by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Among the revolts that ignited the Communist world in 1989, China’s was the great failure. On the night of June 3-4, the Chinese Communist Party showed the world that it would stop at nothing to maintain its monopoly of power. But what exactly did happen that night? A “revisionist” trend emerging in some Western circles now maintains that there was no massacre. Robin Munro, research associate on China for Asia Watch, a New York City-based human rights organization, has been a close observer of China’s democracy and human rights movement since 1978. He was in Beijing, leading up to and during the events in Tiananmen Square. No massacre took place in the big square, according to Munro. Although more than 1,000 journalists were in Beijing at the time, many of them were away filing late-night/early morning reports, some were on hand outside the city where the serious massacres actually took place, but only a small handful remained in Tiananmen Square as the night wore into day and soldiers with fixed bayonets began to surround the remaining students. Munro reports that in the crucial moments of the confrontation, students waged a spirited debate whether they should hold the line and die or retreat in victory by another definition.

The result: “What Nations (Richard Nations, an American freelance journalist also on the scene) and I saw, from our position twenty-five yards southwest of the monument, was unforget­table. For an agonizing minute, it seemed as if the students might not comply with the decision to leave. Then slowly, they began to stand up and descend from the monument. As the first groups filed past us, heading toward the open southwest corner of the square, we burst into spontaneous applause. Many in the ten-deep column, each contingent following the banners of its college, had tears rolling down their cheeks,” reports Munro. Nations noted the student leaders had pulled off the most difficult maneuver in politics of human enterprise, an orderly retreat.

George Black, foreign editor of The Nation, filed a supporting story which appeared in the Los Angeles Times. “In the absence of reliable eyewitness accounts, we were soon reading lurid tales – later shown to be spurious – of students being machine-gunned and run down by tanks in the heart of the square.” Black also reported that the real carnage did not take place at Tiananmen Square. Amnesty International and Asia Watch both agree that the principal killing grounds were some distance away, five miles out from Tiananmen Square at the Muxidi inter­section.

In reality, “Most of the 1,000 or so cut down by gunfire and crushed by armored vehicles were workers and ordinary Beijing residents,” Black said. “These were people who did not speak English, could not quote Patrick Henry and built no replicas of the Statue of Liberty. They were also the people who terrified Deng Xiaoping.”

“As long as we substitute myth for fact, the butchers of Beijing will wriggle off the hook,” Black said. “When Barbara Walters, on ABC’s `20/20′ asked party general secretary Jiang Zemin about the massacre in Tiananmen Square, he replied, with a sly use of the English idiom, that it was `much ado about nothing.’ But what if Walters had asked Jiang about the slaughter of workers at Muxidi?”


SOURCE: THE NATION, 72 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011, DATE: 6/11/90

TITLE: “Who Died in Beijing, and Why”

AUTHOR: Robin Munro

SOURCE: THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, DATE: 6/10/90

TITLE: “A Myth That Lets Butchers Off the Hook”

AUTHOR: George Black

COMMENTS: George Black, foreign editor for The Nation, who wrote the article which ap­peared in The Los Angeles Times, said the public would benefit from knowing what really happened in Tiananmen Square in two ways: “(a) by understanding the specific reasons and circumstances of the Beijing massacre of June 3-4, 1989; and (b) by understanding how myths and shorthand forms of history are generated by the exigencies of the contemporary media – in particular, how the need for soundbite definitions of events may distort the essential character of those events.” Project Censored was unable to contact Robin Munro, author of the article which appeared in The Nation since he was in China, however, Black explains how Munro was primar­ily responsible for this extraordinary story coming to light: “The person who really deserves this award is Robin Munro of Asia Watch, whose research for The Nation, based on his eye-witness account of the night of June 3-4 in Tiananmen Square, was the essential basis for challenging conventional media characterizations of the massacre. I was Munro’s editor on this piece, and did some additional work on the media dimension of the story – parts of which were included in Munro’s final Nation piece, and parts of which I used for my regular column in the Los Angeles Times. I know that Munro shares this nomination. Since he is presently in Hong Kong, it may be that he won’t receive your letter and won’t be able to respond to your deadline. So let me repeat: he’s the one who deserves the recognition.”