don't -- I think, you know, in the square at that time, there were very few people who had such dark thoughts.

QIANG: It's an illusion of the square. When you are there, you are in the -- out the fear of comrades and celebration and the youth and the passion and hope.


QIANG: But at the same time, troops are gathering, the political conspiracies are putting together, and the result is already decided, so there you look back.

LIM: And also, I think the power struggle at the top and the mixed messages that were emerging meant that many people like, even officials didn't really know what was going to happen.

Although, if you look back now, perhaps it seems as if it was inevitable, but at the time, you know, because of the power struggle inside, you know, and because so many people were marching, all the official work units, even the army, the foreign ministry, they were all out with their banners.

So -- and there was a survey that was done in mid-May by the Beijing Youth Daily back in 1989, and 95 percent of the people that replied to that survey thought that the student protest was patriotic. So they did not agree with the editorial from April 26 saying that it was turmoil. So, you know, at the time, perhaps with that illusion that, you know, people -- that the students may have had a chance.

QIANG: I would also say, I use "illusion" because in a certain way, that is an illusion that comes up, how the politics really unfolded in China.

But it's not just an illusion. It's something extremely rare in Chinese history, in Chinese people's life that happened, which is Chinese people had been suppressed so much, '60s, '70s, '80s, a lot of people had the hope, along with the younger generations, but nobody anticipated, including me, nobody anticipated.

There was a moment, people suddenly have a sense of freedom. Yes, from the bigger point of view, that becomes power struggle and then the official media went to acting very differently. But genuinely from the square to the Beijing city and to the nationwide, people suddenly have a sense of freedom. There's so much being repressed within, and it came up.

And that is not an illusion. That's a real, real exposure to something even they never found before. That's why, later on, you'll see that there would be men standing in front of tanks and incredible many heroes, the actions.

Let me share one story. I went back to China on June 6. I arrived in China on June 8. I just want to go there. I had been in United States already. But at that time, when I saw the massacre, I wanted to do something. I didn't know what I can do, but I want to go back anyway.

And when I came back to Beijing, that's where I went to high school, one of my -- he's not even my close friend, but classmate, came to see me. He heard I came back, he came to see me. And he is -- we were in the same class in high school. He was a soccer player, but he never studied very well. He's always getting in a fight, he always getting in trouble.

Anyway, he came to see me, and he asked me a question. He said, "You came from United States. You saw everything, right?" I said, "Yes, I saw it on TV."

He said, "Tell me, were students really wrong?" I said, "No." I said, "No."

"You know me, I always admire you. You're an academic star. I'm never as good as you. I, you know, I got in trouble, you got into a good university, I couldn't even get into the College of Physical Education. My parents were never proud of me. I'm never proud of myself. I've always done something wrong. But this time, I help students. I defended them. This is the only time I felt I did something proud of myself in my life. And now, is a counter-revolutionary balance, students were wrong? You tell me."

And that, it will be always there, that something's being completely crashed to the people's hearts. At the same time, I don't think that's the end of the start.

SCHELL: So, let me ask you a question. You know, it's perfectly possible in history for people to be right in the sense of morally right, have a right, but to be tactically or strategically wrong.

And I wonder. as you two look back on this period, do you think that the -- was there a point where if the students had acted differently, they might have been able to sort of preserve the legacy of political reform which in effect sadly ended after 1989?

As you look back on this, what inflection points do you see as a moment when things might have turned out somehow differently?

QIANG: My view is from a student's point of view or from the demonstrators' point of view, there's no tactic, there's no strategy. There's this whole spontaneous thing. Nobody possibly anticipated things getting so big, and that there's a hunger (ph) strikers. And then there's, you know, these are not by planning, not by any strategist (inaudible).

And nobody knows what do with it. If anyone had a strategy and thinking and had something maneuvering behind, that's the people who are in the higher power strategy (ph). Yes, they're probably deciding something up (ph) there, pushing things one direction or the other. So...

SCHELL: You think it's basically an illusion to imagine that these 20-year old student leaders could have actually led in a way that would have been able to attack...


QIANG: They didn't lead. The students on Tiananmen Square, one faction said, "Let's leave. Let's go back." And then the radicals would just throw them away and say, "We want to stay," and then they will stay. This is a mass protesters' movement, and that's how the way it always ends (ph).

LIM: I think it's a matter of much controversy and discussion among the student leaders in exile whether there was some point at which they could have acted differently. And I think there's still a fantastic amount of regret about various decisions and whether it could have changed anything.

I mean, Wang Dan said in an e-mail to me that he now believed that the hunger strike was tactically wrong, not that it shouldn't have been held but that the timing was wrong.

And then, you know, many of the other student leaders have talked about what happened. I think it was on May the 30th there was a vote on whether they should leave the square. And everybody agreed, and they even announced it.

And then, well, according to versions that I've heard, and it's all very, you know, there's a lot discussion about who said what, but the version that a lot people tell is that Li Lu and Chai Ling then changed their mind. And so, their students continued to stay in the square.

But, I made (ph) the point that many of the student leaders do make is whether, you know, whether it's morally right to blame their own bad decision-making for what then happened.

SCHELL: Or whether they actually had the decision-making power to have controlled things (inaudible).

LIM: Yes, I mean, also, I mean, interestingly, Bao Tong, who was Zhao Ziyang's right-hand man in many ways, he actually believed that the students were being really used as a tool, that this was something that, you know, once it happened, that they became a convenient pretext for them to sort of play out of this power struggle. And if his reading is right, then it wouldn't really have made any difference what they did.

SCHELL: You know, an interesting question I wanted to ask you both, in your view, what are the consequences of a society such as China which undergoes an extraordinarily traumatic incident like this and yet then is not publicly able to digest it and deal with it?

Are we in a new world where you can say forget history, it doesn't matter, let's move on, why torment ourselves with something from the past? Or do you both view this thing as some kind of a wound that's as yet unhealed?

LIM: I think the Chinese government has made as many attempts as they possibly can to just move on, you know, including all these kind of slogans, "look to the future" and this kind of thing, but also, you know, rewriting what happened and then trying to delete it from history books.

And this year we've seen this sort of extraordinary attempt to stop any kind of commemoration, whether it be public or private, with, you know, even groups that meet -- people meeting behind closed doors in a private apartment and later on, in fact, being detained on charges of creating a public disturbance.

So, I think that what happens when you try to suppress all discussion, you're locked into this cycle of repression, both, you know, towards people that try to remember. I mean, increasingly, we're seeing that online as well as Zhao Ziyang could attest with all the attempts to stop any discussion of June the 4th.

QIANG: Right. It's -- if you look throughout history, so China is not the only place that had a massacre and then the government wants the people to suppress it and forget it, and over many, many years. This basket (ph) is happening in many other places.

They -- but since this one, I've looked very closely into even -- well, in China, but at least I've been engaging in human rights work all these years.

So, yes, of course, it's always a question, where did this trauma go, where all this experience go? Like this friend of mine that -- who asked me whether students were right. It was so important to him. And 10 years later, he could be the one on the Tiananmen Square again celebrating when China win in the Olympics.

So, where did that go?

Yes, you can see that online, you can see that on -- and under certain circumstances, people still talk about it. You can see in government (inaudible), that 25 years later they are no less fear than 10 years ago, if anything.

But you can also see something that's not so obvious, but actually important. I'll give you another story. This is some Chinese student, who, like me of '89, studied in America. You actually know him, Tung Bor (ph), that later on became an investor, the V.C. (ph) investor, went to China looking for an Internet company to fund. And that company later on built up the Internet in China.

But this is Tung Bor's (ph) story.

Tung Bor (ph) was there '89, like many other Chinese students, demonstration and, yes, trying to do something for China.

But when -- this is the early '90s, when Tung Bor (ph) was in China talking to a few other Chinese -- Chinese entrepreneurs then, they're trying to make a deal of forming their company. It's the biggest business to deal whomever made, and the other -- he doesn't know if the other can do it, and the other is not sure he can actually, you know, have this money.

So, it's a very early thing, about funding a business with a lot of money and ambition. And they couldn't make the deal. In this position for days and days and weeks and weeks until they drink and they could socialize. And then one day, they said, "where were you in 1989?" "I demonstrated." "You demonstrated." "You demonstrated."

"Deal, we do this for China."

That's where the trust falling (ph). That's where the company was funded. And that's something that you could never talk about it, finally talked about it.

So, it's there.

SCHELL: So, how are we to assess the balance? Tiananmen ended as we all know it did. The party cracked down. And then we had this extraordinary period of economic growth.

So, how do you two sort of weigh the assets and liabilities, if you will, of what the party did? It failed in this way, you could say, but then it succeeded. What's the balance sheet as you both look at it now?

LIM: Well, I mean, there is no doubt that people's lives in China have improved since 1989. People are richer. Their lives are freer, for the most part. You know, you no longer have to go to your work unit to ask for permission to get married, to have, you know, to travel overseas, to get a passport. You're not told where to study, this kind of thing.

So, there has been all this progress, but I think, for me, one of the very problematic issues is the idea the government has propagated that there could've been no other way, that this is the only way that this could have happened, and the government did what was necessary.

And I think all of those years of economic progress has allowed that justification, that kind of retrospective justification, to gain more currency in the eyes of many Chinese people. I think it's quite a mainstream opinion now that, you know, what happened in 1989 was regrettable but necessary.

I mean, even Jack Ma, the chairman of Alibaba was, I think he was quoted as saying it was cruel but correct. And I think that's the dangerous thing, that there were no other ways out, this was the only thing that could bring China to the situation that it is in today.

SCHELL: So, what was the other way out? We've had much talk in the first panel about China never being particularly sort of ripe for democracy. What are your two views, if not then, now, about the state of China's ripeness to begin to embrace much wider political reform?

QIANG: I'm more with Nicholas Kristof in the last section of this, which is, if you want to say Tiananmen massacre is the last of that example of how China has been ruled, which is, you cannot challenge the ruler. If you do, your head is cut off.

And that's the message that everyone was sent, as I think Nicholas also is saying that it's not because of the lack of equipment or something. That's not in their concern. They want to have that fear, absolute message -- absolute message drive into people's minds.

I was there in June, so I saw the soldiers with not only helmets, with very clean uniform, white gloves, with their gun loaded, on the street. It's very fabulous, you know. It -- somehow it spread a fear right there to tell you do not ever challenging, yes, the ruler. That page (ph) of history in China is still there right now. But eventually, eventually, in the coming years and decades it will be over.

So, Tiananmen is unfold (ph) the start, 25 years later, I can see things clearly worked to that direction, meaning the middle class want more participation, people more see what's happened in South Korea, what's happened in Taiwan, what happens in other countries, are natural -- the legitimacy for a government, and Chinese should not be an exception.

And those ideas compared to 25 years ago are much more common and spread (ph) now. Things are moving towards that direction. It doesn't mean the transformation will happen this month, but Chinese society is much closer to a democratic ruling structure.

LIM: I think middle class people maybe are ready for more political participation, for more... ...


LIM: ... democracy. The Communist Party, no.

QIANG: No. Communist parties, no, sure, yes. So, that's why I don't think it will be -- it will be immediate.

LIM: I mean, even though there's village elections, which Nick Kristof spoke of, in the elections, if you see the way those have played out, there's been an extraordinary effort to stop any kind of independent voices being elected, even to extent of, you know, in city elections, one or two independent candidates, the local authorities will go to all kinds of lengths to stop them being elected. And any kind of very minor threat like that is immediately stomped upon, and I think this is getting worse and worse.

Again, when I asked Bao Tong about what had happened to the reform wing of the party, he almost stopped, and he said, "The reformists have been bought with the spoils of reform."

So, whether there's any -- how much appetite there is under a party ruled by Xi Jinping, I'm not sure.

SCHELL: Yes, well, how much appetite is it? That's a very important question. I mean, I think, particularly one could say after 1989, where the party's appetite to even toy with the idea of reform was sort of banished because it became too frightening and too dangerous. And we've seen 25 years where they have not been able to really, in a meaningful way, revisit this question.

So, it does raise the question of what -- how will it happen in China? How can it happen to China, particularly after this trauma?

QIANG: Yes, that's actually a real question, because Tiananmen massacre also kind of closed that -- the door for that direction.


SCHELL: In that sense, you could say, right or wrong, whatever your moral judgment about the movement was, it was counterproductive.

QIANG: Well, in that sense, but, you know, but, well, in my view, that whoever ordered the massacre was responsible for that.

The issue is, this is a legitimacy of the party go together. So, they could not so-called reverse the verdict. You reverse the verdict, it's not going to be a communist party anymore. I could argue this (ph).

SCHELL: On the other hand, Deng Xiaoping did reverse the verdicts on all of the intellectuals and the events.

QIANG: Yes, yes, but that's different. That's because Mao was the one responsible for basically everything, and the whole party can correct that. And this one, if you reverse it, if you open it, yes, the party will be gone. The China world will change.

SCHELL: Do you agree with, Louisa, that there's no way for the party within the present sort of structure of things to revisit the verdict on 1989?

LIM: Well, at the moment, it seems to be a prospect which is further away than ever before. You know, when he came to power, Xi Jinping, even, you know, to the extent that he was even embracing the Maoist legacy refusing to repudiate anything that had happened within the first 30 years of Communist rule, let alone the most recent events.

It seems extremely unlikely. When you are detaining people for taking selfies with V-signs in front of Tiananmen Square, it doesn't seem as if there's any prospect of reversing the verdict or even beginning to address it.

SCHELL: Before we turn it open to you all, let me ask one final question.

Given this rather rigid posture of the party towards reform, given the fact that Americans and the American government certainly has on its agenda the whole notion of democratization worldwide, what is the proper posture for the United States towards this kind of new and very rigid and sometimes quite muscular new government in Beijing?

QIANG: Well, Chinese government is a muscular patriot (ph) mainly because the rising (ph) economic power, but it (ph) also very fragile. It's extremely fragile internally. And you can see those signs all over the places about how they cannot -- they are so preoccupied in the control and the suppressing and those smaller protests or arrests, they -- and there's many issues that goes on in China now of economic can maybe slow down, environmental degradation, you name it, and many other things.

And then you have this on the foreign policy side, international relations side, you have a much more -- a muscular China and some...


SCHELL: Much less susceptible to pressure. In fact, I think more resistant to pressure.

QIANG: Yes. And they are related -- they are related. Some of them, in my perspective, is a clear setup for diverting the internal -- the conflict, diverting internal attention.

I could even imagine in the worst case scenario, in all, they're looking for the domestic arrest, yes, simply set up an external conflict to make the control.

And, to me, that's almost a natural assumption that, unless, yes, they want to completely redress the issues differently.

LIM: And there's been some disappointment among dissidents within China at the U.S. way of dealing with China.

I think people saw -- within China saw when there was an attempt, when the human rights with some high doctrine attainment (ph) set for dialogue, they believed that they had been let down.

But what other way is there to deal with a rising China when it comes to human rights? That is the question that I'm not sure I can answer.

SCHELL: I mean, surely, I mean, you've spent a lot of time in Beijing, one would have to say the party has done a fairly effective job at erasing memory of 1989, have they not?

LIM: I think they've done a remarkable job at erasing memories. You know, when I took that picture of Tank Man and I went to four of the Beijing universities that had been most instrumental in the protest, only 15 kids could actually identify that it had been taken in Beijing. And people were asking, is it Kosovo? Is it South Korea?

And I was surprised, because these are the smartest kids in the country. They're the ones with the most access to technology. They could certainly find a way of jumping the firewall and finding out what had happened if they wanted to.

I think that, you know, the cautionary tale of Tiananmen is that this generation has no interest in politics, no curiosity. And that has helped this whole strategy of state-sponsored amnesia.

SCHELL: And what's the price of amnesia?

QIANG: The price of the Tiananmen massacre are many. One of the one is the moral crisis in Chinese society: What's right, what's wrong, what's good and what's bad, what's a meaningful life, what it is just? In this highly competitive environment, you grab whatever you can.

Look at Chinese society today. Yes, it is in a context of rapid economic transformation, of -- but ever since, I think, my friend, the question was always there: What is right and what's wrong? Were students who were right? If they were not, what is right, anyway? What is good and what is bad in the life, anyway? Even, you know, well, then, anything goes, right? That's China today.

LIM: Yes, it's a society where, you know, people can make fake milk powder in order to make money and not worry about the consequences, even though they know it will kill babies.

There is a huge loss of values and of morality. And some of that draws (ph) back to the actors watching the government use weapons to crush the people and then hearing the different stories, watching the stories as they change and wondering what is...


QIANG: In the nation's capital, in front of everybody. That is what it's done to people's psychology or what one impact is.

SCHELL: OK, let's have some questions from you all.

Please, right here, in the -- on the aisle. Please identify yourself and keep your questions short.

QUESTION: Hi. Yes. I'm Craig Charney of Charney Research.

You know, in other countries, say, South Africa, where I get my own doctoral research, or Brazil or Poland, there were student movements and workers' movements, which were separately crushed, but became extremely potent in forcing a path towards democracy when they converged and came together.

As I'm sure you know, there is a tremendous amount of labor ferment in China today. I'm wondering if you see any evidence that the student activists or the former activists are beginning to converge with them.

QIANG: No, I haven't seen that. That would be -- yes, there are labor movements, yes. But today in China, there's not much student activism. There are students -- a lot of students curious, yes. The discussions follow on this, the books they're reading, the lectures that they're going to, a very liberal pro-democracy today in China.

But I haven't seen student activism, you know, taking more actions other than that, much less than them converging with the labor movement (ph).

LIM: I think this was one of the lessons that the government learned from Tiananmen was never to allow these disparate sources of discontent to join up with each other, so, to sort of isolate any kind of protest and make sure. I mean, if you look at what happened after Tiananmen as well, the workers were treated very much worse than the students.

And for the most part, the student leaders, their prison terms were about six -- around six years or less, even some of the leaders, while workers were getting prison terms of 10, sometimes 20 years, sometimes life, for example, one of the guys who threw the eggs at the statue -- at the portrait of Chairman Mao.

And so. I think the prospective worker unrest is something that really alarms the Communist Party, and they watch it very, very closely. And they have used different tactics. I mean, it's not as blunt as back then, you know. Sometimes they will give a little, sometimes, but they are very, very careful not to allow these different sources of discontent to kind of connect.

SCHELL: Right here.

QUESTION: My name is Ron Tiersky. I teach at Amherst College.

We're tiptoeing up to what for me is a fundamental question, and that is what it means to be a communist. Deng Xiaoping was not only responsible in a big way for 1979. Deng Xiaoping was in Paris in 1920 working in an automobile factory. Ho Chi Minh was there, too. And these people went through the whole period of communism indoctrination and so on.

So when I hear people say, "Well, the party doesn't want to share power. The party will beat up people," to me, it sounds like a conception of fascism with the communist face.

There's another view of this, which is that these people were still -- they still had the old view of the vanguard party and all of that, and they murdered a lot of people, but you could say that they were sincere murderers. It wasn't just about keeping power. It was because they have a theory of history.

Do you think that this idea of being still a Communist Party with this revolutionary vanguard idea, that it had any part in what happened in the crackdown at Tiananmen?

QIANG: Well, this -- I'm going to share another story, but this story, I don't know if it's true or not. So, to listen to -- but somebody told me that. I don't know how true it is.

After Tiananmen massacre, the Tiananmen massacre not only done to the Chinese people, the young Chinese, to the generation of the Communists. But this is my story, my own grandmother, who is also a Communist that told me, you know, how this means to me, it means all my life is destroyed. This is not a story.

But the story is this: It's Deng Xiaoping's old friend, another paramount (ph) leader, after the massacre, went to see the Deng Xiaoping. So, two old friends sit down. And he said, "OK, you did this, I supported you." Meaning, can you still do this? "Now what? Now what do we do?"

It means, we thought we were fighting for liberation. We thought our whole life is for the country to be liberated. We thought we were bringing some freedom to people. Look what we have done. Now what?

And Deng Xiaoping had a -- well, after a long silence, he said, "I don't know. Let our kids go make some money. I cannot answer you. Just let our kids go make some money."

I don't know how true the story is, but it's describing China ever since.

SCHELL: I mean, I think the part of communism that remains is Leninism. I mean Marx is one side, that's the whole social revolutionary theory and Leninism is the organizational part of the party. And that's very well and alive. The rest of it, the ideology, the visionary, you know, it's a Utopia, is gone.

OK, right here.

QUESTION: Thank you. (inaudible). Hello again.

I have a question about human rights and probably to Xiao. In the decades following the Tiananmen Square, both you ant I were part of the international human rights movement. And I guess there was a lot of focus on China and on what had happened. And I don't think that was a success story for the movement.

Could you comment on what the human rights movement could have done differently, with perhaps a different outcome?

SCHELL: Was that for me?


SCHELL: No, for Xiao. OK.

Xiao, go ahead.

QIANG: That's not a fair question, because I would -- but my answer would be, of course, is the -- we've done everything right. We've done everything we could. And there is no other way which I can think of to do better or worse.

Some people continue the fight and some people that by any circumstances and chances, somehow, yes, you know, made our effort.

Is that a failed story? Yes, if you look at it and say, U.N. resolutions, you know, never passed, those messages never really making Chinese government to behave anywhere, you know, better, in the sense of suppressing citizens.

So, if from those practical point of view, right, all the decades and decades, 25 years later, we still can say, wow, those resistance, those human rights efforts are, you know, it doesn't really bring forth any result.

But I tend to not think that way. It's -- there's things larger, maybe, in this whole movement. Those efforts together with the effort in other part of the world, together with those human efforts inside of China and everywhere, that's all part of a human spirit moving to the freedom.

And in the larger picture, 50 years later, it all comes together, to one start. We haven't reached to the end yet. Yes.

When we look at the back someday, the Chinese people have fought, the international community has fought for Chinese people. And humankind has fight for freedom for themselves against any party (ph), including there's going to be coming, what, largest economy in the world? It will be gone as a totalitarian regime. I have no doubt about that.

It takes a time. It takes some process. Nobody guarantee the process of the transformation will smooth. It could be any other kind of situation. We hope it's not a war, a civil war or chaos. But I do not doubt that freedom will prevail also in China.

SCHELL: OK, right here. Yes?

QUESTION: So, this is Gary Rosen from the Wall Street Journal.

Just to follow up on what you said, what did you make of the argument that Brent Scowcroft alluded to this morning, which you hear in the U.S., but I'm sure you also hear in China, among people in authority, that democracy, modern rights, these sorts of things are just not right for China and for Chinese civilization, that China will take its own path?

QIANG: Let me put it this way. That, we heard a lot, and I'm still hearing it, in the '90s, particularly. Today, if you go to China, at least I listen to the (inaudible) Internet every day, that's much, much less an argument. Yes.

Just come from Taiwan, that's the best example. So, what's China -- Chinese people so different than people in Taiwan, culturally and historically? And there is a -- there is Korea.

Many of you probably know the latest human rights cases of the human rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, who himself was an 1989 protester. And over the last two decades, he became a free speech and human rights lawyer in China, a leading figure. And this time, he participated with others in a small, private in-house commemoration of the 50th anniversary, and right now under custody.

Why I raise his story? Because just this March, just a couple months ago, there is South Korean movie called "Attorney" came out, it was a big hit in South Korea. It's based about a story of a former South Korean president who, from a tax lawyer turned into a human rights lawyer, and then later on became a politician.

So that story -- the movie was based on that story in '80s. And that movie was translated in Chinese and inspired a Pu Zhiqiang and many others that because when Pu Zhiqiang, a human rights lawyer, Chinese human rights lawyer saw that, he saw himself. But it's a South Korean story in '80s. There are plenty of those arguments, if you watch that movie.

There are -- democracy is American thing. It doesn't fit Koreans. The South Korean needs another 20 years economic development in order so they can vote. Everything you hear from China, that time you hear from the Koreans.

But this time, when Pu Zhiqiang was arrested, the day -- that was a -- there's a lot of people on the Chinese Twitter, the way where we're talking about it. To my surprise, this movie star, Zhang Ziyi, the actress, wrote on her way book (ph), recommending "Attorney" and literally said, "'Attorney,' a lawyer who fight for human rights, truth and justice, is truly inspiring." And she has 20 million followers.

That message goes through our Chinese Internet right away, and nobody -- even she didn't mention a word about, you know, this arrested human rights lawyer, but people make that comparison. People do make that comparison, and people do feel, if South Korean can do it, why not China. It's just a matter of time, about 20 years ago, but this time, maybe another 20 years.

But now much less to say, well, China is so special, Chinese is so special. That is more you hear from the government and their apologists. But, yes, ordinary people, they can actually compare that.

Another example is so many Chinese people go to Taiwan now. They saw the election. It's a natural thing to say why we cannot do it? There's no other reason.

SCHELL: OK, we have time for one more quick question, right here.

QUESTION: Well, as a Russia specialist, I was in Moscow shortly after Tiananmen in June 1989. And I'm, you know, was inclined to see what happened in China in the comparative context of what was going on in Eastern Europe.

But more important, I was Moscow in August 19 to 24 -- 21st, 1991. And when you describe -- even though the analogy between the students in Tiananmen and the opposition to the failed military takeover of the Soviet Union in August, seems a little strange. The kind of emotions that you talked about among the people in Tiananmen Square sounded an awful lot like what people in Moscow felt during those few days.

One could see that the opposition to the coup was successful and that, in the end, it brought down the Soviet Union, the opposite result of what happened on June 4th in Tiananmen Square.

And yet, I can tell you that many people, it's not quite 25 years yet, but it will be soon, not clear that it will commemorated in post-Soviet Russia, will feel disappointed. On the one hand, they changed as people, being involved in that opposition somehow. But there -- but where Russia is today is not where they expected to be 23 years ago.

But do you find the analogy with -- I mean, I have a lot of comparisons between what's happened in Russia and China, but precisely this issue of what happens to an individual when they stand up, and how the state reacts and what -- and how it affects history.

You've told some interesting stories that have shed some light on that. Do you have anything more that you might want to say in that, in light of the Russia comparison.

QIANG: I don't know what I can comment. I know in Russia, there are some people who always think China did better because, yes, economically, yes, it grows, and some people may think that they wish Russia went in the same direction.

The history, we cannot go back to always assume something different. And Russia has its own path and faces its own issues. And at a certain turning point, it took different -- very different steps.

But if you looked back, you could say, well I can say, at least how I see it, that 25 years ago, Russia is ready for transition, yes. And the China Communist Party was still very strong, still very strong.

Even there is a protest, even by a variety of reasons it became so big and so huge, so heroic, it will be cracked and crushed, it would be crushed.

But today, looking back, there couldn't be anything else, really (inaudible) turn into. So -- but that doesn't mean that China next time or over the time developing this company (sic) on the wrong direction. It will -- history will revisit this question again.

LIM: I think that the Russian example has been quite useful for the Chinese propaganda machine. They like to point out the fate of former Soviet republics and the Soviet Union.

And I think it's formed quite part of this retrospective justification, that if we hadn't done what we did, you know, you wouldn't enjoy this level of growth and prosperity. And for the most part, a lot of people have bought that argument.

QIANG: Yes, yes.

SCHELL: I think we'll end it here. I want to urge all of you to have a look at the photo gallery outside where photos of this period of history shot by AP photographers are on display. And please join me in thanking Louisa Lim and Xiao Qiang for joining us.


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