Tiananmen ‘Still Happening’

Former top Chinese official says 1989 crackdown is censored but unforgotten.
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Bao Tong, political dissident and aide to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, Sept. 14, 2009.
Bao Tong, political dissident and aide to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, Sept. 14, 2009.

HONG KONG—While the official history of the deadly crackdown on student-led demonstrations in Beijing 21 years ago remains unwritten, smaller crackdowns on smaller protests are increasing, according to a former top Communist Party aide who was jailed in 1989.

“The central government’s strategy that it employed on June 4, 1989 continues today, and that is to use the army, to use armed force, to suppress different voices,” Bao Tong, former aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, said in an interview to mark the anniversary of the crackdown.

“What is being suppressed is a force which is in favor of democracy and against corruption. What is being protected is a growing chasm between rich and poor,” said Bao, who has remained under house arrest at his Beijing home since his release from a seven-year jail term after Zhao’s fall.

Bao said that the large-scale military force in which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drove thousands of protesters from the heart of Beijing with tanks and machine guns, killing an unknown number, opened the door to the use of force to quash smaller protests across the country.

“Social conflicts are becoming more and more acute, deeper, and more widespread,” said Bao, who has argued for democratic reforms ever since his release from jail in essays published overseas but unseen by most Chinese.

“The sensitivity of the students [in 1989] to these issues wasn’t resolved as part of normal life, but through oppression through military force, which wiped out their voices,” Bao said.

‘Shocking and appalling’

“That was a rare event in the history of mankind, the suppression by a government of the wishes of the people in order to preserve its corrupt rule,” he said.

“This was carried out by a Marxist proletariat, by a party that represents the workers. I think that it was a shocking and appalling event—a tragedy.”

“Some people say that this tragedy is already in the past now. But the truth has yet to be published,” he said.

“Even if we never get another ‘big Tiananmen,’ we are seeing an innumerable procession of ‘small Tiananmens.’ By ‘small Tiananmens,’ I mean mass incidents that involve anti-corruption demands from the people, or demands for democracy. These aren’t just taking place in the capital, but continually at the provincial, county, township, and village levels.”

Bao cited official government statistics with the number of 87,000 mass incidents in 2004, but he went on to cite an academic speaking at a U.S. seminar as saying that the number had risen to 227,000 in 2008.

“You get corrupt officials not just in central government but in provincial, county, town, and village governments,” he said.

“And when they become corrupt, they refuse to allow ordinary people to express an opinion. This is a shocking and appalling thing. This is definitely not a measure aimed at preserving social stability.”

“I believe that it is a regression in the development of human feeling. It takes an inhuman view of problems, and it truly constitutes a naked challenge to civilized values,” Bao added.


Bao said the 21st anniversary of the crackdown was “the same as any other day” because the memories have remained with him during his years under house arrest.

He said the events of 1989 in Beijing are unlikely to be forgotten by Chinese.

“The voices that opposed corruption have disappeared, and the voices that called out for democracy have faded away,” Bao said.

“This disappearance can only be for a limited time, can only be temporary.”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Gu Jirou. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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