Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tiananmen Square: June 4th, 1989

Next week on June 4th, we will mark the twentieth anniversary of the day the tanks rolled over the students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. I remember the day well.

That was Commencement at St. John's University in New York where I was teaching. The ceremonies were in the field house where the Redmen played basketball. It was right across from Bent Hall (named after Bruce Bent, inventor of the money market mutual fund) where my office was.

St. John's robes are scarlet, so the whole field house was a sea of red as three governors (and alumni) spoke to the graduates. That image of the color of blood is etched into my psyche for the news of the horror was just seeping out as we gathered. The blood bath had begun over night as the army moved in with tanks and armored personnel carriers, shooting indiscriminately and rolling over the students. The official estimates according to Wikipedia are 241 dead and the unofficial estimates run as high as 7,000.

The students had occupied the Square since mid-April in a huge pro-Democracy demonstration. There was a division of opinion in the Chinese elite about what to do. The hard liners ultimately won. The loser was Zhao Ziyang, the General Secratary of the Communist Party of China, who overnight went from the most powerful man in the largest country in the world to a prisoner under house arrest.

In its editorial, "Zhao Ziyang's Revenge," the Wall Street Journal explains, "Zhao was a champion of economic liberalization and famous among China's farmers for his agricultural reforms. In the spring of 1989, he agreed with student demands for transparency, less corruption and a freer press." The occasion for its editorial is the publication of Zhao's secret memoirs. As the Journal editorializes in its Asian edition, "As the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches, that history remains as dangerous as ever to China's leadership." Sky Canaves reviews the book in the Asian edition and read and hear (in Chinese) excerpts in "Memoir of Former China Communist Chief." Zhao taped his memoirs over a number of years and these transcribed memoirs are coming out in book form: Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, Adi Ignatius, ed.". Simon and Schuster are the publishers.

In a related piece, Bao Pu, who with Renee Chiang translated and edited the English version, explains "What Happened in Tiananmen Square."

Mr. Caves reports "A Chinese government spokesman brushed off questions from the foreign media about" Zhao's memoirs.

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