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Chinatown ’89: CHINATROPOLIS

Hong Kong Exodus Hits New York

THE SHOTS FIRED BY CHINESE SOLDIERS IN Tiananmen Square last June are still being heard in New York’s Chinatown. Isolated for decades by immigration laws, language, and its dense pattern of poverty, Chinatown is changing rapidly with the influx of new money and new immigrants — both pouring in from Hong Kong (which is scheduled to return to Beijing’s control in 1997) and driven by the widespread despair on the mainland.

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Manhattan north of Worth Street and south of Canal had six banks 10 years ago; now it boasts more than 25. Hong Kong real estate developers have sunk at least $400 million into New York City construction projects over the past year; capital transfers have spawned a new Chinese-American middle class anxious to cash in on the money flow. And so many new immigrants are arriving (usually on Korean Air, the cheapest fare to New York from the Far East) that the crowded streets of Chinatown have pushed south to City Hall and north past Little Italy — even spawning bustling colonies in Brooklyn and Queens.

Still, unlike the thriving Asian communities of the West Coast, New York’s 300,000-strong Chinese-American population has yet to find a political voice. Tradi­tionally preoccupied with the politics of the mainland — ­even if only in opposition — in the wake of the massacre, Chinatown seems on the verge of a radical reorientation toward American issues. The United States is the only here here.

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The New Chinese Exodus: The Party’s Over but Still in Power — Get Out Now
By Dusanka Miscevic and Peter Kwong

Riding the Dragon: Chinatown’s Politics — Many Votes, No Chinese Candidates
By Yuen Ying Chan

Surviving in America: The Trials of a Chinese Immigrant Woman
By Joann Lum & Peter Kwong

Rubbing Two Neighborhoods Together
By Karla Delgado

Growing by Leaps
By Lauren Esserman

Outside Looking In
By Luis H. Francia

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Chinatown ’89: The New Chinese Exodus

OH, BY THE WAY, THEY ARE CRACKING DOWN. IF YOU run into anybody who needs a passport, don’t forget, I can get one.” Mr. Wu smiled from behind his desk, handing us the tickets for a June 1 flight from New York to China. He had a whole range of deals to offer: a passport issued by a Central American country for US $12,000, with the provision that the holder not go there; a similar passport with a visa to the United States for US $18,000; and, at the top end of the scale, a passport to be issued within two days for US $50,000, enabling the holder to reside in a South American coun­try immediately. Interested parties, once smuggled out of China, were to contact him from Hong Kong. Who in China could come up with that kind of money?

“Plenty of people can afford it,” he laughed. “Private business is booming and corruption is all over the place. You’ll be surprised.” He had the assurance of someone who had processed at least a handful of cases. As to who would want a passport within two days, Mr. Wu had an unusual answer: “Someone who needs to get away in hurry. People in political trouble, like terrorists, maybe.”

His remarks turned out to be prophetic. We arrived in China on the day of the military crackdown in Beijing, and a whole group of people needed to get out. Indeed, it was probably networks of the type that Mr. Wu had been linked up with that saved the lives of some of the most prominent prodemocracy protesters. “Under­ground railroads,” operated by the so-called “snake­heads,” were instrumental in smuggling the “counterrev­olutionaries” out of China. The incredible sum of $50,000 — in a country where annual per capita income is $300 — seemed like a small price to pay. Many outside supporters, particularly the people of Hong Kong, were more than willing to pick up the tab.

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People have been leaving the People’s Republic of China since its inception. The first wave of well-to-do and well-educated émigrés, able to pay for a safe cross­ing, became the engine for Hong Kong’s economic boom in the 1950s, and the core of the now well-established professional class of Chinese Americans in the United States. In later decades, and particularly during the Cultural Revolution, the thoroughly “proletarianized” would-be escapees were mostly reduced to swimming across to Hong Kong from the surrounding areas in Guangdong Province. Most were disaffected young men who felt they were wasting their lives in the countryside. Quite a few have ended up as waiters in New York’s Chinatown.

When China opened her doors under Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, new methods came into vogue. People with sufficient academic credentials were, once again, allowed to apply to foreign universities. Having a rela­tive overseas became an asset. Searching for a potential “foreign relative” became an obsession of many young city dwellers. We were approached in 1980 by a mayor’s son and a daughter of a top-ranking diplomat, both in their early thirties, who asked for “our hands in double marriage,” to be dissolved once out of China so they could marry and live abroad. They belonged to the most privileged class in China, and it was hard to imagine why they would want to leave. Partly, it was out of curiosity about the outside world. Partly, the decision reflected their understanding of what the West was: a place where they could indulge their expensive tastes and fulfill material needs without ideolog­ical obstruction.

The young woman was lucky to marry an unsuspecting Englishman. For a year she phoned and wrote back to China about her life in Great Britain, mention­ing a cassette player, a motorbike, and other things that her husband bought for her. Then she decided she was not going to divorce him after all.

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Several artists we know cultivated their “foreign relations” for years so as to eventually land a spouse. For them, going abroad meant the opportunity to express their individual sensibility freely. One painter simply wanted to make abstract paintings after years of socialist realism and revolutionary romanticism. Another hoped to be able to exhibit his politically satirical sculpture. Filmmakers were dreaming of rich, appreciative patrons­ — no more government-approved movies.

A successful actress in her mid-twen­ties cannot stand working with directors who are bound by the style of the 1940s. “What can they say about the feelings and problems of the young in the 1980s?” she asks. “These people can’t come up with anything new, and they prevent others from doing it because they feel threatened. So I just get paid to sit at the studio doing nothing.” A 70-year-old holistic en­thusiast from Southern California agreed to marry her, but the Party official at her work unit refused to grant permission.

In China, the Party has a final say in matters that are considered private in the West, such as marriage and birth. Even dating is often arranged under the good auspices of a concerned Party secretary. The Party has taken over the traditional role of the family. Only, if the family arranges a marriage, it is seen as a vestige of feudalism; if the Party does it, it’s a social responsibility. A woman still un­married at 25 cannot be left to her own resources. Our friend who refused two suggested candidates after two arranged dates in 1979 knew she would get only one more chance before she was per­ceived as a social problem.

Because of the population problem, childbirth is very much under Party con­trol. When we asked a young college as­sistant professor and his wife in Shang­hai this summer whether they were planning to have a kid, he said: “Well, we missed our quota last year, so now we have to wait.” The wife explained: “There are too many young couples in our neigh­borhood, and the neighborhood commit­tee can only allow so many childbirths a year.” Actually, they didn’t even think they wanted a child. “China is so back­ward,” she said looking around the one­-room apartment, “and we are so crowd­ed — these are no conditions for a child.”

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HOUSING, JOB ALLOCATION, salary in­creases, and promotion are also in the hands of the Party. Rather than worrying about professional problems and job per­formance, many talented employees have to spend time cultivating useful connec­tions to make life a little easier.

Chen Yixin, a first-rate electronics en­gineer and inventor of audio equipment from Beijing, disliked playing politics and got tired of being ordered around by in­competent and jealous supervisors. When the door opened in 1980, he joined his brother in California to work as a TV repairman. Although settling for a humbler job, he hasn’t regretted leaving the brutalizing day-to-day struggle behind. “Chinese society rewards the informers and the sycophants, while the talented get persecuted. I never got a reward for anything I did. Now, at least, I make money when I work hard. I can do what­ever I want in my free time.”

Expressing one’s individual taste and style is the meaning of freedom for many in China. They proudly exhibit their sound systems and collections of foreign tapes, announcing defiantly: “I like Tai­wanese music,” or “This kind of love song suits my mood.” When they envy the freedom of Westerners, they don’t think of the right to be involved political­ly. They seek to leave China in order to be left out of politics — to be left alone.

Wang Degong is a high school science teacher from Shanghai we’ve known for years. He applied to join his sisters in Canada in 1980, but discovered that Can­ada had no use for high school teachers who spoke no English. He then applied, in 1982, for an immigration visa to the U.S. through his brother-in-law, pledging to wash dishes if need be. We were curi­ous why he wanted to leave China so badly. “You don’t know,” he said. “I’m scared to death of movements.” He was referring to the political movements he had to live through in forty-odd years.

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We met him again in mid-June of this year, some time after the military crack­down in Beijing. He was still waiting for his visa, and still spoke no English. But, somehow, this time his plight seemed plausible. China was embarking on a new “movement,” and who could blame him for not wanting any part in it? By the time we left Shanghai he knew he’d have to spend the month of July, after school gets out, in daily study-group sessions with other teachers in his school. The aim would be to “unify their thought,” namely their understanding of the pro­-democracy movement. In practice this would mean that after reading “Chair­man Deng’s Speech,” which condemned the movement as counterrevolutionary, they would all have to express their com­plete agreement with the condemnation, and confess to any aberrations that may have occurred in their thoughts or ac­tions during the demonstrations. They would have to report on other people’s “mistaken” demonstration support, and hope that no one reported them.

Psychological pressure has been the bottom line of all political movements in China. The Communist Party mobilizes the people through “consciousness-rais­ing,” pitting one segment of the popula­tion against another, so as to leave the Party in full control. One of the best­-publicized cases during the recent arrests in Beijing involved a sister who turned in her student-brother, presumably to pro­tect her own family from being implicat­ed. It’s something Western observers have trouble comprehending. But seeing it lauded throughout the media gave the Chinese citizens a signal — the manipula­tion of fear is once again being used by the government.

Only this time, the Party is more des­perate and violent. Its present attempt to achieve ideological unity is “ludicrous,” according to Ai Min, the daughter of a very high Party official. “There is no legitimacy in this leadership’s claim on morality.” Intelligent and confident of her capability to think for herself, Ai Min is one of the few Chinese who have had the opportunity, or the guts, to change jobs several times, so as not to be stuck with work that is not challenging. Her present job, which brings her into fre­quent contact with foreigners, provides a high income and the possibility of traveling abroad. She never thought of leaving China in the past — she believed that the reforms of the 1980s needed people like her, who found satisfaction in doing their jobs well.

But now that’s become irrelevant. Ai Min doesn’t want to be manipulated into phony self-criticism, nor to take part in the drive for ideological conformity. She is angry that the Party expects her to stop being a thinking individual. Al­though she trusts that the fascist regime will eventually collapse, she doesn’t feel like wasting her most productive years waiting for that to happen. She admits that she would like to leave China now.

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NOBODY WE ENCOUNTERED IN CHINA in the weeks following the Beijing massacre denied that they would like to leave. “If our government were to open up the bor­der, not one person would be left in China,” mused Bing, our taxi driver, as he weaved through Shanghai’s traffic, avoid­ing the plainclothes policemen on our track. “All government officials send their children abroad. Why should the people be stupid enough to want to stay?” What bothered him the most was the official corruption. “The harder I work, the more ways they find to squeeze me,” he complained, revealing that he had been paying $400 under the table at each yearly inspection of his vehicle to the official who wielded the rubber stamp. “Hah, money means nothing in China if you don’t have the official connection. You are still nobody.”

Like many other private entrepreneurs whom we met this summer, he was apply­ing for a student visa to Australia. With a policy granting student visas to all for­eigners who pay $5000 for a semester of language courses at an accredited institu­tion, Australia had become the preferred destination for the Chinese who have the money, but not the connections or quali­fications to leave any other way. They hope to permanently settle abroad. “I’d be willing to do anything to stay out of China,” Bing contemplated. “I’ve done manual work all my life, what do I have to be afraid of?”

By the end of June, however, the Chi­nese government announced that all the Chinese exit visas would have to be reis­sued. Bing was concerned that he may no longer have a chance to leave. So were many students who had already gained admission to respectable foreign universi­ties. In the July issue of the Bulletin of High Education, Beijing authorities an­nounced new criteria for issuing exit vi­sas: from now on the political attitude of the applicants would be stressed. Accord­ing to diplomatic sources, students cur­rently being given clearance to leave are not the first-rate ones interested in sci­ence or technology, but mainly second-rate English majors from provincial uni­versities. The consequences are already being felt in America: new Chinese stu­dents have been typically applying to lesser-known, smaller schools. What mat­ters, according to a Chinese National Education Commission official comment­ing on the situation in the China Daily a few days ago, is that students profess patriotism and desire to serve their country.

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The new policy appears to be a direct response to the almost universal condem­nation of the government by the large expatriate student community. Many of the 800,000 Chinese who have studied abroad during the past 10 years have not gone back. The recent move of foreign governments allowing Chinese students to overstay their visas is certain to de­prive China of a whole generation of her best minds — a double tragedy for China, which already lost a generation to the Cultural Revolution. There are 70,000 such students in the United States alone. They will eventually have to go back, unless they acquire a foreign passport.

Only, sometimes, even that is not enough. Hong Kong’s 3.25 million Chi­nese residents who hold British passports will not be allowed to settle permanently in Great Britain after the colony reverts to China in 1997. They will automatically become Chinese subjects. Both Britain and China went through pains to instill confidence in the principle stipulated by the Basic Law, to be implemented upon reversion: one country, two systems. The law was designed to ensure maximal au­tonomy for Hong Kong in its first 50 years under Chinese rule. In the wake of the military crackdown in Beijing, how­ever, Hong Kong residents cynically com­pare the future of the territory to the present predicament of Tibet.

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Hong Kong is certainly no Tibet today, but the recent events have shown just how fragile prosperity can be. On June 5, the Hong Kong stock market lost over 1000 points, or 37 per cent of its value. Similar losses in the value of real estate measured tens of billions of U.S. dollars. A run on mainland-owned banks depleted them of US $2.1 billion in the first three days after the massacre. Hong Kong jour­nalist Liu Huiqing asks: “Can the Hong Kong people restrain their anguish, an­ger, and disillusionment to work con­structively for the future?”

Many residents have, in fact, respond­ed by participating in public protests, demonstrations, strikes, and vigils. The most committed intend to battle for dem­ocratic institutions and broader partici­pation in politics for the people of Hong Kong. But they realize that the destiny of Hong Kong cannot be separated from that of China. “We can only have democ­racy if China has democracy. Our effort will have to be a part of the larger Chi­nese struggle,” explains Danny Yung, a Hong Kong artist and activist, and a for­mer resident of New York City.

The Chinese government appears ap­prehensive of this new interest in peo­ple’s power and human rights in Hong Kong. The Chinese State Council official in charge of Hong Kong affairs an­nounced: “We will not tolerate anybody using Hong Kong or Macao as a base to subvert the government of the People’s Republic.”

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IT IS NOT CLEAR what the Chinese gov­ernment intends to do, but most people don’t feel like waiting around to find out. Immigration applications to even the most obscure places are up, and passport sales are booming. Many consular offi­cials reportedly engage in sales of genu­ine passports through intermediaries for as little as US $5000. A fake passport costs US $1400 to $3000, depending on how urgently it’s needed. There is no guarantee that one will succeed in enter­ing a foreign country with it, but a Hong Kong resident remarks: “My chances are better with a fake passport than if I apply for an immigration visa.”

The Chinese exodus has become a big business, with almost the whole world a market. But nearly all people fleeing both mainland China and Hong Kong would like to come to the United States. The myth of the promised land is still very much alive. Hong Kong residents know quite well where they are headed, even if only from movies and encounters with foreign tourists. For many mainlanders, however, America is simply a better place: “the beautiful country,” as its name in Chinese reads. “Are the roads abroad much better than in China?” in­quired a private chauffeur of a Chinese dignitary, adding: “I know your cars are much better.” Then, as if though ponder­ing the reason for the unequal prosperity, he concluded: “You must have decollecti­vized your land much earlier than China.”

While America may be a better place, many of the new immigrants will end up in Chinatowns, settling for sub-minimum wages, intensifying the competition for jobs and housing, driving real estate val­ues even higher. George, a young New York–based Chinatown developer, de­lights in the prospect: “I’ll make enough money by 1997 to retire.” For the com­munity residents, however, the new wave of immigrants means that the already depleted community resources will be overstrained. Even more worrisome is the chilling effect of the Beijing massacre­ — which stripped the affable mask from the face of the Chinese government — on pre­viously enthusiastic Americans. Many Chinese Americans fear that the inter­rupted honeymoon in Sino-American re­lations may negatively affect their treat­ment by other Americans — an experience still vividly remembered from the Korean and Cold War years.

The new arrivals do not share such concerns. “Don’t call me Yaping, my name is Edward,” insists a Chinese col­lege student to his Chinese-American friends. “I’m no longer Chinese. I’m an American now.” His identity change re­flects the popular hatred for the Chinese government, and a conviction that the new land will reward his determination. ■

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Chinatown ’89: Riding the Dragon

STILL BASKING IN HIS PRIMARY VICTORY, Joe Hynes, Democratic candidate for Brooklyn district attorney, found himself in an upscale Chinatown restaurant one day in late September, making a pitch to the local press corps. At the luncheon, Hynes’s Chinese-American sup­porters, mostly accountants, lawyers, and garment con­tractors — all members of the emerging Chinatown mid­dle class — were on hand to endorse their chosen candidate and announce plans for an October fund­raiser. “It will be a great party and the initiation of Chinatown into American politics,” said Robert Lin, an organizer for the event and professor at John Jay Col­lege of Criminal Justice.

While most Chinatown people don’t vote in Brooklyn, New York’s Chinatown, with its hustle and bustle, nev­ertheless represents the soul of the Chinese existence in New York City. So it is only appropriate for Joe Hynes to cross the Brooklyn Bridge and give symbolic homage to the city’s 300,000 Chinese.

All through the summer, every mayoral candidate came through Chinatown to pay his respects, visiting day-care centers, senior citizen centers, schools, park events, stomping the litter-filled streets of the crowded neighborhood.

In return, Chinatown gave generously. In late August, Mayor Koch was feted at a 77-table banquet at China­town’s Silver Palace Restaurant, adding over $40,000 to his campaign coffers. Richard Ravitch, who befriended a group of Chinese garment manufacturers, was rewarded with $28,000 at another fundraiser.

According to exit surveys conducted by the Asian­-American Legal Defense and Education Fund at four Chinatown polling stations, David Dinkins was the big winner with 51 per cent of the Democratic primary vote. But the Dinkins victory hardly represents the real politi­cal awakening of Chinatown — that has yet to happen.

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FOR ALL THE ATTENTION lavished on Chinatown — and all the money they collected — the candidates have gen­erated little enthusiasm among the men and women on the street. In the primary, less than 600 voters turned out at the six Chinatown polling stations — out of an estimated 9000 registered voters.

“It is very disappointing, and I don’t know why,” said a puzzled Pauline Chan, president of the Chinatown Voters Education Alliance.

The long history of internal strife in China is the main culprit for the apathy, according to Nora Chang Wang, founder and board member of CVEA. “Chinese Americans, whether they are from China or Hong Kong, don’t want to associate with any political party,” said Wang. “The fights between the Communists and the Kuomintang make them think that party politics means dirty politics.” Wang added that a CVEA study early this year revealed that a full 60 per cent of the registered voters in the Chinatown area reported no party affiliations.

Wang, who emphasized that she speaks in her capaci­ty as a “community person,” is associate commissioner of the city’s Department of Employment, one of the two highest-ranking Chinese Americans in the city adminis­tration.

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If China’s politics hangs like a deadly weight on the political involvement of Chinese Americans in this coun­try, ironically it has also ushered in a new wave of activism since the Tiananmen massacre. As mainland students returned to their classrooms and libraries after an initial uproar, a number of Chinatown groups took up the good fight for democracy in China. Alfred Lui, director of a senior center and an organizer of a number of pro-democracy demonstrations, believes that any di­version from American politics by these activities will only be temporary — the agitation will have a healthy effect, shaking the community out of numbness. “At least people will begin to think not in terms of them­selves, but matters of right and wrong, just and unjust.”

But the Tiananmen events have also reopened old wounds — and created new splits. Virgo Lee, chair of the citywide Asian Americans for David Dinkins, rejected a last-minute plea by Lui, also a Dinkins supporter, to dissociate himself from an 80-table banquet in honor of National Day in the People’s Republic of China. Lui, who chose to picket outside the restau­rant with 60 other demonstrators, warned that support for the Chinese gov­ernment by AADD members would hurt Dinkins’s campaign efforts. “Attending the dinner is not an endorsement of what happened at Tiananmen,” Lee said. “Picketing is not appropriate in terms of maintaining good relations in the community.”

Lee is also president of the Chinese Progressive Association, one of the 18 sponsors of the dinner. CPA traces its origin to a small group of Asian-Ameri­can radicals who came together in the late ’60s to advocate ties with the Peo­ple’s Republic of China, a taboo subject in the community at that time. Since then, CPA members have broadened out and become active in the Rainbow Coali­tion, and now they have become the main players in the AADD — while remaining pro-China and riding the changing tides of the Chinese leadership over the years. But as China first shifted toward capital­ism and now fascism under Deng Xiaoping, being pro-China has long ceased to be seen as an automatically “progressive” stance. So once again, American politics became trapped in Chinese realities.

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THE DEAD HAND OF THE PAST works in other ways. After all, this is a community where, by American law, residents could not bring their wives in from overseas or become citizens until World War II. The decades of exclusion were followed by an­other quarter century of silence, when community activists were labeled Com­munists and haunted by the FBI and by Chinatown’s anti-Communists.

The first openings didn’t come until Nixon visited China in 1972. It was only then that the civil rights movement of the ’60s finally came to Chinatown. Thousands of residents demonstrated for construction jobs, over union and indus­try opposition, and protested against po­lice brutality.

But that was the ’70s. As Chinatown approaches the ’90s, money and people are pouring in from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China at an unprecedented rate. Foreign banks and investors are bringing as many opportunities as threats to the old order, just as residents are drawn into a fiercer battle to make it in the U.S.

For the average working-class Chinese American, it’s a daily battle to survive, to keep your kids in school and away from the street gangs, and maybe, one day, to move to a “good” neighborhood. Con­trary to the myth depicting Asian Ameri­cans as “the model minority,” 71 per cent of Chinatown residents never finished high school and 55 per cent either do not speak English well or at all, according to the 1980 census. In addition, 24.7 per cent of Chinatown’s families live below the poverty level, compared to 17.2 per cent citywide. The census also found that at least half of all Chinatown families have two or more wage earners.

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SO FOR THE 5000 OR SO IMMIGRANTS that pour into Chinatown each year, nothing but work — and more work — ­could be the ultimate salvation. Since most immigrants work at nonunion jobs and are reluctant to receive government benefits (for fear of jeopardizing immi­gration prospects of close relatives), their only security comes from monthly entries into the precious saving pass books.

In Chinatown, the stores and restau­rants never close except during Chinese New Year. Here garment workers bend over their machines until seven, eight, or even nine o’clock at night and keep going on Saturdays, sometimes even on Sun­days, as long as jobs are available. Over the years, piece rates in the factories have gone down, but low wages are clearly no deterrent for people with limited options.

Workers board mini-vans on China­town street corners every morning that take them to their suburban or out-of-­state jobs. In packed, smoke-filled neigh­borhood employment agencies, new im­migrants hustle for choice jobs — ­restaurant jobs with 60-hour work weeks, but at locations not so far from the city so they can come home to their families once every week, instead of every month.

Chinatown’s emerging middle class, on the other hand, is also under siege, even as they try to get ahead of the rat race to exploit the new riches from overseas. Paul Yee, head of the Chinatown Beauti­fication Council and owner of a travel service on Canal Street, lamented the de­terioration of basic services during the Koch years, which he feels is threatening the neighborhood’s development. Parking has become the number one problem, he said, undermining both the restaurant and the garment industries, which de­pend on sidewalk deliveries to survive.

Yee said Chinatown has lost at least four major parking lots to condominium or commercial developments in the last few years. As he speaks, a nearby 15-story condo built on a former parking lot at the corner of Henry and Market streets has topped out; it will soon be renting at $350 to $400 a square foot, Hong Kong investors are expected to be the prime buyers. Yee added that he has complained about peddlers, the homeless, traffic, and the parks for years.

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BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Chinatown is under­represented and underheard — and win­ning a catch-up game will require consid­erable maneuvering. Chinese Americans do not hold any elected legislative office in the tri-state region, Chinatown’s best chance for an electoral seat is in the state assembly, yet the neighborhood is split between the 61st and 62nd districts along the Bowery, rendering Chinese-American votes on both sides insignificant.

School District 2, where over 35 per cent of the students are of Chinese origin, has only one Chinese member on its nine-person school board. Chinese-Amer­ican representation on the local commu­nity board has improved since David Dinkins became borough president (with the power to appoint all board members) four years ago, but the five Chinese Americans on the board still fall short of the proportion of Chinese residents in the area, which is about 24 per cent.

Chinese Americans are similarly under­represented in the city administration, According to a new study by the Commu­nity Services Society, Asian Americans, of which more than half are Chinese, make up 1.7 per cent of the total city government workforce — less than half their share of the city’s total labor force.

Finally, in spite of Mayor Koch’s occa­sional parties for Asian Americans at Gracie Mansion and his promises of Asian-American appointments, there are only two Chinese Americans occupying senior decision-making positions in the city government: Nora Chang Wang and Barbara Chin, assistant commissioner of the NYC Human Rights Commission.

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For Chinatown residents, the big cor­porations are as guilty as Koch’s City Hall, with the banks leading the charge for the Chinatown gold mine. Deposit levels at Citibank’s main Chinatown branch at Mott Street stood at $27 mil­lion in 1988, ranking eighth among the total of 76 Manhattan Citibank branches, surpassed only by Wall Street, and mid­town Park and Fifth Avenues branches. Taken together, the three Citibank Chi­natown branches boasted $550 million in deposits. Yet just two months ago, Citi­bank put on hold a Chinatown applica­tion for a $7 million loan for commercial development until the sponsors can raise more equity funds.

The project, named Chung Pak, is to be built next to a new detention center at Canal and Centre streets on land donated by the city as part of a compromise. The project, for which the community must raise its own seed money, has suffered numerous delays, with Citibank’s stalling on the loan its latest woe. “With all the money Citibank is making in our commu­nity, I thought it should have given us an interest-free loan,” said 72-year-old Yukfoo Chan, a longtime Chinatown resident who sees his chance for an apartment in the housing that would be built atop the commercial project fade day by day.

Robert Lee, who heads the nonprofit Asian American Arts Centre on the Bow­ery, shares many of Chen’s gripes about the banks. He added that his center had managed to get $500 every year from one bank but “you have to dress up to attend their press conferences and let them take your pictures for the papers.”

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IN THE SUREST SIGN of the post-Koch era, Chinatown restaurants are getting ready to remove the mayor’s picture from their windows. The three-term mayor will best be remembered for the detention center he built in the heart of Chinatown, over vehement protests from Chinatown residents, which culminated in a 20,000-strong march on City Hall.

But even staunch Dinkins supporters, who are convinced that a Dinkins reign would usher in a new openness and ac­cess for minorities to City Hall, dare not entertain high hopes. “We have to keep making noises and keep up the pressure,” said AADD cochair Lui.

If fighting is the answer, Chinatown will have to fight its greatest enemies from within — to once again energize and bring together its people to identify with an issue, a cause, and maybe a candidate. Despite the public rhetoric and the cam­paign fanfare, community leaders will have to answer one ultimate question: can they mobilize and deliver?

Take the Chinese Consolidated Benev­olent Association, whose president once earned the title “unofficial mayor of Chi­natown.” An umbrella organization con­sisting of 60 family associations — some of which are now defunct — CCBA has been taking a backseat in most major Chinatown issues, whether they be housing, land use, the schools, or new road plans. While the group has been the standard bearer of anticommunism in the commu­nity for decades, it has uncharacteristi­cally taken a low profile in the community after the massacre.

[related_posts post_id_1=”421903″ /]

To many residents, these are signs that the century-old CCBA has grown old and spent. After all, the group just took a beating when City Hall excluded it from the sponsorship of Chung Pak, after Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau warned that three members of the CCBA’s Board had ties to the “tongs,” Chinatown’s criminal underground.

True, the new Chinatown middle class has been challenging the old guard for some time. But it is unclear if the young professionals, civic-minded entrepre­neurs, and ’60s-radicals-turned-main­streamers will ever come together and agree on a working agenda to claim the allegiance of their people. As the politics of Chinatown and the city prepares for a new administration, activists outside CPA are watching closely to see if AADD will open up access to the campaign be­yond the narrow interests of any one or­ganization. “It should be an opportunity to prove the viability of our community,” said Nora Chang Wang.

Citywide, a new generation of Chinese professionals and businessmen, American and foreign-born, is coming of age and is increasingly represented in the corporate, industrial, and art worlds. But for Chinatown, these are intangible allies, since few “Uptowners” have been willing to make the connection with the “Down­towners” committing to change in China­town. Chinese-American multimillion­aires will donate millions of dollars to the big-name institutions instead of casting their favors on a dilapidated Chinatown. Gerald Tsai, former Wall Street wizard and CEO of Primerica, donated $5.5 mil­lion to Boston University last year. Maria Lee, a Hong Kong investor, gave a mil­lion dollars to Pace — instead of to a school in Chinatown, where she is reap­ing huge profits in real estate and from the neighborhood’s largest chain of bakeries.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717156″ /]

WHILE DINKINS SUPPORTERS CITED their candidate’s longtime commitment to Asian-American issues as the reason for his victory, many remain unconvert­ed. In the two election districts that cover the heart of Chinatown, voters gave Koch a 56 per cent majority in the primary. Race is still a touchy subject. Mini Liu, chair of the Committee Against Anti­-Asian Violence, recalls that when a Chi­natown anticrime group displayed snap­shots of circled “suspicious characters” to pedestrians on Canal Street, all the tar­geted people were black. “It is outrageous,” Liu says. “It is racist, and feeds the notion that crime is generated by black people.”

While few would admit to such overt racism, there are those who believe that for Chinese Americans to identify them­selves as a minority is detrimental. “Our first task must be to rid ourselves of our own prejudices — [to realize] that we are Americans, no more, no less,” said Peter Ng, a Republican local district leader.

AT LATE SEPTEMBER’S CHINESE Na­tional Day banquet in honor of the main­land government, 800 people defied the demonstrators and catcallers in the streets to enter the Chinatown restau­rant. Many of those who attended, with their business stakes in China, could not afford to break ties with the Chinese gov­ernment. But many others in the crowd were laundry and restaurant workers who had no personal ax to grind. For many workers who emigrated years — or even half a century — ago, the occasion is not so much a celebration of the Deng-Li-Yang regime, but rather a final defense of their pride as a people in a still-foreign land.

Jimmy Chen, 67, who came to the United States in 1940 to work 16 hours a day in a laundry — and is still working — ­recalls fondly when China exploded the atomic bomb in 1965. “It makes us so proud as Chinese.” Talking about the demonstrators outside the restaurant, he said, “You curse your country, people will look down on you.”

But for the silent and nonvoting major­ity in Chinatown, there seems to be little way out of the enigma of being Chinese in America, at least for the time being. As immigrants of color, they have become neither Americans nor Chinese, but exiles in a promised land.

Categories
From The Archives From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Beyond the Tiananmen Massacre

June 13, 1989

The Seeds of Civil War
By James Ridgeway

By yesterday, the battle be­tween the army and the stu­dents had died down, but the battle for control of the Peo­ples’ Liberation Army was just beginning. 

In Beijing, elements of the crack 38th Army, renowned in China for routing Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, was believed to have come to the aid of the students. In early skir­mishes, the 38th reportedly engaged units of the 27th Army, the instrument of the Party hierarchy in Saturday’s massacre. An exchange of gunfire was reported in the western suburbs at a military airport, followed later by an attempted assassina­tion of Li Peng. 

In downtown Beijing Tuesday morn­ing, Michael Morrow reported a general strike had shut down the city. Emotions were running high. The people are rebel­lious, defiant, and determined above all to liquidate the 27th Army, now viewed as an army of assassins. “They can kill as many of us as they want,” a resident said, “but they can’t kill us all.” 

The troops of the 27th are skittish, moving along streets in patrols, usually under covering fire. Passport control and airport security are lax at the Beijing airport. Troops (possibly from the 38th) along the road into the city are friendly, and not until visitors reach the down­town does a sense of great tension take hold. 

“You must be careful how you walk in the streets, being careful not to gesture or speak, lest you come under fire,” Morrow said. “People are being killed by stray shots. The people place perhaps undue hope in the 38th, believing that troops loyal to the people of Beijing will arrive to liquidate the 27th.” 

Although sporadic firing could be heard in the streets of the city as well as rumors of firefights between troops from the dif­ferent armies, it was difficult to pin down any actual exchange. Some of the firing may have come from snipers. Visitors and reporters in Beijing found it difficult to move around the city, and watched troop movements through binoculars from their hotel windows. But they were getting their best information on what was going on at a nearby street corner from CNN out of Atlanta. 

To begin to understand the maelstrom of events in Tiananmen Square, one must have some idea of the complex organiza­tion of the Chinese Army. From now on, the outcome of the struggle could depend on the army. 

***

The Chinese armed forces number about three million peasants, no more than a third of whom are in the air force and navy. About half the remainder are regular forces, whose job it is to maintain internal order. The other half are specially trained, heavily armed members of some 40-odd field armies. 

The country is broken down into seven military regions, each one including sev­eral different provinces. The Beijing re­gion, for example, encompasses four provinces. Each region includes several field armies trained to be deployed against foreign invaders. In addition, each region maintains separate and dif­ferently trained troops to maintain inter­nal order, not unlike the state National Guards in the U.S. Finally, there are the local police. 

The Beijing region has the largest con­centration of military forces in the coun­try, including eight different field armies. Among them is the 38th Army, which refused to attack the students during the hunger strike two weeks ago; instead, the soldiers deserted, dropped their guns, or simply burst into tears. Based 40 miles south of Beijing, the 38th is the best-equipped army in the country, forming a strategic reserve in the event of a possible Soviet attack. 

The 38th consists of six divisions total­ing about 60,000 men, including three in­fantry divisions, one tank division, an anti-aircraft division, and an artillery di­vision. The army not only is well­-equipped, but has high morale. 

When the 38th refused to move on the students, Deng traveled to the southern part of the country to recruit military support. During the civil war in the late 1940s, Deng was political commissar to the second of four big front armies, which were deployed in the south after the war. Deng turned to his old comrades for as­sistance in implementing martial law last month, quietly moving their troops north to the capital. In addition, he enlisted the support of commanders of other field ar­mies, apparently including elite units sta­tioned along the Soviet border. These battalions were then dispatched to Beijing and the troops prepped to put down a student revolt. 

On Saturday, June 3, when the troops moved into Beijing, the first units were from the 27th Field Army, whose former commander, Chi Hao Tian, is now head of the general staff of the Liberation Army. The 27th’s current head is Yang. Chin Qu’un. The 27th is intertwined with top party leadership, and very hard-line. It ferociously attacked the students and played a major role in the savagery mounted against them. Following the 27th came the 38th, whose soldiers again refused to fight, and instead shouted, shot into the air, even gave their guns to the students. Appearing next were ele­ments of the 79th Independent Division, a vicious attack force from the coastal city of Jinan, which proceeded to chase down students and civilians, shooting them in the back. The 40th Army, from Shenyang to the northeast, and the 42nd Army, from Canton in the south, were both reportedly deployed in the capital streets. The 42nd was thought to be tak­ing positions in support of the 38th. ■

This article is based on additional report­ing and analysis by Yu Bin, a political scientist from Beijing University now studying in the United States. He served on a divisional planning staff in the 38th Army, and is currently a commentator for the Pacific News Service. 

 

Revolution Without Borders
By Yuen Ying Chan

The Tiananmen massacre has generated a giant wave of pro­tests among Chinese-American communities across the country. Thousands of Chinese students and long-time U.S. residents of Chinese heritage have taken part in demonstrations condemning the regime for premeditated murder and atrocities against its own citizens. Taking their cause to the White House, the steps of Congress, and the United Nations, they have issued an urgent appeal for international support. 

Gone are the pleas for government re­form that dominated student discussion only a week ago. In their place, Chinese studying at American universities (the largest single group of foreign students in the U.S.) openly call for the overthrow of Deng Xiao-ping and Li Peng. “The task is to overthrow the fascist and reaction­ary clique ruling China. This is the agen­da of the day,” said Xia Wen, an organiz­er of student protests in New York.

The New York Chinese community­ — which has always been torn between alle­giance to Beijing or its arch-rival, the Kuomintang government in Taiwan — has come full circle to discover common ground in the politics of their homeland. Since the student protests erupted almost two months ago, New York Chinese newspapers representing opposite politi­cal orientations are suddenly speaking the same language; Chinatown organiza­tions that were suspicious of or antago­nistic to each other in the past now find themselves voicing their indignation in a similar pitch and tone. The selflessness and ultimate martyrdom of the Chinese students have struck a universal chord among Chinese around the world. 

This Friday, thousands of Chinese im­migrants and students will gather at the United Nations and march across town to the Mission of the People’s Republic of China at West 66th Street near Lincoln Center. Billed as the largest Chinese­American demonstration ever, the coffin-­carrying march is expected to include ev­ery part of the Chinese community spectrum — millionaire entrepreneurs and toilers working at below-minimum wage, immigrant mothers and their American-­born daughters, the communist sympa­thizers and the anticommunists, the “up­towners” and the “downtowners” — who will converge in a massive outpouring of anger against the Chinese government. 

“This is your time to do something for China,” said Peter Lee, a protest organiz­er and former Chinatown reporter who quit his job two weeks ago over his pub­lisher’s call for a crackdown on the stu­dents in Beijing. “If you don’t stand up now, you may never stand up for any­thing else in your life.” Chinese students in New York are racing to construct a replica of the “goddess of democracy” crushed in Tiananmen Square for the march, to show that Chinese around the world have taken up the cause. 

Accusing President Bush of a double standard in his human rights policy — his angry and very specific denunciations of rights violations in the Soviet Union con­trast sharply with his guarded warnings to the Chinese leaders he befriended as envoy there in 1974 — has become the vogue since the recent turmoil began. One might as well go for a field day hunting down double standards in Chinatown. 

***

In the face of the monstrous criminal acts committed by the Chinese gov­ernment against its own citizens, the lines between the genuine and the fake in Chinatown have been sub­merged — at least for the time being — by the higher call for freedom and democra­cy. In the past month, the leaders of the Chinese Consoliuated Benevolent Associ­ation, an umbrella organization of 60 family organizations in Chinatown, has become a strong advocate for democracy in the People’s Republic — even though it has maintained a stony, 40-year silence on the military rule of the Kuomintang in Taiwan. 

No less ironic is the case of Fred Tang, one of the chief organizers of Friday’s march for justice. As president of the Chinese-American Planning Council, a multimillion-dollar social service agency, ‘Tung oversees a revolving-door cheap la­bor program for the City of New York. In the name of “training,” the CPC, a con­tractor for the city, pays immigrant workers $5 an hour (without medical in­surance or other benefits) for doing reha­bilitation work in rundown neighbor­hoods. The CPC also sets a limit of six months of employment. Prevailing wages for similar work in the general construc­tion industry run between $12 to over $20 per hour. 

Thus, the massive show of strength and unprecedented unity by the Chinese community masks the real contradictions and challenges confronting the city’s Chi­nese-Americans. For the last hundred years, events in China have always had tremendous impact on Chinese commu­nities overseas. “Since Chinese immi­grants were denied the right of natural­ization [until after World War II] and thus effectively disenfranchised from the democratic process, most Chinese in the United States channeled their energy and resources into strengthening China as the only means for achieving full protection and respect from Americans,” said Berkeley professor of Asian-American studies and community activist Ling-chi Wang. 

It wasn’t until the tail end of the civil rights and antiwar protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Chinese began to fight for equal rights in this country. In the past few years, with the easing of tensions between Taiwan and the main­land, divisions based on loyalties to the motherland seemed to give way to healthy disputes over local Chinatown is­sues like city politics and school board elections. 

But against the backdrop of the epoch­al tragedy in China, issues such as the city’s charter revision or minimum wage enforcement in Chinatown seem mun­dane. Yet it is precisely these concerns that would empower the Chinese-Ameri­can community. After all, the most far-­reaching impact of the events in China will be in matters of daily survival, such as jobs, housing, and education for one’s children. 

Already, residents of Hong Kong, due to return to China in 1997, are talking in hushed voices of massive emigration to any country in the world that might take them. Many Hong Kong students here, who were undecided over whether to re­turn or make a career in the U.S. just one week ago, have received midnight phone calls from panicked parents at home. The messages are all similarly direct: “By all means, stay. Find a way to get residence papers. You are now the hope of the whole family.” 

Dick Netzer, senior fellow at New York University’s Urban Research Center, says that if Hong Kong is persuaded that things will really be “bad” after the Chi­nese takeover in 1997, “an enormous wave of immigration from Hong Kong could be triggered very quickly.” He esti­mates that perhaps one million people would emigrate, of whom 300,000 to 400,000 could settle in the New York re­gion. It can hardly be disputed that events of the past week in China would meet the “really bad” criterion.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the recent tragic events in China will act as an explosive push factor in the global Chinese diaspora. Statistics from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services between 1983 to 1987 showed that Manhattan’s Chinatown had attract­ed the largest number of Chinese immi­grants (mostly from the mainland and Hong Kong), while the more affluent im­migrants from ‘Thiwan prefer Chinese neighborhoods in Queens. An influx of legal or illegal immigrants will put addi­tional strains on housing, the schools, and social services in the area. 

At the same time, one cannot expect the new money pouring in from the other side of the Pacific to filter down to the bottom of the community. Indeed, past experience has shown that the new riches have in fact created a community polar­ized between the haves and the have­nots. Real estate in Chinatown is such a high-stakes game now that local brokers admit that, increasingly, only the trans­national consortiums with big cash and “staying power” can manage to buy. A local store owner cannot even dream of buying a modest building in the neighbor­hood in case his lease expires. 

Already, the influx of money from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the rest of Southeast Asia is drastically changing the face of Manhattan’s Chinatown. In 1984, the BCC building on Canal Street became the first dilapidated factory loft building to be converted into a modern office com­plex on the Canal Street corridor. Now at least eight more major factory buildings within the 12-block area around the La­fayette-Canal intersection have under­gone similar conversions, with another seven targeted to go. Along Canal Street, squalid, century-old brick outer walls are giving way to glittering glass facades, and their tenants, mostly immigrant women who work at Juki sewing machines, are being replaced by young pin-striped Chi­nese yuppies (called Chuppies) who sit at computer terminals. A Chinese developer pointed out with glee that the center of Chinatown is shifting from good old Mott Street to Lafayette and Canal, where in­vestors have found good housing stock, better access to the subways, and room to grow towards Soho, Tribeca, and the City Hall area. 

In other parts of Chinatown, new con­struction is booming. Chinese developers, many in partnership with Hong Kong investors, are rushing to build on any empty lot they can lay their hands on. Learning from their defeat in a mid-’80s zoning battle that effectively killed the city’s plan to give luxury high-rises a free ride in Chinatown, developers are build­ing “as-of-right” to avoid the hassle of seeking variances or community approv­al. The slogan of the industry now is to build and build fast. The new construc­tion is for the upper-middle class never­theless, selling at $300-350 per square foot, and the Hong Kong gentry are a prime marketing target. Working people who cannot afford the high prices of these condominiums have no choice but to double up in crumbling Chinatown railroad flats or move to Ridgewood, Sun­set Park, and the few remaining afford­able neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. 

Even before the massacre, major banks from the colony had already landed in New York in a big way, in part to provide a more convenient conduit for the ex­pected influx of money in 1997. At least two premier Hong Kong banks are plan­ning major expansions in New York’s Chinatown. The Bank of East Asia, which is owned by the most affluent and influential Chinese elite in Hong Kong, has just moved from its Fifth Avenue offices downtown to Mott Street and in­stalled a full-service branch. And if all goes according to plan, East Asia will have the distinct honor of being the only bank in Chinatown housed in new, cus­tom-designed headquarters at Canal and Mulberry, the heart of old Chinatown, by early 1991. The new bank, estimated to cost $10 million, will replace the loft building now standing at the site, which the bank bought for $5.5 million in 1986, a bargain in retrospect. 

Not to be outdone, the Hang Seng Bank, the leading consumer bank in Hong Kong, is completing its rehab of the five-story cast-iron building on Canal Street that it bought for $7 million last year. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Bank, the de facto central bank of Hong Kong (which has nine branches in New York), recently switched its advertising agency and is launching a new market campaign. 

Canal Street now boasts eight bank branches within a 10-block area. On the other side of Chinatown, East Broadway, with another nine banks, competes with Canal for the title of the “Chinatown Wall Street.” And the banks are still roll­ing in — two more branches are currently under renovation on East Broadway. 

The construction boom has not given Chinese immigrants, among whom skilled construction workers number in the hundreds, a chance to enter New York con­struction unions. In major construction work in Chinatown, elite plumbing and electrical jobs remain in the hands of mostly white union workers. When Chi­nese workers are lucky enough to be hired, they can only expect to work at wage scales far below those prevailing in the industry as a whole without benefits or job security. Just last year, an undocu­mented Chinese worker from Malaysia was killed in a Queens house under reno­vation when slabs of concrete collapsed from the ceiling. The Chinese employer boldly announced that the unfortunate victim was “just a visitor” who happened to be there, looking for work. 

Such inequities render the cheap labor program run by the Chinese-American Planning Council even more repugnant. Is there a link between the real estate industry and the CPC, which operates a separate Local Development Corporation and has publicly stated its interest in sharing the city’s $500 million in public housing money? By staunchly defending its practice of paying $5 an hour for con­struction jobs, CPC institutionalizes cheap labor and does a service for real estate interests — and tries to give coolie labor a good name. 

Only two weeks ago, a protest against martial law at the Chinese consulate in Washington, D.C.­ — attended by 3000 Chinese stu­dents from across the eastern seaboard — had an almost surrealist air as the students marched under fluttering red flags in this belly of the beast of capitalism. Over and over, the marchers sang the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China and the Internation­ale, the battle hymn of international communism. 

This past Sunday, the day after the massacre, a march by many of the same students in New York City took on a decidedly different mood. Mourning the dead in Tiananmen, angry students with black arm bands carried wreaths and wore white paper flowers pinned to their chests. The red flags and cries of “Arise, ye prisoners of starvation…” are gone. 

Gone too was the national anthem, a song written in the first years of the Chinese Communist Party. But at the same time, isolated shouts of “Down with communism!” seemed to receive little support. 

One can only surmise that the shift of symbols signifies a profound soul-search­ing among these young democrats of the republic. The problem they face is noth­ing less than the viability of world com­munism itself. 

As chants of “Down with the fascist clique” roared through the crowd and re­ports on the mounting toll in Beijing were circulated, Xia Wen, a doctoral stu­dent in sociology at Columbia, said, “It’s irrelevant to count the dead now. The important thing is that we are continuing the struggle. China will not be the same China, and the people will no longer be the same people.”

That determined optimism is shared by Ming Ruan, a deputy director of the theoretical office of the Chinese Commu­nist Party Cadre School until he was purged from the party in 1982. “The fas­cist ruling group is unable to control the situation with their reign of terror. The people are more angry than scared by the bloodshed. And they are still defiant and fighting. The days of the hardliners are numbered.”

Ming now believes that it is not enough to change the party’s political line. Chi­na’s governing institutions must also un­dergo fundamental reform to introduce freedom of the press and checks and bal­ances.

“This is a transition point for the Chi­nese people and a new beginning,” Ming said. “Today’s winners are bringing their own demise, and will be tomorrow’s losers.”

 

It All Started With Jan & Dean
A Chronology

The student movement in China didn’t begin with the hunger strikes last month. James Ridgeway pieced together the following account, drawing statements made by students and professors from Orville Schell’s recent book, Discos and Democ­racy. Schell recorded these texts during numerous trips to China over the last two decades.

In December 1978, Chinese students began to express themselves for the first time since the Cultural Revolu­tion, and their elderly leaders found it to their advantage to appear to support dissent. At the time the pro­tests were limited to putting up posters on a street wall, called Democracy Wall, in downtown Beijing. “Democracy Wall is good,” Deng told visiting journal­ist Robert Novak.

Among the famous posters was “De­mocracy: The Fifth Modernization,” written by Wei Jingsheng, a young for­mer solider who worked as an electrician at the Beijing zoo. It was sharply critical of Deng’s modernization efforts: “Do the people enjoy democracy nowadays?” Wei Jingsheng wrote. “No! Is it that the peo­ple do not want to be their own masters? Of course they do. This was the very the Nationalist Party… The slogan of ‘people’s democracy’ was replaced by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ making a very small percentage of the hundreds of millions of people the leaders. But even this was cancelled, and the despotism of the Great Helmsman took over. Then came another promise. Because our Great Leader was just so great, we arrived at the superstitious belief that a great leader could bring the people far more happiness than democracy could. Up until now, the people have been forced time and time again, against their will, to accept ‘promises.’ But are they happy? Are they prosperous? We cannot hide the fact that we are more restricted, more unhappy, and the society is more backward than ever…

“If the Chinese people wish to modern­ize, they must first establish democracy and they must first modernize China ‘s social system. Democracy is not a mere consequence, a certain stage in the devel­opment of society. It is the condition on which the survival of productive forces depends… Without democracy, society would sink into stagnation and economic growth would encounter insuperable obstacles.”

In the autumn of 1979, Wei was brought to trial on charges of leaking military intelligence on China ‘s war with Vietnam and “openly agitating for the overthrow of the government of the dic­tatorship of the proletariat and the so­cialist system in China.” He was convict­ed and sentenced to 15 years in a Beijing jail, where Amnesty International report­ed he died.

***

Among the main supporters of the student movement was Fang Lizhi, vice-president of the university in Hefei, where early protests broke out in the fall of 1986. In November of that year, Fang Lizhi gave a speech at Tongji University in Shanghai.

“We now have a strong sense of urgen­cy about achieving modernization in Chi­na,” he said. “Chinese intellectual life, material civilization, moral fiber, and government are in dire straits… The truth is, every aspect of the Chinese world needs to be modernized… As for myself, I think all-around openness is the only way to modernize. I believe in such a thorough and comprehensive liberaliza­tion because Chinese culture is not just backward in a particular respect but primitive in an overall sense… And frankly, I feel we lag behind because the decades of socialist experimentation since Liberation have been — well, a failure! This is not just my opinion; it is clear for all to see. Socialism is at a low ebb. There is no getting around the fact that no socialist state in the post-World War II era has been successful, nor has our own 30-odd-year-long socialist experi­ment… I am here to tell you that the socialist movement from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and Mao Zedong has been a failure…

“Clearing our minds of all Marxist dog­ma is the first step… We must remold our society by absorbing influences from all cultures. What we must not do is isolate ourselves and allow our conceit to convince us that we alone are correct…

“The critical component of the demo­cratic agenda is human rights. Human rights are fundamental privileges that people have from birth, such as the right to think and be educated, the right to marry, and so on. But we Chinese consid­er these rights dangerous. Although hu­man rights are universal and concrete, we Chinese lump freedom, equality, and brotherhood together with capitalism and criticize them all in the same terms. If we are the democratic country we say we are, these rights should be stronger here than elsewhere, but at present they are noth­ing more than an abstract idea [enthusi­astic applause].

“I feel that the first step toward de­mocratization has come to mean some­thing performed by superiors on inferi­ors — a serious misunderstanding of democracy. Our government cannot give us democracy by loosening our bonds a bit. This gives us only enough freedom to writhe a little [enthusiastic applause]. Freedom by decree is not fit to be called democracy, because it fails to provide the most basic human rights… In a demo­cratic nation, democracy flows from the individual, and the government has re­sponsibilities toward him… Science should be allowed to develop according to its own principles, free of any ideological straitjacket… The products of scientific knowledge should be appraised by scien­tific standards. We should not be swayed by the winds of power. Only then can we modernize, and only then will we have real democracy.”

***

Almost simultaneous with the pro­tests at Hefei, students in Shang­hai took to the streets. The first wave of protests followed the ap­pearance of the American surf rockers Jan and Dean in November and December 1986. In Shanghai, the pro­tests brought downtown to a virtual halt for four days.

One Shanghai handout, an “Open Let­ter to All Fellow Citizens,” said, “Be­tween the past and the future, there is only the present. We cannot rewrite his­tory, but we can change the present and create the future. In the face of the reali­ty of poverty and autocracy, we can en­dure. However, we cannot just allow our children to grow up abnormally in shack­les and in the absence of freedom, democ­racy, and human rights. We cannot just allow them to feel poor and abused when standing together with foreign children. Fellow citizens, please understand! Bu­reaucracy, obscurantism, and the lack of democracy and human rights are the roots of backwardness.”

At People’s Park in downtown Shang­hai, a political science student addressed the crowd: “So long as there is one-party domination and no rule of law, the enter­prise of liberation is not finished.” He ended by saying he would shed blood “for the early achievement of real democracy in China.”

***

Soon after the student demonstra­tions abated in Shanghai, they broke out in Beijing. Students de­manded a debate with university officials over democratization, and soon marched into the streets chanting such slogans as “Long live freedom and human rights ” and proclaiming solidarity with their fellow students in Shanghai. A small group broke away to march on Tiananmen Square, but were turned back by the police. As the days went by and the students continued to march in Beijing, the demonstrations spread to at least 11 other cities. Alarmed, the government took steps to ban demonstrations.

But the students were determined, and before dawn on December 29, 1986, stu­dents marched from Beijing Teahers’ University to Beijing University, shout­ing, “We want freedom.” More wall post­ers went up. Some were exhortations: “Beijing University comrades: The cir­cumstances for democracy are ripe. Raise your hands in an iron fist. What we must now do is act like heroes.”

Others were sarcastic: “…In the United States there is the false freedom to support or not to support the Commu­nist Party. In our country we have the genuine freedom of having to support the Communist Party. In the United States there is the false freedom of the press. In our country we have the genuine freedom of no freedom of the press.”

On New Year’s morning, several thou­sand students began a march on Tianan­men Square. A few got through security lines. Most of them, turned away by po­lice, dissipated.

By the end of 1986, student demonstra­tions had engulfed more than 150 univer­sity campuses in 20 cities across China, representing the largest mass movement in the country since the Cultural Revolution.

In interviews the protesting Chinese students have never been especially spe­cific about what they mean by democra­cy. Perhaps two Shanghai wall posters in the winter of 1986 came close:

“I have a dream, a dream of freedom. I have a dream of democracy. I have a dream of life endowed with human rights. May the day come when all these are more than dreams.

“When will the people be in charge?” ■

 

 

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Tiananmen Square: The Mourning After

June 20, 1989

Deng’s Purge Seeks to Split Workers From Students
By James Ridgeway

AS THE SHADOW of fear spreads across China, the outlines of a purge that could last as long as five years have begun to emerge. In city after city, the authorities are rounding up “scoundrels” and “bad elements” to be dealt with by “the iron hand of the people” — the name given the anonymous plain-­clothesmen now making nightly visits throughout the country.

In its first hours, the purge hit hardest at the workers and “unionists” who had defended the prodemocracy movement in the streets. These were the “bad ele­ments” who, in China newspeak, “agi­tate” the still “patriotic” students into “hooliganism.” The police have been giv­en orders to shoot on sight, and in Shanghai three people have been execut­ed (they originally were arrested for bank robbery, but authorities later linked them to student uprisings as well). By Monday night, upwards of 700 had been arrested.

The prospects for an ongoing under­ground resistance are slight. Given the long tradition of purges in China’s histo­ry and the Communist Party’s continuing pervasive political control, grassroots movements find little nourishment in the world’s most populous country. Ever since the Democracy Wall movement more than a decade ago, the state appara­tus has batted the students back and forth like a bemused cat.

But this time, the time-tested routines may need to be freshened by bloodletting on a scale China hasn’t seen since the Long March. During the Cultural Revolu­tion, workers and peasants were pitted against intellectuals and party cadres. While there were some killings, it was mostly an exercise in psychological war­fare. Today, with much of the population of the cities in support of the student demonstrations and in opposition to the government, turning workers and peas­ants against the intellectual class is more problematic.

In the past, Deng Xiaoping has himself carried out several large-scale purges against intellectuals, most notably while he was party secretary during the anti rightist campaign against some 200,000 intellectuals in 1957. They were sent into the wastelands of northwest China, where they became outcasts. They were prevented from living in cities or holding decent jobs. Their children were denied education.

Deng led another purge in 1964–65, this time of Party subalterns, shortly be­fore the Cultural Revolution began. Dur­ing that period, work teams were sent into the countryside as a form of reeduca­tion. Deng needs no primer on how to put down a protest.

The future of the resistance is prob­lematic at best, and almost surely de­pends on alliances within wavering units of the People’s Liberation Army. Last week’s reports of disaffection within the army sprang from reports that Deng was dying or dead. Now that he has reap­peared in public, whatever factional divi­sions existed in the military have melted away.

Still, there were problems in the Beij­ing military region from the very begin­ning. Troops from the 38th field army refused to attack the students, and the fact that Deng had to import troops from elsewhere around China clearly indicates the Beijing military district could not be trusted. During the occupation, troops from only five of the eight field armies in the sprawling capital district were de­ployed. In the case of the 38th, it ap­peared only in individual units, preceded and followed by units of other, more loyal armies.

This analysis of what’s happening in the army is not based on game theory. Yu Bin, a Chinese student at Stanford University and himself formerly a member of the divisional planning staff of the 38th, has described the cultural context in which the army functions:

“As a member of the 38th army for five years, I remember how every new recruit was taught the analogy of the fish and the water. While the fish (the army) can­not exist without the water (the people), the water can exist without the fish. This was not only a moral principle but some­thing the soldiers in my unit put into practice every day.

“In fact, we spent more time helping the local people than in our own military training… Once, when the division’s hospital removed a 120-pound tumor from a peasant woman, we all donated blood. When local people learned of the operation’s success, hundreds came for medical help. We even evacuated part of our barracks to accommodate them. Later, thousands came from all over the country just for medical treatment.

“More important, from the earliest days of the revolution, the army followed a strict code of behavior known as the ‘Three Main Rules of Discipline’ — to obey orders, take not even a single needle or piece of thread, and turn in everything captured. Under the Eight Points of At­tention, soldiers were instructed to speak politely; pay fairly for what we bought; return everything we borrowed; pay for anything we damaged; never hit or swear at people; never damage crops; take no liberties with women; never ill-treat captives.

“Even after China’s military became increasingly professionalized in the late 1970s, it still carried on this tradition of serving the people. Military service enjoyed relatively high prestige… In the late 1960s a large number of Beijing youth — including myself — joined the 38th, and those who stayed kept in constant touch with family and friends in the capital. Some were children of top offi­cials in the government.

“During the Cultural Revolution, at least two divisions were assigned to maintain order in Beijing, going to vari­ous government agencies to help factions talk out their differences instead of fight­ing. This experience deepened the 38th Army’s political sensitivity.”

ALIENATED from events in Beijing, Hong Kong, with its great wealth, could well become a base for opposition to the government, perhaps even an active center of support for an underground. The British colony is at the center of a network uniting all the major southern cities into international markets, making it far more difficult than ever before for rulers of China to close the country off. The growing influ­ence of international commerce curbs the regime’s inclination to play off the peas­ants against intellectual and business communities in the coastal cities.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a revolt came from the south. The Taiping Rebellion, which lasted from 1853 to 1864, originated in the southern province of Guangzi when a peasant, thinking himself to be a son of God, organized first other peasants, and then merchants and intellectuals, around nationalistic and modernizing themes. The rebels took Nanking before being crushed by the im­perial army. Sun Yat-sen took heart from the Taiping Rebellion and launched his own insurgency based among the intellec­tuals in the southern countryside. In the early 1920s, his Kuomintang established a revolutionary government in Canton and waged civil war against the govern­ment in Peking.

If the evident fear in Hong Kong seems to be fertile soil for an underground movement, Taiwan should be an aggres­sive conspirator. But Taiwan has been surprisingly uninvolved so far. The gov­ernment there may be leary of supporting a prodemocracy movement for fear it might backfire, resulting in calls for more democracy there as well. ■

Research assistance by Cynthia Cameras, Bill Gifford, Andrew Strickman, and the Pacific News Service. 

Fang of the Revolution
by Bill Gifford

FANG LIZHI, the intellectual who has sought sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, has developed a longstanding relationship with the American scientific communi­ty. He dates his career as a dissident back to the mid-1950s, when he studied physics at Beijing University. In 1955, as a teenager, Fang disrupted the found­ing meeting of a university chapter of the Communist Youth League, seizing the microphone and delivering a critique of the Chinese educational system.

He survived the antirightist campaign two years later only because he was Chi­na’s most promising young physicist. When the Cultural Revolution broke out, however, Fang was not treated so delicately. His physics talent earned him the lowest social classification, as an intellectual of the “stinking ninth cate­gory,” for which the prescribed punish­ment was to be stuck in a disused cow­shed for a year and then sent to the countryside for a bit of mind-clearing peasant work.

After the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Fang was rehabilitated and his academic career restored. Since Deng’s “opening” of China to the West in 1978, Fang has been tolerated by the govern­ment despite his continued outbursts of dissent. The periodic student move­ments of the 1980s have frequently claimed Fang as their spokesman.

Fang is known for his stirring speeches to university students. The following excerpts (culled from Orville Schell’s Discos and Democracy) are taken from one delivered on November 4, 1985:

“As intellectuals, we are obligated to work for the improvement of society,” he said. It is a shame that… China has yet to produce work worthy of consideration for a Nobel prize. Why is this?…

“One reason for this situation is our social environment. Many of us who have been to foreign countries to study or work agree that we can perform much more efficiently and productively abroad than in China… Foreigners are no more intelligent than we Chinese.

“Intellectuals in the West differ from us in that they not only have a great deal of specialized knowledge, but they are also concerned about their larger society. If they were not, they wouldn’t even be qualified to call themselves intellectuals. But in China, with its poorly developed scientific culture, intellectuals do not exert significant influence on society. This is a sign of backwardness…

“There is a social malaise in our country today, and the primary reason for it is the poor example set by Party members. Unethical behavior by Party leaders is especially to blame… Some of us dare not speak out. But if we all spoke out, there would be nothing to be afraid of. This is surely one important cause of our lack of idealism and discipline.

“Another cause is that over the years our propaganda about communism has been seriously flawed. In my view this propaganda’s greatest problem has been that it has had far too narrow an inter­pretation — not only too narrow but too shallow. I, too, am a member of the Communist Party, but my dreams are not so narrow. They are of a more open society, where differences are allowed. Room must be made for the great vari­ety of excellence that has found expression in human civilization. Our narrow propaganda seems to imply that nothing that came before us has any merit what­soever. This is the most worthless and destructive form of propaganda. Propaganda can be used to praise Communist heroes, but it should not be used to tear down other heroes.

“We Communist Party members should be open to different ways of thinking. We should be open to different cultures and willing to adopt the ele­ments of those cultures that are clearly superior. A great diversity of thought should be allowed in colleges and universities. For if all thought is narrow and simplistic, creativity will die. At present, there are certainly some people in power who still insist on dictating to others according to their own narrow princi­ples. They always wave the flag of Marxism when they speak. But what they are spouting is not Marxism.” ■

Bullets in Beijing
By Susanne Lee & Mitch Berman

EDITOR’S NOTE: Susanne Lee is a host of New York Culture for WNYE-FM and a contributing editor to DV-8 magazine; Mitch Berman is a novelist and contribu­tor to the Voice. They left for Beijing a few days before the massacre and signed on as runners for an ABC camera crew on their arrival. When the troops opened fire, they were walking along a sidestreet half a block from Tiananmen Square.

BEIJING
THE ABC NEWS CREW gets out of the minibus at Chang’an and Fuyou, a long Beijing block west of Tiananmen Square. It’s impossible to tell whether our eyes are tearing because of the city’s usual mix of dust and diesel pol­lution or because of the residue of tear gas that police were using on protesters at this intersection a few minutes ago. All of us have tied wetted hand towels around our neck. Each bears the mono­gram of the Great Wall Sheraton.

Chang’an translates as the Avenue of Eternal Peace, but on this Saturday af­ternoon the broad, sunny boulevard is choked with hundreds of thousands of protesters. They are milling and shoving, passing rumors, and occasionally climb­ing to the top of an evacuated military bus to brandish captured boots, helmets, and tear-gas canisters.

Soon after we arrive, a ministampede drives us from the street, and we set up on an embankment overlooking the intersection. Small groups knot around us in the hot afternoon air to ask where we’re from, urge us to “tell the world,” ask us why we weren’t here when the police were shooting rubber bullets, examine our vid­eo and 35-millimeter cameras, and simply to gawk as we Westerners eat or giggle at how fast we write in our notebooks. A vendor with a wooden flat of watermelons sells out within five minutes.

The word on the street is that the military will mount a major offensive to­night, and teenagers scale the framework behind the billboard beside us to watch for signs of attack while their friends stockpile rocks and chunks of cement. On the hour, the oversimplified electronic strains of “The East Is Red” blast from a loudspeaker followed by some tinny chimes. Orwell’s Bells, we call them, and it would not surprise us if they were ringing.

A man comes toward us, his shoulders swiveling through the crowd. “OK! OK!” he shouts. It is the all-purpose English word, and he shows us how the police clubbed open the left side of his nose and shattered three of his front teeth.

The street swells with people getting off work. At 6:50 a government radio announcement warns that the army will now restore order, along with the con­flicting admission that certain overzeal­ous soldiers used excessive force and shall be disciplined accordingly. There will be no more violence tonight, the army promises.

By today’s standards, very little is go­ing on now. Across from us people occa­sionally lob rocks over the wall of the Forbidden City into the compound where the government leaders live; for the past hour, 200 troops have been surrounded by 10,000 people at Kentucky Fried Chicken near Tiananmen Square; other troops sighted from the Beijing Hotel were stopped before they could get near the square. After 11, we decide that noth­ing more is going to happen tonight.

Just as our crowded taxi makes a U-­turn on Fuyou to begin back toward the Sheraton, the ABC walkie-talkie lights up with reports of gunfire at Muxidi, in the west of the city.

We turn around, get out behind a hedge at Fuxingmen, and approach Chang’an on foot. The distant fire from the west sounds like corn popping. At this range, we can’t tell whether we’re hearing bullets or tear gas.

Bullets. The firing comes closer and a bicyclist screams through the crowd: “They’re killing us! They’re killing the common people!” A small group of young bicyclists charges the other direction, with helmets, sticks, and a red banner; the crowd, slowly falling back from the intersection, cheers them on. These are the heaviest arms borne by the people on Fuxingmen. The wind changes, and on it comes the sweetish musky smell of gunpowder.

The first few bullets in Fuxingmen sound like none we heard before: not pop­ping corn nor even .22’s on a rifle range, but loud, commanding, immediate. They are firing into this unarmed crowd, and we run bent over, all of us, thousands. There are bullets in Fuxingmen.

We take refuge behind a reeking brick outhouse. People are trying to set buses afire in the intersection, but seem to be having little luck. The soldiers, now pass­ing in full view on Chang’an, pour auto­matic rifle fire — hundreds of bullets — ­into the street where we are moving, and our bodies react before our brains know what they are reacting to. Nothing seems far enough or low enough, and we spring back to the outhouse, crouching behind a dirt mound where the residents are grow­ing a few vegetables. Bullets tear the air directly above our heads. The sound is high, ringing.

About a dozen of us are squatting be­hind the garden. It takes a minute to realize why nobody is lying on the ground: even with bullets zipping around our heads, a lifetime of habit prevents us from messing up our clothes. We flatten ourselves to the rocky soil.

A very old woman smoking a cigarette comes out from the house behind us and starts yelling in Chinese. At first we think she is berating us for spoiling her garden, but it turns out that she is telling us not to get dirty, and inviting us back to her yard. She goes into her house and re­emerges with a glass tumbler in one hand and a small cast-iron wheel in the other. She gives them to us and motions to the water faucet sticking out of the ground between the garden and the outhouse. There may be automatic rifle fire tearing up her windows, but the old woman wants to make certain her guests are as comfortable as possible.

Nobody has any desire to venture out for water, so we politely refuse the glass and ask her if she has a cigarette. She goes back into her house.

On Chang’an, the city buses barricad­ing the intersection leap into flames 40 feet high just as the army convoy ap­proaches. The troops come in trucks that each hold at least 30 soldiers. For the moment, the convoy is stalled. The old woman comes out with a pack of Hilton cigarettes, a luxury brand still in the cel­lophane, and half a dozen bin gur, the ice-milk popsicles ubiquitous in Beijing. We eat a couple as the producer in charge of our crew barks warnings into the walk­ie-talkie: “Get our people out of Tianan­men Square! These guys are launching D-­Day.” The warning is sent out in diluted form by the ABC control room: on the one hand, people we know are in immi­nent danger of losing their lives; on the other hand, they may bring back some great footage.

As the flames reach their peak, a few armored personnel carriers in the convoy butt against the barricades. Soon the trucks are on the move through a narrow channel of dying flames. We count 20, 30, 40, and the trucks keep coming.

The bullets are coming too, but we can’t tell where from. There are build­ings, trees, cars, hard surfaces all around, and the acoustics are deceptive. We dive into the dirt again when we hear the singing.

The old woman discovers that we’ve lost her good cigarettes, and she implaca­bly produces two fresh packs of her sec­ond-string brand. She unfolds a cot for us and squats next to it.

She is well past 70, nowhere near five feet tall, so dark it is difficult to make out her features in the night. Her husky voice comes to us disembodied in the darkness: “Such a thing has never happened before. Even the Japanese didn’t do this to us.” She inhales and the ember of her ciga­rette casts a dim glow. “It is unspeakable.”

The convoy trucks continue plodding through the intersection, hundreds of them. Earlier in the evening, we were speculating about possible divisions in the leadership. As the first few troop trucks rolled by Fuxingmen, we were still marveling that, although we had been hearing all week about 200,000 troops hidden in the underground and behind the walls of the Forbidden City, there had been no intelligence about the massing of army forces to the west of Beijing. But now we are numbed into silence by the sheer and mounting military might being paraded past us. The crowds, crouched low in the street, hiding behind the out­house, have begun chanting: “Tuo fan! Tuo fan!” It can be understood as “criminals” or “traitors.” The roar is deep and massed, tolling, and higher individual voices distinguish themselves to our ears. They join in from doorways, from win­dows of houses all around: “Tuo fan! Tuo fan!”

The old woman brings us an enormous bowl of sunflower seeds roasted in the shell. We all begin nervously munching, bent around our walkie-talkies to hear the reports as the first troops roll through the intersection and the sounds of their gunfire recede with them, become .22 shots on a rifle range, become pop­corn again. It is 2:15 a.m., and at least 50,000 soldiers are headed for Tiananmen Square. ■

Scenes From a Failed Revolution
By Joe Conason

ARRIVING NEAR midnight on Monday, two days after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, we walk with trepidation through the Beijing Airport, tourist visas in hand, expecting and fearing that the customs agents in the drab China Airlines termi­nal will prevent us from entering their country. But our reception is the first sign that martial law is being virtually ignored outside the center of the city. The officials in khaki uniform barely glance at the contents of our bags or at our passports before impatiently waving us through.

Outside the terminal the taxi driver who agreed to take us into town mentions that the roads are too dangerous to be traveled at this late hour, long past cur­few. And he reasons that the 20-minute trip was therefore worth about a hundred times more than its ordinary cost. A fair price, he suggests, might be around $300. But it takes only a few minutes haggling to ascertain that the roads aren’t so dan­gerous. We settle on a much more afford­able fare.

The smells of raw sewage and burning vegetation suffuse the warm air as we travel the first few miles. The empty tree­lined roads pass through dark and silent farmland. As we approach the city, the driver becomes slightly agitated. Up ahead, along both sides of the highway, we can see a long line of parked army vehicles. In and around the trucks are hundreds of soldiers.

The car slows; the driver seems to expect trouble. But the soldiers pay us al­most no attention as we cruise slowly past their outpost. Again, we are stopped briefly, and waved on.

The troops are at ease, smoking and eating, but mostly talking to the scores of local residents who, in open defiance of the curfew and martial law, have ven­tured out of their homes. We later learn that they are a unit of the 40th Army, one of the divisions who had defied or­ders to shoot their countrymen. Local residents even assert that these soldiers had opened the chambers of their rifles to prove that they were not loaded.

The people believe, even eagerly await, the punishment that the 40th and other ar­mies will surely inflict on the 27th Army, who obeyed Prime Minister Li Peng’s orders and opened fire in Tiananmen Square on Sunday morning. The people talking with these soldiers are ordinary Beijing residents, probably young workers. The boldest go right up to speak to the soldiers while the rest watch. On this, our first night in China, no one seems afraid or poised to run away; they all appear curious and excited to be visit­ing with the army who is occupying their neighborhood.

On Tuesday afternoon, as we drive across the city toward Haidian, the university zone, we pass troop checkpoints and incinerated vehi­cles whose tires have left a black residue on the street. For a few days after the students and their supporters were driven from the center of the city, the university district became their liberated zone, with Beida — as Beijing University is called — at its heart.

Whenever no soldiers are in sight, peo­ple gather to stare at the wreckage. Out­side a teachers’ college, crowds on bicy­cles and on foot read underground “news reports ” hastily slapped on the walls. One poster shows photocopied pictures of mangled bodies. Another proclaims a general strike: “If you are afraid or not, people are dying,” it reads. “The living must unite and strike to seek the end of all this death.”

The students are decorating their cam­pus with white paper flowers in memory of the dead. Shaped like huge chrysanthemums or carnations, the handmade blooms cover the university’s front gates and the surrounding pine trees, and have been garlanded around the lampposts, over and across the street.

In a large, ground-floor classroom of the Communication Science building, about a dozen students have been setting up a makeshift but beautiful memorial, where meetings to honor and remember the dead will be held. On round frames of bamboo, propped up like Western funeral wreaths, they are placing the white paper flowers amid boughs of pine.

Liu, a thin, 22-year-old chemistry ma­jor, who had marched in Tiananmen Square and had lost friends in the massacre three days ago, leads us to the second floor of a dormitory. Against the back­ground sounds of an urgent, amplified voice exhorting and pleading, most students are packing their meager belong­ings, saying farewell, preparing to hur­riedly leave town. A few have assumed a bunkerlike mentality, and are burrowing in. “Some students told me to leave Bei­da, because they said the soldiers will come and kill all the students left here.” Liu holds forth in the formal, romantic style adopted by many of the younger Chinese students when they speak agitat­edly about their political commitment. “We didn’t know each other, but we held each other’s hands [in Tiananmen Square] because we knew we were com­rades in democracy and freedom.”

The bustling, busy hallways are dingy, the dim light from fluorescent bulbs re­flecting off cracked and peeling walls. The rooms are identical: 10 feet by 15, with four desks and four bunk beds, each with its own modest bookshelf nailed above it. The litter of lives abruptly inter­rupted is scattered everywhere — over­flowing urinal troughs in the bathrooms, bowls of half-eaten steamed buns and rice, cigarette butts and half-empty car­tons of cold chrysanthemum tea.

And one of these second-floor rooms has been converted to a makeshift studio for “Voice of Beijing University,” the source of the persistent racket blaring from loudspeakers across the campus. Broadcasting news and music, the Voice of Beijing University’s very existence is an act of bravery, its abrasive volume a gesture of defiance. When announcers are not playing songs of mourning, they play the “Internationale ” — “because it calls for a new world and for freedom,” ex­plains one boy. Occasionally, they also play China’s national anthem.

The microphone, which is plugged into an amplifier with wires leading out the window, is always manned. But a few of the broadcasters rise to speak with us; like everyone else, they want the story to get out to the world. They can’t quite believe that outside China, the world al­ready knows. From time to time, the stu­dent broadcasters break in to the music programs to bear witness, offering despairing, personal accounts of the kill­ings.

Wang Hui … 18 … freshman, chemistry major … son of a coal miner from Nung Xia province … fasted for seven days … returned to Tiananmen Square on June 3 to hunt for a friend … shot in the heart.

Chang Buo … 27 … chemistry in­structor … presumed dead … to learn if the dead body was Buo, “someone had taken the keys from his body … they were the keys to the south chemistry building.” Buo was the only one who would have had the keys.

Qin Renfu … 30 … married … grad­uate student in material physics … crushed to death by a tank.

The broadcasters name who they can of the dead; they are perhaps even more fearful for the hundreds still missing.

Later that day, two students with whom we’d become friendly stand with us in the crush on Chang’an Avenue, watching as the armored personnel carriers, believed to be­long to the 27th Army, and troop trucks go through maneuvers. The very presence of so many people on the most perilous street in Beijing is a sign that they are not yet cowed. Whenever the soldiers fire their weapons in the air, the people run off momentarily, but always return.

In the weeks leading up to the massa­cre, workers had openly demonstrated their support for the students, and now our friends introduce us to a worker dressed in Mao blue whom they’d just met themselves. He insists upon taking us to a small hospital nearby. He knows where some corpses are being stored. The students and he are convinced that unless we see the gruesome proof, we would nev­er believe what had happened.

This is a serious violation of martial law, and the worker, whose name we nev­er learned, is risking his safety to do it. As we learn later, it is almost impossible to stroll into any of the city’s major hos­pitals because most of them are stacked with scores of the dead and closely guarded.

The worker leads us to an unfinished brick building next door to the hospital. Five orange body bags have been laid side by side on the bloodstained cement floor. Our guide carefully unties the twine at the neck of each bag and a fetid stench escapes. The rapidly decaying remains of what had been three youngish men, an old man, and a woman are crawling with maggots.

By this time a few dozen people have thronged into the courtyard, and have inadvertently attracted the notice of hos­pital administrators. We climb on our bicycles and prepare to take off. As we pedal out on the street, we look back and see that the worker is being questioned by the officials. But the students warn us against going back, insisting that if we try to help him, we’ll only make matters worse for everyone.

So, reluctantly, we speed off. Night is falling; this is no hour for foreigners to be out in that part of Beijing. We ride the 20 kilometers across the city, passing through some neighborhoods which are very still. But in others, crowds of rest­less people gather at highway intersec­tions and street corners to share whatev­er news they have gleaned.

One morning, an elderly woman steps inside the gates of Beida, sits down on the sidewalk, head in hands, and begins wailing her grief and rage. A small knot of students and workers gathers to console her. “She is here from Henan Province,” a young woman explains, “looking for her son who came here to demonstrate. She has five children, but this son is the only one who went to university.” She has been in Beijing five days but can’t find him. When the old woman stops crying for a moment, a man tries to soothe her. “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” he says. “You don’t know yet.”

And he is right. Nobody knows, or yet knows, exactly who was killed and who has survived. A few feet away, another small group gathers around a boy in a black shirt, who had come from a provin­cial college in Anhui province “looking for our students.” Unidentified and un­claimed bodies still lie in hospitals and mortuaries around the city, and the ru­mor persists that the military simply doused many of the dead with gasoline and cremated them at the Gate of Heav­enly Peace.

The mother from Henan Province is among the first wave to come to Beijing, searching for a lost one. The echo is chill­ing: the Chinese government has just ushered in a generation of its own desaparecido.

On Thursday morning, four days af­ter the massacre — days during which it was potentially fatal to walk, drive, or ride a bicycle down the city’s major boulevard — the army opens Chang’an Avenue to limited traffic. A horde of gawking cyclists rides east and west, back and forth, while ven­dors sell popsicles and soda. The sun has finally come o t after a gray, rainy week, and on the backs of some boys’ bicycles perch girlfriends in frilly dresses, twirling parasols.

People, tense and frightened, watch troops as they remove the carcasses of torched buses and trucks and tidily sweep up the broken glass and ashes. These soldiers, wearing red armbands and be­lieved to belong to the 27th Army, are now performing janitorial duties to cover up what they have done.

It is prudent to keep moving, insane to take a photograph. On one block the army tows about 20 burnt armored vehi­cles and jeeps to a driveway in front of the city’s Military Museum. Directly across the road, and facing the junked armor, sits an enormous tourist billboard advertising the museum’s “collection of Chinese ancient arms and military relics on display.”

But signs of brave, foolhardy student resistance persist. Down at one end of the avenue, on the lawn of a public building, stands an abstract steel sculpture of a woman, in an arabesque, her hands thrust skyward: she symbolizes Youthful Vigor. But now a white wreath has been hung about her, as has a banner with characters large enough for the soldiers across the road to read quite easily. “This is for the people who died in the cruel incident of June 3. A debt of blood must be repaid with blood.” At her feet lie a pair of burned sandals.

By Friday afternoon, when we set out again to visit the university district, martial law has finally conquered Beijing. Citizens no longer gather in the open air to talk or read wall posters. Instead, the workers on their bicycles go cautiously and quietly about their business. As they had done the previous day in the city’s center, soldiers and municipal workers are cleaning the streets of burned-out ve­hicles. Each hulking orange wreck had attracted throngs of curious people just a few days earlier, but now the cars are guarded by heavily armed troops. People seem to know about the random shoot­ings, beatings, and arrests that have been the fate of those who irritate the military. No one dares speak to a soldier.

Thousands of soldiers have moved into the Haidian district to set up a fortified position, complete with sandbags, on its southern edge at the Capital Gymnasium. They cruise up and down the district’s main strip in trucks, automatic weapons pointing outward. The big posters de­nouncing Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping that once festooned the gates of every school have been torn down. A warning has been issued against any further pos­tering. The activists have been instructed to turn themselves in and confess their “counterrevolutionary crimes.” Students are forbidden to leave Haidian.

The loudspeakers at Beijing University are gone, too. Where the woman from Henan once sat wailing, a guard now stands at the entrance gates to Beida, taking the names of everyone who enters. The only tokens that remain of the resis­tance are a few white paper chrysanthemums.

Tonight on China Central TV, the gov­ernment begins a propaganda campaign against the students, using carefully edit­ed videotape lifted crudely from Hong Kong stations to portray the Tiananmen demonstrators as violent hoodlums who assaulted soldiers, mad arsonists bent on burning the city. Despite the students’ provocations, the government asserts, no one has been killed in the square. Scenes of fire and destruction on the streets at night are followed by sunny scenes of “the People’s Army… helping the people clean up the streets and restore sanita­tion,” and of soldiers “assisting the old people crossing the intersections.”

“We always serve the people,” said one PLA officer, smiling for the camera.

On this Friday, our last day in Beij­ing, we go to a park in Haidian to meet up with Lai, a gaunt, earnest student with a wispy goatee. For the first time in a week, we are all worried about being watched or discovered. As we speak, a middle-aged man wanders by several times, glancing at us — we don’t know whether he’s a sympa­thizer or a spy. Finally he stops, ap­proaches us, and warns that soldiers are close by. He points south and, using both arms, pantomimes the firing of a machine gun. This has become a universal gesture in Beijing, although, unlike the cab drivers trying to fleece passengers, he doesn’t bother with sound effects.

Lai and the two other activists we are speaking with don’t want to believe the latest news. It is being said that Wang Dan, the brilliant organizational leader of the Tiananmen sit-in, was killed last weekend. Finally, Lai admits sadly, “We failed this time. I am standing out like this to help you, because I hope for help from America.” Just as they had feared that no one outside China would under­stand what had happened, they now fear that soon everyone will forget.

Much later that night, fresh graffiti is reported on the Third Ring Road, the major highway round the outskirts of Beijing. The big characters say: “Long Live Democracy! Destroy Fascism! This is not paint. It is written in blood!”

But our last appointment in Beijing is for afternoon tea. We visit with an elderly professional couple in their southwest Beijing apartment. Their obedient grand­daughter serves us candies, peanuts, and steamed dumplings; our social pleasantries turn to the events of the past week.

Our hosts, intelligent, sophisticated world travelers, talk as if they do not know what has happened outside their windows. The old man cannot acknowl­edge that his government has murdered thousands of their nation’s young. Denial has set in; the crude propaganda from China Central TV has been stunningly effective. “Such a thing will be proved,” he maintains, pointing for emphasis, “if it is true.” ■

(Most of the names in this story have been altered to protect the individuals and their families from harassment by the Chinese government.)

Poem of Protest

EDITORS NOTE: As in several modern political movements in China, the stu­dents of Tiananmen Square composed poems to express their feelings and their hopes. They wrote them on large sheets of paper and pasted them on walls, fences, in subway stations, and under freeway overpasses or bridges in a sort of Chinese samizdat. The better poems are invariably copied down and circulat­ed to inspire others and to build the movement.

This poem was copied by Chinese and Taiwanese journalists over the last three weeks and published in Taiwanese newspapers. It was translated by Ling­Chi Wang and Franz Schurmann, both professors at the University of Califor­nia in Berkeley. 

Little Conversation

Child: Momma, Momma, why are all these little aunts and uncles not eating?
Mother: Because they are thinking of the beautiful gift.
Child: What gift?
Mother: Freedom
Child: Who is going to give them this gift?
Mother: They themselves

Child: Momma, momma, why are there so many people on the square?
Mother: Because it is a festive day
Child: What kind of festive day?
Mother: A day for lighting fires
Child: Where are the fires?
Mother: In everyone’s soul

Child: Momma, momma, who is sitting in the ambulances?
Mother: Heroes
Child: Why are the heroes lying down?
Mother: So that the children standing behind can see
Child: Like me?
Mother: Yes
Child: See what?
Mother: A seven-colored bouquet of flowers ■

Shanghai Goes ‘Back to Normal’
By Dusanka Miscevic & Peter Kwong

TO THE 50,000 or 100,000 people gathered in Shanghai’s People Square at noon on Friday, June 9, the rally meant more than a memorial to dead civilians in Peking. They were making the last stand. While they pleaded with the Shanghai government to tell the truth and lower the national flag to half­ mast, the funerary music playing over the loudspeaker sounded as the last note of a lost cause. Many found it difficult to sup­press tears.

“The government has destroyed every­thing I ever believed in,” said a weeping student from Jiaotong University. She had come willingly to express her distress in front of foreign cameras: “I will never forgive them that. I used to believe in socialism.”

All students interviewed agreed that the immediate future for China was bleak. Indeed, many of their leaders had already gone into hiding. Others were re­portedly arrested during the night that followed. The protests have dwindled, leaving only the handful of die-hards that gathered in front of the Internal Security Bureau on June, 10 and 11 to protest the arrests of student and worker leaders. Local residents, used to swaying along with the changes in the atmosphere, pre­dict “more arrests, no protests.” The pro­democracy movement has been forced underground. The intimidation by the authorities is working.

The first indication of the methods the government was to employ came with the TV appearance of the mayor of Shang­hai, Zhu Rongji, last Thursday evening. He announced that the patience of many people, plagued by traffic standstills and by food and fuel shortages, was wearing thin, and that he was planning measures to bring the situation back to normal. Shanghai residents had put up road­blocks on over 130 intersections and blocked access by rail to the city. Even air traffic was interrupted for a day. Without public transportation, most of the workers failed to show up for work. In effect, the city was on general strike.

“I have heard from many workers who complain they cannot get to work,” the mayor said on TV. “We will take the necessary measures to restore transporta­tion and communications in the city of Shanghai.” His calculation was simple: he would mobilize 10 per cent of the working force, to ensure that the remaining 90 per cent got to work. In a city of four million workers, that meant a force of 400,000. The accompanying film segment showed truckloads of helmeted men being driven out to the streets to take down the roadblocks.

At six in the morning of the next day, all the intersections were clear, and some of the city buses were running. It is not clear whether the others were grounded by a continued drivers’ strike, or whether they were merely being cleaned of the slogans written or pasted in the previous few days, slogans like: “The citizens of Shanghai oppose the reactionary govern­ment of Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, and Yang Shangkun!” “Butchers of the peo­ple, go to the guillotine!” and “People will not be scared of the fascist methods — the final victory belongs to the people!”

On this morning, however, the fascist methods were taking effect. Every inter­section was guarded by 400 “order main­taining workers,” as the yellow tags pinned to their chests proclaimed. Some of the tags also read “traffic maintenance squad” — but a Western observer has called them “goon squads.” They claimed that they were volunteers, but informed Shanghai residents know that they have received 20 yuan for each day of the “maintenance” work. We have talked to workers in this city who make only 75 yuan a month and, with the creeping in­flation, can no longer afford to eat meat — so the material benefits for the “voluntary” goon squads are clear. They also claimed that they would only apply persuasion, should protesters appear.

The “persuasion” they rely on is backed by the powerful state propaganda machinery. In repeated broadcasts the state television keeps announcing arrests of people involved in the protests. One detainee is shown interrogated at gunpoint. Three people have been executed in Shanghai for “a bank robbery related to the unrest.” The students, at the same time, have been warned by the authori­ties to abandon attempts at illegal activi­ties and “not to go any further down this dangerous road.”

Shanghai’s official press revealed that 130 people have been detained by police for “the spreading of rumors, damaging transportation, and disruption of com­munications.” Public gathering and dis­cussion have been banned, as well as the display of posters, notices, and announce­ments. Such gatherings and announce­ments have been the only way to communicate the news that did not conform to the official, highly edited version of events. In a country where authorities and the media have denied any shooting of the civilians during the Peking massa­cre — claiming that the only victims were soldiers — photocopies of Chinese-language reports from abroad posted in pub­lic squares have become the only access to the truth. Students have also read the Voice of America and British Broadcast­ing Corporation’s reports over the loud­speakers. With the enforcement of new public regulations, now those sources of information are gone. It is hard to believe that the people, already highly critical. of the official Chinese media before the cur­rent onslaught of brainwashing, will buy the government’s campaign to discredit the popular movement by presenting it as marauding by a small group of thugs. The authorities, however, obviously think that once again the constant repetition will turn fiction into facts.

Foreign reporters are being forced to leave, and broadcasts from abroad are jammed. Tapes and printed information are being confiscated on the way out as well as on the way in.

The goon squads on Shanghai streets are enforcing the order: they are there to disperse public gatherings and tear down leaflets, while officially “securing the transportation and communications.” Under their vigilant eyes, the gatherings in this crowded city — where it is extreme­ly difficult to avoid crowds — have been reduced to groups surrounding street ven­dors. Gold chains and traditional medi­cine seem to be particularly attractive. Last Sunday morning, one such vendor was exalting the virtue of his merchan­dise: tiger paws for rheumatism, tiger pe­nises for virility, water buffalo bones to relieve fever. When asked whether he had anything for the current condition of China, he waved his hand vigorously: “No, no. Nothing for that. That’s the question of ideology,” he said, pointing to his head. “My medicine cannot treat that.”

As of Monday, June 12, the goon squads are still in the streets. News and rumors of arrests persist. The indepen­dent trade unions and student unions have been branded as illegal by the city government. Citizens are encouraged to inform on each other, and neighborhood committees have been ordered to report all unusual activity. The reign of terror, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, is back in full force. But, the government reports, life in Shanghai has returned to normal — after a brief show of power and self-determination, the people of Shang­hai have once again submitted to govern­ment intimidation and repression. May­be, in. Shanghai, that’s normal. ■

 

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Young & Restless in China: Red Curtan Gen-Xers

As China makes the headlines daily with each new threat of an Olympic boycott, doc filmmaker Sue Williams (Frontline: China in the Red) might believe that her four-year survey of Chinese Gen-Xers is being released at an opportune time—but, if anything, the coincidence will only remind the news literate that her story places China’s neglect for human rights in the background. In 2004, Williams and her crew began filming nine ordinary souls across the country, including a handful of upwardly mobile entrepreneurs, migrant workers, an activist lawyer suing for harmful power-line construction, and a hip-hop street performer turned DJ (the latter a justification for a Chinese pazz-and-jop soundtrack). Straining for depth in depicting the “surprising twists and turns of their lives . . . stories of ambition, conflict, love and confusion [that] took us inside the generation that is transforming China” (as excessively narrated throughout by ER‘s Ming Wen), Williams’s multi-thread portrait is fascinating only as a scattershot, time-capsule sampling of those whose lives were defined by the Tiananmen Square protests. It isn’t that her integrity should be questioned, but for a film that assumes its audience is cultured enough to know of the Chinese government’s abuses, why condescend by giving the subjects clueless English voiceovers instead of subtitles when many of them speak of how they’ve Westernized in order to succeed?

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Girl Power

Released in the U.S. less than three years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the most esteemed movie by the best-known filmmaker that mainland China has ever produced took another two years to see the light of a projector on its native soil. Zhang Yimou has strenuously denied that Raise the Red Lantern, itself a violent tale of revolt and repression in the master’s house, was a vehicle of political critique. This was the standard line of Fifth Generation directors—those who, like Zhang, Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), and Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite), attended film school in Beijing after the demise of the Cultural Revolution and thereafter took care to plant their allegories in the distant past. But Zhang, who was sent with his parents to “reeducate” himself through 10 years of hard labor in the countryside (and who sold his blood to buy a camera), did admit to seeing a gilded cage when he looked through the lens at his palatial Lantern set, an ancient feudal-patriarchal compound in Shanxi Province. “Its high walls formed a rigid square-grid pattern that perfectly expresses the age-old obsession with strict order,” he said in 1993. “We [Chinese] have a historical legacy of extinguishing human desire.”

Sex and power, seized and stifled, are the intertwined subjects of Raise the Red Lantern. The film’s tale of tit-for-tat machination among a wealthy man’s indentured wives takes place in the 1920s—although the post-revolution period equally determines its stylistic tussle between expression and restraint. (It’s somehow appropriate that the movie hasn’t been allowed to reveal itself fully for 15 years, thanks to a series of smudged video transfers; the 35mm print opening at Film Forum this week has been restored from the negative.) Visually ravishing and emotionally cold, Zhang’s third feature is one long series of pushes and pulls. Red light here means go. The title refers to the crimson lamps that, placed outside the door of a wife’s house, discreetly signify where the master (rarely seen, and never in close-up) will lie on a given night. The choice is all his, but that only makes the mistresses more determined to scratch up whatever slivers of control they can. Fringe benefits of getting the master’s nod include menu selection and a foot rub.

Fourth Mistress is the 19-year-old Songlian (a stunning Gong Li), who at the start of the film quits school to become a slave—roughly the opposite trajectory of Zhang’s. Crying in the first shot (“Let me be a concubine. Isn’t that a woman’s fate?), Songlian learns to be bitchy within minutes of arriving on the scene, chastising the servant girl who challenges her. Mistresses three and four develop a particularly catty repartee—”Still angry about the spinach and bean curd?”—but Zhang’s intermittent aerial shots make clear that a wife of any rank is dwarfed by the master’s design. Each mistress has her own way of acting out: Songlian, after enjoying a brief stint as the man’s woman of choice, turns to tearing a rival’s flesh, faking a pregnancy, then more or less flipping out and shutting down. Or is this the point at which Fourth Mistress finally smartens up?

In China, Raise the Red Lantern was interpreted as a veiled allegory of the Gang of Four. In the U.S., one of the only negative reviews was that of The Washington Post‘s Hal Hinson, who denigrated Zhang’s film as a “Chinese rendition of The Women.” What’s wrong with that? Then as now, catty dissent is a sign of health in any master’s domain; going “crazy” can be the only sane response to insanity.

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Riot Boys and Girls

The next time you read about a college president or dean clamping down on some student activity, remember this. The first universities were founded by students themselves, who understood that banding together could protect their interests and amplify their power. In fact, the early medieval universities were little more than student guilds or collectives, and they used their bargaining power to force cities like Paris and Bologna to grant them tax exemptions, along with a raft of legal rights and privileges. When townsfolk tried to gouge them on rent and board, as the Bolognese did in 1217, the students simply removed their university from the town, and returned only when city officials agreed to their demands. The students’ power to withdraw their trade and labor was more or less neutralized when Pope Pius IV bestowed a sizable building on the university. This early parable about the impact of an external subsidy looks forward to our day, when corporate funding of research and programs compromises academic freedom at every turn. It is one of the many lessons to be found in Mark Boren’s absorbing history of student activism, which ranges from Chinese student protests during the Han dynasty (in the first century B.C.E.) to the recent organization of the NYU graduate student union.

When medieval students got into scrapes with townsfolk and local authorities (often escalating to violent town-and-gown riots), the king, or the relevant nobility, almost always intervened on the side of the student elites. This tradition of class solidarity persisted through the Renaissance and the Reformation, though it was complicated by the demand placed on these sons of landed gentry to declare for or against the papacy. In Boren’s account, things changed in the early 19th century when German students formed their own organizations, Burenschaften, at Jena and elsewhere, as instruments for changing society at large, rather than simply furthering their own self-interest. Nationalistic and progressive, the Burenschaften were openly at odds with the state, and would eventually play a leading role in the revolutionary events of 1848. Consequently, students became the object of state surveillance and repression, which sparked a hostile relationship rendered explicit in nationalist movements elsewhere and during the long decades of anti-czarist struggle in Russia. In the 20th century, this legacy is most evident in students’ role in anti-colonial struggles in Indonesia, India, Burma, and many African states, and in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Boren’s chief argument, which is only sporadically pursued, is that student resistance can best be seen as a response to aggression and repression visited upon students, whether by the state or institutional authorities. This thesis is illustrated on occasion, but Boren falls back more often on a no-frills, worldwide summary of political events in which students were centrally involved. We move at a fast clip: from the May Fourth movement in China to the Nazi student movement; Algeria after the war; the 1956 Hungarian uprising; the Japanese Zengakuren in 1959; Freedom Summer and the free-speech movement in 1964; the Prague Spring, part of the annus mirabilis of 1968; carrying on to Tehran in 1978, the intifada in 1987, and Tiananmen Square in 1989. His compulsion to record student involvement wherever it occurred means that he often includes struggles that had little to do with the suppression of students themselves.

Boren is on more fertile ground when he tries to isolate criteria of success for student revolts. In a typical pattern of failure, students provoke the authorities, brutal police suppression follows, public sympathy mounts, and the authorities collapse in the ensuing crisis. A coup d’état occurs, in which student leaders, “ill prepared for the demands of rule,” and ineffectual in maintaining a long-term alliance with labor, “deliver a country into the hands of another powerful figure or group—one prepared to rule by force.” Time and time again, student radicalism withers away with the fall of its adversary, at the very moment when the romance of revolt gives way to the practical task of building anew. Happily, there are exceptions to the rule, and Boren is at his best in selecting and analyzing them.

One example, which posed no immediate threat to the state, was the Argentinean student movement of 1918-1920. Students seized national attention, forged an effective strike-based coalition with workers, and achieved comprehensive reforms of the university system. The movement, which also resulted in the formation of a national political party, was so successful that its strategies were copied religiously all across Latin America. A second example, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, did lead to a takeover of state power. National strikes and massive demonstrations of support for brutalized students resulted in the resignation of Communist officials and the peaceful accession of Havel and Dubcek’s popular reformist government.

Over time, even the most authoritarian governments have learned it is in their interest to restrain police when responding to student demonstrations. In this respect, Boren helps to correct the record on Tiananmen Square. Contrary to the impression conveyed by erroneous press reports, the students left in the square were allowed to walk out unscathed, while workers on the approach roads met the full force of the tanks’ advance in 1989. Even so, this new hands-off policy generally applies only to public space, where postmodern protesters and police indulge in intricate military maneuvers in order to win the role of the victim in media reportage. As any recently arrested protester will avow, police brutality can be unrestrained for those held in custody.

But the Tiananmen Square example also reminds us of the class-specific response of the medieval monarchs. Boren tends to underestimate the persistence of class interests shared by rulers and protesters. In our own system of mass higher education, the most active students (“the best and the brightest”) are often those who see themselves as presumptive heirs to power, whether moral or political. This helps to explain why students have always been most impressive when taking on their own national elites. With Seattle and Genoa under their belts, it remains to be seen if anti-globalization activists can lead as effectively against transnational powers, as the student anti-sweatshop movement has done, or whether they will continue to serve as foot soldiers for the anti-capitalist road show. Which would still be more than welcome, if you ask me.