Tiananmen Square Incident and the Chinese Government
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Published: Tue, 05 Sep 2017
Question: Why did the Chinese Government crackdown on Student protestors during the Tiananmen Square Incident?
Section 1: Identification and Evaluation of sources
This investigation will focus on the research question: Why did the Chinese government crackdown on Student Protestors during the Tiananmen Square Incident? This investigation focuses on the causes of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989
The two sources I have chosen to analyze are the April 26 editorial from the Chinese Communist Party and the Autobiography of Zhao Ziyang, who was the General Secretary of the CCP, who was ousted due to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. These Sources help to shed the different perspectives within the CCP, which was split into the hardliners and the reformers. These two perspectives will thus show why the Chinese Government had decided to crack down on the Student Protestors during the Tiananmen Square Incident.
The first source, the April 26Editorial by the CCP, originated from the Propaganda Department in the Peoples’ Daily Newspaper, and ordered by Li Peng, a member of the standing committee, in response to the Tiananmen Protests taking place. This source is valuable firstly due to its Origin and Content. Its origin shed light on the CCP’s official public position with regards to the Tiananmen Square Protest. By doing so, showed that the government was absolutely not in favor of the protests, and by throwing down the gauntlet, it was valuable as it possibly showed the rationale behind why the Chinese Government would intervene and stop these protestors. In addition to this, they chose to publish it in the Peoples’ Daily, the largest newspaper agency in China. By openly publicizing their opposition, it tries to possibly warn them about their actions, foreshadowing possible action against these protestors, and thus compelling them to stop their protests immediately. Furthermore, it has used extremely strong vocabulary to describe these protesters by labelling them as people who want to destabilize the entire country and advocating for the government to collapse. This strong wording is intended to stir up the feelings of anger within the General Population to not react to these protestors and to stop any possible potential protestors from joining in at Tiananmen. Furthermore, by putting such a label on them, it gives them a good reason to step in and possible defuse the situation in Tiananmen.
However, the limitations of this Source is that as it is a propaganda piece originating from the CCP, it is inherently biased as it attempts to portray the student protestors in an incredibly negative light, by making assertions against them. They also play the victim card by portraying Deng Xiaoping and the CCP as being the victims in this situation. The inherent bias in this editorial as they were trying to put their foot down, makes the editorial to be not good explanation for cracking down on the student protestors as it was simply the CCP posturing against the student protestors, and trying to assert authority on the general public.
The second source is an excerpt from Zhao Ziyang’s Autobiography. Zhao Ziyang was the Chinese Premier, and was seen as a reformer in the CCP. The origin of the source is valuable as it sheds an alternative view in the government, and it is also a primary source, which would suggest that this view is an unfiltered first person point of view. This source is prescriptive as it tells us what happened, thus making it valuable as he is trying to shed light on the secretive inner workings of the standing committee. In terms of content, he writes that he saw the protests as criticism against the government, in order to compel it to reform. This shows that that he held totally different views from those stated in the article and therefore, did not see a good reason to intervene in the Tiananmen protests, which is valuable as it showed that the entire standing committee did not agree with the characterization by Li Peng.
However, the limitations to this source is that because it is a primary source, most of it was of the author’s opinion, therefore should not be taken up as facts.Â Zhao was also overthrown by the CCP in the power struggle during the Tiananmen massacre which would suggest that he would have a motive to assassinate Li Peng’s character by portraying him as a hardliner and as cold blooded. Furthermore, the decision to publish the editorial by the standing committee was made when Zhao was not present as he was in North Korea on a state visit. Therefore his reasoning for why the editorial was published might be entirely based on his own opinions.
Section 2: Investigation
As seen from the evaluation of the two primary sources, the Standing Committee was split in two camps, the hardliners, who felt that the student protestors were out of hands and needed to be dealt with, or the reformers, believed that criticism in the greater scheme of things was good for the government. However, the Standing Committee had in the end, decided to declare martial law and crackdown on the protestors. This investigation investigates the reasons for the crackdown, and how did each reason impact the decision to crackdown on the protestors. The main reason for the crackdown were the political implications from the protests, with the primary reason being social unrest, with fear that the country was going to collapse. This brings in the main debate of this investigation, in what caused the Chinese government to make the decision to crackdown on Tiananmen. This has to be looked at from the fact that the government was split into the hardliners and the reformers, and thus the supplementary questions in this investigation was, How did the hardliners end up getting their way? And how did they view the protestors at Tiananmen such that it warranted such an approach?
A huge reason for the decision to crackdown at Tiananmen was because the moderates in the standing committee had been purged. Prior to Tiananmen, the standing committee had held a vote in which it was stalemated at 2-2, with the hardliners, Li Peng and Yao Yilin voting in favor of Martial law, with Zhao Ziyang and Hu Qili voting against, and Qiao Shi abstaining. This shows the true split nature of the Standing Committee. It was then referred to Deng Xiaoping and the party elders and they then supported Martial Law. However, the most significant part was that Deng Xiaoping supported Martial Law. According to Zhao Ziyang’s diaries as well the Tiananmen papers, it was said that the April 26th editorial came out of a visit to Deng’s house where he mentioned the turmoil faced by the country as a result of the student protests was “a most serious political struggle.” Deng was seen as the paramount leader and exerted influence over the entire CCP. With Deng on the side of the hardliners, it set the stage for anyone against the crackdown to be purged. This connects to the reason for the purge, which was due to their split in the way they viewed the protests. The hardliners saw it as an act to disrupt the entire government while the reformers saw it as criticism to help them improve the government. From the hardliners perspective, they felt that it was in the public interest to crack down on the protestors. Public interest is defined by, “Welfare of the general public (in contrast to the selfish interest of a person or group) in which the whole society has a stake and which warrants â€¦ protection by the government” These aims were to ensure that the country will not fall into turmoil and result in protests all over the country, leading to anarchy in China. This can be seen from official CCP transcripts and documents, and these include the 26th April editorial as well as the Li Peng’s speech to a CCP conference of municipal and army officials declaring martial law. Firstly, the April 26th editorial stated that these students “wanted to poison peoples’ minds” as well as “plunge the country into chaos”, and ends of by “take positive action” and “quickly stop the disturbance”. This shows that the CCP viewed these students are people trying to bring down the entire state institution and had to be stopped as it threatened everything that China had built such as a growing open economy with the four modernizations. By threatening the status quo, and framing the protestors in such a way, it shows that the CCP did want to ensure that the status quo remain and that the process of modernization could continue, bringing prosperity to the people. Secondly, when the CCP declared martial law in May, Li Peng outlined the reasons in which the Standing Committee had done it. He said that these protestors seek to form an opposition, creating a civil war in the process, which showed that he did it to stabilize the country to stop the “historical retrogression”. Therefore, for the hardliners perspective, they did it in the public interests, which was the maintenance order and the status quo.
The other perspective of this would be the reformers. In Zhao Ziyang’s diaries, it states that “they were absolutely not against the basic foundations of our system. Instead they were merely asking us to correct some of our flaws.” This shows that he was greatly opposed to the way that the hardliners saw the protestors, and encouraged greater dialogue between the two sides. This shows the contrast on how each side had already labelled the protestors, with the hardliners referring to them as people who want to throw the entire country into chaos, while the reformers had labelled them as people who want to reform the government not destroy the whole institution. This conflict would therefore require the hardliners to purge them as without that, the crackdown could not have taken place. To further reinforce the fact that the hardliners did not want to compromise on their view that these protestors were troublemakers and needed to be dealt with, a third perspective from the army is used. Former army generals had sent a letter opposing the crackdown, saying “the people’s army belongs to the people’s army, they cannot oppose the people, but further cannot kill the people”. Despite this letter, the general who sent it got arrested. This further shows that the hardliners in the CCP were steadfast in their belief it was for the good of the people, and therefore needed to crackdown on the protestors, irregardless of the cost.
In conclusion, the immediate reason for why the Government crack downed on Tiananmen was due to the fact that the moderates were purged, enabling them to have free reign over how to respond to the protestors. However, the major underlying factor was their desire to maintain public order in China, in order for china to not break out into civil war. There are other reasons however, which led to their concerns of the government collapsing. As Deng Xiaoping remarked, “If things continue like this, we could even end up under house arrest.” These protests took place in the context of the Eastern European Countries overthrowing their communist governments and the government was afraid that due to that precedent, they might be overthrown and be put under house arrest.
This investigation had given me a number of challenges. Firstly, there is a substantially less resources done on this topic as this topic is still controversial in the minds of many. The Chinese government had censored a lot of information about this. Therefore, to find sources which challenge each other was not easy. Furthermore due to the censorship, this research question was especially difficult considering that any mention of the “June 4h incident” is prohibited, as a result the method of investigation, especially for this topic was heavily dependent on the secondary data I could find. This would therefore lead to my next challenge. The challenges faced when doing a science investigation for example is vastly different, as you are able to test your science hypothesis through experiments but with history, you need to prove it based on sources and your inferences, thus making it a lot more subjective. Secondly, I was challenged with discerning which evidence was the most relevant and could best illustrate my arguments. A lot of the evidence centered around what actually had happened, and not the causation for it, as the CCP does not release transcripts. Lastly, I realized that a historian must be able to discern the pre-existing biases due to the different sources having possible ulterior motives, in order to have an argument that is unbiased. However, is it possible to historical events are the truth as due to differing perspectives, it is hard to evaluate what the whole truth is. For example, what the CCP has prescribed as the truth becomes the truth in China. When I asked my Chinese friends about this incident, many of them had never heard of the Tiananmen Massacre, which shows the extent of censorship in China, contributing to the difficulty in obtaining sources.
- April 26th editorial published in the Peoples’ Daily
In their activities to mourn the death of Comrade Hu Yaobang, communists, workers, peasants, intellectuals, cadres, members of the People’s Liberation Army and young students have expressed their grief in various ways. They have also expressed their determination to turn grief into strength to make contributions in realizing the four modernizations and invigorating the Chinese nation. Some abnormal phenomena have also occurred during the mourning activities. Taking advantage of the situation, an extremely small number of people spread rumors, attacked party and state leaders by name, and instigated the masses to break into the Xinhua Gate at Zhongnanhai, where the party Central Committee and the State Council are located. Some people even shouted such reactionary slogans as, Down with the Communist Party. In Xi’an and Changsha, there have been serious incidents in which some lawbreakers carried out beating, smashing, looting, and burning. Taking into consideration the feelings of grief suffered by the masses, the party and government have adopted an attitude of tolerance and restraint toward some improper words uttered and actions carried out by the young students when they were emotionally agitated. On April 22, before the memorial meeting was held, some students had already showed up at Tiananmen Square, but they were not asked to leave, as they normally would have been. Instead, they were asked to observe discipline and join in the mourning for Comrade Hu Yaobang. The students on the square were themselves able to consciously maintain order. Owing to the joint efforts by all concerned, it was possible for the memorial meeting to proceed in a solemn and respectful manner. However, after the memorial meeting, an extremely small number of people with ulterior purposes continued to take advantage of the young students’ feelings of grief for Comrade Hu Yaobang to spread all kinds of rumors to poison and confuse people’s minds. Using both big- and small-character posters, they vilified, hurled invectives at, and attacked party and state leaders. Blatantly violating the Constitution, they called for opposition to the leadership by the Communist Party and the socialist system. In some of the institutions of higher learning, illegal organizations were formed to seize power from the student unions. In some cases, they even forcibly took over the broadcasting systems on the campuses. In some institutions of higher learning, they instigated the students and teachers to go on strike and even went to the extent of forcibly preventing students from going to classes, usurped the name of the workers’ organizations to distribute reactionary handbills, and established ties everywhere in an attempt to create even more serious incidents. These facts prove that what this extremely small number of people did was not to join in the activities to mourn Comrade Hu Yaobang or to advance the course of socialist democracy in China. Neither were they out to give vent to their grievances. Flaunting the banner of democracy, they undermined democracy and the legal system. Their purpose was to sow dissension among the people, plunge the whole country into chaos and sabotage the political situation of stability and unity. This is a planned conspiracy and a disturbance. Its essence is to, once and for all, negate the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system. This is a serious political struggle confronting the whole party and the people of all nationalities throughout the country. If we are tolerant of or conniving with this disturbance and let it go unchecked, a seriously chaotic state will appear. Then, the reform and opening up; the improvement of the economic environment and the rectification of the economic order, construction, and development; the control over prices; the improvement of our living standards; the drive to oppose corruption; and the development of democracy and the legal system expected by the people throughout the country, including the young students, will all become empty hopes. Even the tremendous achievements scored in the reform during the past decade may be completely lost, and the great aspiration of the revitalization of China cherished by the whole nation will be hard to realize. A China with very good prospects and a very bright future will become a chaotic and unstable China without any future. The whole party and the people nationwide should fully understand the seriousness of this struggle, unite to take a clear-cut stand to oppose the disturbance, and firmly preserve the hard-earned situation of political stability and unity, the Constitution, socialist democracy, and the legal system. Under no circumstances should the establishment of any illegal organizations be allowed. It is imperative to firmly stop any acts that use any excuse to infringe upon the rights and interests of legitimate organizations of students. Those who have deliberately fabricated rumors and framed others should be investigated to determine their criminal liabilities according to law. Bans should be placed on unlawful parades and demonstrations and on such acts as going to factories, rural areas, and schools to establish ties. Beating, smashing, looting, and burning should be punished according to law. It is necessary to protect the just rights of students to study in class. The broad masses of students sincerely hope that corruption will be eliminated and democracy will be promoted. These, too, are the demands of the party and the government. These demands can only be realized by strengthening the efforts for improvement and rectification, vigorously pushing forward the reform, and making perfect our socialist democracy and our legal system under the party leadership. All comrades in the party and the people throughout the country must soberly recognize the fact that our country will have no peaceful days if this disturbance is not checked resolutely. This struggle concerns the success or failure of the reform and opening up, the program of the four modernizations, and the future of our state and nation. Party organizations of the CPC at all levels, the broad masses of members of the Communist Party and the Communist Youth League, all democratic parties and patriotic democratic personages, and the people around the country should make a clear distinction between right and wrong, take positive action, and struggle to firmly and quickly stop the disturbance.
- Excerpt from Prisoner of the State, Zhao Ziyang’s Autobiography
With Li Peng presiding, Li Ximing and Chen Xitong vigorously presented the student demonstrations as a grave situation. They disregarded the fact that the student demonstrations had already calmed down. In fact, student opinions had begun diverging. Some of the students believed that they should resume classes and had already done so, while a minority opposed the return to classes. Internal friction had become apparent in some schools. Some of the students had attempted to resume classes, while other, more extreme students had blocked the entrances to the classrooms to prevent them from entering. This shows that for some students, the activities had not fully satisfied their need to vent their anger. If measures were to be taken to reduce tensions, to have dialogue, and to allow students the chance to propose certain reasonable requests, this was a good time to do so. However, in their report, they [Li Ximing and Chen Xitong] went so far as to state, “Nationwide, large-scale demonstrations including the participation of high school students and workers are being organized and are fomenting.” They also reported that “university students in Beijing have sent contacts to places around the country and have conducted fund-raising in the streets to prepare for activities on a larger scale.” They denounced the extreme opinions of a few students, especially remarks directed specifically at Deng Xiaoping. They presented the demonstrations as opposing the Communist Party and targeting Deng Xiaoping personally. With the onset of reform, students, especially college students, had been exposed to many Western ways. Remarks critical of political leaders were made casually and considered inconsequential; the intense climate [of fear] that existed during the Cultural Revolution* and before no longer existed. Many of these student remarks targeted me, such as those that accused my children of making business deals utilizing official resources or those that claimed that trainloads of fertilizer had been sent to my hometown. With hundreds of thousands of people involved, it’s impossible for there to have been no extreme or one-sided comments. Things appear extremely grave if you select only the ten most extreme statements being expressed by all of the people involved. I am not sure what was behind Li Ximing and Chen Xitong’s behavior: either their old mentality of class struggle was at work or they had other ulterior motives. The student demonstration was deemed an “organized and carefully plotted political struggle,” and was documented as such in the minutes of the meeting. Li Peng, Li Ximing, and Chen Xitong were the ones initially responsible for this. On April 25, Li Peng and [President] Yang Shangkun reported to Deng Xiaoping about the Politburo Standing Committee meeting. Deng Xiaoping had always tended to prefer tough measures when dealing with student demonstrations because he believed that demonstrations undermined stability. After listening to their report, Deng immediately agreed to label the student demonstrations “anti-Party, anti-socialist turmoil” and proposed to resolve the situation quickly, in the manner of “using a sharp knife to cut through knotted hemp.” When I had visited him on April 19, he had agreed with my position. On the 25th, after being briefed by Li Peng and Yang Shangkun, he had changed his mind to agree with their assessment. After all, it coincided more closely with what he had really believed all along. Deng’s discussion with Li Peng and others on April 25 was supposed to be an internal affair. However, Li Peng decided to disseminate the contents of Deng’s remarks that very evening to Party cadres of all levels, and paraphrased their talk in the editorial that he had the People’s Daily publish on April 26, publicly designating the student demonstrations as “premeditated and organized turmoil with anti-Party and anti-socialist motives.”
“April 26 Editorial.” April 26 Editorial. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
Zhao Ziyang, Bao Pu (Editor), Renee Chiang (Editor), Adi Ignatius (Editor). “Prisoner of the State.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
Nathan, Andrew J. “The Tiananmen Papers.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 80, no. 1, 2001,
Public interest. BusinessDictionary.com. WebFinance, Inc. March 18, 2017
“Li Peng Speech Declares Martial Law.” Li Peng Speech Declares Martial Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
Polumbaum, Judy. “Making Sense of June 4, 1989: Analyses of the Tiananmen Tragedy.” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, no. 26, 1991, pp. 177-186.,
Abas, Melanie, and Jeremy Broadhead. “The Tiananmen Square Massacre.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 299, no. 6693, 1989, pp. 269-270.,
Ingraham, Catherine. “Gate of Heavenly Peace.” Assemblage, no. 20, 1993, pp. 44-45.
 See Appendix 1.1
 See Appendix 1.2
 Nathan, Andrew J. “The Tiananmen Papers.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 80, no. 1, 2001, pp 22.
 Nathan, Andrew J. “The Tiananmen Papers.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 80, no. 1, 2001, pp. 11,
 public interest. BusinessDictionary.com. WebFinance, Inc. March 18, 2017
 See Appendix 1.1
 “Li Peng Speech Declares Martial Law.” Li Peng Speech Declares Martial Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
 “Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
 (Chinese) Wu Renhua, “89å¤©å®‰é-¨äº‹ä»¶å¤§äº‹è®°ï¼š5æœˆ21æ-¥ æ˜ŸæœŸæ-¥” N.p. N.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017
 Nathan, Andrew J. “The Tiananmen Papers.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 80, no. 1, 2001, pp. 20,
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