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The Gate of Heavenly Peace
Reviews, Commentary, and Controversy

Ye Ren, Part One:

Ye Ren, Part Two:

The following is a preliminary translation of an essay by Ye Ren, published in the July and August 1995 issues of The 90's - an influential and popular Hong Kong magazine covering politics and culture. This document is being provided for reference purposes only.

This article is also available in its original Chinese, in both text and GIF versions.

For additional information on the issues discussed in this article, see the Reviews, Commentary, and Controversy and Principal Characters sections of this site.

Part One:

Summary: Chai Ling's "hoping for bloodshed" speech is actually quite simple, but a considerable number of democracy fighters are fearful of this topic. They all condemned the film ("The Gate of Heavenly Peace") as having ulterior motives. Exiled democracy fighters are the spoiled "only-child" of Chinese democracy. They are fighting the Communist Party with the Communist Party's mode of thinking. Their attitude toward Western democracy is like that of "Lord She loving the dragon." (Translator's note: "Lord She Loving the Dragon" is an ancient Chinese fable about Lord She, who loves dragons so much that he has dragons painted and carved all over his house. A real dragon hears of Lord She's love for dragons and goes to see him. As soon as the dragon appears, however, Lord She is scared and runs away. This metaphor is often used to describe people who think they like something until they see the real thing.)

The Gate of Heavenly Peace (hereafter referred to as GATE), a film about the 1989 democracy movement, made by Carma Hinton and others, was discussed in the press even before it was finished and this discussion provoked vehement denunciation of the film by some exiled democracy fighters. Xue Xiaoguang of United Daily News, Hong Kong, and Patrick Tyler of the New York Times, both of whom wrote about the film in their papers, were put on trial by public opinion together with Carma Hinton. China Spring published a commentary denouncing Xue's article along with a photo-copy of the article, as if presenting criminal evidence. Beijing Spring published an editorial accusing Xue of "following the logic of a bandit". The World Journal, perhaps uneasy about having run Xue's piece and having reported on Tyler's piece, published an editorial on May 8th, solemnly stating that "the blame for the Tiananmen Massacre should not be shifted onto the students".

A Frenzied Reaction Incited by a Documentary Film

The reason for such an uproar over a documentary is that the film used (revisited) an interview given by student leader Chai Ling to an American journalist before the June 4th Massacre. In it Chai Ling said: "What we are actually hoping for is bloodshed, for the moment when the government has no choice but to brazenly butcher the people. Only when the Square is awash with blood will the people of China open their eyes." Looking back on the events of 1989, it seems clear that although the students would still have suffered some form of government retaliation, the number of casualties would have been less for both the students and the citizens had they left Tiananmen Square earlier. Should leaders like Chai Ling who resisted leaving the Square and who even hoped for bloodshed bear some responsibility for the tragic outcome of June 4th? The film in effect raised this question.

If, due to bad judgment, a general exposed his troops to heavy enemy fire and thus incurred huge losses, should he be held responsible? This is not a question that would stir up endless controversy. And when holding this general responsible for his role, we do not deny that it was indeed enemy fire, not the general, which killed his troops, and that he himself also risked his life. To raise an obvious issue like this does not require any devious mindset or outlandish logic.

In China, intellectuals and other participants of the movement have been discussing this issue among themselves ever since June Fourth. Outside China, open discussion of this issue in the academic world has also been seen as perfectly normal. Before June Fourth, the student leaders themselves were deeply divided over whether or not to leave the Square. Since they never reached a consensus, it is only natural that the debate should continue to the present. And in a democratic society, such debates are taken for granted.

Is the Communist Party trying to transfer the blame for the massacre?

Yet judging from all the denunciations of GATE, a considerable number of democracy fighters seem to abhor the discussion of this issue. To them, the filmmakers raised the issue out of ulterior motives and were therefore extremely immoral. Bai Meng, the former head of the public address system at Tiananmen Square, sounded an alarm in an article in Beijing Spring: "Carma Hinton, who had grown up in China like an aristocrat and who has deep ties at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party, has gathered together a handful of characters with dubious political background, and fabricated a film called GATE." Bai Meng then went on to examine each of these dubious characters: Dai Qing, Hinton, Xue Xiaoguang, Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo, Gong Xiaoxia, etc.. The outcome of his investigation: Every one of these characters, including the father of one of them, turned out to have serious problems in their political attitude. These people are banding together and "aiming weapons which are even more lethal than those used by the Chinese government at us, the children of Tiananmen."

Chai Ling, who is at the center of the controversy, displayed an even more acute insight than her former deputies. In an interview published in the World Journal just before the 6th anniversary of June Fourth, she pointed out, "Recently, a small number of people in the Western media have tried to divide the students from Tiananmen into radicals and moderates. By using the tactic of currying favor with some, and attacking others, they intend to transfer the blame for the bloodshed onto the so-called hard-line students. Following this attempt, the Chinese communist news agency Xinhua clamored about opposing radicalism. We must be vigilant and pay close attention to this well-planned and well-organized attempt to divide the forces for democracy." Is Chai Ling suggesting that the Chinese Communists have already joined up with Chinese-language newspapers abroad, the New York Times, and American filmmakers in a coordinated effort with its own official media to transfer the blame for the massacre onto people like herself through careful plotting? I find it hard to believe that even in the wildest dreams of the Communist Party it could imagine itself being so successful at forming united fronts.

What we see here is a very peculiar phenomenon. Those who advocate themselves as devoting their lives to democracy are not willing to use democratic methods to discuss an issue. Their treatment of people who hold different opinions is to immediately check their family background, investigate the history of their political attitudes, and to uncover an "evil master-mind" behind them. The language they use, such as "characters with dubious political background, "a small number of people in the media," and "curry favor with some and attack others," reminds one of the terms used in the days of political persecution campaigns in China. Their behavior resembles that of the Communist Party, and the way they go about advocating democracy resembles McCarthyism.

Enlightenment or Public Space?

There are reasons why a democracy movement which was so inspiring to the Chinese people and so moving in the eyes of the world has deteriorated to such a state.

Ever since the May Fourth Movement (1919), the idea of enlightenment has had a profound influence on generations of Chinese intellectuals and has contributed significantly to China's progress. The inadequacy of this tradition, however, has never been fully examined. This idea of enlightenment is best explained through a metaphor used by the writer Lu Xun early in this century: People are asleep in an windowless iron cell without knowing that they would all eventually stifle to death. Only one person among them is awake. Enlightenment means that this one person will try to wake up the rest, and together they will smash the iron cell. According to this line of thinking, there are two kinds of people, those who are asleep and those who are awake; those who are saviors and those who need to be saved. The future of a society is determined by whether those who need to be saved would listen to the wake-up call of their saviors.

The interpretation of 1989 movement from this perspective is as follows: The unprecedented scale of the student movement was a result of years of enlightenment efforts. The students, being the ones who were awake, no doubt must try to save the world. Their mission was to awaken more people. Chai Ling's "hoping for bloodshed" speech may sound somewhat cruel, but if bloodshed could further awaken the people, it would be an effective way to save them.

There is, however, another way to interpret history: Heroes certainly do exist, but the majority of the people are not heroes. They don't easily take risks or sacrifice themselves for a cause. But that does not mean that the workers and peasants of China are necessarily more ignorant than the students and intellectuals, or that they necessarily need those who had read books to tell them what their interests are. From this perspective, the reason why such a large scale movement could erupt had more to do with the appearance of some degree of "public space" in Chinese society, especially in the universities. In this space, people were able to exchange ideas more freely, could form common bonds, and could find support for one another. Instead of facing state power as isolated individuals, people were now protected somewhat by the "public space" within which they operate.

For example, student movements did take place before 1989, and the government did try to suppress them. But because during the 1980s some form of "public space" gradually developed in the universities, the students were able to support and protect one another. When the government arrested one student, the whole university would go out to protest. This process made the price of punishing individuals higher for the government, and it reduced the risk for individuals engaging in political protest. Thus the students became increasingly "brave". The ordinary people, by contrast, did not have the protection of this kind of "public space". When students were arrested for demonstrating, they at most got beaten up, and after two or three days were welcomed back to campus as heroes. But a worker doing the same would most likely get ten years in jail. Similarly, in 1989, when two ordinary individuals expressed their anger towards the oppressive system, as the students were doing, by throwing ink at Mao's portrait, they were arrested by students, "the saviors of the nation," and turned over to the police. Without any "public space" protecting them, they ended up suffering long years in prison. Given the different stakes, how could we expect the ordinary people not to be more "ignorant"?

The scale of the 1989 movement was due, in large part, to an expanded "public space". It enabled large numbers of people who were neither risk-takers nor heroes to "bravely" throw themselves into the movement with relatively little fear. Therefore, when faced with the threat of government force, the key strategy for the long term development of the democratic movement was how to preserve the existing "public space". The Coalition Conference (lianxihui) was thinking along these lines when it proposed to move the struggle away from the Square and concentrate on building democratic institutions on the campuses. This proposal, however, was rejected by the radicals. Miss Chai's enlightenment through bloodshed indeed came true. All that blood certainly awakened the people. But once awake they discovered that there was no more "Public space" left, so they all recoiled.

Individuals as Tools of History

I believe that when Chai Ling talked about "hoping for bloodshed" she felt no sense of guilt, because the idea is completely compatible with her education. For all of us who were "nurtured" by the Communist Party, the role models have been "revolutionary martyrs" who would not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs and ideals. Even a defeated army should not surrender. Those who believe in these moral standards also believe that all others should abide by them. The individual is merely the tool of history, and the present is merely the stepping stone to the future. In traditional Chinese culture a laudable male was one who would sacrifice himself for the dao, the correct way; and the laudable female was one who would sacrifice herself for the preservation of her chastity. Human beings were merely offerings on the altar of moral codes, ideals, and creeds.

Chai Ling believed that she was fighting for democracy, and she has learned since childhood that those fighting for an ideal must be willing to give up their lives. That is why she could say that "the students are willing to sacrifice themselves" without even thinking about it. Bai Meng said recently in her defense that "Under the circumstances of those days, 'death,' 'blood,' and 'giving one's life to liberty' were on the lips of everyone in the Square." So Chai Ling's "hoping for bloodshed" did not seem excessive at all. She believed that the democratic ideal was so lofty that it needed a well-stocked altar. No wonder she often went ballistic when anyone suggested that the altar should be cleared away - that the students should leave the Square.

Democracy's "Only Child"

The influences of tradition and Communist education, however, do not explain all. Neither does "the moral degradation of a entire generation," as suggested by Ding Xueliang. I do not believe that there is a generation which is particularly heroic or exceptionally despicable. Many who took part in the same movement in 1989, such as Wang Juntao, Wang Chaohua, as well as other of Chai Ling's generation, such as Wang Dan, and Wuer Kaixi, all grew up under the influence of the idea of enlightenment and schooled by Communist education. But when discussing June Fourth, they often talk about their responsibility to the dead, although they were the ones who had tried their best to get the students to leave the Square. By contrast, Chai Ling, who tried her best to block those efforts, has not once expressed in public that her conscience was bothered nor has she discussed any mistakes she might have made.

One wonders how a public figure, a world famous political star could go on for six years facing the media and stubbornly holding onto an infallible self image. To understand this imperviousness to criticism we have to look at the environment in which she has been operating.

Even though Chai Ling's strategy of holding onto the Square was wrong, it was a forgivable mistake, especially for a young, inexperienced student. But once hailed as a world-class hero, it would take considerable moral courage and self-awareness to reflect on one's mistakes. Yet these qualities are what Chai Ling lacks.

Westerners, who believe in freedom and democracy, were overwhelmed by the media's unprecedented portrayal of a heart-wrenching battle between good and evil. Due to sympathy for the exiled democracy fighters and anger towards the autocratic government, the media heaped lavish praises on these people and showed uncharacteristic tolerance for their shortcomings. Chai Ling's blood speech had already been known in 1989, but it did not arouse any interest in the media, which usually has an appetite for controversy. The oppressive government was so cruel, and the forces for democracy so weak, of course the exiles must be supported. June Fourth has clearly delineated the good and the evil, and the exiles clearly represented democracy for China and the interest of the Chinese people. As a result, in the West the exiles became the "only child" of Chinese democracy, the only supportable people that the Free World has. It is understandable, therefore, that the media so pampered them.

Fighting Communism with Communist Behavior

The overwhelming praise by public opinion encourages human weakness. This effect is especially pronounced on a person like Chai Ling, who joined the movement at a moment's inspiration without any previous interest in politics or any plans for the long haul, who escaped from danger relatively fast and ended up in the West where she was treated as a hero. It is easy for a person like this to mystify her few months of struggle. People like her have a limited understanding of democracy. They do not realize that in a democratic society public figures could sometimes enjoy tremendous popularity, but the seemingly unanimous praise heaped upon them usually does not last forever. Winston Churchill was so highly regarded that he could have been the guardian angel of England, or even democracy itself. Even a person of this stature was criticized a few years ago as having been too rigid in his policies toward Hitler and thus failed to avert war, causing the British people to pay a heavy price that should have been avoided. For someone used to living in a democratic society all this is perfectly normal.

But people like Chai Ling do not see things that way. Once they have been pampered like an only child for awhile in the West, they begin to believe that they are the embodiment of justice itself, and no one should criticize them. Therefore, as soon as public opinion experiences a slight shift on them, we hear, "Now I'm in doubt of the fairness of the media in the free world." (Bai Meng's opening line of his defense of Chai Ling, published in Beijing Spring)

Such a reaction is not surprising. From my observations of these people and in my personal dealings with them, I've come to know well their habit of using the Communist Party's methods to oppose the Communist Party. Their love for Western democracy is every bit as much as Lord She's love for the dragon. I am not shocked at all at Chai Ling's hint that the New York Times, etc. are in cahoots with the Chinese Communist Party in order to split the democracy movement. Some leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have been known to remark that Gorbachev was an agent of the CIA sent into the Soviet Union. Surprise?

Part Two:


Summary: The biggest problem of the democracy exiles is that they've escaped abroad and they've escaped the control of the communist system, but their modes of thought and behavior are still stuck in the Communist swamp-mud. If the democracy movement can openly split up into different factions and use their own ideas to compete with each other and rally support, this will help to break the simplistic, diametric way of thinking: the belief that there are only two camps, that of ourselves and our enemies.


Competition Without a Referee

An overly pampered "only child" will come down with an illness called the "only child syndrome," a familiar term used on the mainland. I have already listed the symptoms above. One way of treating the illness is to avoid keeping the child isolated in his own home, encourage him to go out and mingle with other people and learn the rules of the game in the real world. Most of the exiles, however, lack the opportunity to do so.

Not being able to return to China, the exiles have been drifting away from the concerns of the people back home. Even among Chinese students studying abroad they have little popular appeal. In the past six years, democracy exiles have isolated themselves within a small circle and entertained themselves by tooting their own horns. In a democratic society, six years is a long time. People have voted out one president, and voted in another. A political figure must constantly face political challenges from his opponents. No one can claim to be representing the interests of the whole people, forever. Six years ago, President Bush spoke on behalf of the American people; today it has become President Clinton. Yet in the circle of the democracy exiles, time stands still. It seems as if they could exist forever as the representatives of the Chinese people, yet they do not need the support of the Chinese people in order to stay in business.

After June Fourth, the image of the Chinese government has become the worst since reform began, but the overseas students' interest in the democracy movement has reached a very low point - there had been more interest in democracy before 1989 even on Beijing campuses. I have not, however, noticed any sense of crisis felt by the exiles. Why should they? Their prominence doesn't depend on support among the Chinese. What they are dependent on is the positive image created by the media in the past. Therefore their number one concern is to maintain that perfect image and to suppress any dissenting voices that might threaten it, so that they can continue to seclude themselves in the "home" of Western democratic society and throw their weight around like an "only child" who thinks he owns the place.

In a healthy democratic society, political opponents engage in open competition and abide by certain moral standards. Clinton would not go as far as accusing Bush, who was more pro-China, for plotting along with the Communists. Nor would Bush attack Clinton for being a hidden "Red". What restrains them from doing so may not necessarily be high moral standards, but their audience, who are the voters. The voters are the referee of the competition. If in attacking your opponent you violate the rules, the referee will fault you, that is, the voters will accuse you of being unfair. Facing criticism in the press, a politician would have to think: Am I doing something wrong? What are the problems with my policies? Why are people still dissatisfied? The democracy exiles, however, have been divorced from their "voters" ever since they've been honored as the representative of the Chinese people's quest for democracy six years ago. Without "voters" as referee, the rules of competition are easily broken. These people show no tolerance for any dissenting voices in public opinion, they even "run up to the stands and beat up the spectators". If Dai Qing, Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo and others are considered as dissenters within the movement and "deserve" to be bashed, Xue Xiaoguang, Hinton, and Tyler are only spectators. Should sports stars expect everyone to only cheer for them?

Should the Democracy Movement be Exempted from the Supervision of Public Opinion?

When public figures have no need for the public, when politicians have no need to answer to voters, they will be morally corrupted. In the past six years, endless infighting has heart the movement's reputation and alienated many people. So the voices calling for unity are rising: Stop fighting! Stop fighting! The spectators on the stands are "booing" us.

In the May issue, Beijing Spring reported that Zheng Yi, who is on the advisory board of the magazine and who serves on the board of Human Rights in China, criticized publications of the democracy movement for printing articles which are harmful to the movement. He stressed that "Our publications are not for a small circle of exiled dissidents but should serve the transformation to democracy in mainland China. The Communist Party is always talking about how unified it is. It would be ridiculous if our publications give readers back home the impression that the democracy movement is engulfed by infighting and power struggles --dog eat dog.

Mr. Zheng made a correct diagnosis but prescribed the wrong medicine. The reason why the spectators are booing is that the competitors are violating the rules of the game. To stop the competition all together would only cause the spectators to leave. Mr. Zheng believes that it is inappropriate for movement publications to publish attacks on the movement or opinions harmful to the movement. But who is the arbiter of what benefits and what harms the movement? Should the democracy movement be exempt from the supervision of public opinion? Mr. Zheng felt deeply hurt and disappointed at the press's reporting on Chai Ling's speech, saying that the movement "being so harshly criticized shows how difficult it is to do anything in China." Well then, in order to make doing things easier in China should we set up a censorship system abroad? What is the purpose of the movement anyway? Isn't one of its top goals the freedom of speech? What right do democracy exiles have to start limiting speech in the free world, where they are finding refuge?

What's really ridiculous is that Mr. Zheng seems to think that debates in the democracy publications would only be interpreted as "dog eat dog" by the Chinese people while the monotone of the Communist Party press would impress them as "unity". Does he think the Chinese people are stupid? He should try to conduct a pole in China and see how many people really believe in People's Daily editorials. Mr. Zheng himself has accepted the methods of the Communist Party and believes in its effectiveness. Is this what the democracy elite mean by enlightening the masses?

It is true that without having any experience in democracy, most Chinese are not used to the rules of the game. The behavior of the democracy exiles is a good example of this. Yet the mission of the democracy movement is to get the Chinese to accept the rules of the game in democracy. Nowadays, however, the democracy fighters seem to be sincerely learning from the Communist Party. In the same issue of Beijing Spring Wan Runnan pointed out, "The Communist Party is very mature politically. Although there are all kinds of disagreements within it, to the outside it talks endlessly about uniting around the 'central leadership of Jiang (Zemin)'. ... The opposition, on the other hand, has no center." So he proposed uniting around Wei Jingsheng. "They have their central leadership of Jiang, and we have our central leadership of Wei," Wan Runnan proclaimed, "and that will be a sign of our political maturity." Did Mr. Wan stop to think that if once the democracy movement matured its structure would be indistinguishable from the Communist Party, why bother to oppose the Communist Party in the first place? Was it not the Party's tight unity around the 'central leadership of Deng' that caused the bloodshed in the streets of Beijing?

The World Seen in Diametric Opposites

This rhetoric shows that a key problem faced by the exiled dissidents is that they have escaped the communists system by coming abroad, hey are still trapped in the swamp mud of Communist mode of thinking and behavior. They have created a distinct political culture which I would call "post Communist culture". Having lived under the Communist system for so long, People have internalized the rules of the game and the way of thinking. Even when fighting the system, the only weapon they know is what that system gave them. The result is that the Communist Party is overthrown, but the transition to democracy does not take place. In the world of the Communist Party, there is only one distinction: "the people" and "the enemies"; "we" and "they". People who oppose the system believe in this same dualistic division, only reversing the "good" and the "bad". That is, all acts of opposition and protest are good, and the rulers are bad. Also similar to the Communist Party, the political opposition views itself as representing the interest of the society as a whole. This way of thinking greatly hindered the development of democracy.

The foremost concerns of the exiled dissidents seem to be "drawing a clear line between ourselves and our enemies," "holding firm one's class stand," "purify our ranks," and eliminate dissent. Out of these concerns came the "mature" political proposal of "uniting around the central leadership of Wei" and the cries against criticism of the movement. As a result, Dai Qing, Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo, Xue Xiaoguang, Hinton and Tyler are all excluded from the ranks of "us" and included in the ranks of "them". These people all have a potential of being involved in a plot of the Communist Party. Therefore, "we" must defend Chai Ling's moral image in order to prevent "people with ulterior motives" from discrediting the democracy movement, discrediting "us" by picking on a few things that she had said.

Way to the Future: The Democracy Movement Should Split Up

Having reached this sorry state, is there a way out for the democracy movement? The way to cure a child who has contracted the disease called "the single child syndrome" is to put that child into society and have him learn how the real world works. Unfortunately this is impossible for the exiles. Unable to return to China, they are confined to their "home" in the democratic West and indulging in the attention they get. Are we going to simply stand by and watch the spoiled brats throw tantrums? There must be some kind of remedy.

If there is no way for the "single child" to get out of the pampering home, the next best thing is to have more children. For the exiled democracy movement, that means to split up. There is no lack of healthy forces in the movement. There is no lack of people who have a sense of responsibility. But they are too accommodating in the name of unity. So the movement becomes a hodgepodge, and the so called "responsible opposition" has no ground to grow. No individual or clique should monopolize the right to represent the democratic forces of China and to represent the interest of the Chinese people. Splitting up the democracy movement would enable groups which represent different opinions, different interests, and adopt different tactics to compete openly and provide more choices for China's future.

Would splitting up weaken the forces for democracy? Lets face it, the movement has been such a hotchpotch that it has greatly disappointed people. It enjoys very little support even among Chinese students in the United States. Certain individuals are even seen by their fellow students as "democracy clowns". The movement has really reached a state that matches the Communist Party's charge that it was the work of "a small handful". Even if this "small handful" bound together there is not much strength. In other words, there is not much there to be weakened. Yet there are enough of a "small handful" to form a tight little circle, toot their own horn and take great delight in their own show. They forget that their legitimacy should derive from the support of the public. If the movement openly split up, then the circle won't be closed and tooting ones own horn won't be so easy. That will force these people to face the public instead. That was the situation in which the earlier democracy fighters operated. Because they were few in numbers, they paid attention to their relationship with the public. Before 1989 we didn't have so many stars in the democracy movement, but the public (at least among the students) had greater interest in the cause of democracy. Factions within the movement publicizing their different approaches and openly competing for public support would help break through the Communist mode of simplistic division between "us" and "them"; "the people" and "the enemy". By contrast, the idea of sticking together and try to maintain an image that "we represent the overall interest of the Chinese people" is nothing more than a continuation of Communist culture.

For more information, see the Reviews, Commentary, and Controversy and Principal Characters pages of this site.

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