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Tian An Men Is Over but for Democracy's Lament : China: The last significant sanction has fallen, and recognition of students' aspirations is no closer to official policy than before.

December 16, 1990|Edward A. Gargan | Edward A. Gargan is author of "China's Fate," to be published in February by Doubleday

NEW YORK — Deng Xiaoping got away with it. Tian An Men, that is. Last week, the World Bank resumed lending to Beijing, a $114-million loan to help it improve the technology in its rural industries. The last significant remaining U.S. sanction against the Chinese government for the massacre of unarmed protesters on June 4, 1989, was quietly lifted.

This is not surprising. Even when it was abundantly clear what had happened on Beijing's streets that summer day, George Bush refused to concede that Deng--"my old friend"--had any hand in the atrocities witnessed by television viewers around the world. Only after the din of public and congressional outrage penetrated the Oval Office did the President capitulate and announce a series of actions intended to express the Administration's disapproval of Beijing's barbarities.

None of these sanctions--a ban on high-level contacts, bans on military sales--were ever seriously adhered to. Military sales, though still banned, were all completed by the time of the massacre; exchanges between senior military officials remain on hold, although CIA monitoring stations aimed at the Soviet Union from western China are still operating. Only in the case of World Bank loans did the White House persevere.

Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Bush suddenly needed China's vote on the U.N. Security Council. The last serious sanction was lifted.

If there is any doubt about Beijing's smugness over neatly foiling the Administration's half-hearted remonstrations over Tian An Men, Qian Qichen, the foreign minister, lays it to rest in an article in the magazine "Seek Truth," appearing this week. In it, Qian observes, correctly, that "China was not forced to submit, nor was it isolated." Not coincidently, Qian's bluntness came just three days before the scheduled arrival of Richard Schifter, the assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, a trip whose purpose Washington has chosen not to reveal. As Qian makes clear, though, the visit will be both without purpose or effect.

It is forgotten now, but when the true dimensions of Tian An Men were finally apparent, Bush blurted out to White House reporters that there could not be normal relations between Beijing and Washington "until there's a recognition . . . of the validity of the students' aspirations."

Bush's ambassador to Beijing, James Lilley, gave us some sense of what that recognition might mean. While in Seattle last week, he was confronted with protesters demonstrating against the Administration's expedient accommodations with Beijing. Lilley became enraged at the protest and shouted "coward" at the protesters.

Among them was a Tibetan, to whom Lilley screamed, "You should go back to China and serve China." Perhaps it might have occurred to the ambassador that this Tibetan might not so easily accept the notion that China has any right to occupy Tibet, any more right, indeed, than does Iraq to occupy Kuwait. Perhaps it slipped the ambassador's mind that China's treatment of Tibetans and Tibetan culture has been something less than benign.

In China, there has been something less than recognition of "the students' aspirations." Some of the country's best-known intellectuals, journalists and student dissidents are being put on trial. Political propaganda is running full tilt.

The Chinese people saw on a recent front page of the People's Daily an article admonishing them to address each other as "comrade." No longer were they to use the bourgeois affectations "Miss," "Mister" and "Mrs."

This article has provoked a great buzz among China watchers and general derision by the Chinese public. Attention to forms of address, to the propriety of names, is not just a peculiar whim of China's geriatric leadership. Confucius, in a chapter on the nature of government in his Analects, told his disciples:

"If names are not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success . . . . Therefore, a superior man (Confucius's term for a man of honor, a gentleman if you will) considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."

One of the remarkable accomplishments of Mao Zedong's revolution was to rupture that relationship, to create a language that distorted and perverted any description of underlying reality. Since his death in 1976, the use of comrade--introduced after the revolution as a way of extirpating the excrescences of bourgeois social pretensions--has diminished markedly, particularly in urban areas and especially among younger people, those who attended universities since the helmsman's death.

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