The student movement that arose in Beijing in March 1989, and developed into a nation-wide upheaval, drawing in millions of citizens in the capital and across the country in protest against the official response to the crisis, before the occupation of Tiananmen Square was repressed by military force on the night of June 4th, remains a defining moment in modern Chinese history. Ten years later, most of the leading activists of the June 4th movement are in exile, part of a much broader Chinese intellectual diaspora that maintains close connections with cultural life in the mainland, as well as with its counterparts in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Relative political stasis in the prc has been accompanied by a significant ferment of debates and diversity of ideas in this wider community. Central to these has been the meaning and consequences of June 4th.
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the movement, nlr arranged for a discussion of its legacy, and lessons for the future of China, among three leading participants-Wang Dan, Wang Chaohua and Li Minqi. An undergraduate in history, Wang Dan (born 1969) founded the Democracy Salon at Beijing University that was a seed-bed of unrest in 1988, before becoming a member of the Standing Committee of the city-wide Autonomous Student Union in 1989, and prominent in the Hunger Strike and Headquarters to Defend the Square in May-June. He was first on the list of the twenty-one students most wanted by the police, whose images were broadcast on national television after the crack-down, was caught in October, and jailed for four years. Released in 1993, he was re-imprisoned for subversion in 1995. In the spring of 1998, he was finally freed, and allowed by the authorities to leave the prc for the us. He is now an ma student in Chinese studies at Harvard University.
Wang Chaohua (born 1952), of the cohort that was sent down to the country in the Cultural Revolution, was at the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which she represented on the Standing Committee of the Autonomous Student Union until the crack-down. One of the only two women targeted as key organizers
Li Minqi (born 1967), then a graduate at Beijing University, was one of the thousands of students mobilized by the movement in the capital, who returned to his studies after its repression. A year later, he was arrested for giving a speech in memory of June 4th, delivered in the ‘Triangle’ on Beida campus that had been the epicentre of the movement of 1989, on its first anniversary. Jailed for two years, he was released in 1992. He is now a PhD student in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Twenty questions were put by the review to these three different figures of the June 4th movement. The discussion that ensued was held at Harvard on 21 February,footnote1 and moderated by Leo Ou-fan Lee, Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and doyen of studies of modern Chinese literature in the West. We thank him for agreeing to chair the dialogue. The result is a remarkable document.