Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Eight Things You May Not Know About the Tiananmen Square Massacre

     On June 3rd through 5th, 2019, the world commemorated the last two days of the thirty-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which followed protests in Beijing, China.
     The protests took place from April 14th to June 4th, 1989, and ended when Chinese troops fired into crowds of protesters and deployed tanks into the square. On June 5th, "Tank Man" infamously stood in front of a row of tanks as they were leaving the square.

     In American public schools, students who are taught about the event, are told little more than the following (if even in this much detail): "Students who were protesting China's totalitarian Communist government, were shot en masse and mowed-down by tanks."
     Some of us were also told about "Tank Man", the infamous man who was filmed, grocery bags in hand, staring-down a row of tanks, in an act of defiance. This occurred on June 5th, 1989. The man walked in front of a row of tanks, and stopped. Then the first tank in line stopped, the man climbed on top of the tank, appeared to attempt to get the attention of its driver, got back off of the tank, and motioned towards the tank to go back in the opposite direction.
     Some of us were told that Tank Man was pulled away from the tanks by somebody at the last moment, while others of us may have been told that he was crushed underneath the tanks. Some say that "only the Chinese government knows what became of him".
     In either case, most of us were told that nobody knows who he was, and that he was standing up against an evil totalitarian government. Tank Man has thus been turned into an image of defiance, rebellion, and freedom in the face of authoritarianism.
     However, as are most stories about communists, nothing could be further from the truth.

     Here are some facts about the Tiananmen Square protests, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and Tank Man, which you might not have heard before.
     [Note: I do not intend this as a complete, nor exhaustive, account of what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989. This is perhaps one of the most murky historical events in recent memory. I have refrained to comment on other topics related to this event, because of my lack of knowledge on the topic.
     I hope that this information will be helpful to my readers; if correct, then to understand the event, but if incorrect, then at least to understand the controversy which surrounds it.]

     1. It is said that "nobody knows who Tank Man was", but there are people who know him. It would be impossible for there not to be. No evidence has ever been released to the public, which indicates that he either died that day, or lived through it.
     The Western media narrative is that the pilot of the tank didn't have the heart to crush Tank Man to death. Granted, the video footage does show the tank trying to move forward without crushing the man. But there is no proof that this man was actually opposing the government. If he were, then he probably would have been killed immediately.
     While Western media and American public schools portray Tank Man as someone who "defiantly stared down Chinese government tanks", it's possible that Tank Man's motioning towards the tank, to go back in the opposite direction, was a signal of approval of what the army was doing.
     That's because what laid in the opposite direction was Tiananmen Square itself. Tank Man was signaling to the pilot of the tank that he wanted the tanks and the army to maintain their presence in Tiananmen Square. Tank Man wanted the army to stay, even after the armed conflicts which had taken place over the two previous days.

     2. Nobody knows how many people died in the massacre, and estimates vary widely. This is, in part, due to the Chinese government's suppression of the discussion of casualty figures following the event.
     Regarding the night of June 3rd, the Chinese government reported 241 dead (including 218 civilians, of which 36 were students, and also 10 soldiers in the P.L.A. [People's Liberation Army] and 13 officers of the People's Armed Police) and 7,000 wounded.
     Later official estimates gave a total of 3,000 dead. Including the deaths which resulted from the June 4th tank deployments, the total death toll could be as high as 10,000 (according to British Ambassador to China Sir Alan Donald).
     Other estimates include:
     - 300 dead (soldiers, civilians, and students combined), with 5,000 soldiers and police and 2,000 civilians wounded;
     - 6,000 injured, rather than 7,000;
     - 2,000 to 3,000 dead on June 4th, including estimates such as 2,600 and 2,700;
     - "a dozen soldiers and policemen were killed, along with 400 to 800 civilians" on June 4th (from Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times);
     - 180 to 500 deaths "up to the morning of" June 4th (according to the N.S.A.);
     - 478 dead and 920 wounded (according to Beijing hospital records);
     - between several hundred and close to 1,000 deaths (according to Amnesty International);
     - 300 to 1,000 deaths (according to a Western diplomat);
     - 8,000 dead, rather than a similar number wounded; and
     - "upwards of ten thousand" or "tens of thousands" of deaths and/or casualties.

     3. Not all of the people who were killed, were student protesters. Many of them were P.L.A. soldiers and police officers.

     4. Death tolls which indicate higher numbers of police and military dead than students, may be erroneous, due to the facts that many police and military personnel were wounded, and that the numbers of the dead have occasionally been confused with the numbers of the wounded in various estimates.

     5. Not all of the people involved in the anti-government protests, were students; and not all of the people involved in the protests were Maoist workers either. Both groups were present.

     6. The anti-government protesters did not have solidarity with one another. This fact is often left out of reports which depict a two-sided battle of pro-government military vs. anti-government civilians made up of mostly or solely student protesters.
     Student protesters initially refused to allow Maoist workers to protest alongside them, and only relented and allowed this once the protests continued and the number of students present at the protests began to dwindle. Some sources say the student protesters refused to allow workers to participate in negotiations.
     The antipathy between the city-dwelling students and the working people, may be partially explained by the rising conflict between peasant farmers and the people who bought their food, which was driven by high food prices that resulted from heavy government subsidization of, and investment in, those peasants' farming operations.

    7. Some of the literature which was distributed by student protesters, contained propaganda about foreigners which could be considered racist, xenophobic, and specifically anti-African.

     8. The protesters have been portrayed in Western media to have been protesting a totalitarian Communist regime, in the name of pushing for social liberalization, liberalization of markets and trade (and opening of the country economically), and democratic political reform.
     However, this is only true if you ignore the fact that many of the protesters were ordinary Chinese workers, rather than students (who tended to be more well-to-do and to reside in cities).
     Other of the protesters were demonstrating because they were opposed to the market liberalization which had been occurring in the country in the 13 years following Chairman Mao Zedong's death. (Note: The Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred in 1989, the year Deng Xiaoping retired, and Hu Yaobang was named his successor.)
     In the view of those Maoists, moves towards trade liberalization would only lead the country away from communism and towards capitalism and the West. They saw this as a back-slide, away from communism.
     This narrative is the exact opposite of what we are led to believe in the West; i.e., that the only people protesting in Tiananmen Square were "liberal" (i.e., freedom-loving) students who despised the totalitarian government. But "liberalism" and "democracy", as communists and Maoists understand them, are only guises for the "liberalism" of capitalism, and the "democracy" practiced by corporate boards rich with Western finance-capital.

     To learn more about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, please visit:

Based on notes taken on June 4th, 2019
Written and published on June 5th, 2019

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