Tags: China | Tiananmen | anniversary

Military Leaders Opposed China's Brutal Tiananmen Assault

Image: Military Leaders Opposed China's Brutal Tiananmen Assault
PLA soldiers leap over a barrier in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989 during heavy clashes with pro-democracy protesters.

By    |   Wednesday, 04 Jun 2014 11:22 AM

Chinese Army documents smuggled out of that country and interviews with former soldiers, Communist Party insiders, and others directly involved in the events in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago reveal that many in the military were shaken by the bloody crackdown in Beijing on June 3 and 4, 1989, The New York Times reported.

Estimates of the total number of Chinese crushed by tanks or shot to death range from the government estimate of about 300 to more than 1,000, according to other sources. The death toll might have been worse if some soldiers had not defied senior military commanders by pretending that their equipment had malfunctioned.

For many years, the nation’s communist leaders have used censorship and an imposed code of silence to choke off most public discussion of the massacre. Deng Xiaoping, the  veteran Communist Party boss who presided over the crackdown, praised the military for its
total loyalty, and many foreign accounts have suggested that the Chinese military was unwavering in its resolve to act against the unarmed protesters.

But recently disclosed documents indicate a far different reality, with many soldiers deeply troubled by the prospect of being ordered to kill their fellow Chinese. Senior officials became alarmed when Maj. Gen. Xu Qinxian, a longtime hero to Communist Party stalwarts, made it clear he wanted no part of using force against civilians. 

Chinese leaders were stunned by the defiance of  Xu, chief of the powerful 38th Group Army, a military bulwark responsible for defending the capital.

Xu was summoned along with other senior commanders to a meeting at headquarters to pledge support for the use of military force to end the Tiananmen protests in the spring of 1989. He was the only participant who refused, saying that he felt the situation should be resolved peacefully.

Xu was no longtime dissident or pacifist. During the Korean War, he reportedly wrote a letter in blood begging to join the army as an underage youth. His opposition to using force against peaceful demonstrators in 1989 sparked fear among party leaders that large segments of the military might refuse to use force against students demonstrating in Beijing.

In the end, Xu agreed to pass on orders to his officers, but he refused to lead armed troops into the city. He was sent to prison for four years and was expelled from the Communist Party. Today, Xu, who is reportedly in failing health, lives in a sanitarium in northern China.

His action a quarter-century ago spurred rumors in the military that the 38th Group Army officers had refused to enter Beijing. In an effort to counter these claims, officers in the 38th were ordered to condemn their former commander and pledge to enforce martial law.

But Xu was not the sole dissenter within the military elite. Col. Wang Dong, a People’s Liberation Army officer, organized a petition of military leaders opposed to martial law.

Deng and his allies were so disturbed by reports of widespread doubts over martial law that they disconnected special telephones that enabled senior Communist Party leaders to talk to each other.

Wang held a secret meeting with Zhou Duo and Wang Juntao, liberal intellectuals seeking to prevent a military assault on protesters. He attempted to play down the likelihood of large-scale bloodshed, they recalled.

Zhou told The Times that the army colonel warned that the Communist Party would be “committing suicide” by ordering a violent attack on the demonstrators. Zhou added that Chinese military leaders  “absolutely never imagined it would turn out as brutally as it did.”

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Chinese Army documents smuggled out of that country and interviews with former soldiers, Communist Party insiders, and others directly involved in the events in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago reveal that many in the military were shaken by the bloody crackdown in Beijing on June 3 and 4, 1989.
China, Tiananmen, anniversary
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2014-22-04
Wednesday, 04 Jun 2014 11:22 AM
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