Defending Chinese Dissidents
WHAT happened last Sunday night was, I imagine, destined to happen at some point in the Chinese pro-democracy movement after the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 4.
Wuer Kaixi and Liu Yan came Sunday to remember their friends and fellow protesters who died six months ago or who have been exceuted or arrested since then in the government crackdown on the movement. Liu Binyan was there to express his displeasure that the movement failed to advance the cause of democracy as far as it could have and failed also to leave a legacy of writings and ideas to carry on after the end of the singular Tiananmen Square gathering.
The statements from politicians invariably focused either on memorials to the thousands killed in the massacre or on the president's veto. Lawrence Sullivan spoke of books about the movement and the massacre, of the ongoing need to get resolutions through United Nations commissions and of the need to maintain constant pressure on governments all over the world to influence the leaders of China. In short, not everyone was looking in the same direction.
THESE leaders-in-exile are young (Liu Yan is 19), and the shock of what they have gone through has been exacerbated by their sudden departure from their homeland and subsequent adjustment to life in the United States. A great burden has been put on these people's shoulders: in addition to dealing with their own ghosts, they are being asked to speak for those who died. They are not permitted to grow beyond June 4, and yet they are looked to for dynamic, continuing leadership.
Liu Yan spoke movingly of her struggle to decide how she should act in America. With no guidance and little experience with truly independent choices, she bent to what she felt was expected of her--to live as a memorial to her martyred associates. Now, though, she is studying English and hopes to use what she is learning in the U.S. to strengthen the pro-democracy movement in China. She is beginning to look ahead.
Wuer Kaixi and Liu Binyan both reflected on the movement that temporarily ended on June 4 in Tiananmen Square--Wuer Kaixi to canonize its martyrs, Liu Binyan to castigate its errors. They are both right, and they are both wrong. No one could possibly fault Wuer Kaixi for waiting never to forget those who died, but he was wrong in thinking that the gathering Sunday was "lighthearted." It was forward-looking as well as backward-looking; imaginative as well as reminiscent. I have wept in memorial of Wuer Kaixi's friends, but for the remembrance to have meaning, I and others must act.
Liu Binyan's error is in thinking that the Tiananmen Square movement was wasted effort. International opinion was galvanized by the idea and image of non-violent students, gathered to express humanist ideals, bloodily crushed. If this movement is kept alive and if it eventually does succeed, the students of Tiananmen will rank among the historic martyrs of the world. Liu Binyan is right is saying that many things were and are lacking from the movement; he has potentially added a new dimension to the movement.
THE pro-democratic Chinese, having vividly expressed their ideals, must now delineate their guiding principles. Books are being written about the movement. But all of them are simple records, attempts to ensure the dissemination information that the Chinese government would desperately like to suppress, and while these can aid the movement to democracy, they are no substitute for an internal Chinese dialogue about ideology. The all-too-human image will live in the memory of the world forever, but images bring about no improvements.
As well-taken as Liu Binyan's wisdom on the necessities of a successful movement is, his characterization of the students and student leaders as a selfish, grasping generation was offensive to me and, I think, to many who watched scenes like Weilin Wang's confrontation with a column of tanks and the frequent turning-back of military advances by throngs of peaceful citizens. (Wuer Kaixi and Oscar Hsu expressed their shock at his statement in their remarks that night.)
These were not the actions of self-centered people. Hunger striking by thousands is not the action of self-centered people. Deliberately defying government orders, threats and, finally, martial law for six weeks is not the action of self-centered people.
The student leaders may have individual faults. Some are immature, unprepared for individual fame and responsibility, unschooled in the ways of Western pressure politics and international initiatives. The movement for democracy in China is not yet clearly defined as a result. It is growing, though, gaining experience and acceptance as people like Lawrence Sullivan and Oscar Hsu (to name only two of the many deserving mention) take up the banner, gaining depth from the historical perspective of men like Liu Binyan. It continues, however, to get its driving energy from students, like Liu Yan, Wuer Kaixi and Shen Tong, who love their homeland and who hope to bring it freedom.
Jonathan Dresner is a first-year graduate student studying Japanese history in the History Department.