Let 500,000,000 Bottles Be Broken All Over China : China: Underground dissidents are hoping the small gesture will breathe new life into the pro-democracy movement.

<i> Chengsheng Li served as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and as a senior science director with a national agency in China. With his wife, Ruilen Lu, he translated Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in 1973. D. Li Davis is an adviser to Chinese dissident groups. </i>

Last week, plainclothes police arrested and pummeled a young man in Tian An Men Square until he bled. His crime? Dropping a soda bottle.

Xiaoping, as in Deng Xiaoping, means “little bottle” in Chinese. Since last June’s massacre in the square, thousands of Chinese have left bits of broken bottle glass in public places to protest the government’s crackdown.

Members of an underground network of Chinese dissidents, which spans five continents and 20 countries, faxed messages throughout China calling for similar gestures of resistance, including prearranged walks, whispers and claps. Thousands of unsigned letters urged a silent stroll through Tian An Men Square to honor those who died last spring. And an underground newspaper, Steel Currents, called for the formation of a political opposition than could unite and disperse on command. All this compelled the Chinese government to shut down the area briefly and send in young scouts.


If breaking bottles and walking become subversive acts, the pro-democracy movement will triumph. If Tian An Men Square remains heavily guarded, the stroll will move to Shangdon Boulevard or to a host of other streets in Beijing until the government closes the city down. When the Asian Games open in August, foreign friends will chant “Tian An Men, Tian An Men, Tian An Men (clap-clap-clap)” in the hopes of starting a chorus.

The Western media have already confirmed that such small gestures of resistance in China provoke government brutality, the first step of its self-destruction. Last Sunday in Beijing, police arrested a scientist from Southern China for the crime of pinning white flowers on his shirt in mourning for pro-democracy demonstrators. Such repression cannot quell the pro-democracy movement.

Fourteen years ago, on the traditional day for remembering the dead--the Qingming Festival--the Chinese army brutally cracked down in Tian An Men. Thousands of Chinese, including one of the above authors, Chengsheng Li, put on black arm bands and placed gigantic wreathes and flowers at the Martyrs Monument in Tian An Men Square in honor of Chou En-Lai, who had died a few months earlier. The following evening, police moved in and clubbed people who didn’t obey orders to leave.

Outraged by this assault, people fought back, burning two police vehicles and a police station bordering the square. The police returned the next night with armed gangs and forceably ejected the remaining few thousand “counterrevolutionaries.” The square stayed closed until it was scrubbed clean of the blood.

More than a year later, the government, ironically, revised its assessment of the crackdown, calling it the auspicious beginning of the downfall of the Gang of Four and the end of the dreaded Cultural Revolution.

In 1990, the Chinese government fears its own history when it fights the momentum of demonstrations that began last April during Qingming. The death of Chinese Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang ignited the largest show of resistance to China’s political system in the party’s 40-year rule. Other anniversaries of last spring’s pro-democracy events are also slated for worldwide remembrances by exiled dissidents. May 4 marks the 71st anniversary of the 1919 Movement; it was also the day last year of the largest student march in China’s history.


It took the People’s Liberation Army weeks to clear Tian An Men Square, and only after it imported and deployed young soldiers who could not speak the language of the demonstrators. Since then, the military budget has grown 50%. But an army of even 4 million cannot wipe out ideas shared by half-a-billion persons, no matter how many it captures, tortures, “educates, self-criticizes” and imprisons.

Many of last year’s student leaders have escaped China; others remain active despite being on most-wanted lists. Protected by thousands of Chinese citizens and some sympathetic party officials, Zhai Min recently resurfaced in Beijing to announce continuing plans for the democracy movement. His survival, after having moved around the country undetected for nine months, highlights the widespread support the movement retains. And after a dramatic appearance on Hong Kong television last week, Chai Lin, the second-most-wanted fugitive in all China, landed in Paris with her husband. This former “commander of Tian An Men” recited a poem by Bei Dao:

I am about to go!

I have left no ripples

But my pen to my mother.

I am not a hero ...


This is an era without heroes.

But I would not fall

So that those butchers

Could show their loftiness

To block that wind of freedom

Through those deep, deep bullet wounds


Bleeds the dawn of red blood.

Even at a whisper, scary stuff.