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The Gate of Heavenly Peace
NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH MARIA SHRIVER
Good evening. Thousands of Chinese students took to the streets today in defiance of a government ban on public protest. The students' chant was for democracy, their demands for political reform. The backdrop was a memorial service for fallen leader Hu Yaobang...
LIU XIAOBO - Teacher, literary critic
I was in New York at the time. This kind of news was on television and in the papers every day. When friends got together, all we talked about were these events. The TV images affected me deeply. I thought, what's the use of getting all worked up about it if you're so far away? I had to go back. So I got on a plane leaving New York on April 26th. When I was changing planes in Tokyo, I met someone who had just come from China. He said, "What do you think you can do back there? Haven't you heard about the editorial that just appeared? It calls the movement a plot of a small handful to instigate anti-party, anti-state 'dongluan.' "
Dongluan: turmoil, upheaval, chaos. A People's Daily editorial denounced the demonstrations.
"We must unequivocally oppose dongluan ," the headline read.
Such an editorial, appearing in the official Communist Party media, amounted to a charge of criminal conspiracy.
It was dangerous for me to go back then. I even asked about flights returning to New York. But then I heard the boarding announcement for my flight to Beijing. I didn't have time to hesitate. I had to get on that plane. I thought, What the heck, live or die, I'll just go.
With the April 26 editorial, the government took a firm stand against the student movement.
The Communist Party has a tradition of passing judgment on social incidents through the media. In the past, Mao had written quite a few People's Dailyeditorials himself. He launched a number of mass political persecutions this way.
That's why when the April 26 editorial came out, people assumed that it represented Deng's attitude toward the student demonstrations.
Everyone expected that the government would crack down on any new demonstrations.
LIANG XIAOYAN - Teacher
We were very angry. What petty minds! These people in the government have gone completely haywire! Just listen to what they're saying. It sounds like the Cultural Revolution all over again. The mindset, even the words, were identical to the editorial which came out after the Tiananmen Incident of 1976. We all lived through that episode. And we know how that ended up.
ZHOU ENLAI FUNERAL, 1976
The editorial of April 26 reminded many people of what happened after another great state funeral: the events of 1976 known to everyone as the Tiananmen Incident.
In January of 1976, Premier Zhou Enlai, Mao's close associate, one of the great heroes of the revolution, died.
OFFICIAL MOVIE VOICE-OVER
The people of the capital could not restrain their bitter grief. They left their homes, and gathered on the sidewalks of the Chang'an Boulevard, along which the cortege would pass.
Zhou was widely regarded as a moderate, more humane and tolerant than other top leaders.
Just as the mourning for Hu Yaobang in 1989 was the occasion for protest, the outpouring of grief for Zhou Enlai was a reproach to the hard-liners in power.
OFFICIAL MOVIE VOICE-OVER
Can't you stop for a minute, dear Premier? This is Tiananmen. Don't you remember the many festive occasions that we celebrated here together? Your ringing laughter is still in our ears. Your warm gaze rests on our tears. Beloved Premier Zhou, how we miss you! How we need you!
The times when important leaders die are dangerous.
Zhou Enlai was a mentor of Deng Xiaoping. He helped bring Deng back into government to counter the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Deng gave the eulogy at Zhou's funeral.
But the events following Zhou's death would once again bring Deng Xiaoping down.
That April, during the traditional festival in honor of the dead, thousands of people gathered spontaneously in Tiananmen Square to lay wreaths in honor of Zhou Enlai.
They read poems, gave speeches.
Reports made to Mao said the agitation was really directed against him.
Police removed the wreaths, but people brought more.
Police ordered the crowds to disperse; the crowds overturned a police van and set it afire.
At last Mao took action. Workers armed with clubs were sent in. There were beatings and arrests.
In the official press the events in the Square were denounced as counter-revolutionary violence inspired by a small handful of conspirators.
The alleged mastermind behind the turmoil was that unrepentant reactionary, Deng Xiaoping.
CROWD IN ANTI-DENG RALLY
Resolutely denounce Deng Xiaoping's reactionary crimes!
Deng was denounced, condemned, forced from power.
Not until after Mao's death would he emerge as China's new paramount leader.
Then the verdict on the 1976 upheavals would be reversed.
The scenes in Tiananmen Square would be replayed, with a different meaning.
They became courageous demonstrations of the people's will.
And yet now, in 1989, the government of Deng Xiaoping, faced again with protests inspired by the death of a leader, reached for the old words of denunciation.
Once again the supreme leader heard reports that the agitation was directed against him. Once again a small handful of conspirators were supposedly plotting to bring down the state. Once again the irrevocable judgment was passed.
The April 26th editorial caught the students by total surprise. We didn't expect that the government would jump to such a vicious conclusion about us.
We felt that without large-scale street action, we couldn't compete with the propaganda machine of the government, and the people wouldn't know the truth about what we were doing.
The Chinese constitution guarantees the People free speech and the right to demonstrate. But Chinese law punishes "counter-revolutionary instigation" by the enemies of the People.
The final arbiter was the Communist Party.
Were the students the People? Or were they now enemies of the People who must be suppressed?
I got together with some friends to talk about the situation. All of us were teachers at various universities. We heard that huge numbers of police would be deployed the next day. This really worried us. We decided to demonstrate with our students. We felt that we must show where we stood at a moment like this.
APRIL 27 MARCH
Down with corrupt officials!
Patriotism is not a crime!
Continue the reforms!
In the early morning of April 27th, students set out from campuses all over the city and walked toward Tiananmen Square, the political center of China.
Patriotism is not a crime!
Justice will prevail!
Police were placed on alert throughout Beijing and positioned to blockade key intersections along the route.
Demonstrations without official approval are illegal and will be banned.
We were prepared to face great danger. Some students even wrote their wills. This was because we had heard that the government was moving in troops to suppress any further demonstrations.
Everyone showed a lot of self-control.
Since the government had accused us of instigating turmoil, we were eager to show the people that we weren't a lawless mob, nor were we trying to overthrow the Communist Party or socialism.
The press must tell the truth!
Many workers were furious. The government said that the students were instigating turmoil. Well, the way I see it, if the students were wrong, you wouldn't have to send the police or the soldiers! There are plenty of young workers like me who could beat them up. But the students were right! They expressed what was in the hearts of us workers. That's why we went out to support them.
I was really moved that day. The students held out cardboard boxes for donations, and I stuffed money in them. When I saw the students were sweating, I bought popsicles for them.
I supported this demonstration because it was focused against one of the most fundamental means by which the Communist Party maintains its rule, that is, to accuse people of fabricated political crimes. The students showed real conviction. They put their lives and their futures on the line to fight this unjust system.
When we started out I was very worried about the possibility of bloodshed. I kept telling the students that if we encountered the police, we should not force our way past them.
At one point the clash with the police was so intense that people could have been trampled to death. I was almost crushed in the crowd. But it was obvious that the police were not ordered to beat people up. They only tried to form a human blockade.
STUDENTS BREAK THROUGH POLICE LINE
The students met little further resistance. They continued their march toward Tiananmen Square.
The students were very pleased with themselves for breaking through police lines, and the cheering of onlookers made them feel like real heroes. The whole thing now turned into a carnival, because there was no more danger, and everyone was watching the students' big show. That was how I felt later that day, completely different from when I started out.
It had been an unprecedented day: a mass student demonstration, held in the face of government warnings, had been allowed to march peacefully through the streets.
And that very day the government announced that it was willing to talk.
In this event both sides had made efforts to exercise restraint. This unprecedented moment could have opened up new possibilities, if only people understood what it meant. But a historical opportunity is often easily overlooked, easily passed by. Unfortunately, this was just what happened.
I had just arrived back in China at that point. I suggested to the students that it was not a good idea to continue staging huge demonstrations. Once you have shown your strength, you should return to classes and try to secure some specific democratic rights on campus.