The squalor of Tiananmen mounted as temperatures soared into the mid-nineties and the bursts of heat were punctuated by sudden heavy rain showers. The uncompromising mood of those who remained at the square threatened to engulf even Chai Ling.
On the morning of Saturday, May 27, the Capital Joint Liaison Group met as usual at the CASS tower. It was the best attended meeting of the entire 1989 movement, and in many ways the most representative. The main item on the day's agenda was the draft of a major statement that reviewed the course of the movement so far and outlined its next moves. Crafted by the radical poet Lao Mu and by Gan Yang, author of "The Final Showdown Between Darkness and Light," the May 27 statement was perhaps the most significant document of the entire 1989 movement. As Chen Ziming read through the draft, he could not help recalling the course of his adult political life. In 1976, as a young man of the same age as today's students, he had hurried to the square to lend his support to Deng Xiaoping in his mortal struggle against the Gang of Four. At Democracy Wall, he had offered Beijing Spring as a weapon for Deng and his fellow reformers in their battles with the die-hard Maoists of the Whateverist faction. Throughout the 1980s, Chen had beaten vainly on the doors of the reformers with offers of help. But now he had to concur with the May 27 statement: The greatness of the present movement lay in its independence from all inner-Party struggles. Chen had learned the painful lesson that no good could ever come of allying the democrats with any faction behind the walls of Zhongnanhai. On the contrary, leaders would now be judged by their attitudes toward the cause of democratic reform. "No leader can sway the course of this movement," the statement declared with pride. "Those who flow with it will prosper," it continued, echoing a famous remark of Sun Yat-sen's, "Those who oppose it will perish."
Chen and Wang were still uncertain, however, about what to do next. As long as the students refused to budge, was there any alternative but to call vainly for the NPC to remove Li Peng, something they knew would never happen? With a feeling of impotence, they agreed to a meaningless ultimatum - the eighth in a list of ten points in that day's document. It represented the views of the Tiananmen Square Command Headquarters. If the NPC did not call an emergency session within the next few days, "then the large-scale peaceful petition activities in Tiananmen Square will continue at least until June 20" - the date of the next regularly scheduled session of the NPC.
Wang Juntao opened the meeting by calling on the students to give their daily report. A member of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation announced that the BSAF had resolved the previous night to end the occupation of the square. They would stage a triumphant withdrawal on Sunday, May 28, timed to coincide with worldwide demonstrations of support. On the face of it, this was dramatic news, but it was common knowledge by now that there was a bitter split between the BSAF and the more powerful Tiananmen Square Command Headquarters, without whose approval nothing could be done. At this point, Chai Ling and her husband, Feng Congde, entered the room. What was their view?
Chai Ling said she was exhausted and confused. Much as she might want to prolong the occupation, the practical obstacles were becoming insurmountable. There was a steady exodus of students from the square; they were running out of supplies; and how much longer could one expect the citizens to go on blocking the martial law troops? Perhaps the BSAF proposal made sense after all, she said dejectedly.
A ripple of approval passed through the room. Could it really be that the impasse was to be resolved without bloodshed? The new proposal would allow the movement to claim a resounding moral victory. Intact and undefeated, it would have written a shining page in China's history. The Capital Joint Liaison Group suggested only one amendment to the proposal. May 28 was the next day; perhaps it would be better to wait until Tuesday, May 30, to prepare a final citywide victory march. After that, the students would return to their campuses. "Let's vote on the proposal," said Wang Juntao. All eyes were on Chai Ling. After a moment's hesitation, she raised her hand in favor. The vote was unanimous. The meeting broke up amid relief and embraces. Catastrophe had been averted.
Everyone rushed back to Tiananmen Square to report to the Command Headquarters. At the Monument, Chai Ling met her lieutenant, Li Lu.
"What's the news?" he asked.
"We're leaving," Chai Ling replied. "It's all agreed. Here's the statement that's going to be issued today in the name of the Capital Joint Liaison Group."
"What are you talking about?" asked Li Lu, dumbfounded. His voice rose. "It's less than two days since three hundred colleges took the vote to stay in the square. How can that decision be overturned so quickly? It's against democratic procedure."
"People just can't hold out any longer," she answered. "The next meeting of the NPC isn't until June 20. That's more than three weeks."
Li Lu grew more agitated. "It's too dangerous," he yelled. "If we leave, they'll stop the NPC. Beijing will be under army control. We won't be able to demonstrate. They'll surround the colleges and block the exits. They'll throw us in jail. You're talking defeat. They've given us nothing we asked for. All our hopes will be gone!"
Li Lu turned angrily to Wang Juntao. "What's going on here?" he snapped. "The Capital Joint Liaison Group has no power to make a decision like this."
Wang frowned. "That's right," he said. "You know that we've said right from the start that we're only an advisory backup group. But it was the students who said they wanted to leave; all we're doing is reflecting what you've decided."
"What do you mean? Which students?"
"The Beijing Students Autonomous Federation. And Chai Ling told us that the Command Headquarters couldn't hold out any longer."
The two men turned to face Chai Ling. She broke down in tears.
Someone grabbed a pen and added new wording to the ten-point statement. Someone else crossed it out again. By the time Wang Dan read the statement at a press conference that evening, the paper was a mass of illegible scribbles. When Wang Dan reached the eighth point, he paused for a moment, then softly read on, "It has been proposed to the Capital Joint Liaison Group that the students evacuate Tiananmen Square on May 30." He then walked away from the microphone and handed in his resignation. Pandemonium broke out. Another emergency conclave; another rewrite. When the students emerged, the document had been rewritten again: "Unless a special meeting of the National People's Congress is convened in the next few days, the occupation of the square will continue until June 20."
In the name of democracy, the most radical voices had triumphed. Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming knew now that nothing could hold back the storm that hovered over Beijing any longer. They had failed for thirteen years to convince the government of the need for moderation; now, after barely thirteen days, they had failed to curb the excesses of the students. They had placed themselves in the jaws of a vise, and it was now about to crush them.
Chai Ling spent the next day, May 28, in a state of nervous exhaustion, racked with grief and guilt. In the evening, she returned to the square. "I've come to the end of my strength, both physically and mentally," she told the students. "Please forgive me, and approve my resignation." The student movement was slipping into chaos, she said in tears. She no longer knew whom to trust. People had begun to steal money from the students' strongbox. The old leadership - Wang Dang, Wu'er Kaixi, and now Chai Ling herself - was finished. It was time for someone else to clean up the mess. She begged Li Lu to try to straighten things out.
The provincial students congratulated themselves for reviving the moribund movement. The garbage in the square was cleared away, and the stinking portable toilets were removed and cleaned. A new consignment of tents and large injections of cash arrived from well-wishers in Hong Kong; the brightly colored tents, square nylon domes on sturdy tubular frames, soon went up in neat, orderly rows. A visitor from Hong Kong took Chai Ling to a nearby hotel, let her take a shower, and gave her a change of clothes. In better spirits, she told Li Lu that she felt ready to return to the fray. Meanwhile, a group of students prepared a scaffold at the northern end of the square, directly facing the great portrait of Mao; it was to support a statue that was being sculpted from Styrofoam at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The statue - the Goddess of Democracy - arrived on the night of May 29 on a half dozen flatbed Beijing bicycles. It was the final symbol of the movement's refusal to yield. That night, strong winds lashed Tiananmen Square, bringing sudden gusts of rain. But work on the Goddess went on.
The statue, staring defiantly across at the Great Helmsman, was an affront to the Party. So was the sparkling new tent city. But the die had already been cast. The government stripped Zhao Ziyang of his official posts on May 26 and rooted out the faint hearts in the PLA command. This time the troops would not be humil-iated; the square would be retaken. Yet even with this decision made, the Party continued to have kind words for the students - the whole Party at that, even eighty-seven-year-old Peng Zhen, the oldest and crustiest of the elders. If the students didn't trust anyone over thirty, then Peng Zhen probably trusted no one under eighty. Even so, he quavered, the government had nothing but praise for the students' "good, pure, kindhearted, and constructive motives." They would be spared in the coming crackdown. The workers and the laobaixing would not.
Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China's Democracy Movement
Excerpted by permission of publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Copyright ©1993 by George Black and Robin Munro. All Rights Reserved.
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