Asian Politics 345
May 18, 1999
Change is the dramatic art of survival. If one is to survive, one needs to adapt to changing needs and desires. The Communist Party in China was started for just that reason. The Chinese wanted a change from what was going on in the country at the time. The student and worker protesters at Tiananmen Square wanted the same goal to be met. They wanted a dialogue to discuss the need for an adaptation, a change in the way things were being done in modern China. However, the bloody massacre at Tiananmen Square only exemplifies the point that the Communist Party, born out of revolution, would not allow another revolution to be born. In the book, Tiananmen Diary, Harrison Salisbury takes the reader through a minute by minute account of the days leading up to the massacre and the subsequent aftermath. In this review, I will explore the Tiananmen Square Massacre and its affect on China through the eyes and ears of Harrison Salisbury. I will give my opinion of Harrison and his revelations, while also exploring China and Tiananmen Square using other authors from class.
Before reading a book on China, a foreigner needs to understand China, its history and its beliefs. China is a country of legends and symbols, of tradition and heritage. As Salisbury states, ?China is?ruled by her three great symbols: the Yellow River, the Great Wall, and the Dragon?. Each of these symbols represents a way of life for the Chinese.
China is a very proud country with many natural wonders within its own borders. The Yellow River is one such symbol for the Chinese people. These citizens turn inward in order to cherish this particular river, rather then look outward toward the ocean. The Yellow River, as a great emblem of who China is, is a tremendous rallying symbol around which to look inward. The river is a symbol for the people that they need to rely upon themselves. They must not look to the sea, to the outside for help. Everything that is made or done for China must be accomplished from within China. The people have had to deal with every invasion, attack, and aggression with only their countrymen to help. China has always had to fight off invaders, including the Mongols, Japanese, Europeans, and eventually Americans. One such example is the effort put up by citizens during the Boxer Uprising. It was within this rebellion that a group of citizens took it upon themselves to fight the Europeans and attempted to rid their country of this menace. The rebellion had asked for assistance in the beginning, but none was given. The Chinese people knew that they were on their own. Even though the rebellion failed in the end, it gave the message that only China could help itself.
The Great Wall is another exceptional symbol that the Chinese people identify with. However, while its purpose was to keep intruders out of China, in actuality it is a symbol of what is wrong with China. ?Not yet have the people and their rulers begun to see that the Great Wall keeps the people in, as well as invaders out; that the walls?confine minds as well as bodies?. The Great Wall is a barrier to the outside world. It is not supposed let anything in, whether it be people, armies, and on a more symbolic level any ideas. With the Wall and a tremendous sense of emerging nationalism, the elite in the government believe that new ideas from the outside world are invaders. They think that they must keep other ways of thinking out of the country. The Wall also represents a need to keep everything within its borders. The reason behind this is that there is a belief that nothing should want to leave China. This belief has continued into the present with the restrictions placed on citizens by the Communist Party and the government. Movement of people, products, and information is restricted, especially to sources outside of Mainland China.
Finally, the Dragon is a representation of China?s belief in its superiority, and the belief that the dragon will protect the nation and its people ?so long as they do not threaten its order?. The Chinese are very xenophobic. This belief has been a part of Chinese culture ever since came into existence. ?The Chinese defined themselves as the ?central country? and believed they were surrounded by inferior peoples and cultures?. The xenophobic feelings were furthered during the European era of trade. Events such as the Opium Wars and the Treaty of Nanjing helped to foster a rise in the feeling of xenophobia throughout the country. With the unfair treatment of citizens by foreigners, people believed that outsiders were to be hated and treated as unfairly as possible. These ideas have perpetuated through to modern China. In modern China, anything foreign like people, equipment, or products is scrutinized and questioned before being allowed to proceed into the country.
This was where Harrison E. Salisbury comes in. Salisbury was a world-renowned journalist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was born on November 14, 1908 and died July 5, 1993. He was newspaper correspondent for most of his life and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955. He wrote 29 books and spent most of his life traveling the world in search of stories for the Minneapolis Journal, United Press, and The New York Times. Over the last thirty years of his life, he has spent time traveling to, from, and in China. After he retraced the path of the Long March taken by Mao Zedong?s army during the years of 1934 and 1935, he wrote a book entitled The Long March, which was listed as the number one book to read by Chinese students in China. He has been referred to as having an ?unending desire and uncanny ability to be where the great news of this century was made?. Harrison saw a lot and had been to a lot of places. It is this knowledge, experience, and expertise that makes his book a reasonable first source with which to gain an understanding of a foreigners experience at Tiananmen Square at the time of the protests.
The diary starts on June 1, 1989, three days before the military crackdown. Salisbury?s purpose in going to China was not to cover the Tiananmen Square protest, but rather he was on an assignment by NHK TV from Japan. He was hired to make a documentary on the anniversary of forty years of the People Republic of China. He was in China to go around the country and film and photograph significant artifacts and places, while making a chronology of the last forty years of Chinese rule.
For the first three days, he starts to make contact with some of his old colleagues. He talks with these people about the current political situation. He concentrates on the political figures, such as the heads of state and the leaders of the Communist Party. His concern seems primarily about what is going on behind the close doors of the government. He discusses the fall of Zhao Ziyang. The only real mention of the students is when he drives by Tiananmen Square to and from dinner.
On his third day in China, June 3rd, he manages to enter Tiananmen Square and observe the situation. He goes into great detail to describe the layout of the compound, where landmarks are located, what people seem to be doing, and gives an analysis of the lack of the freedom of press in China. The rest of the day he spends in the Beijing Hotel, consulting with old acquaintances and colleagues. He sorts through rumors and conveys what he believes is true and what is fiction.
The actual Tiananmen Square crackdown begins on Salisbury?s fourth day in China, June 4th. His description of the events of the day go on for some thirty pages and continues on with the events on June 5th. He describes the events from his window and from what he hears on the radio, from rumors, and from other people. He never leaves the area of his hotel until June 5th, when he is whisked off to the airport to fly to Wuchang. All during June 4th, Salisbury talks about the tanks and convoys rolling up and down the street, shots being fired repeatedly, and people lying on the sidewalk bleeding. He continues to chronicle the sporadic fire and movement outside of his window. He presents numerous conversations that he has with different people about what is going on, not only in Tiananmen Square, but also throughout the city. He can not understand whom the army is shooting at. He believes that everything should have been over hours ago, when the first tank rolled into the square. He describes his drive through the city on his way to the airport on the 5th, one day after the Tiananmen Square massacre started. He notes the differences in what the state owned TV station is saying and what is actually happening.
The rest of book details his final seven days in the country. He travels from Beijing to Wuchang, Jiujiang, Luchan, Nanchang, Canton, and finally Hong Kong to home. Throughout his travels to these cities he hears about small rebellions, especially in Wuchang, where supposedly a bridge was taken by students in order to protest the atrocities of Tiananmen Square. He talks with local citizens to hear what they know of the happenings in Beijing. Most of the people that he talks to support the state and therefore accept the state controlled news information at face value. However, he does notice that in some places that the combined students-workers movement that was started in Beijing had moved into the Chinese provinces. Specifically, he describes a peaceful protest in Wuchang, where students and workers had gathered together in order to mourn those that had died in Beijing.
One idea that he discusses repeatedly over the course of the last half of the book is the possibility of a ripple effect. He comments several times how citizens would speak amongst themselves about the consequences of the trouble in Beijing. ?Trouble in Beijing bothered [the peasants]. It had a way of developing into trouble for [the peasants]? . People are worried about what the government will do in their cities.
Another idea that he brings up over the last section of his book is the idea of xenophobia. In the beginning he had believed that the people had settled their xenophobic feelings; however, he realizes that he is wrong. He believes that the uprising in Tiananmen Square will force the government to revert back to a philosophy of xenophobia. He states evidence such as the firing on the US Embassy and a statement by a Chinese diplomat that it was the US media who were changing the picture of what was actually happening in China. The diplomat went on to say that the Chinese government had shown great restraint towards the criminal elements that were influencing the students.
In the last fifteen pages of the diary, Salisbury takes some time to put his thoughts in order and to give his account of who is responsible, what he believes happened in Tiananmen Square, why it happened, and what may happen in the future. He believes that it started in 1986 when Hu Yaobang was expelled from the party. He also mentions that the year after Hu resigned, the PLA started to perform riot control drills. In addition, there was the death of Hu that set off massive demonstrations. He goes on to describe Deng?s attitude at the time, specifically how he felt betrayed by some of his high-ranking officials, especially Zhao, and by the students. Deng had a negative attitude of the students, calling them wa wa or children. Salisbury put almost all of the blame onto Deng, claiming it was Deng?s anger from the ?loss of face and personal humiliation? that had led him to order the final blow to the students on June 4th. He also puts some blame on the ineffectiveness of the party to form a cohesive unit and determine a collaborative plan to deal with the situation. Salisbury is perplexed by the unwillingness of the Chinese government to enter into a dialogue with the students at such an early stage. He feels that it will be a long time in coming before another effort will arise that will again challenge the foundations of the Chinese Communist Party and government.
For me, I believe that Salisbury was a great journalist. He understood the facts as they were presented. However, I have trouble with some of his analysis of the situation in Tiananmen Square. First, there is the fact that he did not know much of the reason behind the protests. ?What was going on?? ?How had the standoff between the students and the government come about?? , were questions Salisbury was asking while making observations and speculations. Sure, he knew the history of China well; he knew all about the revolutions, rebellions, and people involved, but he did not understand what was going on at that time. It is this lack of comprehension that I find hard to by pass if I was to read the diary and believe it as truth. Even in his conclusion, he is only scratching at the surface of what went on leading up to the Tiananmen Square demonstration and massacre.
Salisbury also frustrates me a little when he gets to Tiananmen Square. In his diary, he only describes the current setup of the compound. He makes some references to the people around him, but nothing too in depth. I have a problem with the fact that he didn?t stay in the square for too long and try to talk to the students. All he did was take in the scene and leave. He is only concerned with how he is going to complete his project. ? . For a man who has done so much on Chinese history and spent a considerable about of time in the country, a person would think that he had picked up a little of language, but in fact he had not. Salisbury even comments that it was an ?Odd sensation-listening to broadcasts coming from Washington D.C., to find out what?s happening a block and a half up the street. To me, he sounds like he is writing a book about something that he only witnessed for a short time and had no vested interest in, only that it is related to history.
Throughout the book, there is sense of naivete. There are comments interspersed throughout the book that reflect Salisbury?s lack of understanding of the current situation. Salisbury may know an extensive amount of Chinese history, but it doesn?t appear that he knows much the current atmosphere and views that are appearing at the time of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. He doesn?t appear to know what the students are feeling or why they are demonstrating. For instance, ?I am sure that a lot of those the TV is now calling bandits are unemployed youth. They have nothing to do, and the excitement of brisk rock throwing or setting buses on fire would attract them? . There is also his statement that, ?Frankly, I can?t believe the country is that shook up? . This blatant Western ignorance of the current Chinese situation should not have made it to print. So why did it?
Ultimately, I believe that this book is worth reading for its detailed chronology and portrayal of what was going on. This diary is not a summary, but an event by event account of Tiananmen Square and the countryside reaction. He is able to give the reader a timetable in order to orient themselves to the situation. He is also able to give a good portrayal of what people outside of Beijing have heard and what they are feeling. This point of view from outside the city, from the country, is often neglected in other readings about Tiananmen Square. In addition, Salisbury was a distinguished writer and his knowledge of Chinese history is helpful. However, his significant naivete of the reasoning behind the demonstrations and his lack of major interest outside of his project are drawbacks. Salisbury even comments that ?I am going to take a shower and purge the dust of China from my body? . In order to understand what happened in China during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, a person needs to understand the students. They need to understand Mao?s concept of constant revolution and how the Communist Party has seemed to have forgotten that. China has to remember its entire past and not just what has been told to them or what they want to remember. A true revolution will only occur when the entire society is ready, but let us not forget that these nudges of demonstrations are stepping-stones to the future and to change.