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by William H. Benson

June 3, 1999 

     U.S. relations with the Communist Red Chinese once again are strained, the typical situation  for Mao Tse Tung’s revolutionary Red Chinese government, now in its fiftieth year.  Three weeks ago three NATO bombs slammed into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing four and wounding twenty others.  In response, thousands of protesters in Beijing turned out the next day chanting, “Down with American imperialists!” and “NATO Nazis!”  And then there is the mysterious case of the suspected Los Alamos spy–Wen Ho Lee, who the FBI alleges may have traded nuclear secrets to the Red Chinese government.

     This week on the fourth marks the tenth anniversary of the Tinananmen Square massacre, and a week ago a dissident in China urged his fellow Chinese to light candles in memory of those killed in 1989.  He was promptly arrested and now faces possible time in a labor camp for his suggestion.  This year the Chinese leaders are especially anxious to ensure that the tenth anniversary of the crackdown passes without incident.

     It begain on April 15, 1989 when Hu Yaobang died.  Hu had joined the Red Party in the 1940’s and then in the 1980’s had become the general secretary of the Communist Party.  In part, because of his fondness and respect for learning and his unease with Communist dogma, Hu was forced out on June 16, 1987.  Then, he died, and the entire nation grieved his passing. 

     The Chinese public by a mistaken and vague hope had believed that someday Hu would return to power to promote political reform in China, but by his passing, all hope of that had been dashed.  Only the Gang of Old retained an iron-fist control.  Sadness and resentment rose.

     Finally, on April 22, 1989, 200,000 students gathered to grieve in Tiananmen Square, and there they and thousands of others stayed for the next 44 days.  They demanded a re-evaluation of Hu Yaobang’s achievements and to allow freedom of the press.  The Square turned filthy with litter.  It stank.  The students fashioned a 33-feet-high paper-mache Statue of Liberty, a Goddess of Democracy.  Some students fasted, and ambulances rushed in and back out carting off the ill.

      Deng Xiaoping, the undisputed head of the country, bided his time.  During the first few weeks, his military oscilated, refusing to strike out at the protesters.  Wang Weilin, the one person the whole world now remembers, stood in front of a whole line of tanks and defied them to run over him.  The tanks stopped, and armed soldiers refused to shoot.

      The students paraded one banner which said, “Deng Xiaoping, your mind is muddled, step down and go play bridge!”

      Then, on June 4th, Deng Xiaoping struck.  The soldiers opened fire, and the tanks rolled over the students.  The free-flowing blood turned the Square more “red” than ever.  The massacre killed an estimated three thousand people.  Then, in the following weeks, the soldiers pulled students from their college dorm rooms to face imprisonment and execution.

     Can one find fault with these students?  For perhaps being foolhardy?  For demanding too much?  For failing to act as a cohesive body willing to negotiate with the leaders?  For taking to the streets without clear objectives and backup contingency plans?  For a lack of level-headed thinking?  And for having an idealistic revolutionary mindset without the discipline of a pragmatic workable new government as an alternative?  One should answer “yes” to all those questions. 


       Afterall, as one commentary pointed out, the Statue of Liberty standing in New York’s harbor holds up a torch of liberty in her right hand and a lawbook in her left, next to her side.  The Founding Fathers understood that freedom cannot exist apart from a body of laws.  The Chinese students’ Goddess of Democracy had both hands lifting up that torch of liberty, but that lawbook was conspicuous by its absence.