Hundreds Rally Behind Beijing Protesters : L.A. Scene of a ‘Long March’ of Support

Times Staff Writer

Two weeks ago, little more than a dozen Chinese students studying at Cal Tech marched in front of the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles. Scrawled on reams of computer paper were their benign slogans: Human rights. Freedom. Reform.

Some wore paper bags over their heads to conceal their identities from Chinese officials. They said many more students wanted to show support for thousands of protesting students in Beijing but feared government reprisals. That was before the Chinese government declared martial law in several central areas of Beijing last week and brought in troops to quell dissent.

Saturday, almost 1,000 chanting Chinese students from across Southern California strode through the streets of Chinatown, past City Hall and back to the consulate in the mid-Wilshire area. They carried pictures of a blood-drooling Deng Xiaoping. “Tyrant” was stamped on the Chinese leader’s forehead.


Open Letter

Students, some coming from as far away as Arizona, chanted “Down with fascism!” They demanded that consulate officials telefax an open letter to China calling for the government to resign and to refrain from using violence against hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets of Beijing in the biggest challenge to the state’s legitimacy since its birth in a bloody civil war 40 years ago.

Anger, hope and anxiety were voiced, in organized dissent and individual reflections, as Southern California’s sprawling Chinese community closely followed the drama unfolding in Beijing.

One protester said that the majority of the students view their country’s political system as a terrible failure.

“The government is in control now, but no one knows how long. An hour? A day? No one thinks it can last more than a year,” said Bing Xiao, who arrived for the march on a bus chartered by students at the UC San Diego.

They piled signs saying “Communism is not for people but to oppress people” and “Democracy by force” outside the building where the consulate occupies a third-floor suite of offices. Officials inside had no comment, but students said they were told that their letter would be passed on.

Two UCLA students left for China on Friday to tell the thousands of citizens filling Tian An Men Square in Beijing that they are supported by many of the estimated 40,000 Chinese students studying in the United States. Student leaders said they raised $2,000 to give to an illegal student newspaper in Beijing. A collection box was filled with $20 and $10 bills.


Passing motorists waved “V” salutes, and workers at City Hall clapped as the several-block-long line of students passed.

Some sang the Chinese national anthem, composed in the 1930s as a rallying cry against Japanese occupation. A Christian group sang “We Shall Overcome.”

There was something of a festive atmosphere as couples mugged for snapshots with their banners. But the tone was serious.

“Most of us two or three days ago were very optimistic. But with martial law, we can’t predict what will happen,” said Xiao.

Said one protester: “We were told that with communism everyone has free speech, a good job. The concept in my mind is very pretty. That’s not what it’s like in China.”

Executives Gather

Across town, a sedate group of business executives gathered in a Chinese restaurant in Monterey Park to support the protests. Sipping tea, members of the Taiwan Benevolent Assn. of California discussed ways to aid the students protesting at home and in Los Angeles.


“We’d like to help them reform entirely their political system; changing a little bit won’t help,” said T. C. Wang, a former general in the Nationalist Chinese forces that retreated to Taiwan in 1949. “I think they will succeed in the long run.”

A visiting Chinese scholar was more circumspect. When Ding Shisun, president of Beijing University, showed up at a downtown hotel for a long-planned banquet, several students pleaded with him to join the protest.

Saying it was a time for calmness, he declined. “I am 60 years old and about to leave the stage of history,” he said in his speech. “I hope when I step down that I will see all the people pushing forward for the country. There is corruption in China and there is corruption in (Beijing) University.”

But one older merchant in Chinatown, who didn’t want to be named, thought the government had made enough changes.

“Such a big family. Not easy to control. I think the students are overacting,” he said in a curio-filled shop on North Broadway. “You can’t change too much. . . . The students are asking for too much democracy.”

But whatever the ultimate outcome, many Chinese-Americans praised the protesters’ courage.

“They’re ready to risk their lives. I think everyone overseas is very touched by it,” said Steven Hsu, an engineer shopping in a Chinese market. “All they want is just more freedom. It’s a very simple thing: basic human rights.”


Times staff writer George Stein contributed to this story.