What really happened at Tiananmen?
JUN 3, 2014

Over the years the “black information” people in the U.S. and U.K. governments have had some spectacular successes — the myth that the Vietnam War was due to Beijing using Hanoi as a puppet to head its advance into Asia, that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction, that Kosovar ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo was in fact Serbian ethnic cleansing of Kosovars, and now the claims that Moscow was responsible for the pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine. But the greatest achievement of them all still has to be the myth of a June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre, with talk of hundreds if not thousands of protesting students mowed down by military machine guns.

In recent years the Tiananmen massacre story has taken something of a beating as people in the square that night, including a Spanish TV unit, have emerged to tell us that there was no massacre, that the only thing they saw was a military unit entering in the late evening and asking the several hundred students still there quietly to leave. So the “massacre” location has been moved to the streets around the square, and with the 25th anniversary of the event coming up we see the “unprovoked massacre” story being used for yet another round of Beijing bashing.

And the facts? Fortunately we have the detailed hourly reports from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, available on the Internet, to give us the true story.

Yes, there was something close to a massacre in those streets, with some of the units originally sent to clear the square of students turning their guns wildly on the crowds that had tried to block their approach. And to find out why the soldiers did such an atrocious thing we do not have to look much beyond those widely publicized photos of military buses in rows being set on fire by those protesting crowds.

To date the world seems to have assumed that those buses were fired by the crowds after the soldiers had started shooting. In fact it was the reverse — that the crowds attacked the buses as they entered Beijing, incinerating dozens of soldiers inside, and only then did the shooting begin. Here too we do need not go far to find the evidence — in the not publicized photos of soldiers with horrible burns seeking shelter in nearby houses, and reports of charred corpses being strung from overpasses.

True, the crowds had had their reasons for protesting. I traveled extensively in China in the early 1970s, soon after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution movement was launched.

I saw firsthand the grotesque and insane abuse to which the entire nation had been subjected. If I had been a Chinese student or citizen in those days, I would have been among the protesters, even as late as 1989.

The regime seemed to realize this, which is why it tolerated the student protest in the square for six weeks despite the enormous loss of face and inconvenience. Its party secretary general even tried to negotiate. It only moved to take back the square after the negotiation failed and the students were beginning to disperse.

But by this time the crowds around the square were both large and ominous. The embassy reports note that the regime’s first move was to send in unarmed troops using the subways and easily blocked by the crowds. Armed troops were then sent in with the results we know. But even then only some of the units went berserk (soldiers tend to go that way when some of the comrades are barbecued: Ask the citizens of Fallujah, Iraq). Other units tried to restrain them. And the action was outside, not inside, the square.

So whence the machine-gun massacre claim? Here too we do not have to look far — to a story a week later in a pro-British, English-language Hong Kong newspaper written under the name of an alleged student demonstrator claiming to have fled China, but whom no one has been able to find. Front-paged by The New York Times on June 12, it quickly traveled the globe, and we have been living with it in one form or another ever since. Not a single Western reporter in Beijing that night seems to have bothered to check out what actually happened; presumably they found a much wider audience for their stories of blood and gore.

Fortunately in addition to the U.S. Embassy reports we now have a detailed 1998 study by the Columbia Journalism Review titled “Reporting the Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press” that tracks down “the dramatic reports that buttressed the myth of a student massacre.”

Right from the beginning we should have had our doubts about the “massacre” stories.

Why would a Beijing regime under Deng Xiaoping seeking reform in so many areas of Chinese society want so deliberately and viciously to attack harmless students, who traditionally have led the reform movements in China — which many pro-Communist leaders had joined in the past?

If one has to fault the regime it is in the failure to train troops in crowd control — a mistake that even hardline regime members later admitted. Ironically their later effort to import crowd control equipment was blocked by the United Kingdom acting under the Western arms embargo imposed as a result of the fictitious machine-gun massacre report that their own black information people had almost certainly helped create.

Other strange details later to emerge included a report that Reuters, the British new agency, refused to publish a photo of a charred corpse strung up under an overpass — a photo that would have done much to explain what had happened. And we now discover that the widely distributed photo of Tankman — the lone student standing before a row of army tanks and heavily publicised as showing brave defiance against a cruel regime — was in fact taken the day after Tiananmen events, and the tanks were moving away from, and not into, Tiananmen Square.

Some have noted the frustration a student leader calling for blood in the streets as the prolonged square protest was winding down with no seeming result, And some have asked how those protesters came to use gasoline bombs against the troops — a weapon not used by Chinese rioters — and why so many vehicles came to be destroyed. This in turn could explain the regime’s anger, and its subsequent efforts to track down and punish student leaders. But even without these details it should be clear that the so-called Tiananmen Square Massacre was not quite the clear-cut evil of much Western imagination.


ここ何年も、アメリカ、イギリス政府の“黒情報”陣営はいくつかの目を見張るような成果を上げてきた。―― ベトナム戦争は中国がアジアへ進出するための先導の傀儡としてハノイを利用したものだ; イラクは大量破壊兵器を隠している; コソボではコソボ人によるセルビア人の浄化といわれるものは実際はセルビア人によるコソボ人の浄化だ;そしていま、ウクライナでの親ロシア的抗議運動にはモスクワが責任がある、云々、といった主張である。だがその中で、これまでなんといっても最大の成果は、やはり、198964日天安門広場虐殺神話にちがいあるまい。天安門広場で、数千人とはいわないまでも数百人の抗議学生が軍隊の機関銃で倒された、というものだ。

最近では天安門広場虐殺神話は、いく分トーンダウンした―― 当日の夜スペインのテレビ班を含めて、その広場にいた人々が、虐殺はなかった、ただ、夜遅くなって軍隊の一団が広場に残っていた数百名の学生に、そこから立ち去るように静かに説得しているのを見た、と言い出したからである。そこで、“虐殺”の場所は広場周辺の道路へと移動した。また事件の25周年を迎えるに当たり、“挑発していないのに虐殺があった”というストーリーが新手の北京叩きのひとつとして目に付くようになった。

そして事実は? 幸い、北京のアメリカ大使館が出していた一時間ごとの詳しい報告があり、インターネットで読むことができるので、真実を知ることができる。


今日まで世界は、これらのバスは兵士たちが銃撃を開始した後で放火されたと理解しているようだ。だが事実はその逆だ。群衆は軍隊が北京に入ってきたときにっそのバスに放火し、中にいた兵士数十名を焼死させている。その後はじめて、銃撃が起こったのである。ここでまた、われわれはその証拠を遠くまで探しに行かなくとも手近なところにある―─ あまり宣伝されていないが、ひどいやけどを負った兵士たちが助けを求めて民家に駆け込む写真や、焼け焦げた兵士たちの死体が陸橋から吊り下げられたという報告もある。



ところがこの頃までには、広場にやってきた群衆の数は大きく膨れ上がり、不穏な空気になっていた。アメリカ大使館の報告によると、政権側のはじめの動きは、非武装の兵士を地下鉄で送り込んだが、これは簡単に群集によって阻止されてしまった。そこで武装軍隊が投入され、そのあとは、われわれの知るとおりである。だがその時でも、怒りを爆発させたのは軍隊の一部の班だけ(仲間の兵士がバーベキューされたとき、兵士はそうなりがちだ: イラクのファルージャ市民に聞いてみるといい)。他の班はこれを制止しようと努力した。そしてこの行動はあくまで、広場の中ではなく外で行われたものだ。

となると機関銃虐殺というクレームは一体どこから出たのか。これに関しても、われわれ遠くまで探し回る必要はない。―― 一週間後の香港の英国寄りの英字新聞に、いわゆる一抗議学生(いわく“中国を脱出してきた”しかし誰ひとり特定できない人物)の名前で書かれたストーリーに行き着く。その記事が612日ニューヨーク・タイムズの第一ページに載り、それが世界を駆け巡り、以来われわれは何らかの形でそれに影響されて今に至っている。その夜、北京の西側記者誰ひとりとして、真実何が起こったのか確かめる努力をしなかったようだ: おそらく血なまぐさい話を語った方がみんなに喜ばれたのだろう。




もし政権の欠陥を探すとすれば、それは、群衆コントロールの部隊を訓練してこなかったこと―― これは強硬派政権のメンバーさえものちに認めている欠陥だ。皮肉にも、彼らが後に群衆コントロールのための機材を輸入しようとした努力は、おそらくはほぼ確実に

このほかにも、後に明らかになった奇妙な詳細のいくつかは、英通信社ロイターが、陸橋に吊るされた兵士の焼死体の写真を発表することを拒否したこと、── その写真は実際何が起こったかについて重要な資料となるものであったのに── そしていま、広く出回っているタンクマンの写真〈学生がただ一人軍のタンクの列の前に立っているもので、残酷な政権に対して挑む勇気をたたえるものとして喧伝された〉は、実は天安門事件の後に撮られたもので、さらにタンクは天安門に入って来ているのではなく、天安門から出て行くところであった。

(筆者は元オーストラリア外交官 中国語に堪能)