Posts Tagged ‘purge’

North Korea “rebalancing power away from the military”

November 21, 2017


© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/File / by Hwang Sunghee | Hwang Pyong-So is the latest to fall victim to a purge by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who analysts say is rebalancing power away from the military

SEOUL (AFP) – A purge of senior North Korean military figures is part of a bid by leader Kim Jong-Un to reduce the influence of the powerful army and further tighten his grip on the country, analysts said Tuesday.Since taking power in 2011, North Korea’s young leader has brutally removed anyone perceived as a potential challenge to his authority, including ordering the execution of family members.

But observers say the latest move appears aimed at curbing the overgrown influence of the military, which blossomed under his late father Kim Jong-Il’s Songun (military-first) policy.

The head and deputy head of the military’s powerful General Political Bureau, Hwang Pyong-So and Kim Won-Hong, have been punished for “impudence” towards the ruling Korean Workers’ Party, which Kim Jong-Un heads, the South’s spy agency has said.

The bureau is tasked with ensuring loyalty to the Party among the ranks of the Korean People’s Army, Yonhap reported, citing lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service.

“This is another Kim Jong-Un play aimed at tightening his grip on, and taming, the military,” Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.

Kim is moving away from the Songun policy and “reaffirming the principle that the party is always above the military” Yang said.

Professor Koh Yu-Hwan at Dongguk University added: “The Songun policy has always been a double-edged sword and Kim is reorganising the military that became overgrown under his father and is restoring the system of party dominance.”

The NIS said the level of punishment meted out to the two men was not known, but South Korean lawmakers who attended the closed-door briefing suggested they might have been sent to provincial farms for re-education through labour.

Hwang was once seen as the second most powerful man in North Korea. He led the high-level delegation that visited the South during the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, and made his last public appearance in October.

Kim Won-Hong had returned to office earlier this year after being sacked as minister of state security, for power abuse and corruption in mid-January.

Kim, who served as the spy chief since 2012, had played a key role in arresting and executing Kim Jong-Un’s uncle Jang Song-Thaek four years ago.

The North’s leader has reportedly killed more than 100 military, party and government officials, including Jang and Hyon Yong-Chol, a former defence chief who was put to death in 2015.

South Korea believes he was also responsible for the Cold War-style assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong-Nam, who was poisoned at a Malaysian airport earlier this year.

by Hwang Sunghee

Turkey marks failed coup that changed country

July 10, 2017


© AFP / by Stuart WILLIAMS | People took to the streets in Istanbul and around Turkey in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he battled to regain control during last July’s attempted coup.

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey marks one year on July 15 since a coup attempt aiming to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that failed within hours but etched far-reaching consequences into its society and politics.The country is in the throes of the biggest purge in its history against alleged coup supporters while Erdogan has seen his grip on power tightened rather than weakened.

But Turkey is also facing some isolation on the diplomatic stage, experiencing tense relations with the European Union and the United States, and now trying to limit the damage from an explosive crisis over its ally Qatar in the Gulf.

“One year on from the coup bid, President Erdogan is stronger than ever,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Image result for erdogan, photos

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

But he added the crackdown has “unavoidably weakened Turkey’s international standing particularly vis-a-vis Europe and the United States.”

– ‘Martyrs of July 15’ –

On the night of July 15, 2016, an army faction disgruntled with Erdogan’s one-and-a-half decades of domination sought to seize power, closing the bridges in Istanbul, bombing parliament in Ankara and deploying tanks in the streets.

But the coup bid unravelled as Erdogan returned in triumph to Istanbul from holiday and tens of thousands of ordinary Turks poured into the streets to oppose the plotters.

Two hundred and forty nine innocent people died in the coup and are regarded as “sehitler” (martyrs for Islam).

The authorities see the coup bid’s defeat as a victory for democracy and have renamed the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul that was a centre of the fighting the “Bridge of the 15 of July Martyrs”.

Extensive commemorations are planned for Saturday including a speech by Erdogan on the bridge, with July 15 now declared an annual holiday, the Democracy and National Unity Day.

– ‘Absolute control’ –

Turkey’s longest night left a litany of images engraved into the memory — the tear-stained face of the state TV presenter forced to make a statement by the coup plotters, or Erdogan peering out through the FaceTime app as he made a live appeal to supporters.

Erdogan swiftly said that the coup bid was masterminded by his one time ally turned nemesis, the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen who over decades assiduously built up influence in the judiciary, police and the army.

From his secluded base in Pennsylvania, Gulen denied the charges. But Erdogan vowed to wipe out the “virus” of Gulen from Turkish institutions.

Turkey subsequently embarked on the most extensive crackdown in its modern history, arresting over 50,000 people and sacking 100,000 more from their jobs.

Critics say the state of emergency imposed last July 20 — which remains in place — has been used to go after all opponents of Erdogan, including critical journalists, activists and pro-Kurdish politicians who opposed the putsch bid.

After landing in Istanbul in one of the turning points of the July 15 coup bid, Erdogan described the attempt as a “blessing from God” and critics have accused him of opportunistically exploiting the events.

On April 16, Erdogan narrowly won a referendum that from 2019 will grant him sweeping new powers and also allow him to resume his leadership of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“His control over the AKP is absolute and as a result of the atmosphere of fear created through the post-coup attempt purges, his control over the bureaucracy, private sector and media are tighter than ever,” said Unluhisarcikli.

– ‘Betrayal burned the heart’ –

Turkey’s modern history has been littered with repeated interventions by the once all-powerful military, including the 1960 coup that led to the execution of then prime minister Adnan Menderes, Erdogan’s political hero.

The July 15 bid marked the first time in Turkey’s history a military coup had between thwarted and Erdogan rapidly put the military more under his direct control.

Around half of all Turkish generals were either arrested or fired after the coup bid.

The coup’s defeat even spawned an officially-approved anthem that blares out at Erdogan rallies: “On the night of July 15, the weather was hot/ An attempt of betrayal that burned the heart”.

Yet questions remain over the timeline, with testimony indicating the army received intelligence of a possible uprising as early as the afternoon of July 15.

But Erdogan, who was holidaying in the resort of Marmaris, found out about the plot so late that, according to his own statements, he was just 15 minutes from death.

“Although it is nearly one year after the coup, it does not seem easy to close the discussion over the intelligence aspects,” wrote a columnist for the Hurriyet daily, Sedat Ergin.

As a NATO member and EU candidate, Turkey lamented the lack of American and European solidarity, with Ankara seeing Brussels as more fixated on the ensuing crackdown than condemning the attempt to oust the democratically-elected government.

Tensions rose between Ankara and Washington over the failure of the US to extradite Gulen, with the new administration of Donald Trump dashing hopes of any shift.

By contrast Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to back Erdogan, helping seal a rapprochement.

But in the Gulf, Turkey was last month disturbed by the Saudi-led sanctions slapped on Qatar, its main ally in that region.

by Stuart WILLIAMS

Too Successful in China? China jails former chief of state-owned automaker FAW for graft

February 9, 2017


A Chinese court has jailed the former chief of one of the country’s largest state-owned automakers for 11-1/2 years for graft, China Central Television (CCTV) said on Thursday, the latest official swept up in a campaign to eradicate corruption.

Xu Jianyi, the former chairman and party secretary of China FAW Group Corp [SASACJ.UL], had accepted 12.2 million yuan ($1.8 million) in bribes, the broadcaster said, citing a court in Beijing.

A FAW representative declined to provide any immediate comment.

The court said it exercised leniency for Xu, who is also the former secretary of China’s ruling Communist Party in the northeastern province of Jilin, because he had confessed and helped secure the return of the illegal gains.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned he will go after high-ranking “tigers” as well as lower-ranked “flies” in the far-reaching campaign unleashed since he took office in 2013.

(Reporting by Jake Spring and Beijing monitoring team; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Turkey’s President Erdogan could keep the post (failed) coup state of emergency in place for at least a year

September 29, 2016


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. © AFP/File

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested on Thursday it may be necessary to keep the state of emergency imposed after the July coup bid in place for at least a year.

His comments came a day after he chaired Turkey’s top national security body which called for the current state of emergency to be extended when it expires in October.

“It was seen that a three-month period was not enough… It’s in Turkey’s favour to extend state of emergency three months more,” Erdogan said in televised comments.

“Maybe a 12-month (emergency) will not be enough,” he added.

The state of emergency has laid the legal basis for the government to launch a vast crackdown on suspected plotters of the July 15 coup attempt blamed on a group led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen — charges he denies.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Wednesday that so far 32,000 suspects had been remanded in custody for alleged links to Gulen.

Erdogan said the emergency was needed to fight the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is continuing to wage its insurgency in the southeast as well as FETO — a name Ankara gives to the Gulen-led group.

He defended Turkey’s actions by pointing to how France declared and extended emergency measures after Islamic State jihadists struck Paris in November, killing 130 people at restaurants and a concert hall.

“Does anyone from the world ask France why it declared a one-year state of emergency?” Erdogan said.

“Turkey has experienced a coup attempt that cannot be compared to terror attacks in France. Therefore, I believe my people will understand and support the decision to extend (the state of) emergency.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Continues His “Purge” and “Cleansing” — Arrests an editor from the leading Hurriyet daily

August 30, 2016


© AFP | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) attends a ceremony at the Ataturk Mausoleum to mark 94th anniversary of Turkey’s Victory Day in Ankara on August 30, 2016

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkish authorities arrested an editor from the leading Hurriyet daily on Tuesday, continuing a sweep of the media triggered by last month’s failed coup, the newspaper said.

Dincer Gokce, editor of the paper’s English-language website, was among nine current and former journalists arrested in Istanbul, Ankara and Kocaeli province, Hurriyet said on its website.

Former writers for the Bugun, Radikal and Yeni Safak dailies and the defunct former opposition paper Zaman linked to the preacher accused of launching the coup were also arrested, according to NTV broadcaster.

Istanbul’s prosecutor’s office issued warrants for a total of 35 people over their suspected links to the renegade army units that tried to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, Hurriyet said.

Eighteen of the suspects had already left the country and eight others were still being sought, NTV said.

The government has accused US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the putsch, a claim he vehemently denies.

Ankara has embarked on a purge of tens of thousands within the police, judiciary, education, business and the media to rid the country of what Erdogan calls the “virus” of Gulen’s influence.

The journalists arrested on Tuesday were accused of pro-Gulen propaganda, Hurriyet said.

Several other journalists are already in custody awaiting trial, including veteran journalist and writer Nazli Ilicak.

China: Xi Jinping says “careerists and conspirators existing in our party” are “undermining the party’s governance” — “House of Cards” speech

May 4, 2016


American actor Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards”

By  | TNN | May 3, 2016, 08.56 PM IST

Beijing: Chinese president Xi Jinping referred to ‘House of Cards’ to explain that China does not have the kind of power struggle depicted in the American TV serial. But he warned that the Communist Party has many conspirators,”cabals and cliques”, who are trying to damage the party and the nation’s security.

“There are careerists and conspirators existing in our party and undermining the party’s governance,” Xi said in a speech released by the official People’s Daily on Tuesday. “We should not bury our heads in the sand and spare these members but must make a resolute response to eliminate the problem and deter further violations”.

This is the second in a week that Xi has lashed out against a section of officials within the ruling party. He recently said that some teachers in Communist schools were spread western capitalist values during their lectures to the party cadre.

Some of the teachers even made groundless comments about the Party and the government’s policies besides participating in “nondescript” and dubious social activities, he said at a party school in Beijing.

The House of Cards depicts corrupt practices in Beijing, and profiles a politically connected Chinese businessman who gets into trouble as Chinese authorities change their dealings with the United States. This was seen by some as a signal that China’s anti-corruption drive is selective, and makes scapegoats of officials who are not liked by top leaders.

Xi, who is also the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, made the speech to the CPC Central Committee way back in January but it is only today that the official media released it.


Are his days numbered? China’s president Xi Jinping says he will ‘step up’ the drive against ‘careerists and conspirators’ in the Communist party. Photograph by Iori Sagisawa for AP

In the speech, he said “some officials have been forming cabals and cliques to covertly defy the CPC Central Committee’s decisions and policies” and that they “risk compromising the political security of the Party and the country.” He contested the idea that the anti-graft campaign would be wound down, and promised to intensify it.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party has put property tycoon and one of China’s most famous bloggers, Ren Zhiqiang, on a year-long probation for violating party discipline, state media said. Chinese censors had blocked the social media site of the tycoon, who had 37 million followers, last February. He had withdrawn himself from active business and gone into retirement in October, 2014, state media said.


China’s Xi Jinping denies House of Cards power struggle but attacks ‘conspirators’

Chinese president warns of ‘cabals and cliques’ within Communist party and promises ‘resolute response to eliminate the problem’

The Guardian

Xi Jinping has rejected claims that a “House of Cards power struggle” is raging at the pinnacle of Chinese politics, but claimed “conspirators” were attempting to undermine the Communist party from within.

In a speech published in Beijing’s official newspaper this week, the Chinese president warned that the presence of “cabals and cliques” inside the party risked “compromising the political security of the party and the country”.

Read more:


 (No More Mister Nice-Guy)

 (No Chinese legal justification has been put forward)
Retired Chinese real-estate mogul and former social-media critic of the government’s curbs on dissent Ren Zhiqiang pictured in his office in Beijing.
Retired Chinese real-estate mogul and former social-media critic of the government’s curbs on dissent Ren Zhiqiang pictured in his office in Beijing. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

China’s Xi Jinping sends warning: “no one will be immune from punishment”– “no one too big to fail”

January 4, 2016

President says nobody is immune from anti-graft drive, but analysts differ on who he is cautioning

By Cary Huang
South China Morning Post

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) remark in a book published on Friday, that no one will be immune from punishment for corruption, is a warning to influential retired leaders or princelings who may be standing in his way, analysts say.

While the analysts agreed that Xi was using his massive anti-corruption campaign to consolidate his power, they had different opinions on exactly which former leaders were being targeted.

Xi had, in an internal meeting in February, said no one was ­immune from punishment, ­unlike in ancient times when emperors often granted their family members or favoured officials ­exemptions from legal penalties.

READ MORE: In hot pursuit of China’s princelings

“Under the rule of law, no one should have the wishful thinking of being pardoned, as there is no such thing as ‘dan shu tie quan’ or ‘tie mao zi wang’,” Xi said.

His remarks were published last week in a collection of the president’s previously undisclosed internal speeches. The book was edited by the top anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

The phrase “dan shu tie quan” refers to an iron certificate granting its holder immunity from punishment. “Tie mao zi wang” translates literally to mean an “iron-capped king”, referring to those who enjoyed such privileges.

Xigen Li, associate professor of the City University of Hong Kong’s department of media and communication, said different interest groups would interpret the president’s message differently.

“[But] no matter how people interpret it, it implies the power of the speaker. The tone is set for things to come in China,” Li said.

Chinese politics professor Jingdong Yuan, of the University of Sydney, said Xi’s remark could be a message to those who dared obstruct his reform agendas or undermine his authority.

“Whether or not, or how, to pursue this is really a question of what specific objectives are to be achieved. And they must be achieved to enhance and strengthen – not risk undermining or tarnishing – the image of the party,” Yuan said. “The key lies in finding the balance.”

Beijing-based political analyst Zhang Lifan said Xi’s remark was most likely a warning to party elders such as former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and his ally, retired vice-president Zeng Qinghong ( 曾慶紅 ), to stop standing in the way of his anti-graft drive or resisting his leadership. Zeng is, like Xi, a princeling – the son of a communist revolutionary.

Xi’s highly publicised anti-corruption campaign has brought down a long list of senior officials, many of whom were Jiang’s close allies. They include former security tsar Zhou Yongkang (周永康) as well as Xu Caihou (徐才厚) and Guo Boxiong ( 郭伯雄 ), both former vice-chairmen of the powerful Central Military Commission.

READ MORE: China’s graft-buster resurrects story of corrupt Qing dynasty prince – but who is it aimed at?

Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, said there were few in China who fit the description of an “iron-capped king”, but that he would not restrict Xi’s potential targets to just Jiang and Zeng.

“What about, say, [former president] Hu Jintao ( 胡錦濤 ) and [former premier] Wen Jiabao (溫家寶)?” Tsang said, adding that Xi’s use of the phrase was a clear signal that there was truly no one who was “untouchable”.

“We know there is still strong resistance within the establishment. There is therefore a need for Xi to send such a powerful signal to … deter those resisting from organising themselves,” Tsang said.

But Li said Xi’s remark also exposed weakness in the principle of governing the country by law.

“If the law says it clearly, then follow the law. If the laws need explanations for practise, it should be done by the National People’s Congress,” Li said.


The Coming Collapse of China by Gordon Chang

 (By David Shambaugh, The Wall Street Journal)


Soviet lessons for Chinese purges

August 17, 2015


By Minxin Pei 斐敏欣
Taipei Times

On Aug. 1, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) celebrated its 88th anniversary. However, the country’s 2.3 million soldiers had little to cheer about.

On the eve of the anniversary, the PLA’s former top general, Guo Boxiong (郭伯雄), was unceremoniously booted out of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and handed over to military prosecutors to face corruption charges, including allegations that he took bribes from fellow PLA officers in exchange for promotions. Guo might not be the last PLA officer to face such charges.

As Central Military Commission vice-chairman, Guo was in charge of the military’s day-to-day affairs from 2002 to 2012. His arrest followed the arrest in June last year of General Xu Caihou (徐才厚), who served on the commission from 2007 to 2012.

Guo and Xu are not the only senior officers to have fallen since their commander-in-chief, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), launched his war on corruption at the end of 2012. Based on official data, 39 generals — including Guo’s son, Rear Admiral Guo Zhenggang (郭正鋼) — have already been arrested. And if there is merit to the allegations that a large number of generals bribed Guo and Xu for their promotions, it is reasonable to assume that the most wide-ranging purge of senior PLA officers since China’s Cultural Revolution is set to continue.

That is precisely the message Xi sent to the military in a recent speech to the 16th army group, for which Xu served as political commissar in the early 1990s. After vowing to eradicate Xu’s influence, “ideologically, politically, and also in terms of organization and work style,” Xi said that disobedience to the party leadership would not be tolerated.

The army must “resolutely conform to orders from the CCP’s Central Committee and the Central Military Commission,” Xi said.

Anyone who has been watching Xi over the past two-and-a-half years could discern his goal of consolidating CCP rule in China by strengthening his personal authority, reinvigorating domestic repression and pursuing an assertive foreign policy. To achieve this goal, Xi needs to secure the PLA’s unimpeachable loyalty — and that requires the purge of unreliable or corrupt officers.

On a personal level, the PLA’s loyalty is vital to make up for Xi’s lack of an institutional power base. By contrast, when former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) became CCP general secretary following the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, he was able to rely on capable and loyal officials in Shanghai to run the bureaucracy; he then expanded his support base by co-opting other factions in the 1990s. Jiang’s successor, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), hailed from the Communist Youth League, which has alumni at all levels of the party-state.

While Xi works to build a strong power base by gradually appointing his supporters to key positions, he needs the PLA to defend his political authority in the interim. The most efficient way for Xi to secure the PLA’s loyalty is to replace its top generals — most of whom were promoted by previous presidents — with his own supporters.

It seems that the lesson from the fall of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1964 was not lost on Xi. Khrushchev was ousted in a palace coup sponsored by the KGB and blessed by the military. Had the Red Army been completely loyal to Khrushchev, the conspirators would not have succeeded.

However, Xi’s plans extend beyond his personal authority — and so do the lessons of the Soviet Union. Shortly after Xi’s assumption of power, he lamented to local officials in Guangdong, China, that when the Soviet Union collapsed, the elite had lost the will to fight. At a time when the CCP’s political monopoly is increasingly being challenged, Xi is not expected to make that mistake.

To avoid the same fate as the Soviet Union, Xi and his colleagues have reimposed ideological control and curtailed civil liberties. While the CCP has so far employed only the police and Internet censors (and now wants to embed secret policemen within all Internet companies), its long-term survival is inconceivable without a loyal PLA, especially if protests like those in Tiananmen Square in 1989 erupt again.

The final pillar of Xi’s strategy for solidifying the CCP’s authority is to replace former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) cautious foreign policy with a more muscular one. Should China have to back its aggressive tactics in, say, the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait with force, its military must not be led by venal and perfidious generals.

If Xi’s efforts to root out corruption in the PLA can accomplish these three objectives, one must grudgingly admit that it is a stroke of political genius. However, to ensure that China is in the strongest possible position, Xi must learn one more lesson from the Soviets: Purges can easily lead to excesses. Former Soviet leader Josef Stalin annihilated the Red Army’s officer corps on the eve of Nazi Germany’s invasion. Xi cannot afford to make the same mistake.

Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

Project Syndicate

I, Too, Will Stand Up for Tiananmen — 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre Nears

May 22, 2014

By Murong Xuecun
The New York Times

SYDNEY, Australia — On May 6 three of my friends were arrested in Beijing on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” They are Xu Youyu, a scholar and former researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Prof. Hao Jian of the Beijing Film Academy, and Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human rights attorney.

Three days earlier my three friends and a dozen other people had gathered at Hao Jian’s home to discuss the Tiananmen Square crackdown 25 years ago, when a huge number of students and other protesters took to the streets calling for democracy and an end to dictatorial rule and official corruption. The peaceful protests lasted nearly two months, but in the end the government sent troops and tanks, killing several hundred — possibly several thousand — unarmed citizens. Hao Jian’s cousin was among the dead.

Read the rest:


A blood-covered protestor holds a Chinese soldier’s helmet following violent clashes with military forces during the demonstrations  Photo: SHUNSUKE AKATSUKA/REUTERS
China: Activist arrested for planning 25th anniversary Tiananmen hunger strike

Several pro-democracy dissidents have disappeared in China — Human Rights Advocates say China Is Doing A Crackdown in Conjunction With 1989 Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary

China Arrests Pro-Democracy, Human Rights Supporters in Conjunction With Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary

Chinese police try to silence 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests

File:Tank Man Long Shot by Stuart Franklin.jpg

Type 59 tanks on Tiananmen Square. “Tank Man” is visible in the lower left.

Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989. Photo by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener

Photo: Enthusiastic demonstrators are cheered by bystanders as they arrive at Tiananmen Square to show support for the student hunger strike, on May 18, 1989. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)

Photo: Pro-democracy protesters link arms to hold back angry crowds, preventing them from chasing a retreating group of soldiers near the Great Hall of the People, on June 3, 1989 in Beijing. Protesters were angered by an earlier attack upon students and citizens using tear gas and truncheons. People in the background stand atop buses used as a roadblock. (AP Photo/Mark Avary)
The photos taken after China’s army was unleashed against the protesters are horrific.

Dangerous memories of Tiananmen Square — “Lacking the right to remember, we choose to forget.”

May 19, 2014

By Louisa Lim
The Washington Post

I wrote my book on a brand-new laptop that had never been online. Every night I locked it in a safe in my apartment. I never mentioned the book on the phone or in e-mail, at home or in the office — both located in the same Beijing diplomatic compound, which I assumed was bugged. I took these extreme measures because I was writing about that most taboo of topics in China: the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989, when soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians on the streets of Beijing, killing hundreds of people, maybe even more than 1,000.

I stuck to my rules doggedly. When I decided to throw out the structure I had outlined in my proposal and take a completely different approach, I waited until I left China months later to tell my patient editor. I didn’t tell any of my colleagues what I was working on in my off-hours. For weeks I didn’t even tell my children — then ages 7 and 5 — for fear they might blurt something out at home. Later on, when they began to ask why I didn’t have time to play, I swore them to secrecy.

Chen Guang, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier turned Beijing-based artist, has been in police detention since May 7.  Ng Han Guan/AP

They managed to keep their side of the bargain. But I realized the strain this had placed on them only after we left China last summer for a fellowship at the University of Michigan. Then, almost giddy with this sudden freedom to voice her thoughts, my little one would approach strangers on the streets of Ann Arbor to tell them, “My mummy’s writing a book!”Perhaps these precautions were unnecessary. After all, I was in a privileged position as a journalist with a press card and a foreign passport that offered an exit route none of my interviewees could share.For them, the decision to speak out was made with the understanding that the risks couldn’t be fully anticipated. At the same time, they believe that silence amounts to collusion with a government seeking to control memories. As one outspoken film professor, CuiWeiping, wrote, if people continue to stay silent, “June 4 will no longer be a crime committed by a small group of people, but one in which we all participated.”This year the pre-anniversary crackdown has come early, revealing how relevant the events of June 4, 1989, remain to China’s Communist Party 25 years later.

The first round of arrests centered on a group of activists, dissidents and lawyers who held a “June 4 commemoration seminar” at a private home in Beijing on May 3 . Posing for a group photo, their expressions were neither defiant nor celebratory, but solemn — as if they were preparing themselves for what lay ahead. Within days, five of the 15 participants were in criminal detention, accused of “picking quarrels and creating a disturbance.” One veteran journalist, Gao Yu, never even made it to the seminar, having been arrested beforehand on charges of leaking state secrets. Nine others, including Zhang Xianling, who lost her 19-year-old son to an army bullet in 1989 and whom I profile in my book, were detained for questioning, then released. Of the seminar, a state-run newspaper, the Global Times, wrote dismissively, “It is obvious that such an event, which is related to the most sensitive political issue in China, has clearly crossed the red line of law.”

Judging the exact position of that line is almost impossible, since the law remains subservient to ever-shifting political dictates. Artist Chen Guang didn’t expect any trouble when he invited a dozen or so friends to an empty building on the outskirts of Beijing for the staging of a performance-art piece in late April. Chen, whom I also write about in my book, was one of the martial-law troops deployed to clear Tiananmen Square in 1989, and that experience informs his artwork. But this performance was especially innocuous. It opened with a small girl shining a flashlight around a darkened room, illuminating dates painted on the walls ranging from 1989 to 2014. When the lights came on, Chen appeared with a mask muzzling his mouth. He then whitewashed the walls, obliterating the years. For this, he has been detained by police since May 7. No charges have been made public.

As a friend of his told the New York Times, “People want to remember what happened on June 4, but they can’t do it in public spaces. Now apparently you can’t even remember in private.”

Under such strictures, forgetting is the easy option, perhaps even the default choice. As the artist Ai Weiwei wrote on the 20th anniversary of the crackdown, “Lacking the right to remember, we choose to forget.”

After all, to remember what happened is to remember the scope of the protests. There weren’t just thousands of students protesting in Tiananmen Square, but hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from every conceivable occupation paralyzing dozens of cities around China. In the course of my research, I unearthed new details about the violent suppression of protests in the southwestern city of Chengdu, where government accounts admitted that eight people died and 1,800 were injured in three days of chaotic fighting in the streets. Witnesses believe that the death toll was much higher. Remembering those untold stories is dangerous, because how many other untold stories exist in a country of 1.3 billion people?

Remembering the demands of 1989 — the cries for greater democracy and the calls to tackle official corruption, official profiteering and the concentration of power in the hands of a few — is to recognize how they remain unmet. Reporters have tracked down assets worth $2.7 billion controlled by relatives of former premier Wen Jiabao. Yet anti-corruption activists asking government officials to disclose their assets have been jailed on charges of inciting subversion of state power.

The contours of today’s brash, powerful China were shaped by decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown. It was then that the paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, pushed economic liberalization without any political reforms, a pattern that continues to this day, allowing disposable incomes to increase 1,700 percent since 1989. He put in place a massive patriotic education campaign, which has fostered a generation of young Chinese nationalists. He also laid the groundwork for the ballooning security apparatus, tasked with preventing the spread of protests by monitoring those from whom the public needs protection — such as bereaved mothers who refuse to forget how the state killed their children.

When 76-year-old Zhang goes to the cemetery to mourn her son, dozens of plainclothes policemen monitor her movements. One year she managed to make offerings at the spot where her son, Wang Nan, died on the sidewalk beside the Avenue of Heavenly Peace. The next year she was forbidden to leave her home. To this day, a closed-circuit camera is trained upon that spot, awaiting her return.

China’s leaders are personally vulnerable because they trace their lineage to the winners of the power struggle that cleaved their party in 1989. When the current generation of leaders took power 18 months ago, some optimists hoped that they might be far enough removed from the events of 1989 to initiate a reassessment of what happened. Instead, party leader Xi Jinping’s refusal to repudiate Chairman Mao Zedong effectively rules out any acts of historical reevaluation. The party’s ultimate goal is ensuring its own survival, and it has clearly decided that it needs to keep a lid on discussion about Tiananmen in public, in private and in cyberspace.

China’s online censors are busy scrubbing allusions, no matter how elliptical, to June 4. As the anniversary nears, judging by precedents set in recent years, the list of banned words and terms will grow to include “64,” “today,” “that year,” “in memory of” and even “sensitive word.” History is apparently so dangerous that China’s version of Wikipedia, Baidu Baike, does not have an entry for the entire year of 1989.

Just days ago, I stumbled across “Tiananmen,” written by the British poet James Fenton less than two weeks after the bloody repression. A quarter-century later, his words are still true, perhaps more so even than before.



Is broad and clean

And you can’t tell

Where the dead have been

And you can’t tell

What happened then

And you can’t speak

Of Tiananmen.”



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A blood-covered protestor holds a Chinese soldier's helmet following violent clashes with military forces during the demonstrations

A blood-covered protestor holds a Chinese soldier’s helmet following violent clashes with military forces during the demonstrations  Photo: SHUNSUKE AKATSUKA/REUTERS

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File:Tank Man Long Shot by Stuart Franklin.jpg

Type 59 tanks on Tiananmen Square. “Tank Man” is visible in the lower left.

Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989. Photo by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener

Photo: Enthusiastic demonstrators are cheered by bystanders as they arrive at Tiananmen Square to show support for the student hunger strike, on May 18, 1989. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)

Photo: Pro-democracy protesters link arms to hold back angry crowds, preventing them from chasing a retreating group of soldiers near the Great Hall of the People, on June 3, 1989 in Beijing. Protesters were angered by an earlier attack upon students and citizens using tear gas and truncheons. People in the background stand atop buses used as a roadblock. (AP Photo/Mark Avary)
The photos taken after China’s army was unleashed against the protesters are horrific.