China: The Victory Of
Tanks Will Not Last
Not since the time of Stalin have we seen the truth and lies
shift in such a swift review as in Deng Xiaoping's China.
Hope had been so high before the horror that brought to a
close this most remarkable chapter in a still unfolding drama.
The Chinese press and television had covered favorably the wave
of peaceful demostrations for democracy which had swept throught
China's major cities. The troops at first refused to inforce
martial law and instead mingled with the students and workers.
While the central government had been without a voice for days on
end(reflecting the profound divisions at the highest level of
government), the entirely peaceful nature of the demostrations
had made it seem possibile the crisis would pass without
bloodshed, with a more democratic and moderate leadership
But there was to be no special Chinese solution. Onlt the
old solution of violence. The tanks finally rolled, the guns
chattered the deadly news that the hard liners had won for now.
Yet the victory of those tanks will not last. In this
century, nonviolence has astonished governments again and again
by proving the most natural of weapons, available to all, and
requiring only a combination of courage and patience. In a
century where it once seemed that guns and prisions would be the
outline of a hard new order, we believe democracy, respect for
human rights, and the method of nonviolence will prevail.
Let us rescue the Chinese from some of thier friends. Odd
that those who would break the back of the American trade union
movement always support labor's rights in Communist countries.
Odd also that those who had no good words for mass student
demostrations during the Civil Rights or Vietnam Peace movements
are so enthusiastic about students demostrations in Communist
countries. It is outrageous that Taiwan, where democracy has yet
to take root, and where the defeated forces of Chaing Kai Shek
took power in 1949 by murdering thousands of Taiwanese, should
put themselves forward as suppoters of reform in China. And what
are we to make of those, so enthusiastic for the death penality
here, who are so horrified when they see it imposed in China?
But for those who respect the great and historic culture of
China, these are heartbreaking days. The struggle for democracy
has roots in China going back decades, even before the rise of
the Communist Party. The students and workers were demanding and
end to corruption, not of Chinese Communism; and end of a one-
party state, not a retuen to rpivate ownership of the means of
production. The students certainly were not united on a political
platform, but those watching them on television saw the red flags
and heard the singing of the "Internationale." Thier struggle was
for an open China, open to the Soviet Union as well as to Africa.
It was a struggle for room to breath and think freely, not only
for an intellectual elite, but for working people and for
There are so many tragidies here. The tragedy that Deng
Xiaoping, who himself suffered so heavily during the Cultural
Revolution and had shown such courage in challenging the worst of
the Maoist past, will now go down in histroy not as the old
revolutionist who gave Chinese Communism a humane and democratic
face, but as one who compunded the murder of workers and students
with the betrayal of the truth by terming them counter-
revolutionaries and holligans.
There is a tragedy of the many intellectuals who took great
risks to speak out during this brief flowering of democracy. And
there is a tragedy of the masses who will continue to endure
corruption of a regime which was willing to experiment with many
things, but never with political reform.
There are ironies, as well. Bush may denounce China, but the
U.S. will maintain its military listening posts in China to spy
on the USSR. And business ties are important. Kissinger's old
hope of the "China card"-of isolating the Soviet Union by an
alliance with China-is now at risk. It is clear Bush is trying
hard, beneath the surface of denunciations, to maintain a
relationship with the Chinese leadership.
We need to keep our perspective. There is the image of
military violence, but that is too common in our world to suprise
us. More powerful in history's long reach is the single student
who faced down a column of tanks-and the tank commander who was
himself moved and did not run the student down.
We must hope that the final victory will be with those now
broken or in hiding. or the leadership is old, while those under
arrest are young. To them, through ever channel open to us, we
send greetings. And to them and to the members of the People's
Liberation Army we adress a special appeal-let China, in making
its way to the future, make its way past violence and remember
the sweet moments when troops and citizens spoke peacefully
-Nonviolent Activist Publications Committee
(The Nonviolent Activist/September 1989)