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Live from the streets of China, Jeff J. Brown, China Rising, Capitalist Roads and Socialist Destinations, Sinoland
This article was first published February 25, 2015. It is republished by Jeff J Brown in anticipation of the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square protests of June 4th, 1989
s usual, a few bright sparks in my class, those young minds who love to read through our class' subscription to the print edition of The China Daily newspaper and peruse articles on the educational current events website, The Day, dutifully asked me,
Mr. Brown, so how many people were killed during the Tiananmen massacre?
Before returning to China in 2010, I would have undoubtedly spouted the pedantic, Western mainstream media mantra,
Oh, I understand the Chinese army massacred many thousands.
Back in the day, even grade school kids always seemed to bring up the iconic, Western media image of Tank Man. We would all dutifully extol the virtues of this allegorical saint of resistance to tyranny and oppression, like some political superhero version of The Epic of Gilgamesh. This year, when Tank Man was proffered, I reflexively demurred.
At least this year, I had enough of a fledging knowledge to say,
I have read estimates from the low hundreds to a few thousand. My guess would be maybe a thousand.
Because 2014 is different. Having done hundreds of hours of serious research to write my book, 44 Days Backpacking in China (44 Days Publishing, 2013), I learned that Baba Beijing, my affectionate, tongue in cheek name for China's leadership, also has their version of the story to tell: the Tiananmen protests were ended with very little bloodshed, given the huge numbers of people involved, up to one million in and around the square. That out of a total of 300 deaths, a number of these were unarmed PLA soldiers, who were first sent into this teeming mass of humanity to stand sentry. Well organized, well armed protesters upped the ante of violence and Baba Beijing responded by sending in armed soldiers to suppress these violent groups. The rest of the protesters slowly left the square and the surrounding streets were emptied.
This year's classroom discussion was even more poignant. One student told us that his father had a friend who was killed during the protests and it was after all, the 25th anniversary, a quarter of a century since that fateful night. The Chinese take numerology very seriously.