Tag Archives: China

June 2, 1989 (a Friday)

Tiananmen Square - June 2, 1989

In the early afternoon on this date, close to a thousand students rode bicycles to the office of Beijing Dailyand burned copies of that day’s edition in a protest of the newspaper’s “degenerative” report on the movement.

Later, Liu Xiaobo led Gao Xin, Zhou Dou, and Hou Dejian into the Square and announced their own hunger strike. They would become known as the “Four Gentlemen.” Liu Xiaobo read their manifesto criticizing both the government and the students’ erratic behavior during the Democracy Movement and vowed to steer the movement into a more sensible direction. In this document, which Liu drafted himself, he declared for the first time his famous slogan, “We have no enemies,” which he insisted to this day.

Four Gentlemen Hunger Strike Manifesto
June 2, 1989

We start our hunger strike! We protest! We call upon people! We repent!

We are not looking for death. We are searching for true life.

Under the tremendous pressure of irrational militant violence by the Li Peng regime, Chinese intellectuals must end their all-words-but-no-action tradition of osteomalacia. We must protest the military rule with our actions. We must call for the birth of a brand new political culture with our actions. We must repent the mistakes we made from our long-time weakness. Each of us bears a part of the responsibility for the backwardness of our Chinese nation.

1. The Purpose of Hunger Strike

The current democratic movement, unprecedented in China’s history, has always used legal, non-violent, and rational means to appeal for liberty, democracy, and human rights. However, the Li Peng regime went so far as to mobilize a military force of hundreds of thousands to suppress the unarmed students and people of all walks. Therefore, we start our hunger strike, not for petition, but for protesting the martial law and military rule! We advocate the pushing for progress in China’s democratization with peaceful means and we are against any form of violence. However, we are not afraid of violence. We want to use peaceful means to demonstrate the toughness of our civil and demoractic force, to demolish the undemocratic order supported by bayonets and lies! This ultra-foolish act of using martial law and military rule against students and masses in peaceful petition establishes a precedence of the very worst kind, put the Communist Party, the government, and the military in shame, and destroys the fruit of a decade of reform and openness in a single day!

The thousdands of years history of China is filled with hatred and violent clashes. Even in the modern era, the sense of enermy is a heritage for Chinese people. After 1949, the slogan of “Class Struggle as the Guideline” pushed the tranditional senses of hatred, enemy, and violence even more to the extreme. This military rule is also a result of the “class struggle”-style political culture. Because of this, we start our hunger strike, to call on Chinese people to gradually abandon and eliminate the senses of enemy and hatred, absolutely abolish the “class struggle”-style political culture — because hatred could only produce violence and tyrancy. We must begin China’s democratic reconstruction with a democractic sense of tolerance and cooperation. The democratic politics is a politics without enemy and hatred, but only consultation, discussion, and voting based on mutual respect, mutual tolerance, and multure compromises. As the Premier, Li Peng has made serious mistakes and should resign according to democratic procedures. But Li Peng is not our enemy. Even after he steps down, he should continue to enjoy his rights as a citizen, including the rights to uphold his incorrect opinions. We call upon the government and every ordinary citizen to abandon the old political culture and start a new political culture. We demand the government to end the military rule immediately. And we call upon students and the government to once again negotiate peacefully and to resolve their conflicts with consulation and dialogue.

This student movement has received unprecedented sympathy, understanding, and support from all walks of the society. The implementation of the military rule has turned the student movement into a democratic movement participated by all people. But there is no denying that many people support students only out of humanitarian compassion and resentment to the government and lack a true sense of citizenship out of political responsibilities. Therefore, we call upon the whole society to gradually abandon the spectator and mere sympathy attitudes and build up a true sense of citizenship. First and foremost, citizenship is a sense of political equality. Every citizen must have the self-confidence that his own political rights is equal to that of the Premier. Secondly, citizenship is not only justice and sympathy, but also a rational urge of participation. This is also the sense of political responsibility. Every person does not just sympathize and support but participate directly in the democratic reconstruction. Finally, citizenship is the consciousness of taking responsibilities and obligations. The existence of rational and legal social politics is to everyone’s credit. The existence of irrational and illegal social politics is to everyone’s fault. Consciously participating in social politics and consciously taking on responsibilities is every citizen’s loyal obligation. Chinese people must understand: in democraticized politics, everybody must be a citizen first, and then be a student, professor, worker, cadre, soldier, etc..

For thousands years, the Chinese society went through vicious cycles of overthrowing an old emperor and establishing a new one. History has shown that the stepping down by one leader who had lost people’s heart and the rise of another leader beloved by the poeple cannot solve the true problems in Chinese politics. What we need is not a perfect savior but a complete democratic system. Therefore, I call for the following: First, the society should form legal, independent organizations by various means, gradually establish a grass-root political force to balance the government power. Because the essence of democracy is balance, we would rather have ten devils balancing each other than a single angle with absolute power. Second, gradually establish a thorough procedure for impeachment by impeaching leaders who made serious mistakes. It is not important as of who to step up or down, it is important in how they step up or down. An undemocractic appointing and firing procedure can only lead to dictatorship.

In this movement, the government and students have all made mistakes. The mistakes by the government are mainly for standing on the opposite side of the vast student and resident mass and escalating the conflicts, guided by the old “class struggle” political mindset. Students’ mistakes are mainly in the shortcomings of their own organizations. They showed many non-democratic elements during their efforts in petitioning for democracy. Therefore, we call upon both government and students sides to reflect calmly. It is our opinion that, as a whole, the main mistakes in this movement are on the government’s side. The actions of demonstrations and hunger strike are ways for people to express their opinions. They are absolutely rational and legal, and not turmoil. But the government ignored the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution and adopted a tyranical political mindset to characterize this movement as turmiol. This led to a series of incorrect policies and again and again pushed the movement to new heights, made the conflict more and more dramatic. Therefore, the real culprit of creating turmoil is government’s errenous policies, whose seriousness is not any less than that during the Culture Revolution. It is only due to the restraints of students and residents, including the many strong voices by enlightened individuals in the Party, government, and military, that we are spared of any large-scale bloodshed. Because of this, the government must admit and reflect on these mistakes. We believe that it is still not too late for corrections. The government should learn a hearty lesson from this large-scale democratic movement, acquire a new habit of listening to people’s voices, get used to people expressing their opinions with the rights guanranteed by the Constitution, and learn to govern the nation democratically. This wide-range democratic movement is teaching the government how to manage society with democracy and rule of law. The mistakes on the students’ side are mainly in the chaos in their internal organizations, the lack of effenciency and democratic procedure. For instance, their goals are democracy but their means and procedures are undemocratic; their theory is democratic but their handling of real issues are undemocratic; they lack the spirit of cooperation, their powers cancel each other and led to confusion in decision-making; their finance is a mess and waste is rampant; they have abundance of emotion but not enough of reasoning; they possess too much sense of priviledge but lacks equality, etc. etc.. In the most recent hundred years, the struggle to achieve democracy by the Chinese people has mostly limited at the level of ideology and slogans. It only concerns with the idea of enlightening but not the actual implementations, only the goal but not the means, processes and procedures. We believe that the true realization of a democratic politics is the democratization of the actual process, means, and procedures. Therefore, we call upon Chinese people to abandon the traditional empty democray of ideology and slogans and to begin the actual implementation, to transfer the democratic movement centered in enlightenment to a democractic movement of actual implementations, acting from every detailed piece of issues. We call upon the students to start their own reflections by focusing on establishing the order within Tiananmen Square.

The big mistakes the government made are also represented in their use of the term “a small clique”. With our hunger strike, we want to tell all the media home and abroad that the socalled “a small clique” means such a group of people: they are not students but they are willingly participating in this students-led democratic movement as citizens with strong senses of political responsibility. Everything we do is legal and rational. They want to use their intelligence and action to help the government repent in the areas of political culture, personal character, and ethical power, openly acknowledge and correct its mistakes; to help the students refine their independent organizations with democratic and legal procedures. We must admit that it is an unfamiliar concept to every Chinese citizen to govern the nation democratically. All Chinese citizens must learn from the scratch, that includes the top leaders in the Party and the government. In this process, mistakes by the government and the people are unavoidable. The key is to acknowledge the mistakes, correct the mistakes, and turn these mistakes into positive treature so we can learn how to govern our nation democratically through the process of correcting mistakes.

2. Our Slogans

We have no enemies! Don’t let hatred and violence poison our intellegence and China’s democratization process!

We need to reflect! It’s everyone’s responsility for China’s falling behind!

We are citizens first!

We are not looking for death! We are seeking the true life!

3. Hunger Strike Location, Time, and Rules

Location: Under the Monument of People’s Heros at Tiananmen Square
Time: 72 hours, 6/2 4pm to 6/5 4pm
Special Note: Since Hou Dejian has to travel to Hong Kong for recording in 6 days, his hunger strike will be 48 hours, 6/2 4pm to 6/4 4pm
Rules: Only consume plain water, any beverage containing nutritious ingredients (super, starch, fat, protein) is not allowed

4. Hunger Strikers
Liu Xiaobo: Doctor in Literature, Lecturer at Beijing Normal University
Zhou Dou: formerly lecturer at Peking University, Stone Corp.
Hou Dejian: Known song writer
Gao Xin: editor-in-chief of Beijing Normal University Weekly, member of Chinese Communist Party

June 2, 1989 - A woman soldier sings among pro-democracy protesters occupying Tiananmen Square. Police officers and troops would occasionally mix with protesters in an effort to keep the demonstration peaceful.

[The above is a translation. The original in Chinese can be viewed here.]

There were clear signs that tension between the students occupying the Tiananmen Square and the government was gradually building on June 2, 1989. More soldiers were seen around the area, either marching or jogging in formation, or just wandering about. Some of them were detained by students as spies but were eventually released.

May 30, 1989 (a Tuesday)

Goddess of Democracy

On this date, dissident Chinese art students finished setting up a large, 10-meter-tall (33 ft) sculpture called the “Goddess of Democracy” (民主女神) in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Modeled after the Statue of Liberty, it became one of the enduring symbols of the protest.

The art students who created the statue wrote a declaration that said in part:

At this grim moment, what we need most is to remain calm and united in a single purpose. We need a powerful cementing force to strengthen our resolve: That is the Goddess of Democracy. Democracy…You are the symbol of every student in the Square, of the hearts of millions of people. …Today, here in the People’s Square, the people’s Goddess stands tall and announces to the whole world: A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people! The new era has begun! …The statue of the Goddess of Democracy is made of plaster, and of course cannot stand here forever. But as the symbol of the people’s hearts, she is divine and inviolate. Let those who would sully her beware: the people will not permit this! …On the day when real democracy and freedom come to China, we must erect another Goddess of Democracy here in the Square, monumental, towering, and permanent. We have strong faith that that day will come at last. We have still another hope: Chinese people, arise! Erect the statue of the Goddess of Democracy in your millions of hearts! Long live the people! Long live freedom! Long live democracy!

Protesters surrounding the sculpture of the Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 30, 1989.

The document was signed by the eight art academies that sponsored the creation of the statue: The Central Academies of Fine Arts, Arts and Crafts, Drama, and Music; the Beijing Film Academy; the Beijing Dance Academy; the Academy of Chines Local Stage Arts; and the Academy of Traditional Music.

Photo from May 30, 1989; a student from an art institute plasters the neck of the Goddess of Democracy

The Goddess of Democracy had stood for only five days before being destroyed by soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army in the assault on Tiananmen that would end the Democracy Movement. Nevertheless, the original statue has become an icon of liberty and a symbol of the free speech and democracy movements.

May 19, 1989 (a Friday)

On this date, Communist China’s General Secretary Zhao Ziyang made his last public appearance, when he visited student demonstrators in front of the Forbidden City and urged them to leave Tiananmen Square, warning that police would use force if they did not. The protests had begun several weeks earlier over the government’s refusal to allow public mourning upon the death on April 15th of pro-democracy official, Hu Yaobang.

At 4:50 am, in the darkness, Zhao Ziyang showed up on the edge of Tiananmen Square unexpectedly. He had come without permission from either the Poliburo or Deng Xiaoping. To his annoyance he realized that he had been followed by his hardliner rival Li Peng, whose appearance in the Square seemed ridiculous as Li was so thoroughly despised by the students. With Li behind him like a shadow, Zhao walked toward the fleet of city buses in which the hunger strikers were living. The exhausted and downbeat national leader was accompanied by his aide, Wen Jiabao, and other staff and guards. The entourage caused quite a stir. Zhao boarded one of the buses housing hunger strikers, shook hands, and gave an unprepared speech to a few cameras. He rumbled through, begging students to stop the hunger strike, but offered nothing other than the famous farewell-ish line, “I am old, I really don’t care any more…”


Zhao made this nocturnal visit after the Communist Chinese Politburo had decided to declare martial law and send in combat troops against Zhao’s wishes. Martial law was formally announced on the evening of May 19 in the Great Hall of the People, where Li Peng addressed thousands of government cadres. At midnight May 19, a few hours after students ended their hunger strike, the loudspeaker on Tiananmen Square announced the government’s martial law: Military troops were to enter the city and clear the Square. The martial law was made official throughout the nation in the morning of May 20.

That dazed-looking aide behind Zhao Ziyang is Wen Jiabao, more recently China’s prime minister.

Mr Zhao was a powerful figure within Communist China’s opaque apparatus of power, but his decision to back the young protesters in Tiananmen Square cost him his career, and earned him 16 years under arrest in his Beijing home. His removal from power was “effectively a coup,” according to American diplomatic officer Raymond Burghardt, who was chief political officer in Beijing at the time. Ironically, Zhao’s aide, Wen Jiabao, escaped the taint of his allegiance to his superior and is today the Prime Minister of Communist China.

Remarkably, the secret memoirs of Zhao Ziyang exploded into the open, four years after his death, on May 14, 2009. Dictated during his years of house arrest and smuggled out on cassettes disguised as children’s music or Peking opera, they were published as a book entitled, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang. Thus, Zhao posthumously became the first senior member of the Chinese Communist Party to openly criticize the government and the actions of his former colleagues with the publication of his memoirs.

The current Communist Chinese leadership says the crackdown was a “disturbance” by “hooligans” and says crushing the revolt was essential to ensure a stable foundation for the country’s economic growth. Mr. Zhao takes the opposite view.

Excerpts from Prisoner of the State (2009)
By Zhao Ziyang

On the 17 May meeting:

I walked out as soon as the meeting adjourned. At that moment, I was extremely upset. I told myself that no matter what, I refused to become the General Secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on students.

On the Tiananmen crackdown:

On the night of June 3rd, while sitting in the courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire. A tragedy to shock the world had not been averted, and was happening after all… First, it was determined then that the student movement was a planned conspiracy of anti-Party, anti-socialist elements with leadership. So now we must ask, who were these leaders? What was the plan? What was the conspiracy? What evidence exists to support this? Second, it was said that this event was aimed at overthrowing the People’s Republic and the Communist Party. Where is the evidence? I had said at the time that most people were only asking us to correct our flaws, not attempting to overthrow our political system. Third, can it be proven that the June Fourth movement was “counterrevolutionary turmoil,” as it was designated? The students were orderly. Many reports indicate that on the occasions when the People’s Liberation Army came under attack, in many incidents it was the students who had come to its defense. Large numbers of city residents blocked the PLA from entering the city. Why? Were they intent on overthrowing the republic?

On democracy:

It would be wrong if our Party never makes the transition from a state that was suitable in a time of war to a state more suitable to a democracy society… The ruling Party must achieve two breakthroughs. One is to allow other political parties and a free press to exist. The second… is, the Party needs to adopt democratic procedures and use democratic means to reform itself… Different opinions must be allowed to exist, and different factions should be made legitimate.

The last word:

Whether the Communist Party persists should be determined by the consequences of society’s political openness and the competition between the Communist Party and other political powers (…) The trend is irrefutable, that the fittest will survive.

According to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, which is headquartered in Hong Kong, Mr. Zhao had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 1999.

May 18, 1989 (a Thursday)

18 May 1989.   Beijing University students during a huge demonstration at Tiananmen Square start an unlimited hunger strike, part of the mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.

18 May 1989. Beijing University students during a huge demonstration at Tiananmen Square start an unlimited hunger strike, part of the mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.

On this date, a crowd of protesters, estimated to number more than one million, marched through the streets of Beijing with songs, slogans, and banners calling for greater democracy and the ouster of some hard-line Chinese officials.

China, Beijing, Tian'anmen Square. 18 May 1989. Trucks arrive from all over the city as well as from the country.

China, Beijing, Tian’anmen Square. 18 May 1989. Trucks arrive from all over the city as well as from the country.

Also, this morning Li Peng, member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee and premier of the State Council, and others met with representatives of the students, who had been fasting at Tiananmen Square, at the Great Hall of the People. On the evening of May 18th, Party elders and Politburo members, including Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng, approved the declaration of martial law.

Chinese workers parade through Beijing streets, 18 May 1989, in support of student hunger strikers gathered at Tiananmen Square. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.

Chinese workers parade through Beijing streets, 18 May 1989, in support of student hunger strikers gathered at Tiananmen Square. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.

The protests were part of the months-long movement to occupy Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, which culminated in the brutal repression of June 1989. In the wake of the crackdown, the Chinese government condemned the protests as a “counter-revolutionary rebellion”, though it has never publicly accounted for those killed. The massacre caused horror around the world, and China was marginalized by the international community, but as Deng Xiaoping reportedly said: “The West always forgets.

May 10, 1990 (a Thursday)

Tiananmen Square – June 2, 1989

On this date, the government of the People’s Republic of China announced that it was releasing 211 people arrested during the crackdown on massive protests held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June 1989. A brief government statement simply indicated, “Lawbreakers involved in the turmoil and counterrevolutionary rebellion last year have been given lenient treatment and released upon completion of investigations.” The statement also declared that over 400 other “law-breakers” were still being investigated while being held in custody. Most observers viewed the prisoner release as an attempt by the communist government of China to dispel much of the terrible publicity it received for its brutal suppression of the 1989 protests. In fact, in the United States, where the administration of President George Bush was considering the extension of most-favored-nation status to China, the release of the prisoners was hailed as a step in the right direction.

April 26, 1989 (a Wednesday)

The April 27th march was a protest to the April 26th editorial.

On this date, Deng Xiaoping, the powerful leader of the Communist Party Elders of China, denounced the student demonstrations in Beijing in an editorial published in the People’s Daily. He called the protests dongluan (meaning “turmoil” or “rioting”) by a “tiny minority.” These highly emotive terms were associated with the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution. Rather than tamping down the students’ fervor, Deng’s editorial further inflamed it. The government had just made the second of several grave mistakes that would lead to the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June, 1989.

April 22, 1989 (a Saturday)

At picture right, it’s Zhou Yongjun on the steps of the Great Hall of the People on April 22, 1989. Zhou is flanking Guo Haifeng, who is holding a scroll with the students’ demands to reform China.

On this date, the state funeral for Hu Yaobang, the reform-minded Chinese Communist leader whom the students were honoring, was held.  A small handful of student leaders, including Zhou Yongjun and Guo Haifeng, appeared on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, clutching their petition for Chinese reform.  They knelt down on the steps in the classic Chinese tradition of waiting for the emperor to receive their petition.  Chinese government officials refused to receive the delegation.  This moment became an iconic photo of the Tiananmen Square protests.

The Seven Point Peition

The “Seven Point Petition” had been drafted on April 18, 1989.In the early morning, hundreds of students from Peking University had gathered around the Monument to People’s Heroes at Tiananmen Square. They had spent the previous night there guarding the wreaths and flowers dedicated to the newly deceased Hu Yaobang.  Wang Dan, Guo Haifeng, Li Jinjin, and Zhang Boli all had been among the crowd and proposed to write a formal petition to the government. After much discussion, the following became their seven demands for government reform:

  • Reevaluate and praise Hu Yaobang’s contributions
  • Negate the previous anti-“spiritual pollution” and anti-“Bourgeois Liberation” movements
  • Allow unofficial press and freedom of speech
  • Publish government leaders’ income and holdings
  • Abolish the “Beijing Ten-Points” [restricting public assembly and demonstrations]
  • Increase education funding and enhance the compensation for intellectuals
  • Report this movement faithfully

The rebuff of the students would prove to be the first of several grave mistakes by the government that led to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June, 1989.  On April 23, 1989, Zhou was elected the first President of the Autonomous Students Federation of Beijing Universities.  The students had decided that they needed a central organization to speak for the whole array of Beijing schools that were represented in Tiananmen Square.


Hua Tianyou, professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, sculpted the May 4th Movement of 1919, a relief on the Monument to the Peoples Heroes, in Beijing in June 1953.

On May 4, 1919, thousands of students from 13 Beijing universities had gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest their government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which included terms that many felt were unfair to China. That movement soon spread to Shanghai and from students to workers, paving the way for the formation of the Communist Party. Party leaders had viewed the May Fourth movement as so critical to the Communist revolution that in 1958, when they unveiled the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the center of Tiananmen Square, the faces of the 1919 protestors were carved into one side.

In 1989, when students once again converged on the square, they chose the monument as their base. “May Fourth was very important to Chinese history,” says Wang Chaohua, a student organizer who appeared on the government list of 21 most-wanted leaders after the Tiananmen crackdown. “Like the students of May Fourth, we wanted to propose something new.” In both 1919 and 1989, says Wang, who recently completed a doctorate in Asian languages and literature at the University of California at Los Angeles, “political authorities did not command the public imagination. The vacuum was filled by intellectual energy.

April 15, 1989 (a Saturday)

Hu Yaobang (r.) and Deng Xiaoping – Sept 1981

On this date, former Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, deposed in 1987, died of a massive heart attack. People began to gather in Tiananmen Square to commemorate Hu and voice their discontents. This was the beginning of events that would lead to the Tiananmen Square massacrein June.

Hu Yaobang was a reformist, who served as General Secretary from 1980 to 1987. He advocated rehabilitation of people persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, greater autonomy for Tibet, rapprochement with Japan, and social and economic reform. As a result, he was forced out of office by the hardliners in January of 1987, and made to offer humiliating public “self-criticisms” for his allegedly bourgeois ideas.

Chinese Students Demonstrate After Hu Yaobang’s Death, photo dated 21-22 April 1989.

One of the charges leveled against Hu was that he had encouraged (or at least allowed) wide-spread student protests in late 1986. As General Secretary, he refused to crack down on such protests, believing that dissent by the intelligentsia should be tolerated by the Communist government.

Official media made just brief mention of Hu’s death, and the government at first did not plan to give him a state funeral. In reaction, university students from across Beijing marched on Tiananmen Square, shouting acceptable, government-approved slogans, and calling for the rehabilitation of Hu’s reputation. Bowing to this pressure, the government decided to accord Hu a state funeral after all.

April 8, 563 B.C.E. (?)

Colored lanterns in S. Korea at the Lotus Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, was born Prince Siddhartha Gotama in the foothills of the Himalayas over 2,500 years ago. His birthday is traditionally celebrated on the first full moon day of the sixth month (Vesakha) of the Indian lunar calendar (which would be the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar) except in years in which there’s an extra full moon, and then Buddha’s birthday falls in the seventh month. Well, except where it starts a week earlier. And in Tibet it’s usually a month later…….

Oh, and in Japan, Buddha’s Birthday is always celebrated on April 8.


Since the occurrence of the full moon varies from year to year, naturally the actual date varies from year to year (except in Japan).  In Southeast Asia, the day is called Vesak Puja or Visakha or Wesak.   “Puja” means “religious service,” so “Vesak Puja” can be translated “the religious service for the month of Visakha.”  This full moon day is the most commonly observed date for Buddha’s birthday.  Upcoming dates for Vesak Puja include:

  • 2010: May 21
  • 2011: May 10
  • 2012: May 28
  • 2013: May 17
  • 2014: May 6
  • 2015: May 25

In South Korea, Buddha’s birthday is a gala week-long celebration that ends on the first full moon day of the lunar month Vesakha.  Throughout Korea, city streets and temples are decorated with lanterns. At Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, the first day begins with religious ceremonies, followed by a street fair near the temple. In the evening a gala lantern parade stretches for miles through the heart of Seoul.  Here are upcoming dates for the celebration in South Korea:

  • 2010: May 15-May 21
  • 2011: May 4-May 10

Buddha’s birthday in Japan.

In Japan, Buddha’s birthday is always celebrated on April 8, although it is not a national holiday.  This day is called Hana Matsuri or “Flower Festival.” In China, the first celebration of the Buddha’s birth is said to have taken place on April 8 in the latter Chao dynasty (C.E. 319–355) and in Japan it was first held in 660 at the Ganko-ji temple near Nara by order of Empress Suiko. On this day, the statue of the infant Buddha is placed in a flower-decorated shrine symbolizing the beautiful Lumbini garden where the Buddha was born. Sometimes it is carried on a white elephant in a parade, recalling the legendary elephant that brought the Buddha from heaven to the womb of his mother, Queen Maya. People gather around the shrine and pour sweet tea on the statue of the infant Buddha as a substitute for the nectar which is said to have been sprinkled by celestial beings at the time of his birth. The service is therefore called the Kambutsu (Anointing the Buddha) Service.

Celebrating in Tibet.

The entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, which usually begins in May and ends in June, is called Saga Dawa (meaning “fourth month”). The seventh day of Saga Dawa is the date of the historical Buddha’s birth for Tibetans. However, the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa, called Saga Dawa Duchen. This is the single most important holiday for Tibetan Buddhism, usually observed with pilgrimages and other visits to temples and shrines. The highlight of Saga Dawa Duchen is the raising of a huge pole which is festooned with prayer flags galore, as pilgrims circumambulate the central ring area with prayer wheels in motion.

March 29, 1979 (a Thursday)

Ban the Chinese Government

On 29 March 1979, Wei Jingsheng, an electrician at the Beijing Zoo, was arrested by Chinese Communist bosses for writing the article “Do We Want Democracy or a New Dictatorship?” It had appeared in the March 1979 issue of Exploration, in which he warned the Chinese people that Deng Xiaoping could turn into a new dictator if the present political system continued. Wei’s boldness infuriated Deng, who ordered Wei’s arrest. Six months later at a show trial from which his family and friends were excluded, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and placed in solitary confinement as an example to others. A transcript of the trial, in which Wei rejected the charges against him, came into hands of editors of April 5th Forum, who printed it in their magazine. They too were arrested.

March 28, 2009 (a Saturday)


On this date, the Chinese Communist Party bosses marked 50 years of direct control over Tibet by raising their national flag in the regional capital and commemorating a new political holiday honoring what they call the “liberation of slaves from brutal feudal rule”. Testimonials about the “misery of life” in old Tibet kicked off the short ceremony – televised live from in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa – to mark the end of the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet. March 28 marks the date when Beijing ended the 1959 Tibetan uprising, sending the Dalai Lama over the Himalayas into exile and placing Tibet under its direct rule for the first time.

In contrast, the Tibetan government-in-exile said on its Web site that the new holiday, crowned “Serfs Liberation Day”, would be a day of mourning for Tibetans around the world. “Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative,” it said.

Press Statement: China’s Serf Emancipation Day Hides Repression in Tibet
The Kashag
27 March 2009

China’s decision to observe tomorrow as the so-called Serf Emancipation Day is aggravating problems in Tibet. Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative. We believe the observance of the “Serf Emancipation Day” on 28 March is aimed at destabilizing and creating chaos in Tibet by a few individuals with overriding self-interest. If the Tibetans, losing their patience, took to the streets in protest, the Chinese leaders will have the excuse to use even more brutal force to crackdown.

Already the whole of Tibet is under heavy security clampdown, with additional troops deployed. Despite these measures, Tibetans, considering conditions in Tibet unbearable, collectively and individually, are taking to the streets, distributing pamphlets calling for freedom, bringing down the Chinese flag and replacing it with the Tibetan flag. This year, Tibetans did not celebrate the Tibetan New Year to mourn those killed in last year’s crackdown on the widespread protests that erupted throughout Tibet. In a development unprecedented in the history of Tibet, Tibetans in Kanze in eastern Tibet have decided not to farm their fields in a unique form of civil disobedience to protest China’s heavy-handed rule. One monk, Tashi Sangpo of Ragya monastery in Golok in north-eastern Tibet was arrested on 10 March 2009, for allegedly hoisting a Tibetan flag. He escaped his captors and drowned himself in the nearby Yellow River. These acts and many more are the true Tibetan attitude to “emancipation” by China.

This day will be observed by Tibetans throughout the world and especially those in Tibet as a day of mourning. No less a figure than Hu Yaobang, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, who visited Lhasa in 1980, apologized to the Tibetan people and said the conditions in Tibet were worse than pre-1959 Tibet.

The late Panchen Lama said in 1989, a few days before his untimely death, that on the whole China’s rule in Tibet brought greater suffering than benefit for the Tibetan people.

Since 1949/50 when China invaded Tibet, over 1.2 million Tibetans died as a direct result of Chinese communist rule and more than 6,000 monasteries were razed to the ground. Today, it is hard to come across a Tibetan family that has not had at least one member imprisoned or killed by the Chinese regime. This day will be observed as the day when the Tibetans as a people lost all vestiges of their basic individual and collective freedoms.

One justification for China’s “liberation” of Tibet is that old Tibet was feudal and repressive. This is a blatant distortion of the nature of Tibet’s old society. In the early mid-20th century, there was no big gap between the peasants in Tibet and China. Moreover, the Tibetan peasants enjoyed more freedom and better living conditions.

To prove that the old Tibetan society was repressive, the Chinese authorities are currently organising an exhibition of Tibetan prisons and the punishments meted out. However, the reality is that the size of Nangze Shar Prison in Lhasa, heavily used in Chinese propaganda, could accommodate not more than a score of prisoners. In fact, the total number of prisoners in the whole of Tibet before 1959 hardly crossed hundred. After the so-called liberation and emancipation of the Tibetan “serfs”, prisons have come up in every part of Tibet. In Lhasa alone, there are 5 major prisons with a total prison population between 3,500 – 4,000.

The best judge of whether they have been “liberated” is the Tibetan people. They vote with their feet and lives by crossing the Himalayas to seek freedom and happiness outside of their “liberated” Tibet. They also sacrifice their lives to inform the world of the terrible conditions prevailing in Tibet. This was massively demonstrated last year when a series of sustained and widespread protests erupted throughout Tibet. If the “serfs” are happy with their “emancipation”, why are they risking lives and limbs to protest Chinese rule in Tibet.

“Just as Europe can’t return to the medieval era and the United States can’t go back to the times before the Civil War, Tibet can never restore the old serf society era,” Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss of the region, told the crowd of more than 13,000. But his statement reflects how the Chinese government continues its deceit and propaganda: the people of Tibet, including the Dalai Lama, do NOT seek to institute a “serf” society. In 1963 the Dalai Lama promulgated a constitution for a democratic Tibet. It has been successfully implemented, to the extent possible, by the Government-in-exile.

Furthermore, at the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that a country is backward cannot justify invading it. Backwardness was often advanced as a justification for 19th century colonialism, what Rudyard Kipling called “The White Man’s burden” when he encouraged the United States to colonize the Philippines. The fact that China relies on the “backwardness” argument to support its occupation of Tibet is a further indication of a classic colonial occupation.

Thus, the Chinese invaded and annexed Tibet to exploit its untapped natural resources, pure and simple. “Tibet belongs to China, not a few separatists or the international forces against China. Any conspiracy attempting to separate the region from China is doomed to fail,” Zhang said.

Also, how could China have “liberated” Tibet in 1949 if it claims prior sovereignty? It is odd that China, on the one hand, claims that Tibet has been part of China since the 13th century, and then, on the other, claims that it “liberated” Tibet in 1949 from an unfortunate past. But, liberated it from what? You can only liberate a country from a situation that your country does not control. Therefore, the Chinese government’s use of the term “liberate” seems to be an admission that China has not governed Tibet contiguously since the Mongol invasions. Either this, or it would have to argue that it was liberating Tibet from circumstances that China created while Tibet was under its control.

It should be noted that numerous countries made statements in the course of UN General Assembly debates following the invasion of Tibet that reflected their recognition of Tibet’s independent status. Thus, for example, the delegate from the Philippines declared: “It is clear that on the eve of the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was not under the rule of any foreign country”. He described China’s occupation as “the worst type of imperialism and colonialism past or present”. The delegate from Thailand reminded the assembly that the majority of states “refute the contention that Tibet is a part of China.” The US joined most other UN members in condemning the Chinese “aggression” and “invasion” of Tibet.

In the course of Tibet’s 2,000-year history, the country came under a degree of foreign influence only for short periods of time in the 13th and 18th centuries. Few independent countries today can claim as impressive a record. As the ambassador to Ireland at the UN remarked during the General Assembly debates on the question of Tibet, “[f]or thousands of years, or for a couple of thousand of years at any rate, [Tibet] was as free and as fully in control of its own affairs as any nation in this Assembly, and a thousand times more free to look after its own affairs than many of the nations here.”

In May 1991, the Senate of the United States of America passed a resolution declaring Tibet an occupied country whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Over the years many more resolutions have been passed by various international bodies.

And what has “liberation” meant to the Tibetan people? The International Commission of Jurists (1959 and 1960) judged the Chinese guilty of genocide in Tibet, “the gravest crime of which any person or nation can be accused … the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” and detailed atrocities to which Tibetans were subjected. These included public execution by shooting, crucifixion, burning alive, drowning, vivisection, starvation, strangulation, hanging, scalding, being buried alive, disemboweling and beheading; imprisonment without trial; torture; forced labour; and forcible sterilization. Many people, including children under 15 years, disappeared without trace.

The United Nations passed a resolution in 1959 calling for respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life based on the principles of fundamental human rights in the Charter of the United Nations and on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Communist China ignored this resolution and 1961 saw another resolution stating that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be followed and Tibetans be granted their rights, including the right to self determination. The same was repeated in 1965 by the United Nations General Assembly.

In the 2000s, many view the Chinese genocide in Tibet as the result of the territorial ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party bosses. It is seen as stemming from their systematic attempt to expand the traditional territory of China by annexing permanently the vast, approximately 900,000-square-mile territory of traditional Tibet. Tibet represents about 30 percent of China’s land surface, while the Tibetans represent .004 percent of China’s population. Tibetans were not a minority but an absolute majority in their own historical environment. Chinese government efforts can be seen as aiming at securing permanent control of the Tibetans’ land. For this reason, some observers see genocide in Tibet as not merely referring to the matter of religion, that is, of destroying Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese policies have involved the extermination of more than 1 million Tibetans, the forced relocation of millions of Tibetan villagers and nomads, the population transfer of millions of Chinese settlers, and systematic assimilation.


March 14, 2008 (a Friday)

Chinese military in Lhasa, Tibet on 14 March 2008

On this date, Communist Chinese troops sealed off three of Lhasa’s largest monasteries after Tibet’s biggest protests in almost 20 years deteriorated into violence, with shops and police cars set ablaze.

The most serious violence was touched off about 11 am today, Lhasa time, when monks from the Ramoche monastery prepared to stage a demonstration. According to Jane Macartney of the Times of London, police tried to stop the monks from entering the streets. Then a police car parked outside the monastery gate was set on fire as hundreds of Tibetans rallied around the monks. The protesters were demanding greater freedom of religion before the Beijing Olympic Games.

On Monday, March 10th, about 300 monks from Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa had peacefully marched toward Barkhor Street in the central city, but Chinese People’s Armed Police stopped them before they reached the city. Police arrested monks suspected to be “ringleaders”. All the monks were seeking the release of fellow Drepung monks, who apparently had been detained as they tried to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s receipt of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in October, 2007.

(↑)Footage posted on the exile Tibetan Web site TibetOnline.tv in December 2011 of a crackdown by Chinese security forces in Tibet in 2008 indicates that the level of repression against Tibetans appears to be much more serious than generally acknowledged by the international community. Analysts believe it was leaked by someone in China, perhaps within the security apparatus, to show the true scale of repression in Tibet and nearby areas in China. _____________________________________________________

On March 13, China’s Foreign Ministry had accused the Tibetan monks of trying to cause social unrest and said the situation in Lhasa was stable. “We are resolutely opposed to any plots attempting to separate Tibet from China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

The Chinese Public Security Bureau imposed carte-blanche censorship of YouTube, the BBC, CNN, the Guardian, and other sites carrying video footage of the Tibetan people’s protests against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

This video, produced by the Tibetan Government-in-exile in 2009, includes previously unreleased footage showing bound and defenseless Tibetans being brutally beaten in Lhasa in March 2008. _____________________________________________________

Ironically, by objecting to the above video produced by the Tibetan Government-in-exile and then blocking YouTube to make sure that no one in China’s borders could see the footage, the Chinese government made international headlines and ensured that millions more people will see and hear about the atrocity.

Tibet had varying degrees of autonomy from China until the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949. China invaded the country a year later and annexed the region in 1951.


March 13, 1832 (a Tuesday)

Rev. John Thomas Gulick

On this date, the American evolutionary biologist Rev. John Thomas Gulick was born. John Gulick continued a family tradition by attending theological school and then did missionary work in China and Japan for over thirty-five years. But he also carried on a parallel career as a naturalist and Darwinian evolutionist. Gulick had collected land snails since his teen years, and became a convert to evolutionary thinking even before reading The Origin of Species. An acute observer, he noticed that many species and varieties of snails were often restricted to very geographically-limited ranges and, as his son Addison later wrote (Scientific Monthly 18 (January 1924): 89), Gulick came

to place great emphasis upon every form of isolation or prevention of mingling, and also to emphasize the great significance for evolution of many factors that are of internal origin, such as the unknown intricacies of the process of heredity, and the effects of new choices made by the evolving creatures…

A plate of Hawaiian land snails from Addison Gulick’s book, Evolutionist and Missionary: John Thomas Gulick (1932).

In 1872, Gulick became the first person to advance the thesis that much evolutionary change is simply a result of chance variation; in other words, variation that has no effect whatsoever on survival and reproductive success can persist in a species. He came to this conclusion when observing the incredible diversity of local populations of Hawaiian land snails (Achatinella) and their seemingly random variation under apparently identical environmental conditions.

Darwin's illustration of an evolutionary tree, from The Origin of Species (1859).

In 1888, Gulick introduced terms for the two patterns of evolution that are observed: the term monotypic evolution (previously called transformation) – what today we define as “the change in gene frequencies within populations over generations” – and the term polytypic evolution (previously called diversification) – simultaneous processes, like the multiplication of species, manifested by different populations and incipient species. Darwin had been far more interested in diversification, particularly during the early years of his career. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, in contrast, had been almost exclusively interested in transformational evolution. He stressed change in time, emphasizing transformation from what was commonly called the lower to the more perfect groups, but his mechanism – “use and disuse” and the “inheritance of acquired characteristics” – was, it turned out, erroneous.

Monotypic (left) v. polytypic evolution.

George Romanes later (1897) adopted Gulick’s terminology, distinguishing between monotypic evolution as “transformation in time” and polytypic evolution as “transformation in space.” In other words, monotypic evolution deals with the “vertical” (usually adaptive) component of change in time, while polytypic evolution deals with the “horizontal” component of change. [Today, monotypic evolution is also known as “nonbranching” evolution, or anagenesis, and polytypic evolution is also known as “branching” evolution, or cladogenesis.] This insight was largely forgotten again after 1897, until it was revived during development of the synthetic theory of evolution in the 1940s.

Gulick extended his ideas to societal evolution in human beings, which he thought was dependent on altruistic motives and a spirit of cooperation.


March 10, 1959 (a Tuesday)

1 March 1959: Priests lead American Kalmuks in protest against Communist religious persecution of Tibetans at the United Nations building in New York.

On this date, Tibetans banded together in revolt, surrounding the summer palace of the Dalai Lama in defiance of Chinese occupation forces.

China’s occupation of Tibet began nearly a decade before, in October 1950, when troops from its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded the country, barely one year after the Communists gained full control of mainland China. The Tibetan government gave into Chinese pressure the following year, signing a treaty that ensured the power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the country’s spiritual leader, over Tibet’s domestic affairs. Resistance to the Chinese occupation built steadily over the next several years, including a revolt in several areas of eastern Tibet in 1956. By December 1958, rebellion was simmering in Lhasa, the capital, and the PLA command threatened to bomb the city if order was not maintained.

The March 1959 uprising in Lhasa was triggered by fears of a plot to kidnap the Dalai Lama and take him to Beijing. When Chinese military officers invited His Holiness to visit the PLA headquarters for a theatrical performance and official tea, he was told he must come alone, and that no Tibetan military bodyguards or personnel would be allowed past the edges of the military camp. On March 10, 300,000 loyal Tibetans surrounded Norbulinka Palace, preventing the Dalai Lama from accepting the PLA’s invitation. By March 17, Chinese artillery was aimed at the palace, and the Dalai Lama was evacuated to neighboring India. Fighting broke out in Lhasa two days later, with Tibetan rebels hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. Early on March 21, the Chinese began shelling Norbulinka, slaughtering tens of thousands of men, women, and children still camped outside. In the aftermath, the PLA cracked down on Tibetan resistance, executing the Dalai Lama’s guards and destroying Lhasa’s major monasteries along with thousands of their inhabitants.

Chinese authorities have interpreted the uprising as a revolt of the Tibetan elite against Communist reforms that were improving the lot of Tibetan “serfs”. Tibetan and third party sources, on the other hand, have usually interpreted it as a popular uprising against the alien Chinese presence. Historian Tsering Shakya has argued that it was a popular revolt against both the Chinese and the Lhasa government, which was perceived as failing to protect the authority and safety of the Dalai Lama from the Chinese.

China’s stranglehold on Tibet and its brutal suppression of separatist activity has continued in the decades following the unsuccessful uprising. Tens of thousands of Tibetans followed their leader to India, where the Dalai Lama has long maintained a government-in-exile in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The 2010 novel The Magician of Lhasa was banned in China for its portrayal of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.

The 2003 film Tibet – Cry of the Snow Lion is an extraordinary documentary about the ongoing destruction of an enlightened 1,700 year old culture.


February 28, 1947 (a Friday)

An angry mob storms the Yidingmu police station in Taipei on February 28, 1947

On this date, about two thousand people gathered in front of the Bureau of Monopoly in Taipei, Taiwan to protest an incident on the previous evening. The Chinese Governor, Chen Yi, responded with machine guns, killing several people on the spot, which soon led to the massive slaughter of thousands of Taiwanese at the hands of Chinese troops sent from China by Chiang Kai-Shek.

After the end of World War II, the Allied Forces had left the occupation of Taiwan to Chiang, who was still holding on to large parts of China with his Nationalist forces. The Taiwanese, who had been under Japanese rule from 1895 through 1945, initially welcomed the Chinese Nationalist forces. But their joy soon changed into sorrow and anger, when the new authorities turned out to be repressive and corrupt.

The arrest of a woman selling cigarettes without a license on the previous evening (February 27) was the spark which led to large-scale public protests against repression and corruption. For some ten days, Chiang, still on the mainland, and his governor Chen Yi kept up the pretense of negotiations with leaders of the protest movement, but at the same time they sent troops from the mainland.

2-28 Incident in woodcut; the artist was executed.

As soon as the troops arrived, they started rounding up and executing people, in particular scholars, lawyers, doctors, students, and local leaders of the protest movement. A film that aptly recreates the ethos of the times is A City of Sadness(1989). In total between 18,000 and 28,000 people were murdered. Thousands of others were arrested and imprisoned in the “White Terror” campaign which took place in the following decade. Many of these remained imprisoned until the early 1980s.

The 2-28 Incident was the beginning of 40 years of repressive martial law on the island, during which Chiang’s Kuomintang mainlanders ruled the Taiwanese with an iron fist. The book A Borrowed Voice (eds. Linda Arrigo, Lynn Miles) has many first-hand accounts of this dark period in history; notably the cloak-and-dagger type underground activity that expats undertook to smuggle out of Taiwan the names of political prisoners to Amnesty International and the outside world. This period ended only in 1987, when martial law was lifted and Taiwan started to move towards democratization. This is the longest period of martial law in world history.

2-28 Massacre Monument

In 1987, the newly-formed Taiwanese democratic opposition and the Presbyterian Church started to push the Kuomintang authorities to stop covering up the facts and to come to a full airing of the matter. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Kuomintang finally decided, albeit reluctantly, to open the records.

A “2-28 Monument” was unveiled in Taipei in February 1995, which was designed by Mr. Cheng Tze-tsai, a former political prisoner. The following is a translation of text inscribed on the monument:

Governor Chen Yi asked for the dispatch of troops from Nanking. The chairman of the Nationalist government Chiang Kai-shek, without conducting a thorough investigation, responded by sending troops to Taiwan to crack down on [the protesters].

On March 8, the 21st Division of the army under the command of general Liu Yu-ching landed [in Keelung] and as the troops moved down to southern part of Taiwan, they began to shoot indiscriminately. On March 10, martial law was declared. The chief of staff of the Garrison Command, general Ke Yuan-fen, the commander of the fort of Keelung, general Shih Hung-hsi, the commander of the fort of Kaohsiung, general Peng Meng-chi, and the chief of the commander of the military police Chang Mu-tao were responsible for the death of many innocent people during the subsequent crackdown and purges.

Within a few months, the number of deaths, injured and missing persons amounted to tens of thousands. Keelung, Taipei, Chiayi and Kaohsiung suffered the highest number of casualties. It was called the February 28 Incident.

Few people know about the 2-28 Massacre outside of Taiwan, and many Taiwanese today seem to rather not talk about it. It’s a very sensitive issue still, probably because it affected so many people; they couldn’t talk about it then, or now, in their state of denial, preferring to forget the painful past.

For the international community, it is important to understand that the Taiwanese dislike and mistrust of the Chinese and their intentions is not only based on ideological or political differences with China’s present – and undemocratic – regime in Beijing, but deeply rooted in the anguish of a large-scale massacre followed by some 40 years of repressive rule by the Chinese Nationalists.


February 13, 1913 (a Thursday)

His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso

On this date (8th day, first month, Tibetan year of the water ox), His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama asserted independence of Tibet after returning to Lhasa following three years of exile in India. [The year of declaration of Tibetan independence was mistakenly believed to be 1912 by many.] In the third and fourth paragraphs of the Tibetan Proclamation of Independence, His Holiness stated:

…During the time of Genghis Khan and Altan Khan of the Mongols, the Ming dynasty of the Chinese, and the Ch’ing Dynasty of the Manchus, Tibet and China cooperated on the basis of benefactor and priest relationship. A few years ago, the Chinese authorities in Szechuan and Yunnan endeavored to colonize our territory. They brought large numbers of troops into central Tibet on the pretext of policing the trade marts. I, therefore, left Lhasa with my ministers for the Indo-Tibetan border, hoping to clarify to the Manchu emperor by wire that the existing relationship between Tibet and China had been that of patron and priest and had not been based on the subordination of one to the other. There was no other choice for me but to cross the border, because Chinese troops were following with the intention of taking me alive or dead.

On my arrival in India, I dispatched several telegrams to the Emperor; but his reply to my demands was delayed by corrupt officials at Peking. Meanwhile, the Manchu empire collapsed. The Tibetans were encouraged to expel the Chinese from central Tibet. I, too, returned safely to my rightful and sacred country, and I am now in the course of driving out the remnants of Chinese troops from DoKham in Eastern Tibet. Now, the Chinese intention of colonizing Tibet under the patron-priest relationship has faded like a rainbow in the sky….

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama started international relations, introduced modern postal and telegraph services and, despite the turbulent period in which he ruled, introduced measures to modernize Tibet. On December 17, 1933 he passed away.

The following year a Chinese mission arrived in Lhasa to offer condolences, but in fact they tried to settle the Sino-Tibetan border issue. After the chief delegate left, another Chinese delegate remained to continue discussions. The Chinese delegation was permitted to remain in Lhasa on the same footing as the Nepalese and Indian representatives until it was expelled in 1949.

February 12, 1912 (a Monday)

Nanjing Road in Shanghai after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, full of the Five-Races-Under-One-Union flags then used by the revolutionaries.

Nanjing Road in Shanghai after the Xinhai Revolution, full of the Five-Races-Under-One-Union flags then used by the revolutionaries.

On this date, the Xinhai Revolution, or the Hsin-hai Revolution, also known as the Revolution of 1911 or the Chinese Revolution, culminated with the overthrow of the Empress Dowager Longyu and the infant Emperor Puyi that marked the end of over 2,000 years of imperial rule and the beginning of China’s so-called republican era.

The goal of the Xinhai Revolution, for its leaders, was to establish a democratic republic in China. In a speech given at a Tokyo gathering on 2 December 1906 (“The Three People’s Principles and the Future of the Chinese People”), Sun Yat-sen said:

As for the Principle of Democracy, it is the foundation of the political revolution…The aim of the political revolution is to create a constitutional, democratic political system…After the revolution in China, this will be the most appropriate political system. This, too, everyone knows.

However, the notion that the government should consist of representatives of the people rather than a tiny oligarchy and its closest families was a republican ideal no Chinese state since 1911, excepting Taiwan, has been willing to embrace. Is the absence of an emperor proof of the existence of a republic? It is arguable, therefore, that China’s current Communist regime, in power since 1949, is yet another dynasty in China’s long imperial era.

The Xinhai Revolution arose mainly in response to the decline of the Qing (or Manchu) dynasty, which had proven ineffective in its efforts to modernize China and confront new challenges presented by foreign powers, and was exacerbated by ethnic resentment against the ruling Manchu minority (see “The Revolutionary Army” published in 1903 by Zou Rong). The turning point of the revolution was the Wuchang Uprising in October 1911.

Dozens of uprisings against the Qing Dynasty had failed between 1895 and 1911, most the work of small secret societies. What distinguished the Wuchang Uprising was that it originated from inside the Empire’s “New Army.” The New Army had been created by the Emperor and his Manchu cabinet with the intention of putting down the many rebellions across China and protecting the country from foreign powers after the Boxer Rebellion.

The Army’s 8th Division, stationed in Hubei Province, differed from other divisions throughout the country for several reasons:

  • First, the 8th Division was perhaps the most highly organized and cohesive.
  • Second, it was stationed in a port city and major transportation hub, Wuhan, on the Yangtze River. Wuhan had been a cosmopolitan port. Thus, its members had access to foreign ideas and influence.
  • Third, its officers were highly literate. Many had studied abroad or graduated from military university.
The three flags of the early Republic of China

The three flags of the early Republic of China

Many in the New Army’s 8th Division were also members of secret societies, the two biggest being the Literary Society and the Society for Common Advancement. The two underground organizations merged in September 1911, united by their opposition to the Manchu government. (Most of the Hubei army and the members of the secret societies were Han Chinese, who considered the Manchu as foreign as if they’d been European.)

Ultimately, the military that was supposed to strengthen the Empire against foreign powers and subversive ideas was the cause of its downfall. The uprising itself broke out largely by accident. Revolutionaries intent on overthrowing the Qing dynasty had built bombs and one accidentally exploded. This led police to investigate, and they discovered lists of Literary Society members within the New Army. At this point, the military revolted rather than face arrest and certain execution. The governor fled Hubei, and within two days the Division occupied the neighboring cities of Hanyang and Hankou. (Years later, Wuchang, Hanyang, and Hankou merged to form the modern city of Wuhan.) As word of the rebellion spread, other provinces followed suit.

Future President Sun Yat-Sen has often been called instrumental in the Wuchang Uprising, but he was in fact in the United States at the time, garnering support for the underground movements. He returned to China on 29 December 1911. By 1 January 1912, the revolutionaries had declared the new Republic of China. After the Qing court transferred power to the newly founded republic in February 1912, a provisional coalition government was created along with the National Assembly.

Major Events in the Xinhai Revolution

Major Events in the Xinhai Revolution

Today, both the Republic of China in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China on the mainland consider themselves to be successors to the Xinhai Revolution and continue to pay homage to the ideals of the revolution including nationalism, republicanism, modernization of China, and national unity. October 10 is commemorated in Taiwan as Double Ten Day, the National Day of the Republic of China. In mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the same day is usually celebrated as the Anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution.

Unfortunately, the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in China in 1911 ushered in 38 years of Civil War and warlordism, and provided an opportunity for a Japanese invasion. In 1949, the bloodbath of the interregnum gave way to a greater bloodbath as the Communists consolidated power under Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. When seen as a continuum, this phase of Chinese history was a 65 year nightmare which took some 75 million lives.


December 13, 1937 (a Monday)

Chinese civilians being buried alive by Japanese Imperial Army.

In July 1937 the Japanese Imperial Army, which already controlled a large section of northeastern China, launched an undeclared war against the Republic of China (Nationalist China). Five months later, on this date, the capital city of Nanking fell to the Japanese.

The Japanese army swept into the ancient city and within weeks not only looted and burned the defenseless city but also systematically raped at least 20,000 women, tortured both men and women, and murdered probably at least 150,000 and perhaps as many as 300,000 Chinese civilians.  Rev. John G. Magee, an American Anglican pastor of the Deshen Church in Nanking and one of many eyewitnesses, wrote in a letter dated 11 January 1938:

Thousands of men, women and children have been murdered in addition to all the disarmed soldiers who have been discovered.  There were dead bodies in every street and alley in the city, so far as I could tell, and I went around quite extensively including Hsiakwan…


The raping of women has been beyond description or imagination.


Here and there among the solders there have been decent men, but it seems like most of them went mad after entrance into the city.  Such a ferocious body of men I have never seen and I have seen the worst type of Chinese bandits looting this city, too.  The marvel is that none of us foreigners have been killed.  This looks to me as though the officers could have controlled their men if they had wanted to…

What is still stunning is that this massacre was a public rampage, evidently designed to terrorize the Chinese. It was carried out in full view of international observers and largely irrespective of their efforts to stop it. And it was not a temporary lapse of military discipline, for it lasted seven weeks.   The international response to the Nanking atrocities was eerily similar to the more recent response to the atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda: while thousands have died almost unbelievably cruel deaths, the entire world has watched CNN and simply wrung its hands.  The Nanking atrocities were splashed prominently across the pages of newspapers like the New York Times, while the Bosnia outrages were played out daily on television in virtually every living room.  To the larger world, the “rape” of Nanking — as it was immediately called — turned public opinion against Japan in a way that little else could have.

  • “Wholesale looting, the violation of women, the murder of civilians, the eviction of Chinese from their homes, mass executions of war prisoners and the impressing of able-bodied men turned Nanking into a city of terror,” wrote Frank Tillman Durdin of the New York Times on 17 December 1937, two days after he escaped from the “reign of terror” aboard the USS Oahu.
  • Archibald Steele of the Chicago Daily News called the siege and capture of Nanking “Four Days of Hell” in his dispatch on Dec. 15.
  • C. Yates McDaniel of the Associated Press jotted down the following sentence in his diary on Dec. 16, which was wired to the United States the following day, “My last remembrance of Nanking: Dead Chinese, dead Chinese, dead Chinese.”

The Rape of Nanking should be perceived as a cautionary tale.  Those who have studied the patterns of mass killings throughout history have noted that the sheer concentration of power in government is lethal — that only a sense of absolute unchecked power can make atrocities like the Rape of Nanking possible.  In the 1990s historian R. J. Rummel, who coined the term “democide” to include both genocide and government mass murder, completed a systematic and quantitative study of atrocities in both the twentieth century and ancient times, an impressive body of research that he summed up with a paraphrase of the famous Lord Acton line:  “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely.”

Rummel found that the less restraint on power within a government, the more likely that that government will act on the whims or psychologically generated darker impulses of its leaders to wage war on foreign governments.  Atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking can be seen as a predictable if not inevitable outgrowth of ceding to an authoritarian regime, dominated by a military and imperial elite, the unchallenged power to commit an entire people to realizing the sick goals of the few with the unbridled power to establish them.

In view of countries like modern communist China and North Korea, this is a lesson that we cannot afford to forget.

Suggested reading/watching:

  • Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1997).
  • In the Name of the Emperor: The Rape of Nanking, a documentary (1997) with many of the horrifyingly intense images taken from home movies made by an American missionary, John Magee, who was there in 1937.  It has won:  Special Jury Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1995;  Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, 1995;  Asian American International Film Festival, 1995;  and Hong Kong International Film Festival, 1995.
  • R.J. Rummel, Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994).

December 5, 1978 (a Tuesday)

Democracy Wall in Beijing, August 20, 1979.

In December 1978, the Cultural Revolution was over and it appeared to Beijing residents that China would naturally move toward democracy. No Mao, meant no People’s Republic thought many. Utilizing the political teaching of the rising Deng Xiaoping, Beijing residents began to emphasize the concept of “seeking truth through facts”. On a long brick wall on Chang’an Street in the Xidan District of Beijing, political dissidents and intellectuals began to publicly document problems in China and call for change in its politics. The most famous statement, the statement which truly began the Democracy Wall Movement, was a poster entitled “The Fifth Modernization” by Wei Jingsheng, who signed it and placed it on the wall on this date.

The Democracy Wall in Beijing, just before it was shut down by the government, December 6, 1979.

After Agriculture, Industry, Science and Technology, and National Defense (promoted by Deng Xiaoping in 1978), Wei Jingsheng added Democracy. Chinese citizens wrote freely in prose and poetry (poetry being the traditional way to inform the government of problems). Beijing citizens now had a catharsis to assuage the anger and fear they felt. They were a community in pain, a community without a way to publicly portray their frustrations, a community kept in silence, a community finally allowed to open up. While ultimately unsuccessful, its effects still linger. Even today Chinese and Westerners talk nostalgically about the Democracy Wall Movement.

One-millionth Word?

William Shakespeare

As an author, I am interested in the English language. Although most predictions about cultural events in the future are difficult to make, I found one that nevertheless seems reasonable: At the current pace of a new English-language word created about every 98 minutes, English will cross the Million Word Mark on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 am (Stratford-on Avon Time).

But what, exactly, is a “word“? It used to be that the expert source on what was or wasn’t a word was the dictionary, such as American Heritage, Webster’s Third, and the Oxford English.  Groups of editors at a dictionary watch specific subject areas, logging the hits a new word gets. A “hit” is a mention in a book, newspaper, or Web site. Dictionaries reject words for being too technical (even the most die-hard Grey’s Anatomy fan will never need to know what a “mammosomatotroph” is) or for being too young (staycation). Nor do they count brand names (Coke, Facebook, Wikipedia) or most foreign words and phrases. Then they put the hits in a database and compare the new terms to words they already have. So although “Facebook,” being a brand name, doesn’t qualify, every word in Shakespeare’s plays does – including “cap-a-pie” (meaning from head to foot) and “fardel” (meaning burden). Being the granddaddy of creative linguistics, Shakespeare invented more than 1,700 words. All of them appear in an unabridged dictionary.

A dictionary.

The Global Language Monitor, based in Austin, Tex., has been tracking words for the past five years. According to Paul J.J. Payack, president and chief word analyst at the Monitor, “We went back to the Middle English and saw that the definition of a word was ‘a thought spoken,’ which means if I say a word, and you understand me, it’s a real word.” So Payack counts “staycation,” “Facebook,” and “Wikipedia” as words. But he also follows some of the old rules. For example, words that are both noun and verb, such as “water,” are counted only once. He doesn’t count all the names there are for chemicals, because there are hundreds of thousands.

Once the Monitor identifies a word, it tracks it over time, watching to see where the word appears. Based on that measurement, they decide whether or not the word has “momentum,” that is, whether it’s becoming more popular or if it’s a proverbial flash in the pan. “It’s the same as the old [method], just recognizing the new reality,” Payack says. The Monitor’s method gives a lot more weight to online citations. And it recognizes that English is today truly an international language. English has nearly 400 million native speakers, putting it second in the world, but it has 1.3 billion speakers overall, making it the world’s most widely understood language, explains Payack . It’s spoken by over 300 million people in India as a second language, and by at least that many second-speakers in China.

Brokeback Mountain

For example, after director Ang Lee called his movie about two cowboys who fall in love Brokeback Mountain, the word “brokeback” wormed its way into the English vernacular as a synonym for the adjective “gay.” Although “brokeback” may be past its glory days in the United States, the word, with this new meaning, is still popular in China, Payack said. It appears on blogs and Web sites, which means it has momentum, which means it’s a word.

Average Americans use about 7,500 words a day and have a vocabulary of about 20,000 total. Even Shakespeare only knew about 60,000. So the number of words in the English language will always be many, many more than any one person knows or uses. Both Salikoko Mufwene, a linguistics professor at the University of Chicago, and Joe Pickett, executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary, said English could very well have a million words already. Counting words, after all, is an imprecise science. But it’s also not the dictionary’s science. The job of dictionaries has always been, Mufwene said, “to reflect how people speak, not to teach them how to speak.” “You need people to edit the dictionary and take responsibility for it, so that it’s reliable,” Pickett said. “And I don’t think that’s going to change.”