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The Shattered Dream: CHINA /1989 : CHAPTER 9 : 'A Debt of Blood Has to Be Paid Back in Blood'

June 25, 1989|Staff for The Shattered Dream China/1989: A team of 28 reporters, editors, artists, photographers and researchers produced this special section. Principal Writers and Reporters: David Holley, Jim Mann, Michael Parks, Karl Schoenberger and Daniel Williams in Beijing; John M. Broder and Douglas Jehl in Washington; Ashley Dunn in Los Angeles, and Valarie Basheda in San Francisco. Editors: K.E.S. Kirby, Joel Havemann and Donald Bremner. News and Copy Editors: Jon Thurber, Paul Whitefield. Photo Editor: Larry Armstrong. Photographs: Lacy Atkins, Los Angeles Times; Fumiyo Holley. Art Director: Tom Trapnell. Artists: Patricia Mitchell and Ligaya Gritz. Researchers: Nona Yates, D'Jamila Salem, Abebe Gessesse, Pat Welch, Aleta Embrey, Ed Natividad, Gay Raszkiewicz and Mildred Simpson.

BEIJING — "This incident has impelled us to think over the future as well as the past sober-mindedly."

--Deng Xiaoping

Early on the morning of Sunday, June 4, an American correspondent walked out of Beijing's railway station after an overnight train trip from Shanghai to find an unexpected scene: There were no buses, no taxis, none of the usual bustle of a Chinese railway station. He noticed the faint smell of smoke and cordite in the air.

When he asked a pedicab operator to drive him less than half a mile, the driver demanded 100 yuan ($27), an astronomical sum for China, more than 10 times the usual fee. He asked why.

"They killed a lot of people," the driver explained.

On the morning after the massacre, Beijing was a city under military occupation--but not yet under military control.

Troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers controlled the center of Beijing. The battle for the hallowed political turf of Tian An Men Square was over. But the People's Liberation Army was now forced to deal with the consequences of its bloody assault.

Walking out of the Minzu Hotel that Sunday, Ralph Miller saw burned tanks, burned buses and burned people. Black columns of smoke rose from Tian An Men Square. Late in the day, the first time he was allowed past the troops and into the square, what Miller noticed most was the smell. Throughout Tian An Men Square, Miller could smell burning rubber, tear gas and burning flesh. The stench was awful.

Shops and stores were closed. Most residents remained inside or clustered on streets near their homes to talk quietly in small groups. Contingents of troops patrolled the main streets, sometimes firing volleys from AK-47 automatic rifles to make sure their authority was recognized.

In broad daylight, along the streets near Tian An Men Square, Chinese troops continued to shoot at unarmed civilians. In front of the Beijing Hotel that Sunday morning, troops fired four volleys at unarmed, youthful throngs. A foreign witness saw 50 people drop to the pavement, apparently wounded.

Near Jianguomen, at the old eastern entrance to the city, a 65-year-old woman practicing tai ji quan exercises was struck by a bullet and killed.

Residents of Beijing were enraged. And, as the news gradually spread, residents of other cities were equally aroused. For the following week, the regime found itself with an urban population in a state of virtual insurrection.

At Beijing University, students hung pictures on campus walls of those who had been killed. "A debt of blood has to be paid back in blood!" said one wallposter.

Over the next few days, some Beijing residents put up whatever resistance they could. They looked for abandoned military vehicles and stuffed burning cloth in their gas tanks. On June 5, along one thoroughfare, citizens managed to ignite eight armored personnel carriers. One contained ammunition, which exploded, crackling and booming for more than an hour.

In the streets, citizens continued to put up roadblocks of buses, street dividers and market stalls. It was a symbolic gesture; the tanks easily burst through the barricades.

It was clear that only outright terror could subdue the population of Beijing. Troops roamed the streets, firing into the air without reason or provocation. In some of the old neighborhoods near Tian An Men Square, soldiers ran into alleyways shooting at fleeing residents.

For two days, the terror campaign was compounded by rumors and fears of civil war. Troops positioned themselves in defensive formations at strategic points around the capital, as if guarding against a possible attack by rival military forces. About 20 tanks stood guard at the Jianguomen Bridge on the east side of the city.

Foreign military attaches suggested that some PLA units, including the air force, might have been so infuriated by the brutality of the Saturday night assault that they would try to invade the city and reconquer it from its occupiers.

The military could begin taking sides and become swept up in the continuing power struggle within China's political leadership, the experts said. Buttressing their speculation were several reports of skirmishes between army units inside and on the outskirts of Beijing.

From Monday, June 5, through Wednesday, June 7, both inside Beijing and outside, convoys of troops and vehicles shuttled from position to position, as if maneuvering for battle. But the civil war never came. Despite the apparent divisions over the massacre, the People's Liberation Army held together.

The news of the Beijing massacre brought the people of Shanghai into the streets by the hundreds of thousands. Students and workers together commandeered buses, deflating tires or sticking ice picks in them to block the city's narrow streets, which are nearly impassable even in the best of circumstances.

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