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China expert Pye examines Tiananmen massacre

By Sophia Yee

The Tiananmen Square crisis and how it fits into Chinese history was the focus of a lecture given on Monday by Professor Lucian W. Pye of the Department of Political Science. The lecture was part of the Independent Activities Period series, "Communism in Crisis."

According to Pye, Tiananmen has become a symbol of change and of the uncertainty that has overtaken the Communist world. "Tiananmen has become a word that fits in politics, like Hiroshima, the Berlin Wall, and Pearl Harbor," he said.

Pye emphasized that even though the country's mood remained good until 1987, many problems existed in China even four years before the Tiananmen crisis.

He said that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's ideas were focused on economic reform, and the West assumed that this would move China gradually towards capitalism and democracy. He added that "the Chinese thought a compromise between a market economy, a command economy and a socialist economy [would] be possible. However, the Chinese seemed to be having spurts -- moving ahead, then stopping."

When Deng began his reforms, there was an "outburst of energy, and the mood of the people shifted from pessimism back to optimism." Discontent grew, however, as inflation aggravated agricultural problems, leading the government to give the peasants IOUs instead of cash for their grain, he noted.

Industry was also plagued with problems, including low labor productivity and slothfulness.

Large differences between state-set and free-market prices created other difficulties, including an overheated economy -- with inflation "as high as 28 percent" -- and corruption at high levels, according to Pye.

He said that the key problem with China's ideological system was that it "tried to jump from a feudal to a socialist system without going through capitalism at all."

Reform movement grows

In May 1986 -- 30 years after intellectuals were expelled by Mao Tse-Tung into the countryside -- the first student call for democracy took place. Even though it was quickly put down, the demonstration's leader, Fang Lizhi, became a hero to students and liberal intellectuals.

Rumors in Beijing in 1986 linked Li Peng, who would later be an instrumental figure behind the Tiananmen massacre, with the death of Hu Yaobang, a politician popular with students and intellectuals. In the aftermath of the 1986 crackdown, students began to assume the leadership of China's reform movement, Pye said.

For the Chinese, the saying "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can really shatter me" holds, according to Pye. The Chinese regime tried to paint the leaders of the 1986 demonstration as hooligans, and spread the idea that the students were misled. This escalated the confrontation between the government and students, Pye said. Three years later, this confrontation would result in the Tiananmen Square incident.

In May 1989, students began to occupy Tiananmen Square. The students in the square displayed heroism, standing up even in death, Pye said. He added that although some students began writing wills, they never expected to die.

The students understood that world attention would be focused on China for the 70th anniversary of the "May 4" democracy movement and for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit at the month's end, Pye said.

On May 13, workers joined the students in a hunger strike. The mood was getting nasty, but students were committed to using non-violence as their approach towards reform.

Deng declared martial law at the end of May. The students wrote a final will "in defense of the people's square." On June 3, Deng ordered Chinese troops to clear the students out of the square, resulting in the massacre.

China found modernization difficult because it had a historic political order in which the emperor was equal to a moral god, Pye said. The government felt morally justified in using repression as a way to achieve stability.