Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wrong impression

The haunting picture of a man confronting a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square may not, in fact, be a libertarian image.

Justin Raimondo's article of 17 June 1999, "China and the New Cold War," re-published today on, has given me reasons to reconsider that episode.

Raimondo writes:
The Tiananmen Square "massacre" is an incident so wrapped up in mythology, most of it generated by Western journalists and their professional dissident friends, that it is nearly impossible for any "revisionist" analysis to be given a hearing. The world saw the Goddess of Democracy, the bright banners and youthful idealism of the protesters, a giant rock-concert held under the gaze of the seemingly incongruous Chairman Mao, whose gargantuan portrait dominates the Square. . . .

According to Lee Feigon's pro-student protester account of The Meaning of Tiananmen, the leaders of a prominent student group, who in alliance with city workers organized the Beijing Workers' Autonomous Trade Union, "hung big pictures of Mao in the tents they pitched on the square. They talked openly and boldly about the good old days of the Cultural Revolution. Mao, they felt, had the right ideas, although he sometimes used wrong tactics. Now they were determined to use what they considered the right ones." [p. 211] . . .

Even as more reasonable student leaders, like Wu'er Kaxi, argued that the students, having made their point, should withdraw from the square and live to fight another day, Chai Lin, the "Supreme Commander," commanded her followers to stay and wait for martyrdom. Already embarked on a hunger strike that had weakened and even completely debilitated many students, they passively obeyed their fanatical "Commander." In style and spirit, the massacre at Tiananmen Square is closer to Jonestown than to a crusade for freedom.

Like the American New Left of the sixties, the Chinese New Left movement that reached its flaming apogee in Tiananmen Square employed radically self-dramatizing means to achieve egalitarian and "revolutionary" ends. They, too, held high the banner of Chairman Mao; like the Weathermen faction of SDS, Chai Lin and her hardcore supporters not only expected repression but openly hoped that their actions would provoke it.

As Eric Margolis, foreign affairs editor of the Toronto Sun, so trenchantly put it, the Tiananmen Square "massacre has become a 'cause celebre' among fashionable leftists and literati, who have never forgiven China's rulers for abandoning socialism."

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