Tiananmen Square 1989 Revisited – Part I

Professors Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their classic “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” (1988) exposed in great forensic detail how US Mainstream media (MSM) operate as propaganda agents for US governments.”

(countercurrents.org, June 26,2021)


Even as the China Communist Party (CCP) celebrated its Birth Centenary at the historic Tiananmen Square on July 1, the West self-righteously needled about China as a “model of authoritarianism.

 The NYT published news stories, reflecting the imperialist mindset, that reminded of       “ the deadly crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989”; about China allegedly leading An Alliance of Autocracies. It mentioned President Biden’s call for “ a battle between the  democracies in the 21st century and autocracies”; “democracy was in competition with the autocratic model”;   “The Biden administration has cast the United States as leading a global struggle to defend democratic ideals against the spread of China’s model of authoritarianism.”

theguardian.com  recalled 1989: “The mass protests which culminated in what is often called the Tiananmen Square massacre – it is more accurate to call it the Beijing massacre…”

time.com quoted and reported:

“China may be the single largest contributor to global growth but has also been recast as world’s boogieman, whose global ambitions U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed to counter at every turn “to prove democracy works.”

More such stories can be found, duely relayed by the Indian media that is fond of fed news.

With a few honorable exceptions like countercurrents.org, the Indian media largely keeps silence about millions killed by wars waged by USA; it underplays hegemonism, racist and fascist violations of human rights by the West, more so America. It eulogises the junior partner India’s alliance with such war mongers, masquerading as a comity of democracies!

The countercurrents.org recently ( 26/06/2021)  published an article by Dr Gideon Polya that exposed the lies and mentioned the truth ..“all post-1950 US Asian wars and atrocities associated with 40 million Asian deaths from violence and war-imposed deprivation.”

It speaks of racism and still “ongoing Palestinian Genocide, 2.2 million Indigenous Palestinians killed by violence…”

It recorded the brazen lies by the imperialist West, led by USA :

“ Thus the US Center for Public Integrity found that the Bush Administration told 935 lies about Iraq between 9/11 (September 2001)  and the invasion of Iraq (March 2003). More recently the Washington  Post  estimated that former US President Donald Trump had made 25,000 false or misleading  assertions during his 4 year Administration.  Professors Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their classic “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” (1988) exposed in great forensic detail how US Mainstream media (MSM) operate as propaganda agents for US governments.” (countercurrents.org, June 26,2021)


Tiananmen Square that now witnessed and celebrated the CCP-100 was the same place the West calumniated for decades, and the MSM lies are still relayed by the Indian media.

Fact checkers were not popular those days. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently said: “The era when it was possible to make up a story and concoct lies to wantonly meddle in Chinese domestic affairs is past and will not come back”..

But it is not valid for India:  What China says was not, is not, worth hearing, for the Big media that sells false stories, more so in India.  Oblivious of the anti-imperialist sentiment around the world, it is still  in the old mode, tells and relays imperialist lies, and did not relent in its false and venomous anti-China propaganda. The latest is relayed from UK how China allegedly controls global bodies like WHO, Interpol etc even while gleefully saying the US and EU still control World Bank, IMF and the like.

This article seeks to expose the hypocrisy of the West and India… records some details about Tiananmen how ‘US Mainstream media (MSM) operate as propaganda agents for US governments.”

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“False and untrue information is protected under international human rights law” today

Tiananmen Square massacre” and the post-truth narratives

We are warned day in and day out about the State-controlled Chinese media; about the virtues of the independent media of ‘democratic’ countries; and the great standards they follow in journalism.

After decades of false, post-truth, narratives about the Tiananmen Square massacre of “thousands” (10 to 20 thousand) of “unarmed peaceful protesters,” the West is forced to modify and moderate its attack.

But old habits die hard; only forms change; in India they are paid to do the bidding of the ruling classes: paid news is the new normal; so are advertorials.

A new policy has emerged of late.

Renowned Law Professor Dr Madabhushi Sridhar recently wrote, in a different context:

“The UN Special Rapporteurs wrote: More specifically, we would like to underscore that false and untrue information is protected under international human rights law. In its General Comment no. 34, the Human Rights Committee has made clear that the ICCPR does not permit general prohibition of expressions of an erroneous opinion (CCPR/C/GC/34 para. 49)”.

“Referring to fake news as a ground for restriction on Media, the UN Rapporteurs said that the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda published by mandate and regional experts on freedom of expression, sets out the applicable human rights standards in this context.


Trump was notorious for his conviction in false news, in post-truth politics. Indian rulers emulate him.

Ever new stories are invented to damn the “boogeyman” China, to promote the new cold war renewed by the Biden regime, even while old ones like the Tiananmen lies are re-sold.

“It is hard to find a journalist who has not contributed to the misimpression…” about  Tiananmen (1989 June.).

That was by Jay Mathews, an education reporter for The Washington Post, who was the paper’s first Beijing bureau chief, and had returned in 1989 to help cover the Tiananmen demonstrations. He wrote:

“ When a journalist as careful and well-informed as Tim Russert, NBC’s Washington bureau chief, can fall prey to the most feverish versions of the fable, the sad consequences of reportorial laziness become clear. On May 31 on Meet the Press, Russert referred to “tens of thousands” of deaths in Tiananmen Square.”

Jay Mathews had said that “as far as can be determined from the available evidence, no one died that night in Tiananmen Square”. He goes on to conclude:

“ A few people may have been killed by random shooting on streets near the square, but all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully.

Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under other circumstances…”

Other circumstances? The reference is to hordes of armed men, including foreign-aided hooligans, who went berserk, and indulged in mayhem, killed troops etc. (“65 PLA trucks and 47 APCs … were totally destroyed, and 485 other military vehicles were damaged,” according to Western reportsmore on this later on.)

“ Probably the most widely disseminated account appeared first in the Hong Kong press: a Qinghua University student described machine guns mowing down students in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the middle of the square. The New York Times gave this version prominent display on June 12, just a week after the event, but no evidence was ever found to confirm the account or verify the existence of the alleged witness. Times reporter Nicholas Kristof challenged the report the next day, in an article that ran on the bottom of an inside page; the myth lived on. Student leader Wu’er Kaixi said he had seen 200 students cut down by gunfire, but it was later proven that he left the square several hours before the events he described allegedly occurred.”

(By Jay Mathews, September/October 1998 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. It was republished on Tiananmen day, June 4, 2010.)

Reportorial laziness”, said Jay Mathews. But Chomsky et al established it : “(MSM) operate as propaganda agents for US governments.” Of course, in so doing, some laziness keeps in. In those days, VOA, controlled by the Govt was the leader in concoctions about Tiananmen; others picked it.

“A Chilean diplomat who had been positioned next to a Red Cross station inside the square told his US counterparts that he did not observe any mass firing of weapons into the crowds in the Square itself, although sporadic gunfire was heard. He said that most of the troops who entered the Square were armed only with anti-riot gear. Records by the Tiananmen Mothers suggest that three students died in the Square the night of the army’s push into the Square.”

(Lilley, James (July 12, 1989). “Latin American Diplomat Eyewitness Account of June 3–4 Events on Tiananmen Square”. WikiLeaks…and (The Telegraph, December 2, 2020).

(Chile at the time had a pro-US regime, it is to be noted.)

In 2011, a report by the UK Telegraph (4 June, 2011) titled ‘Wikileaks: no bloodshed inside Tiananmen Square, cables claim’  revealed that a leaked US government document to WikiLeaks confirmed the Chinese side of the story that there was no one killed at Tiananmen Square in 1989. See the photo and the caption too.


Tiananmen Square

See the caption: “students hold back angry crowds…” Many such incidents were reported, wherein the troops and students were not hostile to each other :

“ One APC (Armed personnel carrier) stalled, perhaps from metal poles jammed into its wheels, and the demonstrators covered it with gasoline-doused blankets and set it on fire. The intense heat forced out the three occupants, who were swarmed by demonstrators. The APCs had reportedly run over tents, and many in the crowd wanted to beat the soldiers. Students formed a protective cordon and escorted the three men to the medic station by the History Museum on the east side of the Square.” (Wu, Renhua. Last act of the Tiananmen inciden.  Wu Renhua June 4 Anthology)

Tiananmen Square massacre.. it is more accurate to call it the Beijing massacre…”

That is mentioned  again in the latest report by theguardian.com, which added the caveat: “as the protesters had been removed from the square before the shooting started.”

In 2009, James Miles, who was the BBC correspondent in Beijing at the time, admitted that he had “conveyed the wrong impression” and that “there was no massacre on Tiananmen Square. Protesters who were still in the square when the army reached it were allowed to leave after negotiations with martial law troops.”  (The Telegraph, UK, among others, reported it.)

He said it 20 years after the incidents! When the lie was exposed, they started to spin it into a Beijing massacre, again messed up with fake numbers.

Richard Roth, in his equally belated CBS confession, said in 2009, that he was detained by the Chinese troops… However, around forty minutes later, he and another journalist Derek Williams were “driven in a pair of army jeeps right through the square, almost along its full length, and into the Forbidden City.” Roth then recounts that:

We saw no bodies, injured people, ambulances or medical personnel – in short, nothing to even suggest, let alone prove, that a ‘massacre’ had recently occurred in that place…”

China had exposed the false claims by the West: CCTV (June 1989) had showed a rumour-monger (Xiao Bin) claiming 20,000 were killed. When asked, he said, Voice of America (VOA ) reported it! That is picked up by other agencies to spread brazen lies. VOA is US Govt. controlled media, like China’s CCTV. like India’s DD.

Patently fake news entered even Encyclopedias!

Encyclopaedia Britannica , last updated: Apr 20, 2021, still says:

Tiananmen Square incident, also called June Fourth incident or 6/4, series of protests and demonstrations in China in the spring of 1989 that culminated on the night of June 3–4 with a government crackdown on the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.”

Encyclopedia of the World entry for Tiananmen Square,(P.1026, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001, 6th edition) includes the distortions in its entries with bold capitals:


This is so despite “all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully.”

Scores of foreign reporters were there, all with cameras, but one cannot see photos of the alleged massacre. Peter McKenna had raised the question in The Guardian: “Why have I never seen film or video footage of a single death? The cameras were there, were they not?” There were a few, but of the soldiers who were killed.

We know and saw how US police handled its people, the latest during Black Lives Matter.


***                       ***

Figures are more guesstimates, if not pure concoctions, than verified facts

There was no bamboo curtain at the time, as alleged. Scores of Western journalists were there covering the protest. Encyclopaedia Britannica says:

“However, the principal outside(foreign) media coverage was in Beijing, in part because a large number of Western journalists had gathered there to report on the visit to China by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in mid-May…” and they remained for weeks to come.

The Wikipedia article on the subject has more than 300 References and Citations, and a vast Bibilography. It deals with deaths as reported. The relevant figures were more guesstimates, and each source, mentioned by Wikipedia, wildly varied with a wide range from 180 to 20,000:    

British Ambassador Sir Alan Donald  said 10,000 civilians died, repeated by Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke;  but Donald later revised  it to  2,700–3,400 deaths; The Swiss Ambassador had estimated 2,700 deaths; United States ambassador James Lilley, “several hundred” ;  The New York Times (June 21,1989) 400 to 800 civilians, and about a dozen soldiers and policemen; A declassified National Security Agency cable filed on the same day 180–500 deaths up to the morning of June 4; Beijing hospital records compiled shortly after the events recorded at least 478 dead ; Amnesty International’s estimates “several hundred and close to 1,000”; while a Western diplomat who compiled estimates put the number at 300 to 1,000.

Each is an estimated number much higher than other sources provided. After the declassification, former student protest leader Feng Congde pointed out that Sir Donald later revised his estimate to 2,700–3,400 deaths, a number closer to other estimates.

“It is hard to find a journalist who has not contributed to the misimpression…” about  Tiananmen (1989 June.), as summed up by Jay Mathews, in Columbia Media Review journal.

China at that time officially gave an estimate of around 300 killed, including armed forces, hooligans, and 23 students, all outside the square when they indulged in violence and hooliganism. The guardian also now speaks of hundreds.

The Tiananmen Mothers, a victims’ advocacy group co-founded by Ding Zilin and Zhang Xianling, whose children were killed by the CCP during the crackdown, have identified 202 victims as of August 2011..[update]. Their tally had grown from 155 in 1999 to 202 in 2011. The list includes four individuals who committed suicide on or after June 4 for reasons related to their involvement in the demonstrations. ..(wikipedia)

Their figures are obviously nearer to the official reports, mentioned above.

The most credible reporting of the events at Tiananmen Square is depicted in a video documentary entitled: The Gate of Heavenly Peace, © Long Bow Group, Inc. This report contains video footage by a Spanish television crew (the only foreign one that remained back in the square). ..The complete report and video can be accessed at http://www.tsquare.tv/film/transcript01.html. It showed live, speakers who were students and allied persons who protested at Tiananmen Square. Quoting one of the leaders of the Protest, it says:

“HOU DEJIAN was born in Taiwan in 1956, became a singer-songwriter, and achieved fame with his 1979 song “Children of the Dragon.” During the protest movement, Hou took part in the four-man hunger strike of June 2nd. Chinese language newspapers (outside of China) published Hou Dejian’s account of the final hours in Tiananmen Squarequare. In one interview, Hou Dejian related:

Some people said that two hundred died in the Square and others claimed that two thousand died. There were also stories of tanks running over students who were trying to leave. I have to say that I did not see any of that. I don’t know where those people did. I myself was in the Square until six thirty in the morning. I kept thinking, are we going to use lies to attack an enemy who lies? Aren’t facts powerful enough? To tell lies against our enemy’s lies only satisfies our need to vent our anger, but it’s a dangerous thing to do. Maybe your lies will be exposed, and you’ll be powerless to fight your enemy.”

(Clark, Gregory (July 21, 2008). “Birth of a massacre myth”. The Japan Times).

Those days, the VOA was relentlessly and concretely exposed about its false stories. The VOA buro chief expressed he was under pressure for weeks, and had to be apologetic, as UPI reported.

Nobel Prize Awardee Liu Xiaobo himself was an evidence: In January 1991, 19 months after his arrest, he was convicted of “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement” but as per Court documents, he was exempted from criminal punishment due to his “major meritorious action… for preventing what could have been a bloody confrontation in Tiananmen Square.”

“He and his colleagues successfully negotiated with the student leaders and the army commander so the several thousand students who remained in the square would all be allowed to peacefully withdraw from it, thus preventing a possibly much larger scale of bloodshed.”  (Wu, Wei December 15, 2014, New York Times (in Chinese). Cited by Wikipedia)

But the vulgarized narrative still continues…of course with the quibbling : Tiananmen massacre  vs. Beijing massacre.

***                           ***

Student protestors were peaceful, but violent hooligans infiltrated

The other aspect of the concoctions was about the peaceful, unarmed protestors mowed down by the Chinese troops, even air-bombing the crowds!  Fact was : student protestors were mostly peaceful , but violent hooligans, many with Taiwan, Hongkong and foreign links had  infiltrated.

A BBC reporter “watching from a high floor of the Beijing Hotel” said he saw soldiers shooting at students at the monument in the center of the square. But as the many journalists who tried to watch the action from that relatively safe vantage point can attest, the middle of the square is not visible from the hotel.

We have seen above the quality of such sources and news. There were violent clashes, and outside the square, as protestors, most of them not students, actively obstructed the movement of the troops who were ordered to go to and clear the square.

Many reports mentioned sounds of gunshots, but..

Wikipedia says:

At about 10 pm the 38th Army began to fire into the air as they traveled east on West Chang’an Avenue toward the city center… At 2 am, the troops fired shots over the students’ heads at the Monument of the People’s Heroes in the center of the Square… Black and Munro quote a Chinese eyewitness who says the gunfire was from army commandos shooting out the student loudspeakers at the top of the monument…more such episodes…

There was violence, most of it outside the Square, and against armed forces; and even as the troops were obstructed from reaching it; and the violence also had professional hands behind it, as can be understood from the reports:

At about 10:30 pm, the advance of the army was briefly halted at Muxidi, about 5 km west of the Square, where articulated trolleybuses were placed across a bridge and set on fire…According to the tabulation of victims by Tiananmen Mothers, 36 people died at Muxidi, including Wang Weiping, a doctor tending to the wounded.  As the battle continued eastward, the firing became indiscriminate, with “random, stray patterns” killing both protesters and uninvolved bystanders.  Several were killed in the apartments of high-ranking party officials overlooking the boulevard.  Soldiers raked the apartment buildings with gunfire,

(Zhao, Dingxin (April 15, 2001). The Power of Tiananmen: State-Society Relations and the 1989 Beijing Student Movement. University of Chicago Press. )

And some people inside or on their balconies were shot.  The 38th Army also used armored personnel carriers (APCs) to ram through the buses (that were used to obstruct troops). They continued to fight off demonstrators, who hastily erected barricades and tried to form human chains.  As the army advanced, fatalities were recorded along Chang’an Avenue. By far, the largest number occurred in the two-mile stretch of road running from Muxidi to Xidan, where “65 PLA trucks and 47 APCs … were totally destroyed, and 485 other military vehicles were damaged.”

As the killings started, it infuriated city residents, some of whom attacked soldiers with sticks, rocks, and molotov cocktails, setting fire to military vehicles and beating the soldiers inside them to death. On one avenue in western Beijing, anti-government protestors torched a military convoy of more than 100 trucks and armored vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 1989 had reported:

As columns of tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers approached Tiananmen, many troops were set on by angry mobs who screamed, “Fascists”. Dozens of soldiers were pulled from trucks, severely beaten, and left for dead.

At an intersection west of the square, the body of a young soldier, who had been beaten to death, was stripped naked and hung from the side of a bus. Another soldier’s corpse was strung up at an intersection east of the square.

(Photos and screen shots of several incidents, originally published by Chinese media in June 1989, and some in western media, are available to those interested.)

The official reports, as per Xinhua, had claimed upto 100 troops and officers were killed, and many more injured. There is documentary evidence for it, some shown live in CCTV, also seen in Western media reports.

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The most iconic photo of the Tankman at  Tiananmen 

Tankman Tiananmen square

The “Tank Man” at Tiananmen  became one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. Time later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

It was published hundreds of times across the world. In the minds of people, it is linked with the “the massacre in the Square”…which is  a story of half-truths. In a subtle manner, suggestions are made…Was he mowed down?

 No follow up stories.

Few who republished it cared to properly caption it; fewer bothered to read it carefully.

Encyclopaedia Britannica says:

“By June 4 morning the area had been cleared of protesters, though sporadic shootings occurred throughout the day… By June 5 the military had secured complete control, though during the day there was a notable, widely reported incident involving a lone protester momentarily facing down a column of tanks as it advanced on him near the square…”

Thus it was a photo of June 5, the day after the square was cleared. The caption reads:

A man blocks a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Cangan Blvd in Tiananmen Square on 5 June 1989. Photograph: Jeff Widener/Associated Press.

“As the tank driver tried to go around him, the “Tank Man” moved into the tank’s path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people. (Thomas, Antony (2006). The Tank Man (Video)

Chinese leader Jiang Zemin stated in 1990 that he did not think the man was killed. (Iyer, Pico (April 13, 1998). “Time 100: The Unknown Rebel” )

Those who knew the location and the direction later commented that the tanks were moving away from the square on June5, and there was no question of a protesting that. Probably he was an official who was directing their movement. They pointed out that the photo that was published clipped away a part that showed more on it.

But the West on July 1 still carried on Goebbelian stories painting  China as a “model of authoritarianism” , “leading an alliance of autocracies” and United States as leading a global struggle to defend democratic ideals.”

The Big Media in India is relaying the fake stories, and fanning jingoism. Very few like the countercurrents.org care and dare to present an objective picture, and promote the cause of peace.

(This is part-1 on Tiananmen.)

(The author is a media person who contributed to  countercurrents.org.)




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