The Truth About the Tiananmen Massacre

Was there a massacre in 1989, in China's Tiananmen Square? This question has now rolled round again, with a Guardian story, based on Wikileaked cables from 1989, headlined: "Wikileaks: no bloodshed inside Tiananmen Square, cables claim."

Lest anyone conclude there was no bloodshed at all, the story itself goes on to explain that "soldiers opened fire on protesters outside the centre of Beijing." But who reads past the headline these days? The message that makes news here is the apparent Wiki-debunking of one of the most convulsive events in modern China. That headline could have been written by the Chinese government itself.  No Tiananmen bloodshed, ergo no massacre, ergo why all the fuss?

Because there was a massacre. There was a massacre in Beijing, in the streets leading in to the square. The distinction drawn at the top of this article, saying that soldiers opened fire "outside the centre of Beijing" is wildly misleading. It sounds as if the soldiers fired some shots on the outskirts of the city, then moseyed the rest of the way in to clear the square armed mostly with nothing but what a Chilean diplomat, cited in one of the Wikileaked cables, concluded was anti-riot gear (he saw wrong; the soldiers had AK-47 assault rifles, as well as clubs). As one of the reporters who was an eyewitness to some of the events of June 4, 1989, in and around Tiananmen Square, I can tell you that the soldiers may have opened fire outside the city center, but they went on firing all the way into Tiananmen itself. There was particularly heavy gunfire just before the entry to the square, cutting across one of the main roads, near the Chinese leadership compound of Zhongnanhai -- an area into which a large crowd of people, when I last saw them, were being driven by the advancing troops. I ran through that area ahead of the crowd, shortly after midnight, in order to reach Tiananmen Square. When I tried to return to it around dawn on June 4, that area had been sealed off by tanks and armed solders.

As for there being no bloodshed at all in the square, that is absolute nonsense. The soldiers fired tracer bullets into the square. As far as I saw, they didn't mow down protesters in rows, but they did hit some of them. During a half hour or so I spent near a hospital tent set up in the north end of the square, I saw seven people carried in, all of them shot. They were bleeding. Whether more were brought in, I don't know, because I did not dare linger near that medical tent. There was too much gunfire in that part of the square.