"My students keep asking me, 'What should we do next? What can we accomplish?' I feel so sad, because how can I tell them that what we are actually hoping for is bloodshed, the moment when the government is ready to butcher the people brazenly? Only when the Square is awash with blood will the people of China open their eyes. Only then will they really be united. But how can I explain any of this to my fellow students?"
Chai Ling, Tian an men student leader, 1989
Ten years late (always the slow adopter!) I finally had an opportunity to see the Tian an men massacre documentary by Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon,“The Gate of Heavenly Peace.” Strange to say, watching the footage of the student leaders evoked feelings similar to when I watched the 1965 Dylan documentary “Don't Look Back.” In that case, I found myself cringing at the posing of 25 year old Joan and Bob, identifying instead with Dylan's indulgent and canny manager Albert Grossman. “Heavenly Peace”evoked similar feelings, except with the fortunes of 1.2 billion people hanging in the balance. What the movie (cross-referenced with Ian Buruma's portraits in “Bad Elements") clearly documents is that these were callow kids in way over their heads. Their age is the chief mitigating factor in a case where they did a lot more damage than good.
The above quotation from self-appointed commander-in-chief Chai Ling is the most incriminating. In a pattern familiar from the French Revolution and countless others, the moderates who wanted to disburse after having achieved a few finite but substantive goals, were always at a disadvantage relative to the radicals with a bloodbath/ uprising/ regime change agenda. Here is Chai Ling, in an interview, by turns going utterly to pieces and fantasizing about being commander-in-chief of a rebellion. Here's Wu'er Kaixi, meeting China's leaders in the midst of a hunger strike, sitting with a sullen adolescent slouch as Li Peng appears far more serious and reasonable. Wu'er, in pajamas, living out a countercultural fantasy, shakes his finger in Li's face and tells him “You just don't get it, do you?” The meeting couldn't have gone better for Li. You can see him turn to the other leaders, as if to say, “You can see how it is. What else can we do?” At one point, several of China's most respected writers and thinkers come to the square to implore the students to take their gains and go home. Wu'er dismisses them: What have they ever done, these intellectuals? We've started a revolution; led a million people in singing the Internationale in Tian an men!.