Tag Archives: Massacre

October 24, 1901 (a Thursday)

On this date, when U.S. Marines landed in Samar during the Philippine-American War (referred to by Filipinos as the Philippine War of Independence and sometimes patronizingly referred to as the Philippine Insurrection by the U.S.), Brigadier General Jacob Hurd Smith (“Hell-Roaring Jake”) issued his murderous orders:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn the better it will please me.

Zen stones
This bloody Philippine-American War, which began in 1899 and officially ended in 1902 (although sporadic fighting continued until 1913), resulted from the foreign policy of a group of imperialists within the Republican Party of President William McKinley. After their quick victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States military found themselves playing the part of an occupying army on the Philippine Islands. A Filipino independence movement had been working to overthrow their Spanish colonizers for years. Emilio Aguinaldo, the charismatic leader of the movement, provided critical aid to the Americans during their war with Spain. However, when U.S. armed forces did not withdraw from the islands and the U.S. government did not recognize Philippine independence, Aguinaldo and his compatriots rose up against the United States. Although General Aguinaldo was captured on March 25, 1901, there followed no mass surrender of other Filipino revolutionary generals. Fighting went on.

“I am not afraid, and am always ready to do my duty, but I would like someone to tell me what we are fighting for.”–Arthur H. Vickers, Sergeant in the First Nebraska Regiment

According to Luzviminda Francisco, the Philippine-American War was a forgotten war in the U.S. annals. American textbooks contain several pages on the Spanish-American War but only devote a paragraph on the Philippine-American War despite the fact that the latter was more pronounced in terms of duration, scale, and number of casualties. The war was ugly, ruthless, and brutal, prompting Stanley Karnow to describe it as “among the cruelest conflicts in the annals of Western imperialism.” Other scholars refer to the conflict as the United States’ “first Vietnam.” Luzviminda estimates that as many as 126,000 American soldiers, or 3/4 of the U.S. army, were shipped to the Philippines, and at least 600,000 Filipinos died during the war. American anti-imperialist Mark Twain claimed that the number of Filipino casualties was close to one million or the equivalent of 1/6 of the country’s total population at the turn of the century. He famously wrote:

. . .There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it — perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands — but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector — not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now — why, we have got into a mess, a QUAGMIRE from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation. . . 

Some American infantrymen were equally mystified by what was taking place:

“Talk about dead Indians! Why, they are lying everywhere. The trenches are full of them…There is not a feature of the whole miserable business that a patriotic American citizen, one who loves to read of the brave deeds of the American colonists in the splendid struggle for American independence, can look upon with complacency, much less with pride. This war is reversing history. It places the American people and the government of the United States in the position occupied by Great Britain in 1776. It is an utterly causeless and defenseless war, and it should be abandoned by this government without delay. The longer it is continued, the greater crime it becomes – a crime against human liberty as well as against Christianity and civilization…” –Theodore Conley, 20th Kansas Regiment

Aguinaldo in white with sword

During the war, torture was resorted to by American troops to obtain information and confessions. The “water cure” was given to those merely suspected of being rebels. Some were hanged by the thumbs, others were dragged by galloping horses, or fires lit beneath others while they were hanging. Another form of torture was tying to a tree and then shooting the suspect through the legs. If a confession was not obtained, he was again shot, the day after. This went on until he confessed or eventually died. On the other hand, Filipino guerrillas chopped off the noses and ears of captured Americans in violation of Aguinaldo’s orders. There were reports that some Americans were buried alive by angry Filipino guerrillas. In other words, brutalities were perpetrated by both sides.

Freedom fighter killed by Americans for being pro-democracy (stereoview).

In 1901, the U.S. commander at Balangiga on the Island of Samar had sent troops out to destroy crops and grain reserves, to keep such food from flowing into the hands of the insurgents; he had also ordered all males over the age of thirteen, at gun-point, to work at clearing brush and repairing the streets of the town. The people of Balangiga revolted in reaction to their abuse at the hands of the Americans — an American garrison in the town of Balangiga was attacked between 6:20 and 6:45 in the morning of 28 September 1901 by the local population, with the support of the local police chief and members of the insurgency. Fifty-four of the seventy-eight American troops stationed at Balangiga were killed; only four escaped uninjured. The massacre shocked the U.S. public and many newspaper editors noted that it was the worst disaster suffered by the U.S. Army since George Armstrong Custer’s “last stand” at the Little Big Horn in 1876. Brigadier General Jacob Smith was given the task of crushing the resistance on Samar and exacting revenge for the deaths of the American soldiers at Balangiga.

At the beginning of the campaign when officers had gathered at the site of the Balangiga Massacre, Smith told Marine Major Littleton W. T. Waller:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.

Since it was a popular belief among the Americans serving in the Philippines that native males were born with bolos in their hands, Waller asked, “I would like to know the limit of age to respect, sir?”

Ten years,” Smith said.

“Persons of ten years and older are those designated as being capable of bearing arms?”

“Yes.” Smith confirmed his instructions a second time.

Smith's infamous order - Kill Everyone Over Ten - was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902.

Smith would later send Waller a written order “that the interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.” However, aware of Smith’s penchant for making outrageous oaths and the extravagance of his language, Waller therefore did not execute Smith’s orders. Instead, Waller applied the rules of civilized warfare and the rules provided under General Orders No. 100 of 1863 dealing with irregular warfare (involving non-uniformed combatants), which stated that if enemy units gave no quarter and became treacherous upon capture, it was lawful to shoot anyone belonging to that captured unit.

Nevertheless, a sustained and widespread massacre of Filipino civilians followed. As a result of Smith’s policies during the four and half month-long campaign, an estimated 15,000 Filipinos died on Samar.

References:

  • Teodoro A. Agoncillo, A Short History of the Philippines, New American Library, 1969.
  • Bob Couttie, Hang the Dogs: The True and Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre, New Day Publishers, 2004.
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The Coup d’état of Zhao: June 24, 1989

On 19 May 1989, Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Zhao Ziyang picked up a bullhorn and urged student demonstrators to end their hunger strike against the Chinese government in the name of peace and national stability. This was his last public appearance.

On this date, a Saturday, Zhao Ziyang was formally ousted as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party weeks after voicing sympathy for student demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. Jiang Zemin replaced him, and Zhao spent the rest of his life under house arrest. 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.

During his 16-year confinement, Zhao was able to clandestinely record his memoirs on 30 one-hour cassette tapes. Recorded over his children’s music and Peking Opera tapes, Zhao numbered each one with faint pencil before passing them to trusted friends to be smuggled out in separate batches under the nose of his captors. The full contents, including audio clips, were published in Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang on 19 May 2009, more than four years after his death.

Zhao, a reformist who pleaded with China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to take a softer line with the protesting students, described the killings as a “tragedy”. Recalling the moment he finally knew his efforts to prevent bloodshed were in vain, Zhao wrote: “On the night of June 3, 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.”

Among the key passages of the book is Zhao’s account of the meeting on May 17 at the house of Deng Xiaoping at which it was decided – despite Zhao’s vigorous representations – to impose martial law and clear the square by force:

I had no other choice but to express my views to Deng personally, in a face-to-face meeting. Since I had asked for a personal meeting with Deng, only to have Deng call for a full Standing Committee meeting at his home, I realized that things had already taken a bad turn.

I expressed my views roughly as follows: “The situation with the student demonstrations has worsened, and has grown extremely grave. Students, teachers, journalists, scholars and even some government staff have taken to the streets in protest. Today there were approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people. Quite a large number of workers and peasants are also sympathetic. Besides the hot issues of corruption and government transparency, the main impetus for all these different social groups is that they want an explanation for how the Party and the government can be so coldhearted in the face of hunger-striking students, doing nothing to try to save them… If the hunger strike continues and some people die, it will be like gasoline poured over a flame. If we take a confrontational stance with the masses, a dangerous situation could ensue in which we lose complete control.”

While I was expressing my view, Deng appeared very impatient and displeased.

In the end, Deng Xiaoping made the final decision. He said: “Since there is no way to back down without the situation spiraling completely out of control, the decision is to move troops into Beijing and impose martial law”.

When the meeting adjourned, Zhao recalls that he left immediately, not pausing to talk further with his colleagues. “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 the students.” But Zhao accepted the likely consequences:

By insisting on my view of the student demonstrations and refusing to accept the decision to crack down with force, I knew what the consequences would be and what treatment I would receive. Mentally, I was fully prepared, I knew that if I persistently upheld my view, I would ultimately be compelled to step down. If I wanted to keep my position, or give up my post in some face-saving way, I would have to give up my viewpoint and conform. If I persisted, then I had to be prepared to step down.

Zhao died on 17 January 2005 in a Beijing hospital at 07:01 AM, at the age of 85.

June 15, 1989 (a Thursday)

‘Execution’ by Beijing artist Yue Minjun

On this date, a Chinese court in Shanghai accused three men of starting a riot in Shanghai and sentenced them to death, the first execution orders since Chinese troops opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing on June 3-4, crushing a 7-week-old reform movement. Television said the three men sentenced to death were charged with setting a train on fire and beating security officials who tried to extinguish the blaze.

The train incident occurred June 6 when six protesters were killed as they stood at a barricade on the tracks near the Shanghai train station and a train from Beijing did not stop in time. People in a large crowd set fire to the train and fought with firefighters and police who came to put it out, injuring 21. The three condemned men “frenziedly smashed the railway carriages and set fire to police motorcycles and the carriages” during the attack, the official New China News Agency reported. “They also prevented firefighters from extinguishing the fire and beat them cruelly.” They were given three days to appeal.

An article in the New York Times on 22 June 1989 reported, in part:

The Chinese authorities staged a public execution today of three young men who were accused of taking part in a violent political protest in Shanghai…

The three young men in Shanghai were presumably executed in the Chinese way, with a bullet fired in the back of the head at close range…

The three men in Shanghai – Xu Guoming, an employee of a Shanghai brewery; Bian Hanwu, who is unemployed, and Yan Xuerong, a worker at a radio factory – were sentenced to death last Thursday but had appealed.

They were accused of helping to set fire to a train on June 6 and then attacking firefighters who arrived to put out the fire. No one was killed, but some firefighters were beaten up and nine rail cars were burned, forcing the closing of the rail line for two days.

The Government has not mentioned the circumstances in which the crowd attacked the train. The crowd had gathered to block the rail line, in protest of the killings of hundreds of students and workers in Beijing two days earlier by the army. A train rammed its way through the human blockade, killing six people who lay on the track, and only then did the outraged crowd attack the train and set it afire.

It is not known what evidence existed against the three men, who appeared to be in their 20′s or perhaps early 30′s, or even exactly what role each was accused of having played in the incident. Nor have the authorities indicated how they caught the three, who were apparently arrested several days later rather than on the scene…

Soon after, people in Beijing, Shandong, Sichuan, Hebei, and Hubei were sentenced to death. Throughout the country, there were tens of thousands of detentions and arrests. Approximately one thousand people were executed, and many others were investigated and harassed. These people were additional victims of the June 4 Massacre.

References:

  • Jiang Qisheng (江棋生).  An Independent Report on the Situation of the June 4 Massacre Victims (1989年六四镇压受害者状况民间报告).   Released online by Human Rights in China (HRIC), 3 June 2010 and accessed at http://www.hrichina.org/content/406 on 20 June 2012.

The 21 “Most Wanted”: June 13, 1989 (a Tuesday)

A handcuffed man is led by Chinese soldiers on a street in Beijing on 14 June 1989 as the authorities looked to prosecute and punish anyone connected with the demonstrations.

On this date, the Beijing Public Security Bureau issued a list of 21 leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who were being sought for arrest, as reported by the New York Times on the following day:

The 21 students whose mug shots and biographical details were shown on television included the two most prominent leaders of the democracy movement, Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi. Others shown on television were Chai Ling, the leader of the students occupying Tiananmen Square, and her husband, Feng Congde, and a 28-year-old graduate student, Liu Gang, who is said to have assisted the students from behind the scenes.

The television showed lengthy film clips of Mr. Wuer, apparently so that viewers could identify him and turn him in. The clips also showed the extent of Government surveillance of the student leaders; it seemed that three different video cameras were used to record one visit by Mr. Wuer on May 29 to a restaurant in a Beijing hotel. One camera was trained on him from above while he ate, another showed him leaving the restaurant, and a third caught him as he left the building.

From NYT’s description above, it is clear that Liu Gang’s significance in the movement was not understood by outsiders. Even most students were surprised seeing his name in the no. 3 slot, behind Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi but ahead of Chai Ling.

This is the list of the 21 most wanted:

  1. Wang Dan (王丹) [3769 0030], male, 24 A native of Jilin. Student in the Department of History, Peking University. Approximately 1.73 metres tall. Has a pointed lower jaw, relatively thin hair, cavities on his front teeth, and relatively thin physical features. Wears glasses for myopia. Speaks with husky Peking accent.
  2. Wuer Kaixi (吾尔开希) [0702 1422 7030 1585], formerly known as Wuer Kaixi [0702 1422 0418 6007]. Male, born on 17th February 1968. Uygur nationality. A native of Yining County, Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Student of the 1988 class of the Education Department, Peking Normal University. Is 1.74 metres tall. Hair parted in the middle. Hair colour is yellowish. Has long face, big eyes, thick lips, relatively white skin, relatively rough voice. Speaks Putonghua. Regularly wears green military trousers.
  3. Liu Gang (刘刚) [0941 0474], male. A native of Liaoyuan city, Jilin. Former graduate student of the Department of Physics, Peking University, now unemployed. Approximately 1.65 meter’s tall. Has a square face, full beard, relatively long sideburns. Speaks with a north-eastern accent.
  4. Chai Ling (柴玲) [2693 3781], female. Born on 15th April 1966. Han nationality. A native of Rizhao city, Shandong. Graduate student of the 1986 class of the Department of Psychology, Peking Normal University. Is 1.56 meters tall. Has a round face, single-fold eyelids, high cheekbones, short hair and relatively white skin.
  5. Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁) [0719 6912 6956], male. Born on 15th October 1967. Han nationality. A native of Changan county, Shaanxi Province. A student of the 1985 class of the Department of Physics, Qinghua University. Is 1.76 meters tall. Has a square face, pointed chin and quite heavy eyebrows.
  6. Zhai Weiming (翟伟民) [5049 0251 3046], originally called Zhai Weimin [5049 3634 3046]. Male, 21. A native of Xinan county, Henan Province. Student of Peking Economics College. Is 1.68 metres tall. Thin, has a long, oval face, crew cut, single-fold eyelids, relatively dark facial complexion. Speaks with quite a heavy Henan accent.
  7. Liang Qingtun (梁擎墩) [2733 2348 2557], alias Liang Zhaoren [2733 0340 0088], Male. Born on 11th May 1969. A native of Pengxi county, Sichuan Province. Student of the 1987 class of the Department of Psychology, Peking University. Is 1.71 metres tall. Has quite a thin physique and quite dark skin, a long squarish face, small eyes, high nose, quite thick lips. Can speak Putonghua.
  8. Wang Zhengyun (王正云) [3769 2973 0061], male, 21, of Kucong nationality. Address Lianfang village, Nanke town, Mengla district, Jinping county, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan Province. Student of the Central Institute for Nationalities. Height about 1.67 meters. Long, thin face, hair parted in the middle, dark brown complexion with freckles.
  9. Zheng Xuguang (郑旭光) [6774 2485 0342], male, 20. Native of Mixian county, Henan. Address 56 North Lane, Huancheng West Road, Xian city. Student of Peking Aeronautic and Astronautic University. Height 1.81 meters, weight 63 kg. Long, oval face, single-fold eyelids, a pointed chin, big ears.
  10. Ma Shaofang (馬少方) [7456 1421 2455], male, born in November, 1964. Native of Jiangdu city, Jiangsu Province. Student of the evening writing classes of Peking Film Academy. Height about 1.67 meters. On the thin side, long face, pointed chin, dark-skinned, wears glasses for myopia.
  11. Yang Tao (杨涛) [2799 3447], male, 19. Native of Fuzhou city, Fujian. History student of Peking University. Height about 1.70metres. On the thin side, high cheekbones, double-fold eyelids, wears glasses, speaks Putonghua.
  12. Wang Zhixin (王治新) [3769 3112 2450], male. Born in November 1967. Student of China University of Political Science and Law. Address Textile Industry School, Yuci City, Shanxi. Height 1.69 meters. Long hair, wears glasses.
  13. Feng Congde (封從德) [1409 1783 1795], male, 22. Native of Sichuan Province. Candidate of the Institute of Remote Sensing of Peking University. Height about 1.70 meters. On the thin side, dark-skinned.
  14. Wang Chaohua (王超华) [3769 6389 5478], female, 37. Graduate student of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Height about 1.63 meters. Rather thin, long face, dark brown complexion, triangular eyes, short hair.
  15. Wang Youcai (王有才) [3769 2589 2088], male. Born in June 1966. Native of Zhejiang Province. Graduate student of the Law Department of Peking University.
  16. Zhang Zhiqing (张志清) [1728 1807 3237], male. Born in June 1964. Native of Taiyuan city, Shangxi. Student of China Political Science and Law University.
  17. Zhang Boli (张伯笠) [1728 0130 4567], male, 26. Native of Wangkui county, Heilongjiang Province. Student of the writing class of Peking University. Height about 1.75 meters. A little overweight, round face, double-fold eyelid, upturned nose, thick lips. Speaks with a north-eastern accent.
  18. Li Lu (李禄) [2621 6922], male, about 20. Student of Nanjing University. Height about 1.74 meters. Middle type of figure, square chin, protruding lower teeth.
  19. Zhang Ming (张铭) [1728 6900], male. Born in April 1965. Native of Jilin city, Jilin Province. Student of the Automotive Engineering Department of Qinghua University.
  20. Xiong Wei (熊炜) [3574 3555], male. Born in July 1966. Native of Yingcheng county, Hubei Province. Student of the 1985 class of the Radio Engineering Department of Qinghua University. Address No 502, Unit 47, No 1 Mashengmiao, Haidian, Peking.
  21. Xiong Yan (熊焱) [3574 8746], male. Born in September 1964. Native of Shuangfeng county, Hunan Province. Graduate student of the Law Department of Peking University. Address Xingziceshui Hospital, Shuangfeng county, Hunan Province.

*The 21 Most Wanted*

As Liu Gang would later comment, almost all of the 21 had been, one way or another, involved with the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation he had founded.

June 11, 1989 (a Sunday)

The Chinese astrophysicist Fang Lizhi at home in Beijing, shortly before taking refuge at the US embassy during and after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, 1989.

On this day, in the wake of the June 4th crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, China issued a warrant for a leading Chinese dissident who had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. The diplomatic standoff lasted for a year, and the refusal of the United States to hand the dissident over to Chinese officials was further evidence of American disapproval of China’s crackdown on political protesters.

The Chinese government used this brutal crackdown as a pretext for issuing an arrest warrant for Fang Lizhi, an internationally respected astrophysicist and leading Chinese dissident. Although Fang had not participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, he had been a consistent advocate of greater political democracy and a persistent critic of government policies.  On June 5, Fang and his wife, Li Shuxian, took refuge in the U.S. embassy.

In the June arrest warrant, Fang and his wife were charged with “committing crimes of counter-revolutionary propaganda and instigation.”  Chinese officials demanded that the American government hand over the pair, but the U.S. refused.  Fang and his wife remained in the U.S. embassy until June 25, 1990, when they were allowed by Chinese authorities to leave the embassy and board a U.S. Air Force C-135 transport plane to Britain.

During his time in the embassy, Fang wrote an essay entitled “The Chinese Amnesia”, criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s repression of human rights and the outside world’s turning a blind eye to it. The entire essay (translated by Perry Link) was eventually published in The New York Review of Books on September 27, 1990. The following is a portion of it:

Excerpt from “The Chinese Amnesia” (1989)
By Fang Lizhi
(translated by Perry Link)

There seems to be no accurate count of all the books that have appeared about the Tiananmen events of the spring of 1989. But certainly they have been many. A friend at Columbia University recently wrote me that she and one of her Chinese colleagues, both of whom were eyewitnesses at Tiananmen, had originally planned to write a book about it. But publishers told them that so many Tiananmen books were already available that the market had become “saturated.” The two reluctantly dropped their plan. It seems that a new Tiananmen book, for now, can have only a modest circulation.

In my view, a large but “saturated” market is itself one of the most important consequences to emerge from the events at Tiananmen. It signals the failure of the “Technique of Forgetting History,” which has been an important device of rule by the Chinese Communists. I have lived under the Chinese Communist regime for four decades, and have had many opportunities to observe this technique at work. Its aim is to force the whole of society to forget its history, and especially the true history of the Chinese Communist party itself.

In 1957 Mao Zedong launched an “Anti-Rightist Movement” to purge intellectuals, and 500,000 people were persecuted. Some were killed, some killed themselves, and some were imprisoned or sent for “labor reform.” The lightest punishment was to be labeled a “Rightist.” This was called “wearing a cap” and meant that one had to bear a powerful stigma. I had just graduated from college that year, and also in that year was purged for the first time.

After the 1957 Anti-Rightist purge, what worried me most was not that I had been punished, or that free thought had been curtailed. At that time, I was still a believer, or semibeliever, in Marxism, and felt that the criticism of free thought, including my own free thought, was not entirely unreasonable. But what worried me, what I just couldn’t figure out, was why the Communist party in China would want to use such cruel methods against intellectuals who showed just a tiny bit (and some not even that) of independent thought. I had always assumed that the relationship between the Communist party and intellectuals, including intellectuals who had some independent views, was one of friendship–or at least not one of enmity.

Later I discovered that this worry of mine seemed ridiculous to teachers and friends who were ten or twenty years older than I. They laughed at my ignorance of history. They told me how, as early as 1942, before the Party had wrested control of the whole country, the same cruel methods against intellectuals were already being used at the Communist base in Yan’an. In college I had taken courses in Communist party history, and of course knew that in 1942 at Yan’an there had been a “rectification” movement aimed at “liberalism,” “individualism,” and other non-Marxist thought. But it was indeed true that I had had no idea that the methods of that “rectification” included “criticism and struggle”–which meant in practice forcing people to commit suicide, and even execution by beheading. People who had experienced the Yan’an “rectification” paled at the very mention of it. But fifteen years later my generation was completely ignorant of it. We deserved the ridicule we received.

After another thirteen years, in 1970, it became our turn to laugh at a younger generation. This was in the middle stage of the Cultural Revolution that took place between 1966 and 1976. In the early stage of the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong had used university students, many of whom supported him fanatically, to bring down his political opponents. But in the early 1970s these same students became the targets of attack. In 1970 all the students and teachers in the physics department of the Chinese University of Science and Technology were sent to a coal mine in Huainan, Anhui Province, for “re-education.” I was a lecturer in physics at the time. The movement to “criticize and struggle” against the students’ “counterrevolutionary words and deeds” reached its most intense point during the summer. Some students were “struggled”; others were locked up “for investigation”; a good number could not endure the torment of the vile political atmosphere and fell ill. One of my assignments was to pull a plank-cart (like a horse cart, but pulled by a human being) to transport the ill students. Of the group of forty-some students working in the same mine as I did, two were driven to suicide–one by jumping off a building, the other by lying in front of a train.

Most of these students, as innocent as I had been in 1957, never imagined that the Communist government could be so cruel in its treatment of students who had followed them so loyally. Later one of the students, who became my co-worker in astrophysical research (and who is now in the US), confided to me that he had had no knowledge whatever of the true history of the Anti-Rightist Movement. It was not until he was himself detained and interrogated that he slowly began to appreciate why some of the older people he knew lived in such fear of the phrase Anti-Rightist. The whole story of the main actors and issues had, for this generation, become a huge blank.

Fang’s assessment of the world’s indifference to the oppression of human rights in China was accurate, at least in the United States; the American media had rarely mentioned human rights violations in China since the Democracy Wall movement was crushed in 1979 and its leaders were thrown in jail. As reported in an article entitled “China News Blackout” (Summer, 1989), written by Martin A. Lee and published by FAIR, the national media watch group:

“Look at Wei Jingshen,” Deng Xiaoping said of a prominent Democracy Wall dissident (Progressive, 3/87). “We put him behind bars and the democracy movement died. We haven’t released him, but that did not raise much of an international uproar.”

Shortly after the suppression of the Democracy Wall movement, Deng introduced economic and legal reforms. “A wave of euphoria swept through U.S. government and press circles,” recalled Roberta Cohen, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights under Carter. “The enthusiasm for free-market initiatives and other reforms became the new rationale for turning a blind eye to the continuing repression in China.”

According to the State Department’s 1987 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, between 2 million and 5 million people languished in Chinese labor camps and prisons. New York Times correspondent Fox Butterfield reported on the existence of Chinese gulags when he was based in China in the early 1980s, but there wasn’t much follow-up in the U.S. press.

U.S. media remained tight-lipped when President Ronald Reagan approved sales of police equipment to China’s internal security force, expanded military ties and encouraged loans and investment despite serious human rights abuses by the Chinese government. The brutalization of Tibet and the relentless suppression of dissent in China were off the press agenda until late in Reagan’s second term. Meanwhile, according to Amnesty International, thousands of Chinese prisoners were being tortured, while others faced illegal arrests, unwarranted search and seizure, and other forms of harassment.

Journalists were outraged when Deng and company imposed harsh press restrictions during the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, but U.S. reporters appear to have practiced a form of self-censorship with respect to Chinese human rights violations for nearly a decade. “American administrations yawned at reports of repression of basic freedoms in China…. So, much too often, did American journalism,” A.M. Rosenthal wrote in the New York Times (6/13/89) shortly after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

Rosenthal’s complaint rings hollow, for it was during his tenure as New York Times executive editor that reporting on Chinese abuses virtually ceased. No news stories on China and human rights are listed in the Times index from 1984 through 1986. Ditto for Time magazine, which selected Deng Xiaoping as “Man of the Year” in 1985. Newsweek managed only one story on the subject for these three years.

The media silence was all the more deafening in light of what transpired in China during this period. Vice President George Bush visited the People’s Republic in 1985, but this provoked none of the concern for political prisoners that journalists displayed when U.S. officials met with Soviet leaders. And another round of student protests was put down in December 1986 by Deng Xiaoping, who stated at the time (Progressive, 3/87):”When necessary one must deal severely with those who defy orders. We can afford to shed some blood.” This is the man Bush hailed as a “forward-looking” leader.

In February 1989, more than one hundred Chinese security personnel had forcibly prevented Fang Lizhi from attending a banquet with President George Bush (the First), even though he had received a highly publicized invitation. And yet, Bush subsequently failed to raise the human rights issue with Chinese officials. The best he could muster was a statement of regret channeled though his spokesperson Marlin Fitzwater. In a case of too little, too late, editorials in major dailies chided Bush for not taking a tougher stand in Beijing (Miami Herald, 2/28/89; New York Times, 3/1/89).

Nevertheless, the Fang Lizhi incident indicated that feelings about what had occurred in Tiananmen Square ran high, both in the United States and China; it seemed America had finally taken notice.

June 9, 1989 (a Friday)

The United States has blamed us for suppressing the students. But didn’t the U.S. itself call out police and troops to deal with student strikes and disturbances, and didn’t that lead to arrests and bloodshed? It suppressed the students and the people, while we put down a counter-revolutionary rebellion.  What right has it to criticize us?

— Deng Xiaoping, June 9, 1989, comment to officers of troops enforcing martial law in Beijing after the Tiananmen events on 4 June.

Zen stones

Tiananmen. Nothing happened, according to the Chinese Communist Party.

On this date, less than a week after the Tiananmen Square protests were crushed on 4 June, Deng Xiaoping, chairman of the Central Military Commission and China’s foremost leader, delivered an address in Beijing to military commanders. The address, which was first reported in Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong and the United States, emerged as a key document setting out the party line in the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. He stated that the government had suppressed a “counterrevolutionary rebellion . . . determined by the international and domestic climate” where the “dregs of society” had sought to “establish a bourgeois republic entirely dependent on the West.”

Chinese senior leader Deng Xiaoping, left, shakes hands with officers of the People's Liberation Army in Beijing June 9, 1987 while former President Li Xiannian, left, looks on.

An official publication issued by the Chinese authorities in 1990 about the “riots,” The Truth About the Beijing Turmoil, claimed that 6,000 troops had been injured and “scores” had been killed. The book said that 3,000 civilians were wounded, and over 200, including 36 university students, had died. These casualties occurred when troops “counter-attacked,” it states, and “some rioters were killed, some onlookers were hit by stray bullets and some wounded or killed by armed ruffians.” How this could have happened when soldiers only “fired into the air” as it claims was left unexplained.

More recent commentators have made much of the fact that the party leadership generally now refers to the events of that year as a “political incident” rather than the more harsh-sounding “counterrevolutionary rebellion.” But the denial of extensive loss of life among ordinary people in the official version, dubbed “the big lie” by many observers, has not been revised, even to a small extent. The attempt to impose collective amnesia is encouraged by a deafening silence on the matter in the Chinese media.

June 5, 1989 (a Monday)

A Beijing demonstrator blocks the path of a tank convoy along the Avenue of Eternal Peace near Tiananmen Square.

On this date, one day after the 27th and 28th Armies of the People’s Liberation Army brutally crushed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, a single, unarmed young man stood his ground before a column of tanks on Chang’an Boulevard (Avenue of Eternal Peace) in front of the Beijing Hotel. Captured on film and video by Western journalists, this extraordinary confrontation became an icon of the struggle for freedom around the world.

Photo taken on June 5, 1989

About midday, as a column of tanks slowly moved east along Chang’an Boulevard toward Tiananmen Square, an unarmed young man carrying shopping bags stood defiantly in front of the approaching tanks. Instead of running over him, the first tank tried to go around, but the young man stepped in front of it again. They repeated this maneuver several more times before the tank stopped and turned off its motor. The young man climbed on top of the tank and spoke to the driver before jumping back down again. Soon, the young man was whisked to the side of the road by an unidentified group of people and disappeared into the crowd.
_________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________

To this day, who he was and what became of him remains a mystery. He is known simply as the “Tank Man,” or the “Unknown Rebel.”

Yet, the struggle for freedom in the People’s Republic of China continues today.

June 4, 1989 (a Sunday)

A dissident student asks soldiers to go back home; photo taken on June 3, 1989.

On June 3, as word spread that hundreds of thousands of troops were approaching from all four corners of the city, citizens of Beijing, China, flooded the streets to block them, as they had done two weeks earlier. People set up barricades at every major intersection. At about 10:30 p.m., near the Muxidi apartment buildings — home to high-level Party officials and their families — the citizens became aggressive as the army tried to break through their barricades. They yelled at the soldiers and some threw rocks; someone set a bus on fire. The soldiers began firing on the unarmed civilians with AK-47s loaded with battlefield ammunition. Human rights observer Timothy Brook recalled:

Forget to forget today.

The first rounds of fire catch everybody by surprise. The people in the streets don’t expect this to happen. There are a couple of hospitals right near Muxidi, and the casualties start showing up within 10 or 15 minutes of the first round of gunfire. The casualties run very high because people didn’t expect to be shot at with live ammunition. When they start firing, people say, “Oh, it’s rubber bullets.” Even after it becomes clear, even after they realize that the army is going to go ahead at any cost, people still pour into the streets. This is the amazing thing: People were just so angry, so furious at what was happening in their city that they were not going to step back and let the army do what it was doing. This is why the casualties from Muxidi on east towards Tiananmen Square were so high. This is the major military confrontation of the evening.

__________________________________________________
__________________________________________________

The attack continued into the early morning hours of June 4. The wounded were taken to nearby hospitals on bicycles and pull-carts, but the hospital staff were unequipped to deal with the severe wounds. Muxidi saw the highest casualties of the night; an untold number of people were killed. Reporters and Western diplomats on the scene estimated that at least 300, and perhaps thousands, of the protesters had been killed and as many as 10,000 were arrested. You can see more historic photographs by clicking here and here.

Ten armed soldiers beating a student to death in Tiananmen Square during the massacre (6-4).

On the night of June 3, Liao Yiwu was home in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan. The news of the brutal suppression of the students’ pro-democracy movement shocked him to the very core. Overnight, Liao composed a long poem, “Massacre,” which portrayed, with stark imagery, the killing of innocent students and residents as vividly as Picasso depicted the Nazi massacre in the town of Guernica.

Without any chance of having his poem published in China, Liao made an audiotape of himself reciting “Massacre,” using Chinese ritualistic chanting and howling to invoke the spirit of the dead. The tape recording was widely circulated via underground channels in China.

Excerpt from “Massacre
By Liao Yiwu
(translated by Wen Huang)

Dedicated to those who were killed on June 4, 1989

A massacre is happening
In this nation of Utopia
Where the Prime Minister catches a cold
The masses have to sneeze to follow
Martial law is declared and enforced
The aging toothless state machine is rolling over
Those who dare to resist and refuse to sneeze
Fallen by the thousands are the barehanded and unarmed
Armored assassins are swimming in blood
Setting fire to houses with windows and doors locked
Polish your military boots with the skirt of a slain girl
Boot owners don’t even tremble
Robots without hearts never tremble
Their brain is programmed with one process
A flawed command
Represent the nation to dismember the constitution
Represent the constitution to slaughter justice
Represent the mothers to suffocate the children
Represent children to sodomize the fathers
Represent the wives to murder the husbands
Represent the citizens to bomb the city
Open fire, open fire, open fire
Shoot women, students and children
Shoot workers, teachers and venders
Riddle them with bullets
Aiming at those angry faces, shocking faces, contorted faces, despondent faces and tranquil faces
Shoot with abandon
The fleeting beauty of those faces moving toward you like tidal waves
The eternal beauty of those faces heading toward heaven and hell
The beauty of turning humans into beasts
The beauty of seducing, raping and trampling on your fellow citizens
Eliminate beauty
Wipe out the flowers, forest, school campuses, love, and the pure air
Shoot, shoot and shoot…
I feel good and I feel high
Blow up that head
Burn up the hair and the skin
Let the brain erupt
Let the soul gush out
Splash on the bridge, the fence and the street
Splash toward the sky
Blood turned into stars and stars are running
Heaven and earth have turned upside down
Shiny helmets are like stars
Troops are running out of the moon
Shoot, Shoot, Shoot
Humans and stars are falling and running
Indistinguishable, which are humans and which are stars
Troops followed them into the cloud, into cracks on the ground …

We live under bright sunlight
But we have lost our eyesight
We find ourselves on a street, so wide
But no one can take a stride
We stand in a crowd, supposed to be loud
But people open their mouth without sound
We are tortured with thirst
But everyone refuses water.

This unprecedented massacre
Survivors are those bastards.

Map of Beijing showing where some of the victims died

Massacre Map Index

The savagery of the Chinese government’s attack shocked both its allies and Cold War enemies. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared that he was saddened by the events in China. He said he hoped that the government would adopt his own domestic reform program and begin to democratize the Chinese political system. In the United States, editorialists and members of Congress denounced the Tiananmen Square crackdown and pressed for President Bush the First to punish the Chinese government. A little more than three weeks later, the U.S. Congress voted to impose economic sanctions against the People’s Republic of China in response to the brutal violation of human rights.

4 am, 4 June 1989, Tiananmen Square. Soldiers rushed out of the Great Hall of the People, with guns pointed towards students under the Hero's Memorial. They fired as they pushed forward. In this picture the flash out of the muzzle of one soldier's weapon is clearly visible. Professor Ding Zilin collected two more names of students who perished that night in the Tiananmen Square.

Obstinately, the People’s Republic of China continues to deny the facts. “There were no deaths in the square,” according to a deceptive article that was published in the People’s Daily on September 19, 1989.

James Miles — who was the BBC’s Beijing correspondent at the time of the Tiananmen Square events — wrote an article dated 2 June 2009 entitled “Tiananmen killings: Were the media right?“, noting that:

We got the story generally right, but on one detail I and others conveyed the wrong impression. There was no massacre on Tiananmen Square.

(. . .)

Evidence of a massacre having occurred in Beijing was incontrovertible. Numerous foreign journalists saw it from widely scattered vantage points.

On the morning of 4 June, reporters in the Beijing Hotel close to the square saw troops open fire indiscriminately at unarmed citizens on Chang’an Boulevard who were too far away from the soldiers to pose any real threat. Thirty or 40 bodies lay, apparently lifeless, on the road afterwards. That scene outside the Beijing Hotel alone justified the use of the word massacre. But the students who had told me and other journalists of a bloodbath on the square proved mistaken.

Protesters who were still in the square when the army reached it were allowed to leave after negotiations with martial law troops (Only a handful of journalists were on hand to witness this moment – I, like most others at the time, had spent the night in various different parts of the city monitoring the army’s bloody advance). A few of the students were crushed by armoured vehicles some distance from the square after the retreat. There were credible reports of several citizens being shot dead during the night on the outer perimeter of the square, but in places which strictly speaking could be said to be outside the square itself. But we are far less certain of killings on Tiananmen proper. There were probably few, if any.

(. . .)

The Chinese government was quick to exploit the weaknesses in our reporting. By focusing on what happened in the square itself, it began sowing seeds of doubt about the general accuracy of Western reports among Chinese who did not witness what happened. At first this made little difference, since most Beijing residents at least had friends of friends who had seen for themselves that there had been a massacre, even if not in the square. But as the years passed, a new generation emerged with few eyewitness accounts to cling to.

(. . .)

[Today, it] is not uncommon to find Chinese who believe the Communist Party’s fiction that there was a riot in Beijing on 3 June that warranted intervention. Rioting did occur, but involving angry residents outraged by the army’s brutal entry into the city.

(. . .)

There was no Tiananmen Square massacre, but there was a Beijing massacre. [emphasis added]

___________________________________________________
Hu Ping explains the implications of June 4th, 1989 for the world:

___________________________________________________

Suggested reading:

  • Tiananmen Papers– Andrew Nathan and Perry Link
  • Mandate of Heaven– Orville Schell
  • Almost a Revolution– Shen Tong
  • Disco’s and Democracy– Orville Schell
  • Moving the Mountain– Li Lu
  • Black hands of Beijing– George Black Robin Munro
  • Children of the Dragon– Human Rights in China
  • Bring down the Great Wall – Fang Lizhi
  • The Power of Tiananmen– Dingxin Zhou
  • Beijing Spring– David and Peter Turnley
  • Prisoner of the State– Zhao Ziyang
  • Quelling the People– Timothy Brook
  • Escape from China– Zhang Boli
  • A glossy propaganda book published by the Chinese Government called The Truth about the Beijing Turmoil

Videos about Tiananmen Square:

  • The Gate of Heavenly Peace – documentary
  • Moving the Mountain– Movie
  • Tank Man– PBS documentary
  • Democracy Crushed, Tiananmen Square– The History Channel
  • Tiananmen Declassified– The History Channel

Reflections on Tiananmen Square, 20 years later

Dead civilian bodies in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square Protests Massacre, 4 June 1989.

The following is from an article published on 30 May 2009 in the New York Times that was written about Tiananmen by Yu Hua, a Chinese author who was there in 1989:

This is the first time I am writing about Tiananmen Square. I am telling my story now because 20 years later — the anniversary is June 4 — two facts have become more apparent. The first is that the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests amounted to a one-time release of the Chinese people’s political passions, later replaced by a zeal for making money. The second is that after the summer of 1989 the incident vanished from the Chinese news media. As a result, few young Chinese know anything about it.

But most important of all, I realize now that the spring of 1989 was the only time I fully understood the words “the people.” Those words have little meaning in China today.

“The people,” or renmin, is one of the first phrases I learned to read and write. I knew our country was called “the People’s Republic of China.” Chairman Mao told us to “serve the people.” The most important paper was People’s Daily. “Since 1949, the people are the masters,” we learned to say.

A rickshaw driver ferries two dying students on the morning of June 4, 1989.

In China today, it seems only officials have “the people” on their lips. New vocabulary has sprouted up — netizens, stock traders, fund holders, celebrity fans, migrant laborers and so on — slicing into smaller pieces the already faded concept of “the people.”

But in 1989, my 30th year, those words were not just an empty phrase.

Protests were spreading across the country, and in Beijing, where I was studying, the police suddenly disappeared from the streets. You could take the subway or a bus without paying, and everyone was smiling at one another. Hard-nosed street vendors handed out free refreshments to protesters. Retirees donated their meager savings to the hunger strikers in the square. As a show of support for the students, pickpockets called a moratorium.

China is a nation where over a billion people don’t have basic political freedoms and human rights. This denial of basic rights was maintained by the murder of Chinese citizens by the Chinese government. These are the defining facts of modern China.

June 3, 1989 (a Saturday)

A dissident student asks soldiers to go back home; photo taken on June 3, 1989.

On June 3, as word spread that hundreds of thousands of troops were approaching from all four corners of the city, citizens of Beijing, China, flooded the streets to block them, as they had done two weeks earlier. People set up barricades at every major intersection. At about 10:30 p.m., near the Muxidi apartment buildings — home to high-level Party officials and their families — the citizens became aggressive as the army tried to break through their barricades. They yelled at the soldiers and some threw rocks; someone set a bus on fire. The soldiers began firing on the unarmed civilians with AK-47s loaded with battlefield ammunition. Human rights observer Timothy Brook recalled:

Forget to forget today.

The first rounds of fire catch everybody by surprise. The people in the streets don’t expect this to happen. There are a couple of hospitals right near Muxidi, and the casualties start showing up within 10 or 15 minutes of the first round of gunfire. The casualties run very high because people didn’t expect to be shot at with live ammunition. When they start firing, people say, “Oh, it’s rubber bullets.” Even after it becomes clear, even after they realize that the army is going to go ahead at any cost, people still pour into the streets. This is the amazing thing: People were just so angry, so furious at what was happening in their city that they were not going to step back and let the army do what it was doing. This is why the casualties from Muxidi on east towards Tiananmen Square were so high. This is the major military confrontation of the evening.

__________________________________________________
__________________________________________________

The attack continued into the early morning hours of June 4. The wounded were taken to nearby hospitals on bicycles and pull-carts, but the hospital staff were unequipped to deal with the severe wounds. Muxidi saw the highest casualties of the night; an untold number of people were killed. Reporters and Western diplomats on the scene estimated that at least 300, and perhaps thousands, of the protesters had been killed and as many as 10,000 were arrested. You can see more historic photographs by clicking here and here.

Ten armed soldiers beating a student to death in Tiananmen Square during the massacre (6-4).

On the night of June 3, Liao Yiwu was home in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan. The news of the brutal suppression of the students’ pro-democracy movement shocked him to the very core. Overnight, Liao composed a long poem, “Massacre,” which portrayed, with stark imagery, the killing of innocent students and residents as vividly as Picasso depicted the Nazi massacre in the town of Guernica.

Without any chance of having his poem published in China, Liao made an audiotape of himself reciting “Massacre,” using Chinese ritualistic chanting and howling to invoke the spirit of the dead. The tape recording was widely circulated via underground channels in China.

Excerpt from “Massacre
By Liao Yiwu
(translated by Wen Huang)

Dedicated to those who were killed on June 4, 1989

A massacre is happening
In this nation of Utopia
Where the Prime Minister catches a cold
The masses have to sneeze to follow
Martial law is declared and enforced
The aging toothless state machine is rolling over
Those who dare to resist and refuse to sneeze
Fallen by the thousands are the barehanded and unarmed
Armored assassins are swimming in blood
Setting fire to houses with windows and doors locked
Polish your military boots with the skirt of a slain girl
Boot owners don’t even tremble
Robots without hearts never tremble
Their brain is programmed with one process
A flawed command
Represent the nation to dismember the constitution
Represent the constitution to slaughter justice
Represent the mothers to suffocate the children
Represent children to sodomize the fathers
Represent the wives to murder the husbands
Represent the citizens to bomb the city
Open fire, open fire, open fire
Shoot women, students and children
Shoot workers, teachers and venders
Riddle them with bullets
Aiming at those angry faces, shocking faces, contorted faces, despondent faces and tranquil faces
Shoot with abandon
The fleeting beauty of those faces moving toward you like tidal waves
The eternal beauty of those faces heading toward heaven and hell
The beauty of turning humans into beasts
The beauty of seducing, raping and trampling on your fellow citizens
Eliminate beauty
Wipe out the flowers, forest, school campuses, love, and the pure air
Shoot, shoot and shoot…
I feel good and I feel high
Blow up that head
Burn up the hair and the skin
Let the brain erupt
Let the soul gush out
Splash on the bridge, the fence and the street
Splash toward the sky
Blood turned into stars and stars are running
Heaven and earth have turned upside down
Shiny helmets are like stars
Troops are running out of the moon
Shoot, Shoot, Shoot
Humans and stars are falling and running
Indistinguishable, which are humans and which are stars
Troops followed them into the cloud, into cracks on the ground …

We live under bright sunlight
But we have lost our eyesight
We find ourselves on a street, so wide
But no one can take a stride
We stand in a crowd, supposed to be loud
But people open their mouth without sound
We are tortured with thirst
But everyone refuses water.

This unprecedented massacre
Survivors are those bastards.

Map of Beijing showing where some of the victims died

Massacre Map Index

The savagery of the Chinese government’s attack shocked both its allies and Cold War enemies. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared that he was saddened by the events in China. He said he hoped that the government would adopt his own domestic reform program and begin to democratize the Chinese political system. In the United States, editorialists and members of Congress denounced the Tiananmen Square crackdown and pressed for President Bush the First to punish the Chinese government. A little more than three weeks later, the U.S. Congress voted to impose economic sanctions against the People’s Republic of China in response to the brutal violation of human rights.

4 am, 4 June 1989, Tiananmen Square. Soldiers rushed out of the Great Hall of the People, with guns pointed towards students under the Hero's Memorial. They fired as they pushed forward. In this picture the flash out of the muzzle of one soldier's weapon is clearly visible. Professor Ding Zilin collected two more names of students who perished that night in the Tiananmen Square.

Obstinately, the  People’s Republic of China continues to deny the facts. “There were no deaths in the square,” according to a deceptive article that was published in the People’s Daily on September 19, 1989.

James Miles — who was the BBC’s Beijing correspondent at the time of the Tiananmen Square events — wrote an article dated 2 June 2009 entitled “Tiananmen killings: Were the media right?“, noting that:

We got the story generally right, but on one detail I and others conveyed the wrong impression. There was no massacre on Tiananmen Square.

(. . .)

Evidence of a massacre having occurred in Beijing was incontrovertible. Numerous foreign journalists saw it from widely scattered vantage points.

On the morning of 4 June, reporters in the Beijing Hotel close to the square saw troops open fire indiscriminately at unarmed citizens on Chang’an Boulevard who were too far away from the soldiers to pose any real threat. Thirty or 40 bodies lay, apparently lifeless, on the road afterwards. That scene outside the Beijing Hotel alone justified the use of the word massacre. But the students who had told me and other journalists of a bloodbath on the square proved mistaken.

Protesters who were still in the square when the army reached it were allowed to leave after negotiations with martial law troops (Only a handful of journalists were on hand to witness this moment – I, like most others at the time, had spent the night in various different parts of the city monitoring the army’s bloody advance). A few of the students were crushed by armoured vehicles some distance from the square after the retreat. There were credible reports of several citizens being shot dead during the night on the outer perimeter of the square, but in places which strictly speaking could be said to be outside the square itself. But we are far less certain of killings on Tiananmen proper. There were probably few, if any.

(. . .)

The Chinese government was quick to exploit the weaknesses in our reporting. By focusing on what happened in the square itself, it began sowing seeds of doubt about the general accuracy of Western reports among Chinese who did not witness what happened. At first this made little difference, since most Beijing residents at least had friends of friends who had seen for themselves that there had been a massacre, even if not in the square. But as the years passed, a new generation emerged with few eyewitness accounts to cling to.

(. . .)

[Today, it] is not uncommon to find Chinese who believe the Communist Party’s fiction that there was a riot in Beijing on 3 June that warranted intervention. Rioting did occur, but involving angry residents outraged by the army’s brutal entry into the city.

(. . .)

There was no Tiananmen Square massacre, but there was a Beijing massacre. [emphasis added]

___________________________________________________
Hu Ping explains the implications of June 4th, 1989 for the world:

___________________________________________________

Suggested reading:

  • Tiananmen Papers– Andrew Nathan and Perry Link
  • Mandate of Heaven– Orville Schell
  • Almost a Revolution– Shen Tong
  • Disco’s and Democracy– Orville Schell
  • Moving the Mountain– Li Lu
  • Black hands of Beijing– George Black Robin Munro
  • Children of the Dragon– Human Rights in China
  • Bring down the Great Wall – Fang Lizhi
  • The Power of Tiananmen– Dingxin Zhou
  • Beijing Spring– David and Peter Turnley
  • Prisoner of the State– Zhao Ziyang
  • Quelling the People– Timothy Brook
  • Escape from China– Zhang Boli
  • A glossy propaganda book published by the Chinese Government called The Truth about the Beijing Turmoil

Videos about Tiananmen Square:

  • The Gate of Heavenly Peace – documentary
  • Moving the Mountain– Movie
  • Tank Man– PBS documentary
  • Democracy Crushed, Tiananmen Square– The History Channel
  • Tiananmen Declassified– The History Channel

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…”
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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.

Retrospective

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 6, 2012: A Tribute to Fang Lizhi!

Fang Lizhi, shown in this June 4, 1999 photo at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Fang Lizhi, shown in this June 4, 1999 photo at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

On this date, Fang Lizhi, the Chinese astrophysicist whom many regarded as “China’s Sakharov,” died at age 76 in Arizona.

Fang Lizhi — who worked on his nation’s elite nuclear program in the 1950s — was one of the most brilliant Chinese scientists of his era. He was also the most courageous.

In the 1980s, when he broke with communist orthodoxy and spoke out on human rights and democracy, he was the highest-ranking person in the People’s Republic ever to do so. In the years and months leading up to the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989, he dared to tell the historical facts – about Mao, the Party, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution – to a new generation. His trenchant words inspired a generation of Chinese youth but led to his firing, expulsion from the Communist Party and forced exile, which lasted until his death.

He once explained that it was the principles of science — which values doubt, independent judgment and egalitarianism — that led him to embrace human rights. Fang warned in 2010: “Regardless of how widely China’s leaders have opened its market to the outside world, they have not retreated even half a step from their repressive political creed.” How much did China lose by forcing a citizen with his gifts to live the last 22 years of his life in exile?

April 3, 1948 (a Saturday)

Child survivors made homeless by the 4/3 Jeju Island massacre, May 1948.

Child survivors made homeless by the 4/3 Jeju Island massacre, May 1948.

April 3, 1948, is the day attributed to the start of a prolonged massacre on the island of Jeju committed by South Korean government forces. From 1947 to 1948, an estimated 30,000 people were killed.

The conflict began after World War II with Korea regaining its independence after Japan’s 35 years of colonial rule over the peninsula. On November 14, 1947, the United Nations passed UN Resolution 112, calling for a general election over the whole Korean peninsula under the supervision of a UN commission. However, the Soviet Union, occupying the northern part of the peninsula, refused to comply with the UN resolution and denied the UN Commission access. The UN General Assembly adopted a new resolution calling for elections in areas accessible to the UN Commission, which at that time included only members of the United States Army Military Government in Korea, also known as USMAGIK.

On Jeju, this was met with both happiness and concern. With Japan being kicked out of the country, Korea had no government and many Jeju citizens objected that the election for the country’s first president, scheduled for May 10, 1948, was only occurring in Korea’s southern half. By voting in the election, they would have been supporting the divide of the country. In response, the people of Jeju went on a general strike, deteriorating the island’s relationship with its country’s fragile government.

Official apology of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

Official apology of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

On March 1, 1947, Jeju islanders gathered in Gwandeokjeong, Jeju City, to commemorate its Independence Movement Day and to simultaneously protest the upcoming presidential election. Through much confusion and to the quell the protest, police open fired on the crowd killing six people.

In response to the government’s continual suppression of the people of Jeju, on the early morning of April 3, 1948, a small group of islanders attacked police stations and political figures. In turn, the government labeled the citizens of Jeju as Communists and the newly formed US-backed South Korean government set out to cleanse the island of opponents to democracy.

This was the beginning of the Jeju Massacre (commonly referred to as 4.3, or “sa sam” in Korean).

Oh Seung Kook, 55, deputy secretary general at the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation, who started to study the events surrounding this tragic aspect in Jeju’s history in order to provide a Jeju perspective, said that concerning the massacre, “The government needs to think about the Jeju people’s perspective. [At that time] the people of Jeju just really wanted a unified Korea,” meaning that the people opposed the election not because they were Communists, but because they wanted to prevent the bisection of their country.

Jeju declared an island of world peace.

Jeju declared an island of world peace.

Kim Seok Bo is a survivor of the Jeju Massacre. He escaped from the throes of death while army soldiers were shooting the villagers of Bukchon on January 17, 1949. At midnight he went to the nearby village of Neobeunsungi with his mother after the army had begun the massacre.

“My mother was trying to find my brother and sister relying on the moonlight. When I was there with my mother, I saw lots and lots of corpses. I saw a man who lost half of his face. I was so scared,” he said.

Five hundred people, half of all those who were living in Bukchon village at that time, were killed. They were killed in many places around Bukchon village like Dang Pat, Neo Beun Soong Ee, and the Bukchon Elementary School field.

“The armies were taking people to Dang Pat by car. At that time, people didn’t see cars very often, so people tried to get into them. They didn’t know it was a road to death. When my family arrived at Dang Pat, my brothers and sister had already been killed and my mother and I were the only survivors from our family.”

Those from the village were separated into two camps; those who were related to police officers and those who were not, with the former being saved and the latter executed.

“Soon, the commander came and ordered them to stop shooting people. We wriggled out of the crowd and hid among the police officers’ families since they were the only people who were allowed to live.”

He said that it has only been recently that he has been able to discuss the massacre, and even still it is very difficult to go into great detail. The reason for this, he continued, is that some of the other survivors in the village don’t like for him to share his experiences.

“I think survivors don’t want to think about the massacre. Neither do I. It’s painful to think about that time and talk about it to people. However, I want many people to know about this horrible historical event called 4.3.”

So do I.

Although Jeju Island is known for its beautiful scenery, world peace is not about beautiful scenery. In Jeju, it comes from extending the lessons learned from the 4.3 Massacre. Lessons like, “true peace is not fighting one another for ideological differences” and, “basic human rights are the greatest value we must pursue at all times.” These morals aren’t just lessons that should have been learned at the time of the incident, they are still valid today and should be universally applied.

References:

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.

References:

February 2, 1512 (Julian calendar/old style: a Monday)

Hatuey burned at the stake in Cuba.

Hatuey burned at the stake in Cuba.

On this date, the native American Taíno chief Hatuey (or Hathney) from the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) was burned alive by the Spanish on the island of Caobana (now Cuba) — arguably the first martyr of heroic resistance against the centuries of colonial onslaught to come. Ironically, the Taínos were the people who had offered a peaceful welcome to Columbus in 1493. Although Cuba was not his birthplace, Hatuey is today remembered and exalted there as a national hero.

The Taíno leader’s death was instrumental in shaping the seminal beliefs of one man: Bartolomé de las Casas. He was a slave owner-turned-Bishop-turned-chronicler who raged a life-long battle against the murderous injustices meted out to South American indigenous peoples by the European colonists. As “protector of Indians”, de las Casas was one of the first missionaries to uphold the rights of the oppressed and protect the lives of indigenous peoples.

In 1511, Diego Velázquez had set out from Hispaniola to conquer the island of Caobana. He had been preceded, however, by Hatuey, who fled Hispaniola with a party of four hundred in canoes and warned the inhabitants of Caobana about what to expect from the Spaniards.

De las Casas later recounted a speech Hatuey had made after showing the Taíno of Caobana a basket of gold and jewels:

Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea… They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…

The Taíno people of Caobana could not believe Hatuey’s horrendous message, and few joined him to fight. Hatuey resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Spaniards, and was able to confine them to their fort at Baracoa. Eventually the Spaniards succeeded in capturing and executing him.

Before his execution, a Roman Catholic monk asked Hatuey if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. De las Casas reported the incident:

[A] Franciscan monk, a holy man, who was there, spoke as much as he could to [Hatuey], in the little time that the executioner granted them, about God and some of the teachings of our faith, of which he had never before heard; he told him that if he would believe what was told him, he would go to heaven where there was glory and eternal rest; and if not, that he would go to hell, to suffer perpetual torments and punishment. After thinking a little, Hatuey asked the monk whether the Christians went to heaven; the monk answered that those who were good went there. The prince at once said, without any more thought, that he did not wish to go there, but rather to hell so as not to be where Spaniards were, nor to see such cruel people. This is the renown and honour, that God and our faith have acquired by means of the Christians who have gone to the Indies.

De las Casas saw, with rare insight, the ulterior motive of many conquistadors. Though the Spanish carried the Requerimiento – a royal document that outlined Spain’s divinely ordained right to sovereignty – into every battle, de las Casas believed that spreading the word of God was largely a ruse: an expedient mask. Ambition, not altruism, was the driving force; gold, not God, was their goal.

He believed that the conquistadors slashed and slaughtered their way like “ravening wild beasts” across the so-called New World not solely in homage to Christ, but to “swell themselves with riches”. He suspected they had crossed the Atlantic not only to spread the word of the Lord, but to find the gold that washed through the rivers of Amazonia and the minerals that lay beneath their rampaging feet. “Our work,” de las Casas said, “was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy.” The conquistadors destroyed lives and lands, and they told the Indians that to save their souls, they would need to become Christians.

"They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground ... and they burned the Indians alive." Illustration by Theodor de Bry in "A Short Account of the destruction of the Indies."

“They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground … and they burned the Indians alive.” Illustration by Theodor de Bry in “A Short Account of the destruction of the Indies.”

If the greed of the conquistadors knew no bounds, neither did the integrity and outraged courage of de las Casas. Revolted by the hypocrisy of men who proclaimed pious inspiration while distributing the horrors of hell, he was also influenced by a group of Dominican preachers who asked the conquistadors, “Tell me, by what right do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? Are they not men?”

“So as not to keep criminal silence concerning the ruin of numberless souls and bodies that these persons cause,” de las Casas wrote, “I have decided to print some of the innumerable instances I have collected in the past and can relate with truth.” These truths, which became extensive writings about the mistreatment of the Indians – one of the most famous being A Short Account of The Destruction of the Indies he wrote in 1542 (published in 1552) – were instrumental in prompting King Charles V to issue his “New Laws” in 1542, which abolished slavery and the encomienda system, and resulted in the liberation of thousands of slaves.

Arguably the first white human rights’ activist in the Americas, de las Casas was driven not by a self-regarding agenda but by a deeply-rooted sense of justice. He knew the Indians were not inferior to their oppressors. He knew that “all the peoples of the world are men” – rational human beings, part of a single common humanity. “For all people of these our Indies are human… and to none are they inferior,” he said. However, the plight of the Indians did not lead even de las Casas to question the right to the land or the mission to Christianize.

References:

December 29, 1890 (a Monday)

View of the slain body of Chief Big Foot propped up in the snow at Wounded Knee.  U.S. soldiers, civilian burial party members, and a “Chunk" or "Stick" Stove of the type used to heat the Conical or Sibley army tent are shown in the background. (The Stick Stove almost certainly marks the location of Big Foot's tent, which was very close to the council circle. Major Samuel Whitside of the 7th Cavalry ordered a stove placed in Big Foot's tent on the night before the massacre.)

View of the slain body of Chief Big Foot propped up in the snow at Wounded Knee. U.S. soldiers, civilian burial party members, and a “Chunk” or “Stick” Stove of the type used to heat the Conical or Sibley army tent are shown in the background. (The Stick Stove almost certainly marks the location of Big Foot’s tent, which was very close to the council circle. Major Samuel Whitside of the 7th Cavalry ordered a stove placed in Big Foot’s tent on the night before the massacre.)

On this date, nearly 300 men, women, and children of Big Foot’s Minneconjou band of Sioux (Lakota) were murdered by the U.S. Army with four Hotchkiss guns near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. This massacre is now recognized as one of the most significant and tragic episodes in the history of white and Native American relations. As the band fell dead that winter morning, so too would a people’s dream.

Zen stones

Indian agents in 1890 were not too concerned about the Ghost Dance until Charles L. Hyde, a citizen of Pierre, South Dakota, wrote a letter on May 29 to the Secretary of the Interior stating that he had reliable information from a Pine Ridge Lakota at the Pierre Indian School that the Lakota were planning an outbreak.

View of the twisted, frozen slain body of Chief Big Foot, Miniconjou Lakota, propped up after the Wounded Knee massacre.

View of the twisted, frozen slain body of Chief Big Foot, Miniconjou Lakota, propped up after the Wounded Knee massacre.

Wovoka (aka Jack Wilson) was the Paiute mystic whose religious pronouncements spread the Ghost Dance among many tribes across the American West. In the late 1880’s, Wovoka began to predict the dawning of a new age in which whites would vanish, leaving Indians to live in a land of material abundance, spiritual renewal, and immortal life. Like many millenarian visions, Wovoka’s prophecies stressed the link between righteous behavior and imminent salvation. Salvation was not to be passively awaited but welcomed by a regime of ritual dancing and upright moral conduct. Despite the later association of the Ghost Dance with the Wounded Knee Massacre and unrest on the Lakota reservations, Wovoka charged his followers to “not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always… Do not refuse to work for the whites and do not make any trouble with them.”

While the Ghost Dance is sometimes seen today as an expression of Indian militancy and the desire to preserve traditional ways, Wovoka’s pronouncements ironically bore the heavy mark of popular Christianity. His invocation of a “Supreme Being,” immortality, pacifism, and explicit mentions of Jesus (often referred to with such phrases as “the messiah who came once to live on earth with the white man but was killed by them”) all speak of an infusion of Christian beliefs into Paiute mysticism.

The Ghost Dance spread especially among the more recently defeated Indians of the Great Plains. Local bands would adopt the core of the message to their own circumstances, writing their their own songs and dancing their own dances. In 1889 the Lakota sent a delegation to visit Wovoka. This group brought the Ghost Dance back to their reservations, where believers made sacred shirts – said to be bullet-proof – especially for the Dance. In the summer of 1890, white people living south and west of the Lakota reservations became alarmed and believed an Indian uprising would occur.

In October 1890, Daniel F. Royer was appointed Indian Agent at the Pine Ridge Reservation. He was a victim of a political plum system that handed incapable people precarious jobs after they had failed at everything else. He had no business meddling in Indian Affairs. On November 18, Royer dispatched a panicky telegram to the commissioner of Indian Affairs, demanding military intervention and the arrest of the Lakota leaders to prevent an outbreak:

Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy. I have fully informed you that employees and government property at this agency have no protection and are at the mercy of these dancers. Why delay by further investigation? We need protection, and we need it now. The leaders should be arrested and confined in some military post until the matter is quieted, and this should be done at once.

Special Edition Buffalo Echo, 22 November 1890.

Special Edition Buffalo Echo, 22 November 1890.

Sensationalistic accounts of purported Indian plots clotted the air and darkened the pages of newspapers across the country. For example, on November 22, 1890, the Buffalo Echo in Buffalo, Wyoming, put out a extra edition reporting under the headline, “THE MASSACRE BEGUN”, that “religion crazed Redskins” had broken out of the Pine Ridge Agency. The paper reported that 20,000 troops were being called up and that Fort Robinson had been left unprotected. It further reported that ranchmen and their families were “fleeing in terror”. The entire issue was based on conversations with a lady who was passing through by stage and who had no first hand knowledge, but was merely repeating what she had heard.

In December 1890, white officials banned the Ghost Dance on Lakota reservations. When the rites continued, officials called in troops to Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota. The military, led by veteran General Nelson Miles, geared itself for another campaign.

View from the center of the Lakota camp to the northeast, across the council circle, after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek; shows scattered frozen bodies (women in foreground) in the snow, tepee poles; one with a soldier standing under them, a broken down wagon and U.S. soldiers with horse in the distance.

View from the center of the Lakota camp to the northeast, across the council circle, after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek; shows scattered frozen bodies (women in foreground) in the snow, tepee poles; one with a soldier standing under them, a broken down wagon and U.S. soldiers with horse in the distance.

The presence of the troops exacerbated the situation. Short Bull and Kicking Bear led their followers to the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge reservation, to a sheltered escarpment the Lakota called “Oonakizin,” or the Stronghold. The dancers sent word to Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapas to join them. However, on 15 December, before he could set out from the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, Sitting Bull was arrested by federal Indian police, who mistakenly believed he was a Ghost Dancer. A scuffle ensued in which Sitting Bull and seven of his warriors were slain, as well as six of the Indian policemen; tensions increased at Pine Ridge.

On December 16, the South Dakota Home Guard, a militia which had been created by Governor Arthur C. Mellete less than a month earlier, ambushed and massacred and scalped about 75 Lakota Ghost Dancers on the Pine Ridge reservation. Pete Lemley, later known as “the Badlands Fox”, was a twenty-year old daredevil, a renowned horseman who wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone, so naturally he was just the kind of fearless rider needed to lead the Home Guard Ambush. Pete became a millionaire rancher and lived to be ninety-one years old. In 1959, at the request of his son (Dr. Ray Lemley), Pete tape recorded details of his participation in the attacks against Ghost Dancers during the month of December 1890. His account of the Home Guard Ambush on December 16, 1890, is a cowboy’s unashamed narrative of the day he considered one of the most exciting in his life:

There was a bunch of men there. We went over [Cheyenne River] and stirred them [Lakota] up and a lot of our fellows laid in at the head of a gulch. We went over to the Stronghold and got ’em after us and they chased us down Corral Draw. Riley Miller was at the head of it and layin’ up there behind the trees and rocks. This Riley Miller was a dead shot, and he just killed them Indians as fast as he could shoot. Francis Roush, Roy Coates, George Cosgrove, Paul McClellan was up with us. We killed about seventy-five of them. Riley Miller and Frank Lockhart went back there and got some pack horses and brought out seven loads of guns, shirts, war bonnets, ghost shirts, and things. Riley took ’em to Chicago and started a museum. He made a barrel of money out of it.

“Stirred them up” means Lemley and others galloped in upon a band of Ghost Dancers and fired directly into them. The Lakota ran to their tents for weapons. They mounted and chased the cowboys, falling directly into a well-planned ambush at the head of the Corral Draw, three miles south of Heutmacher Table. It is possible that some of the cowboys believed they were helping to protect white “settlers”, but most members of the Home Guard were out for the sport of killing Indians and nothing more.

The Home Guard also killed a small band of Lakota in early December near French Creek. The band had gone to Buffalo Gap to hunt at the ranch of a friendly whiteman they knew. They were greeted with a gun. They were unaware of the events that were transpiring around them. They sensed something wrong and attempted to leave. Because their horses were tired, they had to make camp between French Creek and Battle Creek. They were massacred in a surprise attack the next morning, December 10. The Lakota refer to the ambush as Buffalo Gap, which points to the origin of the hostility, not the location of the ambush. One young woman managed to escape to tell the story.

A group portrait of Big Foot's Miniconjou Lakota band at a Grass Dance on the Cheyenne River, South Dakota,  in August 1890. Nearly all these people were killed at Wounded Knee just a few months later.

A group portrait of Big Foot’s Miniconjou Lakota band at a Grass Dance on the Cheyenne River, South Dakota, in August 1890. Nearly all these people were killed at Wounded Knee just a few months later.

In early December 1890, Troops A & B of the 8th Cavalry under Capt. Almond B. Wells was stationed at Olrichs, South Dakota. Wells allowed Lt. Joseph C. Byron to enter the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and massacre a small band of Indians under Chief Two Strike on Cuny Table with cannon fire. All the Indians were killed. This incident appears to have been covered up by the United States Army for about 100 years. The property of the Indians was buried and the soldiers of the 8th Cavalry were sworn to secrecy, so that even General Miles, the overall commander at Wounded Knee in 1890, may not have been aware of it. This and the Home Guard massacres are documented in the Renee Sansom Flood Collection at Vermillion, South Dakota.

While serving as the editor and publisher of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, a weekly newspaper published in Aberdeen, South Dakota, L. Frank Baum, the future author of The Wizard of Oz, wrote an editorial that was published on December 20:

Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead. He was not a Chief, but without Kingly lineage he arose from a lowly position to the greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring. He was an Indian with a white man’s spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his [tribe].

(…)

With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are…

Today, the U.S. Army’s 7th cavalry — the reconstructed regiment lost by George Armstrong Custer in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (“Custer’s last stand”) — surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Chief Spotted Elk (“Big Foot” was the name soldiers gave him) near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, an altercation occurred between a Lakota man and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. The massacre and precipitating events were described by the Commanding General, Nelson A. Miles, in his letter dated 13 March 1917 to the federal Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

I was in command of that Department in 1889, 1890 and 1891, when what is known as the Messiah Craze and threatened uprising of the Indians occurred. It was created by misrepresentations of white men then living in Nevada who sent secret messages to the different tribes in the great Northwest calling upon them to send representatives to meet Him near Walker Lake, Nevada.

This was done, and returning to their different tribes in the Northwest and West, and even in the Southwest, they repeated the false statement to the different tribes that the Messiah had returned to earth and would the next year move East, driving large herds of wild horses, buffalo, elk, deer and antelope, and was going to convert this into an Indian heaven – in other words, the Happy Hunting Grounds.

This, together with the fact that the Indians had been in almost a starving condition in South Dakota, owing to the scarcity of rations and the nonfulfillment of treaties and sacred obligations under which the Government had been placed to the Indians, caused great dissatisfaction, dissension and almost hostility. Believing this superstition, they resolved to gather and go West to meet the Messiah, as they believed it was the fulfillment of their dreams and prayer and the prophecies as had been taught them by the missionaries.

Several thousand warriors assembled in the Bad Lands of South Dakota. During this time the tribe, under Big Foot, moved from their reservation to near the Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota under a flag of truce. They numbered over four hundred souls. They were intercepted by a command under Lt. Col. Whitside, who demanded their surrender, which they complied with, and moved that afternoon some two or three miles and camped where they were directed to do, near the camp of the troops.

While this was being done a detachment of soldiers was sent into the camp to search for any arms remaining there, and it was reported that their rudeness frightened the women and children. It is also reported that a remark was made by some one of the soldiers that “when we get the arms away from them we can do as we please with them,” indicating that they were to be destroyed. Some of the Indians could understand English. This and other things alarmed the Indians and a scuffle occurred between one warrior who had a rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a massacre occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Big Foot, and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the parry were hunted down and killed. The official reports make the number killed 90 warriors and approximately 200 women and children.

The action of the Commanding Officer, in my judgment at the time, and I so reported, was most reprehensible. The disposition of his troops was such that in firing upon the warriors they fired directly towards their own lines and also into the camp of the women and children. and I have regarded the whole affair as most unjustifiable and worthy of the severest condemnation.

View of the snow-covered ravine where many Lakota sought shelter during the massacre near Wounded Knee Creek; shows frozen bodies where soldiers fired and killed from both sides of the ravine, a few men with horses, and a broken wagon.

View of the snow-covered ravine where many Lakota sought shelter during the massacre near Wounded Knee Creek; shows frozen bodies where soldiers fired and killed from both sides of the ravine, a few men with horses, and a broken wagon.

As a matter of fact, soldiers chased and killed Lakota women and children as far as two miles from the camp site. One of the survivors, a Lakota woman, was treated by the Indian physician Dr. Charles Eastman at a make-shift hospital set up in a church in the village of Pine Ridge. Before she died of her wounds she told about how she had concealed herself in a clump of bushes. As she hid there she saw two terrified little girls running past. She grabbed them and pulled them into the bushes. She put her hands over their mouths to keep them quiet but a mounted soldier spotted them. He fired a bullet into the head of one girl and then calmly reloaded his rifle and fired into the head of the other girl. He then fired into the body of the Lakota woman. She feigned death and although badly wounded, lived long enough to relate her terrible ordeal to Dr. Eastman.

It does not take a genius to conclude from the above facts that the incident at Wounded Knee on 29 December 1890 was nothing less than a massacre. The fact that 23 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to soldiers of the 7th Cavalry who carried out the mass murders there still boggles the mind. Despite the current view that the battle was a massacre of innocents, the Medals still stand. Some Native American and other groups and individuals continue to lobby Congress to rescind these “Medals of dis-Honor“. ___________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________
Conflict came to Wounded Knee again in February 1973 when it was the site of a 71-day occupation by the activist group AIM (American Indian Movement) and its supporters, who were protesting the U.S. government’s mistreatment of Native Americans. During the standoff, two Indians were killed, one federal marshal was seriously wounded, and numerous people were arrested.

Finally, every year on December 15th people gather at Sitting Bull Camp, near Bullhead, South Dakota, to ride horseback nearly three hundred miles to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre. The ride is called the Omaka Tokatakiya (Future Generations) Ride and the majority of the riders come from three Lakota reservations: Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and Pine Ridge. Others come from as far as Germany and the Czech Republic. In two weeks they travel across rivers and farms, cross a major interstate, and arrive at Wounded Knee on the anniversary of the massacre. While the ride is in many ways in homage to Sitting Bull, Big Foot, and those who lost their lives at Wounded Knee, this ride is also meant to foster leadership qualities in the youth. Along the way, the riders experience some of what their ancestors endured by embodying an intellectual, spiritual, and physical remembrance. Braving the cold — down to −20°F — these kids, some of them barely into puberty, ride as many as 35 miles in a day.
___________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________

Post Script:
I have heard some conservative extremists recently use the Wounded Knee Massacre in an argument against any restriction on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, such as a prohibition on the sale of modern assault weapons. An example is an article entitled “A Little Bit Of History To Think About” that may have first appeared on the “Common Sense Junction Political Blog” on 14 January 2013 and has been re-blogged several times on right-wing extremist websites. It reads in part:

Wounded Knee was among the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history. It ended in the senseless murder of 297 people… The Second Amendment was written by people who fled oppressive and tyrannical regimes in Europe, and it refers to the right of American citizens to be armed for defensive purposes, should such tyranny arise in the United States… Ask any Native American, and they will tell you it was inferior technology and lack of arms that contributed to their demise… Wounded Knee is the prime example of why the Second Amendment exists, and why we should vehemently resist any attempts to infringe on our Rights to Bear Arms. Without the Second Amendment we will be totally stripped of any ability to defend ourselves and our families. [emphasis in original]

Interestingly, the owner of the above website commented following the article: “This was posted as received in its entirety even though I don’t know who wrote it. If its yours and you want credit and a link let me know.”  So, no one knows who originally wrote it — Native American or immigrant, first generation or tenth generation.

To begin with, the Lakota were not citizens of the United States at the time — they were members of their own nation, by treaty and therefore according to the U.S. Constitution. As a result, the Second Amendment did not apply to them. The Lakota were entitled to arm themselves because they were in their own country.

There can be no doubt that Big Foot had surrendered himself and his people. On the morning of 29 December 1890, they were prisoners of war. General Miles recognized this. But the author of the above article neglects to point out that they were prisoners of war. As POWs, the army was prohibited from summarily executing them, even in those days. This is why killing the Lakota at Wounded Knee was murder and the incident was a massacre. The disarmed prisoners of war at Wounded Knee were killed in cold blood.

Wounded Knee was not “among the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history”, because the Lakota were not U.S. citizens. I don’t think even conservatives would blame the U.S. military for disarming foreign nationals that are perceived to be enemies — the army has been doing this since 1776. Nor were the Lakota being “totally stripped of any ability to defend [them]selves and [their] families” by their own leaders.

The sophomoric author of the above article has taken the Wounded Knee Massacre, which was a horrible tragedy, out of its historical context to use it to justify the sale of assault weapons today. This is unjustified and reprehensible.

References: