On June 4, 1989, troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China opened fire on unarmed, pro-democracy student protesters in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. According to most Western news sources, “thousands were gunned down in cold blood, and many more were crushed by tanks”.
Well, no. The paragraph you have just read is an interpretation of the majority of people’s opinions on the supposed Tiananmen Square “Massacre”. However, people’s opinions are shaped by their surroundings, and media is inevitably involved. Most Western media outlets tend to portray the PLA as divided, with some soldiers wantonly firing weapons into crowds, while others actually sympathised with the protesters. They portray the protesters as “unarmed demonstrators” who were “protesting for democracy”, and claim that many thousands were murdered in Tiananmen square. Soldiers firing machine guns from the roof of the National Museum. Tanks running over protesters, arms linked. Tank Man, standing defiant in front of the PLA’s armoured behemoths. Sounds like something an oppressive, totalitarian government would do, doesn’t it?
However, there is evidence that many of these “facts” are in fact fake. The claims that there was a massacre within Tiananmen square are fake; there were, in fact, no killings in Tiananmen Square. People who were killed died on the outskirts of Tiananmen square. However, location is a small matter when people have died. In or out of Tiananmen square, unarmed students were still fired upon by soldiers, right?
The answer is no. Although many people were killed during the Tiananmen protests, most of the fatalities were workers and innocent passersby. Though the fatalities were still tragedies, one should note that the protesters were armed with molotov cocktails and stones, and perhaps even assault rifles. PLA soldiers only opened fire after being attacked by molotov cocktail-wielding demonstrators, who set military vehicles on fire, and strung up the burnt bodies of soldiers. Most of the shooting occurred in self-defence, and while there are videos with sounds of gunfire, there have been no videos showing soldiers wantonly firing into crowds.
Had the soldiers been firing into crowds, then everyone on the streets would have been dead. The Chinese Type 56 assault rifle, a variant of the AK-47 and used by PLA troops in Tiananmen, has a rate of fire of 650 rounds per minute with a 30 round magazine. Assuming 120 shots per minute with reloading, multiply that by the number of troops and the fact that the streets were densely packed, and we have statistics that don’t quite match the reports. Photos published by media outlets, such as The Atlantic and The Guardian show wounded and dead citizens, but most of them are of the aftermath, where nobody can tell whether soldiers fired in self defence or in cold blood. Considering the fact that PLA forces were very restrained from the beginning, it is highly likely that it was the former.
Columbia Journalism Review has published an article, titled “The Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press”, which mentions that a BBC reporter watching from a high floor of the Beijing hotel claims to have seen students on the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the centre of Tiananmen Square being fired upon by soldiers. However, as other journalists also staying in the Beijing hotel have attested to, the centre of the square is most definitely not visible from the Beijing hotel.
It should also be noted that the Chinese government was already being extremely tolerant with the protesters. The Tiananmen Square Protests began on April 15, 1989. From then to June 4, when the purported “massacre” took place, there passed a month and a half. If the Communist Party and the PLA were so bloodthirsty, then why did they wait for so long to clear the square? Why was the initial wave of soldiers unarmed? Why didn’t the PLA run over Tank Man? In fact, the order was only given to clear the square after talks broke down between senior Communist Party leaders and student leaders, after the student leaders denounced the senior CPC officials on live television, a huge loss of face for the CPC. By that point, the Party’s seniors knew that things had gotten out of hand, and that the students had no interest in properly negotiating. It was only then that Deng Xiaoping ordered the square to be cleared.
This expanded shot shows the tanks heading away from the square, not towards it. That building in the background is the Great Hall of the People, located on the West side of the square, with the Tank Man being in the lower-left corner. This indicates that the tanks would be heading East, down Chang’an avenue, away from the square. Tank Man wasn’t blocking tanks from entering the square; he was preventing them from leaving.
Wei Ling Chua, Tiananmen Square “Massacre”? The Power of Words vs Silent Evidence