World & Nation

From the Archives: China Hard-Liners Appear in Control

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

BEIJING -- Premier Li Peng, whose martial-law order for troops to clear Tian An Men Square of student protesters resulted in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths, appeared publicly Thursday for the first time since the weekend massacre and briskly praised soldiers for a job well done.

The government also issued a new set of martial-law regulations, that appeared to foreshadow a renewed crackdown on student dissidents--something that was borne out today when troops moved in and raided Beijing University.

United Press International and Cable News Network both reported students being detained by security forces. UPI also reported that American and British television crews were detained briefly today in separate incidents, one of which involved covering the Beijing University raid.

UPI quoted Chinese witnesses as saying that government forces entered the university, ripping from walls and boards of the main courtyard anti-government posters and graphic photographs of shattered bodies of students and other protesters killed in last weekend’s assault on Tian An Men Square. At least a dozen students were reportedly arrested.


Elsewhere in Beijing, foreigners continued to flee the city as various governments sent in specially chartered jets to collect them. Although the capital seemed to show some signs of returning to normal, the occasional gunshot could still be heard.

Li’s televised appearance added weight to word that hard-line, conservative Communist Party leaders had emerged victorious in a power struggle with reformists who sympathized with student demands to open China’s political system. Li’s chief rival, disgraced Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, has been neither heard from nor officially spoken of for three weeks.

“You have worked hard, comrades,” Li told a group of soldiers at an indoor meeting. Raising his arm and voice at once, he encouraged the troops “to continue working hard to protect the capital’s safety and order.”

The soldiers applauded as Li strode out of the room. There had been reports that Li was wounded in the leg Sunday in an assassination attempt. He showed no signs of injury during the television clip which, according to the news announcer, was taped Thursday morning.


Li, wearing a Mao jacket rather than the Western-style suit and tie often favored by the reformists, appeared with Vice President Wang Zhen, a conservative former army general best known for violently subduing the far western Xinjiang region in 1949, at the beginning of Communist rule in China.

The new martial-law rules banned the building of barricades, and government radio broadcast telephone hot-line numbers to which citizens were told they should report activities of “counterrevolutionaries.”

This morning, Hong Kong newspapers predicted that house-to-house searches of activists on a government blacklist were planned for this weekend.

One government edict referred to student activists and leaders of embryonic independent trade unions as “important members of the counterrevolutionary turmoil.”

The terminology marked the latest step in a steady demonization of the pro-democracy movement. For a while, the government had referred to the students as “patriotic” and blamed demonstrations on manipulative officials high up in the Communist Party.

One leader of the seven-week-long pro-democracy student demonstrations that provoked the present crisis has been detained, United Press International reported. Many student leaders are believed to be in hiding.

At least five military trucks carrying soldiers passed near Beijing University on Thursday night and paramilitary police set up cordons on roads leading to the area.

“I think they’re trying to arrest people but cannot find them,” a Western diplomat in Beijing said. “I think they are trying to get people like (Beijing University student activist) Wang Dan and the others, to arrest them and show them on television. They will (be forced to) say on television that they worked under Zhao Ziyang’s orders, or something like that.”


More Foreigners Leave

Foreigners continued to flee the city on special flights out of Beijing airport. Some Western and Asian diplomats indicated that the mass evacuation of foreigners, while prompted by genuine security concerns, was also meant to convey a strong political message to the Chinese government that diplomatic and economic ties will inevitably suffer if the hard-liners who ordered the weekend massacre remain in control of the government.

“This is meant by most countries as a clear political sign that we are not going to maintain a large diplomatic presence to talk with people who did what they did,” one Western diplomat said. “It’s a sign to China’s leaders that they are not going to get away with it cheaply.”

China, for its part, filed a strong protest with U.S. Ambassador James R. Lilley over the granting of refuge in the embassy compound to astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, China’s most famous pro-democracy activist, and his wife, Beijing University physics professor Li Shuxian.

The outspoken couple are viewed as heroes by many Chinese students and intellectuals. Although they played no direct role in the recent student protests, they have been widely viewed as likely targets of any crackdown.

The sharp official criticism of the embryonic trade union federation, which played some role in the pro-democracy protests, may indicate that its importance was greater than realized at the time, a Western diplomat in Beijing said. For a few nights during the height of the pro-democracy demonstrations, workers on open-backed trucks raced through the city in protest against the impending crackdown.

“We didn’t see it (the union) working much, and the attention of the foreign press was on the students. . . . Of course, as foreigners we have greater access to students then to workers. We have more access to big universities than to big factories,” the diplomat said.

Occasional shots were heard in the streets throughout the day Thursday and into the night. Late Thursday evening, heavy automatic-weapons fire could be heard coming from the northwest corner of Zhongnanhai, the residential section of the Communist Party headquarters compound, according to one source. The report could not be further substantiated, and the country’s top leaders are believed to have left the compound Monday for a military site in Beijing’s western suburbs.


However, for the populace at large, spirits were lifted by an apparent withdrawal from downtown by many troops belonging to the 27th Army. The 27th, based in surrounding Hebei province, was the main unit responsible for the pre-dawn carnage Sunday as troops shot their way to Tian An Men Square. Other less menacing troops have taken their place, Beijing residents said.

About 200 military vehicles remained in the square Thursday. Analysts could not identify to what units the vehicles belonged.

More than 100 trucks entered Beijing from the east, many carrying supplies to resupply troops in the city, some for the first time since last weekend.

U.S. intelligence sources estimate that 300,000 to 340,000 troops from nine different armies are gathered in and around Beijing. There was nothing, however, to indicate any major impending confrontation.

Western diplomats in Hong Kong said it appeared increasingly likely that the easing of tension in Beijing means the current crisis will be settled without a civil war.

Prospects for New Leaders

“As soon as things stabilize, the military leaders may call a (Communist Party) Central Committee meeting and anoint a new leadership,” a Hong Kong-based diplomat said. “The army will say, ‘This is it, the game’s over. This is the new leadership.’ The Central Committee will have to applaud it . . . and then they’ll get around to rooting out the opposition one by one.”

A Western European diplomat in Beijing made essentially the same point, describing the assembly of such a threatening array of forces around the capital as a sort of real-life political theater.

“It’s pure Peking Opera,” he said. “You put the banners on stage, and you do a little dance, and you see who wins. But you don’t do any fighting.”

A second diplomat in Hong Kong said that Wang’s appearance alongside Li was necessary to give the premier credibility.

“I wouldn’t jump to say that Li is here to stay,” this diplomat said. “There is still this seething anger (among ordinary Chinese and many members of the elite) towards Li, and I don’t think that will ever go away.”

American officials have had virtually no official contact with members of the Chinese leadership, but U.S. military attaches have been getting information on the military situation from sources within the Chinese air force. The air force, which has received extensive U.S. training and equipment, has so far played no role in the current uprising, in the assessment by these American sources.

U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped up electronic surveillance of China, and have intercepted radio and telephone conversations between military units in and around the capital. The intercepts indicate a breakdown in morale and discipline within the PLA. They have confirmed earlier reports of clashes between elements of the 27th Army and the 38th Army, which disobeyed orders to disperse the students.

A Relatively Peaceful Day

For the ordinary people of Beijing, Thursday was a relatively peaceful day. The city showed signs of returning to some semblance of normality. By this morning, city buses even resumed operation.

Numerous stores opened for the first time since last Saturday and residents streamed out of their crowded neighborhoods to buy staple foods said to be in short supply.

“I was running out of cooking gas,” said a cyclist on West Qianmen Street near Tian An Men. “We Chinese do not like salad so much.”

Many workers, however, stayed home because public transportation was not back to normal yet. Hundreds of buses and street cars were destroyed as the public reacted in outrage to the Tian An Men assault.

And the Beijing Hotel, standing on Changan Avenue just blocks from Tian An Men Square, closed until further notice. Foreigners were told it was accepting no guests and its restaurants and shops were closed. The hotel, a venerable tourist institution, offered a good view of tanks and troops as they moved in and out of the square. It had been hit by gunfire several times since the weekend, and had run out of food.

Start Street Clearing

The government moved to clear streets of barricades and debris left over from attacks on military convoys that followed the killings.

Cranes lifted charred buses and armored cars onto flat-bed trucks. Soldiers with rifles slung across their backs wielded brooms to sweep up the ashes from burned out army and civilian vehicles. They also put twisted street dividers back into place.

Troops and residents of nearby neighborhoods chatted openly on some street corners. The easy give and take reminded observers of the days before the Tian An Men crackdown when Beijing residents thwarted army forays into the city by surrounding troop convoys and greeting them as friends.

Army platoons held marches up and down Changan Avenue, the city’s main east-west thoroughfare. Some chanted, “Protect our motherland. Long live the people. Learn from Lei Feng.”

Lei Feng was a military model of selfless service to the common man popularized during the reign of the late Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

Small groups of soldiers wore white gloves, a sign to some bystanders that they meant not to open fire on anybody, but were merely carrying out police duties.

It was not clear which units controlled strategically central Tian An Men Square. Tanks still guarded approaches on both sides of the huge plaza, both at the north end under the famous portrait of Mao at the Forbidden City and at Qianmen, the traditional front gate tower of old Beijing, at the south end.

Scores of soldiers stood at the ready, rifles in hand on the perimeter of the square. They occupied such new nearby landmarks as the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and the Celestial Palace Chinese restaurant.

Thousands of troops were stationed at the Temple of Heaven Park in southeast Beijing. Soldiers of the 54th Army from Jinan province and the 20th Army from Shaanxi province camped in the shadow of the blue-roofed Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is usually a magnet for tourists. Local residents said the soldiers arrived after the Tian An Men massacre but it was not clear whether they had opposed the assault.

Several reports say that many army commanders were distressed by the slaughter and that intra-army fighting has been on the verge of bursting into full-scale war. Gunfire and tank artillery blasts were heard from the west and south in the morning, but travelers moving through those directions said they saw no sign of combat.

The government waged a relentless propaganda campaign to persuade the public that whatever happened in Tian An Men Square was the result primarily of student hooliganism and a “counterrevolutionary revolt.”

TV Shows Riot Scenes

State television showed partial film clips of rioting that occurred after the killings. This consisted primarily of attacks by crowds that blocked and torched some military convoys. Charred and mutilated bodies of soldiers said to have been burned to death atop troop carriers were shown in the street.

The cause of the evident anger of thousands of citizens was never explained. On the contrary, the film clips are arranged and narrated so as to give the impression that the military crackdown was a response to the rioting, rather than the other way around.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, has been printing letters from Chinese provincial governments purporting to support martial law in the city as well as the harsh moves against “evil doers.”

Times staff writers Jim Mann, in Hong Kong, and John M. Broder, in Washington, also contributed to this article.

TROOPS RESUPPLIED IN CENTRAL BEIJING 1--Premier Li Peng congratulates soldiers who crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in Tian An Men Square last weekend. Speaking at the Great Hall of the People in his first public appearance since the assault, he tells cheering soldiers: “You’ve done well, comrades.” 2--About 200 military vehicles remain in Tian An Men Square, including 80 tanks, 40 of them in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, with their guns pointed toward the south. Hundreds of trucks in convoys moved tons of supplies into Tian An Men overnight Wednesday and hundreds more continued the resupply operation Thursday. 3--Evening television also showed soldiers stooping to clear gravel and debris from Changan Avenue and other littered streets and other soldiers, with smiles, aiding elderly people with slight injuries. 4--Beijing Hotel closes. It is just east of the square, and during the assault it was a refuge and viewpoint for journalists and others.

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