Wei Jingsheng Foundation News and Article Release Issue: A632-W393

魏京生基金会新闻与文章发布号: A632-W393


Release Date: June 4, 2011



Topic: Why Did the 1989 Democracy Movement Fail in China? (Commemorating the 22nd Anniversary of the June 4 Massacre) -- Wei Jingsheng

标题:八九民主运动失败的原因是什么?(六四二十二周年纪念) -- 魏京生


Original Language Version: Chinese (Chinese version at the end)



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Why Did the 1989 Democracy Movement Fail in China? (Commemorating the 22nd Anniversary of the June 4 Massacre)

-- Wei Jingsheng



Among today's youth in China, many already do not know what the "June 4 massacre" was.  However, for the middle aged, most memories of this tragedy are just as new as if they were yesterday.  That was a time of shame for our nation, as well as an experience of stirring solemnity.  For a better Chinese future, for democracy, thousands of heroic Chinese stood in front of the tanks and machine guns without fear.  Blood flew like a river.  Many died for a noble cause.


Twenty-two years have passed.  People have been asking: what really happened?  Why were so many heroic Chinese sacrificed yet not much has changed?  In the past 22 years, some truths about 1989 have gradually been exposed.  What happened behind the scenes has become clearer.  After sifting and selection by elimination, varies opinions have also become more and more concentrated.


One of the most well known opinions is the theory that "one should stop when one is ahead".  In this theory, since the Chinese Communist authority had yielded some and also had made some reasonable offers, the ones ahead should have stopped there in 1989.  The unspoken words in this argument are that the students and civilians who would not stop when they were "ahead" should carry the responsibility of the massacre that killed so many civilians.  The Chinese Communist regime immediately grabbed this theory, and pushed the responsibility of the massacre over to "the people with grown beards yet hiding behind the demonstrating students".  The Communists took the opportunity to make their excuse of killing in June of 1989 as an action that was forced by the situation.


Is this theory of "one should stop when one is ahead" reasonable?  From the gradually exposed history, we know there was not such a possibility at all.  One of the reasons that the 1989 democracy movement happened in China was that the internal struggle within the Chinese Communist Party had reached a level which was not compromisable.  The Communist officials of the Zhao Ziyang faction were sympathetic to reform, but had taken a lesson from his predecessor Hu Yaobang's resignation.  That faction was the majority within the Communist Party and even had the support of public opinion in the Chinese society, so if Zhao Ziyang wanted to yield to the conservative minority, he would not receive other people's support to do so.


However, Zhao Ziyang yielded anyway.  Not only that, he yielded all the way.  The result is that Deng Xiaoping got the time to assemble and mobilize the military, without any intention to compromise.  Thus, that theory of "one should stop when one is ahead", was based on an assumption of untrue reality.  It was just impossible.


The key problem then was that Deng Xiaoping's faction was not only the minority, but also unwilling to make a retreat.  They were unwilling to resign and to be replaced by the better.  The characteristic nature of their autocratic dictatorship determined the only choice that they would make, which was to have a bloody suppression.  To say that Deng Xiaoping's massacre "was forced by the situation", is to speak in favor of the dictator while standing in his position.  In both Western democracy and the principles of China's own Constitution, the minority should have stepped down.  When we look at the different result in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we know that civilians' "blood flowing like river" should not be the only choice available.


For more than 20 years now, people have been asking one question: why did the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe achieve a peaceful resolution, yet we the Chinese failed?  Many countries got the same result, so we cannot claim it as accidental.  In particular, the highest authorities of several countries also gave the order of suppression, yet their military refused to carry out that order.  The military of Romania even struck the other way and executed its dictator.  Why was the Chinese army so lacking of conscience, and used machine guns and tanks to massacre its own people?


Regarding this question, I have asked some military personnel and policemen.  My words were not pleasant and I said that their hands were full of the blood of civilians.  All of them felt ashamed yet claimed to be wrongfully accused.  They said that the situation was not the way given to the public.  At that time, as soon as they finished their work, many police would change to civilian clothes and join in the democratic demonstration.  I do remember the police who guarded me in jail were just as excited and emotional as I was while watching television those days.  In their hearts, they were not much different from the civilians.  After all, besides what they had to wear, they were average people.


The situation with the Chinese military was similar.  Besides a few soldiers who were extremely lacking in conscience and education, most of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who went to Beijing had their guns aimed to the sky.  At that time, the streets were full of angry resistors.  If all the soldiers aimed at these civilians, then the death toll would not be only a few thousand.  When they were pushed into the corner, many military personnel thought of rebelling along with the civilians.  Xu Qinxian, the military commander of the 38th troops who refused to carry out the massacre order and thus was arrested immediately, was their representative.


So, why was not there a true rebellion at that time?  What a high rank military officer said deserve some deep pondering.  He said that when you students rebel, you only receive a few years sentence; but for us, rebellion means punishment by execution.  When your people were still supporting the Communist leadership and promoting "peace, rationality, and non-violence", we did not know what you really wanted.  There was no other order given, so how could I use the lives of tens of thousands of my subordinates for something that was not serious?  Our parents generation had sacrificed themselves for people to have better lives, how could we afford the conscience of killing the people?  We were pushed to the corner to carry out that order.


The explicit words of this military official provide food for thought.  The reason that the military in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe dared to go against orders and  even struck the other way, is because the goal of their democratic movement was clear: to overthrow the one party dictatorship of the Communist Party.  That was the expression of the will of all the people, instead of being sidelined by one particular faction in the internal fight of the Communist Party.  When the majority of the military and people believe that democracy is associated with their best interests, the soldiers and their officers would make correct judgment.


These comments raise an issue that has lacked attention from many about the propagation of the thoughts of freedom and democracy in China during the 1980's.  Was democracy too abstract and disassociated from people's own interests?  The extreme advocacy of "peace, rationality, and non-violence", and the hope that the Communist Party would reform itself were the two major characteristics of the 1989 democratic movement in China.  Exactly the guidance of this kind of wrongful thought brought that movement into a sure failure. 


Nowadays, people have already formed their new evaluation for the events of that time. Although in 1989, many people agreed with the students sending the 3 youths who stained Mao Zedong's portrait to the police station and Liu Xiaobo smashing the machine guns that the civilians on the streets had; however, now they have changed their mind and think these actions were wrong.  Nevertheless, the majority of people have yet to realize that these wrongful actions exactly resulted from the wrongful thoughts.  There are leaders who always push the resonponsability to others, even using skillful words to cover up their own wrongs and defending their wrongful actions.


The Chinese Communist Party has learned a lesson as well.  In the past 20 years, the regime has been actively promoting "peace, rationality, and non-violence" and actively pushing people to hold on to their hopes for reform within the Communist Party.  The regime tolerated and protected a group of hack-writers who contributed to maintaining the rule of the Communist regime.  Knowingly or unknowingly, for their own interests or just because of cowardice, this group of people has become the accomplice of the Communist Party.


Now, China has entered another era of troubled times.  The Chinese people's tolerance has reached a new limit.  The internal fights within the Chinese Communist Party have also turned white hot.  Regardless of the viewpoint and ideology one may have, the people who care about the well-being and future of our nation must not ignore the lessons from the failed democratic movement in China 22 years ago.  The history of 1989 should not be repeated again.



To hear Mr. Wei Jingsheng's commentary, please visit:



(Written and recorded on May 27, 2011.  Broadcasted by Radio Free Asia.)



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Wei Jingsheng Foundation News and Article Release Issue: A632-W393

魏京生基金会新闻与文章发布号: A632-W393


Release Date: June 4, 2011



Topic: Why Did the 1989 Democracy Movement Fail in China? (Commemorating the 22nd Anniversary of the June 4 Massacre) -- Wei Jingsheng

标题:八九民主运动失败的原因是什么?(六四二十二周年纪念) -- 魏京生


Original Language Version: Chinese (Chinese version at the end)









-- 魏京生



















中国军队的情况也差不多。除了极少数极端没文化又没良心的士兵以外,几十万进城军人的枪口都是朝天的。当时满街道都是愤怒的抵抗者。如果都向人射击,不会只死了几千人。不少军人被逼无奈时都想到了造反。被当场逮捕的三十八军徐勤先军长 ,就是他们的代表。

























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