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Re: [xmca] Where were you?
Where was I? I was in China. I wasn't in Beijing; I was teaching in the South of China, in Guangzhou. But many of my students were involved, including some army officers and many party officials, and some of them disappeared forever.
One of them asked me, about a month before the massacre, if I would consider stopping classes and going with them to Beijing. I remember saying that if it was a really important movement it would come to Guangzhou. The very next day there was a general strike in the city, and several million people hit the streets, including our entire university.
By the mid-May the party was very clearly split, with the party secretary Zhao Ziyang (the man you mention who died under house arrest) and his deputy Hu Qili clearly on the side of the workers and students. Dual power, in the form of autonomous "zilian" of students and workers, was being established all over the country. The students were giving up their vague, abstract demands and concentrating on the things that people really cared about, e.g. "guandao", the policy of the "two tier" economy which made corruption a way of life. At long last the movement really was becoming national.
So the party split. Party elements outside the Politburo Standing Committee, led by Deng Xiaoping and fronted within the Politbureau by Li Peng and Yang Shangkun, launched what was essentially an anti-Party military coup. Zhao and Hu were arrested, and in violation of the Chinese constitution, the troops of the Beijing military region, who were partially won over to the workers and students, were replaced by troops recruited in Shandong, Henan and Hunan, personally loyal to the warlord brothers Yang Shangkun and Yang Baibing.
The student movement also split. A new wave of students arrived from the provinces, led by people like Chai Ling and Li Lu. For them the party was just beginning; they enjoyed all the attention they were getting in the square and had no intention of going back to the provinces to organize grassroots and were not all that enthusiastic about the workers movement anyway. They deposed the original leaders (Wang Dan and Wuerkaixi) and refused to evacuate the square.
Most of the people who died that night did not die in the square and most of them were not students. There is a neighborhood to the west, called Muxidi, where workers put up barricades. The main force of warlord led troops punched through there on the night of the third, firing at random into people's houses (I saw the bullet holes a few weeks later).
The revenge attacks lasted for weeks, partly because the many of the enraged workers were military veterans and knew how to organize ambushes. On TV, there were reports of how workers set up machine gun nests to attack military patrols that came into Beijing neighborhoods. I remember being on a train in Shanghai about a month after massacre when the loudspeakers announced that some Beijingers had attacked a military truck and burned the occupants alive; my whole train carriage burst into spontaneous applause.
So for us the IMAGES of the massacre were mostly horrible pictures of soldiers burned to death and/or sexually mutilated. The famous "tank man" sequence was shown in China. I remember seeing it on television twice; the government really had little to fear from the images that everybody now thinks are "iconic".
But one of the deepest memories I have of the movement was that of VOICES. On the night of massacre itself there were no newsreaders at all; only a caption on TV and a short announcement about the "counterrevolutionary turmoil" voiceover. The next night there were two newsreaders, clad entirely in black, reading the news in dead monotone with their eyes on the floor. Of course, the government replaced them right away. But the two new newsreaders dressed entirely in white instead, and fixed the camera in an equally unnatural and unwavering gaze.
About a week after the massacre we were asked to "correctly evaluate the counter-revolutionary turmoil occurring in the nation's capital". One of my students looked the new party secretary in the eye (the old party secretary, along with most of the local party officials, had just been replaced) and said "counter-revolutionary turmoil is counter-revolutionary turmoil...la!", using the ironic particle of Cantonese that Ng Foo Keong describes so well.
In my student's utterance, the first "counter-revolutionary turmoil" is non-identical with the second, and Ng Foo Keong's particle "la" merely makes the microgenetic transformation of meaning into sense explicit (a little too explicit, as it turned out).
The phrase "counter-revolutionary turmoil" can develop ontogenetically too. There are crude associative complexes of "good guys" and "bad" endemic to the accounts now given to children in China, and diffuse complexes of "freedom" and "democracy" and "human rights" in mirror image form in Hillary Clinton's ignorant blatherings on the subject.
The stupidity and the obtuseness of Western coverage of the events shows that ontogenetic development of word meaning is hardly obligatory. I remember how Dan Rather, interviewing Zhao Ziyang right before his disappearance, couldn't keep his eyes off of Zhao's necktie, because he had expected Zhao to wear a so-called "Mao suit", and kept trying to get him to say that neckties were the real symbol of power (or perhaps he called in "freedom" and "democracy") in the new China. A lot of the Western coverage available of the twentieth anniversary strikes me as being similarly childish; it is largely concerned with them looking at us looking at them.
For me the term "counter-revolutionary turmoil" now holds more important and precise concepts like "guandao" and the two tier economy which show much more clearly what was really at stake and WHY people fought and died. The term has developed sociogenetically as well of course; the phrase "counter-revolutionary turmoil" is now used in Chinese almost exclusively to refer to the night of June Fourth, 1989.
Seoul National University of Education
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