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Post Tiananmen Reflections – II: Academics and Man-in-Streets Account of Happenings

II Academics and Man-in-Streets Account of Happenings

Beijing sojourn for the first 10 days of my month long chance interactions with the man-in-streets in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) proved to be as revealing and productive as the high academics and/ or officials of various ministries and departments. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) was literally meticulous in planning out the itineraries. The programme was inclusive in as much as it concerned taking care of my academic needs and sight seeing. It virtually gave me opportunity to understand the developments in much better perspective. My synopsis, which contained research questions on various aspects of developments of agricultural enterprises served as the basis for their decisions to place institutions and their personnel at my disposal. As being thoroughly action packed, the stay did not give me time to ponder over any other thing except my studies.

Academic interactions were built around Chinese institutions and their faculties related with the Chinese economy, in particular agricultural economy. I had my interest in Chinese adult literacy programme. I could interact and get useful inputs from the faculty members in various university departments in Beijing, in particular Beijing University, Beijing Normal University, Ren Min University, Tsinghua University and China Agricultural University. Each session of discussion had refreshment breaks, which gave me elbow to discuss issues other than the subject matter.

While talking casually with one of the faculty members of the Institute of Economics and Resource Management of Beijing Normal University, I expressed my concern about the demise of Hu Yaobang, the then architect of Chinese economic reforms. The response took me aback. He looked disturbed. He said no use. He is no more. China will remember him at long last as normally does. I said Hu Yaobang was one of the Long March veterans. I recited his obituary, published after his death in Ren Min Ri Bao, which recalled him as a “long tested and staunch communist warrior, a great proletarian revolutionary and outstanding political leader for the Chinese Army”.

In a loving retort, the Chinese academic told me point blank that I did not perhaps know that Hu Yaobang had raised hopes for greater democracy. He was one who led withdrawal of thousands of Han cadres from Tibet autonomous region and made solemn promise to undo what was improper and unsuitable for the Tibetan masses. He had rehabilitated most of the veterans who were unjustly marginalized and condemned during the Great Cultural revolution. He was one who virtually got Deng Xiaoping precedence over Mao Zedong’s heir Hua Guofeng. He was again one who could have put Sino-Indian relations on sound track. Almost mournful, he said Hu Yaobang died of heart attack haplessly in the meeting of the political Bureau. His eyes got moist and voice choked. As another faculty member drew closer and wanted to talk to me, he changed the topic. He talked in depth how the Chinese agriculture then struggled to raise per unit yield and problematic soil derived technological solutions.

I expressed by desire to have a look of Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen Guangchang). My host CASS was kind to accede to my proposal. For reasons best known to them, it did not constitute part of my sight seeing itinerary. It is laid out on a north-south axis. I was accompanied by two scholars from CASS. We reached there after the routine flag raising ceremony of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They took me to the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen), where from Mao Zedong had proclaimed the founding of the PRC on 01 Oct 1949. It adorned the gigantic portrait of Mao Zedong, to the left of which runs the slogan “Long Live the people’s republic of China” and to the right “Long Live the Unity of the People’s of the World”. They took me to Mao Mausoleum (Mao Jiniantang) and then to the Monument of the People’s Hero (Renmin YingxiongJinianbei).

The two CASS scholars showed me the broad area of the Square where the seven week long movement continued right from April 15, 1989, the day Hu Yaobang died until June 4, 1989 when the 27 Group Army and 28 Group Army cleared them. They did not vouch exactly the number of dead and injured. The western media had then put the number of dead to over 2500 people and injured ranging 7000-10000. The two acceded that the members of the party who had publicly with the protestors, including Zhao Ziyang, the General Secretary of the Communist party of China, were purged and put to prison and/ or house arrests.

As to the factors behind the development, the two CASS scholars called it bluntly a mistake on the part of the protagonists of political reforms to believe that the iron fisted control of the CPC could ever get loose, and let plural polity to replace its monolith. The two CASS scholars considered the protagonists of the movement had perhaps not learnt from their experiences of Democracy Wall protests of 1978-1979 as well as pro-democracy protests of 1986-87. The two CASS scholars stated that the Students in the universities had then formed their own associations, repudiating the CPC controlled associations.

Notwithstanding, they looked upon themselves as patriots, much as the forerunners of May 4 Movement (Wusi Yundong) had come to acquire the respectability. In addition, the protests seemed to evoke memories of the Tiananmen Square protest of 1976, which led to the ousting of Gang of Four.

On the first week end after my arrival to China, the host CASS organized one local sight seeing tour. I had by then already seen Tiananmen Square and some of the monuments built around the area. Temple of Heaven Park (Tiantan Gongyuan) was the first stop of the day. It is set in 267 hectare park. There is a gate at each point of the compass, and bounded by walls to the north and east. The most dominant feature of the complex is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (Qinian Dian). The other one was Prince Gong’s Residence (Gongwangfu). It carries conceptual bearing of Cao Xeqin’s 18th century classic, the Dream of the Red Mansion.

The host CASS had sent one scholar to assist me. While he was explaining the magnificence of the architecture Temple of Heaven Park, which included wooden pillars supporting the ceiling without nails or cement, and me asking questions in Chinese mandarin, one of the native travelers took fancy in me. He first took me to be Pakistani traveler. Before I could tell him any thing, he concluded that the possibility of me being a Nepali was ruled out. I had only to nod my head to reaffirm his estimate of me being an Indian. He worked as tour operator in Shandong province. He said he was to come to visit Beijing some times in late August, which he was advised to avoid as the winds were yet to settle after the fateful June 4 (Liusi) incident. He told me one of the victims of the incident was his distant relative studying in Tsinhua University. He bemoaned his death. While he was himself a cadre, he did not approve the military option as the right solution for the agitation. He did not see the prospect of multiparty political system with adult suffrage to ever materialize.

Outside Beijing, the host CASS decided to take me to Badaling, 70 km northwest of Beijing. This is the nearest point to have look of the grandiose of the Great Wall of China. The surrounding scenery is typically raw and impressive. We climbed to Jinshanling. It is starting point for Simatai. There was a suggestion to visit the site. It was to take at least 4 hours to reach. I gave up the option. It was here at jinshanling that I came across a French couple, who spoke mandarin. The lady was more proficient. The two were then students of Beijing Language and Culture University. He was in China when the incident took place. He gave full account of developments. He confirmed some of the details which I had at my disposal.

On the back journey, we visited Ming Tomb (Shisan Ling). It is final resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. We had our lunch in a wayside restaurant. We met two groups of domestic Chinese tourists. One of them was from Yunnan. One of the team mates of the group was a teacher, who taught history and culture of foreign countries including India. He continued talking about the incident for over half an hour until my driver showed anxiety as it was getting late. He was one who called the incident massacre (Tusha).

(To be continued)

(The writer, Dr.Sheo Nandan Pandey, is a long time observer of China, based in New Delhi. Views expressed are his own.)

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