Making History

As the historian Zhang Zhenglong has written: "History is a whore; anyone with money or power can screw it." Zhang himself was persecuted in the early 1990s by the Chinese authorities for his work on the dark side of the PLA's history.

For dissidents, making the news required a number of things: the right issues vocalized in snappy formulas (mantra-like slogans about "freedom" and "democracy" were assured headline grabbers); a good screen persona and/ or passable English, and so on. For the government, making the news required even less talent and more clichés. Within China, the government had a monopoly on information so they not only manufactured the news about the events of 1989 from the declaration of Martial Law (May 20) on, but had the means to write the history of 1989 just the way they pleased.

Official descriptions of the events as a "riot," "turmoil," and a "premeditated plot" to "turn China into a vassal of the West" have, with endless repetition and due to a lack of counterbalancing public information, images and media reinforcement, become a story that most people accept to one extent or another.

One such example of the official Chinese account of the 1989 movement is "The Truth About the Turmoil" (Edited by the Editorial Board of The Truth about the Beijing Turmoil, Beijing, 1990).

See also an essay by Geremie R. Barmé, looking at post-Mao " History for the Masses," and excerpts from Simon Leys' essay," Human Rights in China," in which he briefly describes "the constant rewriting of history that takes place in China."