June 3, 2014 灯不拨不亮，理不辩不明 By Deng Xiaoping’s Spirit
Today I must address the thing that everyone knows but no one is permitted to talk about. Each nation has chapters in its history that are less than pleasant. As an ancient nation, we have our fair share as well. Finally today, China is strong enough that we can begin to address some of these more recent epochs and events. Tiananmen Square in May and June of 1989 is one such chapter.
It was twenty five years ago this week that I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to send PLA troops in to clear Tiananmen Square. Up until that moment, I had hoped that by allowing the students the freedom to express themselves that the movement would exhaust itself. Indeed, I even allowed the televising of much of the movement. Thus Chinese and indeed much of the world was witness to not only the Tank Man, but also to the Goddess of Democracy.
Today, 25 years removed, we are infinitely richer and more powerful, so perhaps it’s hard to remember how fragile the country’s future was back then. Even today we aren’t yet ready for Democracy, so it’s easy to imagine how much less we were ready for it back then. There were still significant forces within the government and throughout the country who wanted us to return to the failed experiment of Communism. Indeed, they argued that I should use the ‘uprising’ (the longing for natural freedoms) as a pretext to put the country back on the Communist road. I had long before determined that I would pay any price to prevent that from happening. We all had sacrificed too much and come too far to let that occur. And we owed it to our posterity to maintain the current course.
Regrettably, things began to spiral out of control. By June, more than 100,000 young patriots had crowded into Tiananmen, but secretly amongst them, dozens of foreign ‘operators’ intent on sowing chaos to stall our country’s rise. And so I made the most difficult decision that had to be made: order had to be restored. I knew, not being a fool, that it would extract a heavy price. I also knew that it had to be done, and so it was.
Looking back, I wish that we – the party – could have been more forthright with everyone. I wish that I could have said then what I’m going to say now: To the mothers and fathers who lost their sons and daughters; to the grandparents who lost their grandchildren; to the youth who lost their best friends or suffered physically; to the PLA who had to turn their weapons on their fellow citizens: I’m sorry. I wish that I could have been cleverer. I wish that I could have found (or created) a better way to resolve the situation. China deserved better. YOU deserved better. In this instance I failed you.
And yet, history has borne witness to the ‘correctness’ of the decision to restore order and maintain stability. In the past 25 years, we have made great progress as a nation. On top of this tragedy, through hard work and ingenuity, China has risen peacefully to reclaim our position as one of the world’s leading nations. The sacrifices that you have made, the sacrifices that those students made, these things have combined with others to create a truly bright future for our country.
I must address one other issue surrounding 6/4 and it has to do with the number of lives that were lost that day. There has been much debate as to the actual number of casualties from the clearing. The government allows that perhaps 300 died that fateful evening/day, whereas various independent groups put the number ten times greater, approximately 3,000. This totally misses the point. Even the loss of a single life would represent a tremendous loss. Let me ask you, who would want to see the blood of even a single Chinese person, much less a promising youth, sacrificed?
As a nation we are ready to confront this and other histories that, speaking frankly, aren’t in any way pleasant to examine. We are now strong enough as a party, as a nation and as a people to do so. We’re not yet ready to broker any talk of elections, Democracy or overthrowing the Party, so please don’t misinterpret my words. But we are strong enough to look at our recent history and acknowledge the mistakes that were made. Our intelligence requires that we do so in order that we may learn as much as we can from them. And we should also look at our successes and analyze why they were successes. Both our ancestors and our progeny mandate that we do so.