Claim: Tiananmen protestors of 1989 were violent

TheNZThrower

Active Member
In an article written by a Gregory Clark in the IBTimes, he alleges that the reason why the soldiers in Tiananmen Square massacred was because the students and protestors attacked first:
True, no one denies that large numbers of citizens and students were killed near the Square by soldiers seemingly out of control. But why?

Let's go back to those photos of the burning buses. The popular view is that they were torched by angry protesters after the shooting began. In fact they were torched before. The evidence? Reports of charred corpses being strung up beneath overpasses (one photographed by Reuters remains unpublished), and photos of badly burned soldiers seeking shelter in nearby houses. Soldiers in that kind of situation tend to go out with guns blazing – just ask the good citizens of Fallujah, Iraq.
In case you didn't know [WARNING: NSFW/NSFL], this is the kind of image Clark was referring to [WARNING: NSFW/NSFL]. However, the mere fact that soldiers were burnt does not prove Clark's claim that the buses were burnt before the soldiers opened fire. It could as well be the case that these soldiers were strung up after the shooting began, or that the soldiers who sought shelter did so after being burned by the fires that were set after the soldiers opened fire. Or they could have been soldiers who were dragged from the vehicles and beaten to death before being set alight. The fact is that there existed incidents of soldiers being dragged out of vehicles and beaten by protestors after the shooting started:
After particularly cold-blooded killings of unarmed civilians, there were several incidents of soldiers pulled from vehicles and being beaten to death by angry crowds. [Meisner, ''The Deng Xiaoping Era'', p.459]
He then claims that according to US Embassy cables at the time, the CCP wanted a peaceful resolution initially:
Fortunately we also have the hourly reports from the US Embassy in the Beijing, available on the Internet, to tell us what actually happened. They note that originally the Beijing authorities had wanted to send in unarmed troops to clear the Square of remaining students as the protests were beginning to wind down. Blocked by the crowds, armed troops were bused in and this time they were blocked by crowds with petrol bombs, with ugly results.
Looking to the declassified Tiananmen Papers from the National Security Archive, Document 9 seems to corroborate his claims:
Earlier today [on June 3rd], approximately 5,000 unarmed troops … were turned back by students and citizens as they attempted to advance on foot to Tiananmen Square, according to embassy and press reports
However, I suspect there are a few key details that are neglected from Clark's post. This is because Document 12 of the Embassy cables mentions there being resistance to the armed soldiers moving into the square, but no mentions of the use of petrol bombs causing the soldiers to shoot:
Embassy Beijing reports that troops using automatic weapons advanced in tanks, APCs, and trucks from several directions on Tiananmen Square June 3rd. There was considerable resistance by demonstrators, and the number of casualties appears high.
It also mentions foreign journalists being beaten by the troops in the Square and having their cameras destroyed:
The CBS bureau chief in Beijing informed us that American citizens Richard Rote, Robert Lum, and Dexter Leong and a New Zealand citizen, all employed by CBS, were severely beaten by Chinese troops on Tiananmen Square. Their cameras were smashed and they dragged into The Great Hall of The People.
This raises the question of why would a government have its military beat up journalists filming their activity? In addition, I find Clark's framing extremely suspect, as it implies that the CCP was oh so kind for using unarmed troops first, when they did so simply because they thought they could disperse an unarmed crowd. In addition, according to ''The Deng Xiaoping Era'' by Chinese Historian Maruice Meisner, the army unit loyal to the then Chinese Leader Deng Xiaoping wasn't able to acquire their equipment as it had to be moved from their bases outside Beijing, which took two weeks from May 24th; which was compounded by the fact that the army units first sent into the square were sympathetic to, or reluctant to shoot the students:
For most Chinese... it seemed inconceivable that the People's Liberation Army would ever be ordered to fire on the peole. This confidence seemed justified by the behaviour of the troops of the 38th Army, the first to enter Beijing after the imposition of martial law on May 20. Blocked by masses of people and barricades, the soldiers retreated or simply sat in place. Some fraternized with the students. The 38th army was ordered to withdraw from the capital on May 23-24, its commanders dismissed by Deng Xiaoping, presumably for failing to order their troops to shoot their way into the city.

Deng now turned to the 27th army, long commanded by Deng's own political ally, Yang Shangkun... There was no doubt that the 27th army would follow Deng's orders. However, the soldiers and their equipment had to be moved from their bases in Shijiazhuang [in Hebei province] and elsewhere, and this took the better part of 2 weeks. It was thus that the PLA attack on Beijing was delayed until the night of June 3. [The Deng Xiaoping Era, p.456]
Clark also neglects to note the reason why troops were even sent to clear the square to begin with, and that is because the CCP implemented martial law on May 20th:
[T]he formal martial law orders, covering key districts of Beijing, were issued by Mayor Chen Xitong on May 20th. Prohibited, among other things, were marches and demonstrations, speeches, student strikes, worker strikes, the distribution of leaflets, and any incitement to ''social unrest.'' To enforce these prohibitions, it was stated that public security personnel, armed police units, and PLA personnel'' were authorised ''to adopt any means to forcefully handle matters.'' [The Deng Xiaoping Era, p.435-436]
Now why would they do that? Well according to Meisner, one of the factors was the organisation of independent trade unions in conjunction with the massive amount of workers who joined in the protests:
The organisation of independent unions, however tiny their memberships, and the spontaneous outpouring of workers in the May 17-18 demonstrations were the crucial factors in the Party's fateful decision to impose martial law. [The Deng Xiaoping Era, p.450-451]
This is because this was seen as a threat to the power of the CCP as Meisner notes:
The participation of workers, the students knew, would be seen by the government as an intolerable political threat, and would quash such possibilities as there were for a peaceful compromise. [The Deng Xiaoping Era, p.448-449]
What this means is that AFAIK, Clark is trying to engage in apologia for the CCP by trying to cast the massacred protestors as violent thugs, when this entire massacre was the making of the CCP themselves, who imposed martial law without an adequate justification.

If there are any errors with my post, please point it out.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
I'd have highlighted this phrase:
To enforce these prohibitions, it was stated that public security personnel, armed police units, and PLA personnel'' were authorised ''to adopt any means to forcefully handle matters.'' [The Deng Xiaoping Era, p.435-436]
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
In an article written by a Gregory Clark in the IBTimes, he alleges that the reason why the soldiers in Tiananmen Square massacred was because the students and protestors attacked first
The point where I, without prior knowledge, start distrusting the author is this:
how did some in those crowds have access to petrol bombs
Content from External Source
Everyone with access to petrol and bottles has access to Molotov cocktails, that's their biggest advantage.

Two things to keep in mind:
the first is that very few soldiers are confirmed to have been killed.
Article:
Former protester Wu Renhua of the Chinese Alliance for Democracy, an overseas group agitating for democratic reform in China, said that he was only able to identify and verify 15 military deaths. Wu asserts that if deaths from events unrelated to demonstrators were removed from the count, only seven deaths among military personnel might be counted as from being "killed in action" by rioters.[156]

The other thing is that most of the shooting happened outside of the square, as the armed military was moving towards it.

Gregory Clark acknowledges this of sorts:
True, no one denies that large numbers of citizens and students were killed near the Square by soldiers seemingly out of control.
Content from External Source
"Seemingly" feels misplaced: "Several were killed in the apartments of high-ranking party officials overlooking the boulevard." (wikipedia) The proper adjective is "clearly".

He then constructs a "but he hit me first" type of narrative:
Blocked by the crowds, armed troops were bused in and this time they were blocked by crowds with petrol bombs, with ugly results.
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"Ugly results" is a euphemism for the military killing the first civilians before they even reached the trolley buses allegedly comprising the provocation.

Clark closes with Hou Dejian:
I have to say that I did not see any of that. I myself was in the Square until 6:30 in the morning.
Content from External Source
He counts on his readers having forgotten that we agreed that the massacres occurred "near the square", not on it, as was first erroneously reported ("one of the more spectacular UK black information operations" being news outlets associating the protests in the square with the killings and getting the location wrong).

None of the "who did what first" prevaricating (that lacks convincing evidence in any case!) can obscure the fact that the Chinese response was completely out of proportion to what had been, and mostly remained, a non-violent protest.
 

TheNZThrower

Active Member
None of the "who did what first" prevaricating (that lacks convincing evidence in any case!) can obscure the fact that the Chinese response was completely out of proportion to what had been, and mostly remained, a non-violent protest.
True, especially since the CCP explicitly declared martial law first, which very much galvanised the protestors and solidified their resolve to resist.

Also, where did you learn what ugly results meant in this context from? I'm curious.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
Also, where did you learn what ugly results meant in this context from?
This is the context:
Blocked by the crowds, armed troops were bused in and this time they were blocked by crowds with petrol bombs, with ugly results. Even so, some units tried to restrain the out-of-control solders. And an embassy report of students killing a soldier trying to enter the Square could explain some of the carnage on its periphery.
Content from External Source
All of these phrases mean "soldiers killed civilians" without being explicit about it.
 

TheNZThrower

Active Member
Regarding the Embassy Cables, I think I've found the one which Clark claimed proved that the massacre was provoked by the beating to death of a soldier dragged from an APC:
According to a Chinese American who got caught in the violence at Tiananmen Square in the early morning of June 4, both soldiers and students initially attempted to show restraint, but the ''city people'' refused to follow student orders. The beating to death of a PLA soldier, who was in the 1st APC to enter Tiananmen Square, in full view of the other waiting PLA troops, appeared to have sparked the shooting that followed.
However, what it likely meant was that as the eyewitness in question was in the square on the 4th, or after the first round of shootings started as the troops advanced towards the square, there was a second shooting that happened within the square caused by agitated demonstrators beating a troop to death. This is because the wording suggests that the APC entered Tiananmen Square proper, which didn't happen until early in the morning of June 4th. This is backed up by prior embassy cables that mentioned how protestors who didn't leave the square on command were fired upon.

The first cable to mention this is the Secretary of State's morning summary on early June 4:
Troops backed by tanks and APCs battled crowds of civilians for 7 hours before reaching the square shortly before dawn. Student demonstrators began to leave Tiananmen before the troops moved in; troops opened fire on those who remained.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
This is because the wording suggests that the APC entered Tiananmen Square proper, which didn't happen until early in the morning of June 4th.
Yes.
The first volleys of live ammunition, the first civilian deaths, and the burning buses all happened on the 3rd.

Any news coming out of a restricted information zone (as opposed to, say, a football stadium or a parliament session) is initially incomplete and almost certain to contain misinterpretation. If one's knowledge of the situation is represented by this cable, it would lead one to assume that there was a massacre on Tianmen Square, provoked by protestors, but neither is true in light of the final picture—and neither is this misinterpretation a "black psy-op".
 
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