Additional Readings and Links


Joseph W. Esherick*

From The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, edited by Jonathan Unger (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1991).

In the fall of 1988, this rhymed jingle appeared on a wall in Xi'an: 'Mao Zedong's son went to the front. Zhao Ziyang's son speculates in colour TVs. Deng Xiaoping's son demands money from everyone'. By the spring of 1989, this little ditty - or variations upon it - could be seen and heard across China. But in 1988, it caught one's attention. Private, discreet complaining was nothing new in China. Most frequent travellers had heard enough of that over the years. But public attacks on China's highest leaders were rare. Attacks which compared Deng Xiaoping unfavourably to Mao Zedong were rarer still. In the fall of 1988, trouble was brewing in China, and this wall slogan was not the only indication.

Inflation was galloping ahead at such a rate that urban salaried workers felt wage increases were being eaten up by rising prices. A few people were certainly getting very rich off the reforms, and one could see them in the fancy hotels, or riding about in shiny Toyotas. But the vast majority of urban citizens saw their real incomes standing still, and - with the government wrestling to bring huge budget deficits under control - scant hope for improvement in the near future. In the cities, the reigning popular sentiment held that the reforms had reached an impasse. They were failing and the leadership was, in Deng Xiaoping's oft-cited phrase, 'groping for submerged stepping stones to cross the river'. 'If Deng can only grope for submerged stones', one intellectual told me, 'that means he doesn't even know if he's following a route which will get to the other side. If he cannot give us a plan for reaching the other side, then he should step aside in favour of someone who does have a plan'.

Such repeated expressions of discontent with Deng and the national leadership were something I had never encountered in almost annual visits to China since 1979. Usually people would be critical of local leaders, disdainful of incompetent provincial authorities, but confident that China's central administration was in reasonably good hands. That confidence was gone by the fall of 1988. One cab driver complained that amid all the talk of establishing a younger leadership group, Yang Shangkun replaced Li Xiannian as President, and Yang was even older! Meanwhile, in Beijing, rumours (apparently unfounded) circulated that Yang had had a face lift to conceal his advancing years. If the age of the national leaders was one concern, the corruption of their families was another. Here the most frequent foci of complaint were the wheeling-dealing activities of Zhao Ziyang's sons; and the forced contributions that virtually everyone had to make to Deng Pufang's foundation for the support of the handicapped. Chinese outrage at corruption in high places reminded one that an integral part of China's political culture is still to be found in that famous passage from The Great Learning : 'The ancients...wishing to order well their states, first regulated their families...' (1) Leaders who could not check the corrupt dealings of their sons were not qualified to rule China. At the very least, it was everyone's firm belief that no official campaign against corruption could ever be effective if it did not begin with the families of the nation's leaders.

Deng Xiaoping's position in such talk was particularly notable. In the words of one Xi'an worker: 'People have different views of him. Businessmen love him. But ordinary workers hate him. They have seen through the Party's line'. For years Chinese have expressed fears over what might happen after Deng's death. Could the reforms continue after Deng was gone? Deng's appearances on television would be watched anxiously for any sign of frailty. Now sentiments had changed 180 degrees and no one saw any reason for hope while Deng was still around. Instead of fearing Deng's death, they looked forward to it. Press accounts of the trials of Brezhnev's son-in-law in the Soviet Union, and of Chun Doo Hwan's associates in Korea attracted great attention. Perhaps, critics thought, once Deng passes from the scene, then we can take care of his corrupt family and friends.

To understand the events of China's spring of 1989, it is necessary to begin with these sentiments of the previous year. Discontent was growing at an alarming rate; and the government was certainly aware of the powder-keg it was sitting upon. Though complaints could be heard from throughout the urban population, student unrest was particularly feared. In early December, I learned that the Shaanxi vice-governor in charge of culture and education, whom I was trying to see, would be unavailable. He and all other provincial officials in charge of educational affairs had been going virtually without sleep for a week, as they prepared to head off feared student demonstrations. There had been a couple of isolated incidents already: students marching out to complain about the quality and quantity of food in their dining halls. Now it was feared that larger and more political protests might burst forth on the anniversary of the December 9 (1935) student demonstrations.

The authorities were undoubtedly correct that discontent was building to the point where student demonstrations could break out at any excuse. But the excuse would not come until the spring, with Hu Yaobang's death on April 15. Almost immediately, students at Xi'an's three major universities - Northwest, Shaanxi Normal, and Jiaotong (Communications) - and the College of Law and Administration began gathering in small informal groups. Big and small character posters appeared on the walls and, by 18 April, small contingents of students set out to demonstrate on the streets. These demonstrations reached significant scale on 20 April - within hours after a small group of students had tried to force their way into the government compound at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. Whether the Xi'an activists were in contact with their Beijing comrades at this time I cannot say. By late April, regular contacts through friends in Beijing were well established. But at this early stage, the common knowledge that memorials to Hu Yaobang provided an ideal opportunity to demonstrate may have been enough to account for the coincidence between events in Beijing and the provinces. The Xi'an students' organization was very loose, however, and only in late May did they succeed in building a city-wide federation ( Gaozilian ) linking student groups at the various schools on the Beijing model. Informal contacts between activists at the different schools was all that held the movement together through its early stages. (2)

On 20 April, several thousand students forced their way into the compound of the provincial government building. Their representatives went inside the building to present demands for the improvement of education in Shaanxi, and for an explanation of the reasons for Hu Yaobang's resignation as General-Secretary of the Party in 1987. Outside, activists delivered impassioned speeches against government corruption and the failure of the reforms. Around mid-afternoon, a student representative from Northwest University emerged to announce the response from the provincial department of education: it appealed to the students to return to classes, promised to consider improvements in education, and noted that the Central Committee had already issued a statement on Hu's resignation. The student asked the crowd to leave the government compound, but he was shouted down in favour of a popular speaker who had been attacking the failings of the government.

On 21 April, students from Northwest University brought a large memorial wreath to the New City Square ( Xincheng guangchang ) in front of the provincial government headquarters. The compound gates were closed and guarded by a line of police, so the wreath was left outside. That evening, three young men took the wreath, put it on the front of a pedicab and set out on a route which took them down several of the main streets of town yelling out slogans that probably included 'Down with the Communist Party'. A group of about one hundred followed in their wake and engaged in some minor vandalism along the way, throwing rocks at buses and allegedly overturning two taxi cabs. They ended their journey at the train station, where other youths joined them in pilfering cigarettes, drinks and fruit from a refreshment stand. None of those involved were students, and it is unclear just how much looting or destruction actually took place, but it was clearly enough to alarm the authorities and prepare them to take harsh counter-measures against any further violence. (3)

The April 22 Incident

April 22 was the day of Hu Yaobang's funeral and memorial service in Beijing. The entire nation could follow the service in a 10 am television broadcast. In Xi'an, about 40,000 students and onlookers gathered in New City Square - with different contingents arriving between 10 am and 2 pm. The government had augmented the usual police guards with military and riot police. The military police, called to Xi'an from surrounding counties, numbered several thousand. Mostly young men from the countryside, they were now in the big city, confronting a crowd of aroused students and urban youths such as they had never seen before - and clearly were not trained to cope with.

The students were in general orderly; but with little organization, there was great diversity in their slogans. In addition to expressions of grief at the loss of Hu Yaobang, there were calls for the elimination of corruption, and for the overthrow of official profiteers ( guandao ). A few individuals again certainly shouted anti-communist slogans; and many made direct or indirect attacks on Deng Xiaoping. For example a popular couplet said 'Hu Yaobang will never be forgotten; Long live Deng Xiaoping' - with the latter phrase ( wanshou wujiang ) nicely ambiguous: 'Deng Xiaoping lives on forever' being an alternative reading. In fact, in some cases, I was told the couplet had an addition for those who like things explicit: 'Those who should die don't die' ( gaiside busi ). One poster carried a clever poem, the last characters of each line forming the anagram 'Down with ( dadao ) Deng Xiaoping'. Since Xiaoping is a homophone for the characters 'little bottle', pop bottles became a ready prop for political cartoons or symbolic action. Some people smashed them on the ground, others more subtly displayed them overturned.

The students' primary goal at the provincial government building was to present a memorial wreath for the official ceremony inside the building, and to petition for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding Hu Yaobang's resignation. At the west gate to the compound, they demanded to present their petition to a high government official but none would come out to receive it. As this proceeded, the police tried to push students back from the gate; and students tried to push forward to see the progress of their petition efforts. After much pushing and shoving on both sides, some in the crowd began throwing stones and bricks. Subsequent official videotapes of the incident repeatedly focused on this rock- and brick-throwing, and the films were notable in revealing a sort of childish glee on the faces of the young rock-throwers. The mood was not angry at all; these young men (almost certainly not students) had simply discovered, in the momentarily protective anonymity of the crowd, a means of expressing their disdain for the routines of authority.

Before long, the authorities responded. The police and military police removed their thick leather belts and started lashing out at the crowd, driving it back. Then two trucks were parked in front of the gate, and the police withdrew inside. Quickly, the tarpaulin on one truck was set alight - then pulled from the truck and allowed to burn out on the ground. A fire truck twenty metres inside the gate did not move. As the afternoon progressed, a see-saw battle between crowd and police began, with the police driving the crowd away, and then falling back as they became over-extended.

At about 2 pm, the main contingents of students arrived at the square from Northwest University and Jiaotong University. They marched once around the square behind their school banners, and then gathered in the middle. At this point, the conflict with the military police stopped, and the square returned to a semblance of order. Half an hour later, the loudspeakers in the square began broadcasting a warning from the municipal government; and the vice-secretary of the Northwest University Party committee and the president of Jiaotong University spoke, urging their students to leave.

About three o'clock in the afternoon the gatehouse to the provincial government compound was set alight. The surrounding police curiously did little to stop this arson, and nothing to put out the fire. The nearby fire truck moved to extinguish the blaze, then turned its hose on the crowd. Soon the two trucks, which had been driven away when the gatehouse was set ablaze, returned to block the gate again. Some wondered why such attractive targets were put before the students after arson had already been committed; and in the aftermath, many compared the incident to the Nazi's Reichstag fire. Whatever the reason, the two vehicles were quickly set afire and allowed to burn long enough to produce a thick smoke over the entire square.

Again the administrators of Northwest and Jiaotong Universities appealed for the students to leave the square, saying that their demands (to present the wreaths and petition) had been met, although it is unclear at what point the wreaths and petition were accepted. At this, most of the students gathered together and marched from the square. But several thousand people remained; and around 4 pm, governor Hou Zongbin arrived on the scene, reportedly after phoning Qiao Shi in Beijing - the Politburo member responsible for security matters. That Hou was in charge at this point is certainly plausible, but it is also worth recording that he is not a Shaanxi native. (4) In a province whose bureaucracy and Party establishment have a reputation for resisting outside direction, it is possible that rumours targeting Hou were started by rivals within the apparatus, who wished to make him a scapegoat for the riot which ensued. Whether Hou was responsible or not, it is certain that at this point, the police started getting more aggressive.

Riot police and military police with helmets and shields started charging the crowd with night sticks and clubs and even started throwing stones back into the thick of the crowd. Men and women, boys and girls were alike struck down, and some were seized and pulled behind police lines and beaten further. Observers with cameras came under particular attack, their film being exposed before they were themselves clubbed. But news reporters behind the government lines recorded much of the violence, and in May, Xeroxes of remarkably clear close-ups of police kicking and beating bloodied students after they had been brought inside the government compound were widely displayed about the city. The scene degenerated into a classic police riot, and a few officers and cadres who tried to restrain the official violence were cursed or ignored.

Gradually the remaining students in the crowd left the scene, but at 5 pm, employees from enterprises and shops in the city began to pass through the square on their way home from work. Some of them got swept up in the melee. A China Travel bus with tourists from Taiwan passed through the square, and was apparently stoned by the crowd. Around 7:15 pm, three or four hundred from the crowd broke down the gate around the People's Procuracy, just to the west of the provincial government offices. Several automobiles and buildings were set on fire, in actions which the police did almost nothing to interrupt.

Sympathizers within the provincial administration later provided activists with an explanation for this police behaviour. According to these accounts, the head of the Procuracy had previously appealed for the police to stop beating the youths in the crowd. Not only had the Public Security Bureau rejected the appeal, but it had deliberately delayed its assistance when the Procuracy was attacked.

Finally, around 8 pm the central square was sealed off, and the crowd chased from the scene. One popular clothing store was ransacked by the police as they chased fleeing citizens inside. The official version in the press claimed that the 'mob' went in to loot this store; but more plausible reports say that, at most, people from the crowd hid behind glass counters which the police then smashed, or grabbed clothing from racks to try to shield themselves from the blows of the police. It was midnight before the disturbances fully came to a close.

The biggest unknown remains the extent of casualties from the April 22nd incident. The government has claimed that none were killed, and that all injuries were slight. The students say that 11 or 13 were killed - and argue that before the official version came out, a directive instructing Party leaders in the universities to help restore order had referred to casualties along these lines. I spoke to several people who claimed to have second- or third-hand knowledge of specific victims, but it proved impossible to confirm anything. Many students simply disappeared from their dormitories. Some were sent home because they were injured. No one knew of any deaths among the students, and I suspect that had there been such casualties, I would have learned of them in mid-May, when official control of information from the universities broke down almost totally. Any fatalities are more likely to have been among urban youths than among students. With the government refusing all cooperation and warning families against talking about it, it is at least possible that there were fatalities which the government succeeded in covering up. That there was widespread police brutality is unquestionable: I have seen photographs confirming that. The students had many sources inside the press and government who were disgusted by the police brutality, and who fed photographs and information to the protesters.

The day after the incident, the entire area around the square was sealed off. Troops were called in to straighten things up, and especially to clean the blood off the pavement. The students returned to their campuses (but not always to classes), and their activities began to focus on demanding an official accounting for the police action of April 22nd.

The Xi'an 'riot' had significance far beyond the city itself. A crucial grievance of the Beijing students' movement in May was the insult to their 'patriotic' movement implied in the People's Daily editorial of 26 April . That editorial accused the student movement of creating 'turmoil' ( dongluan ), and the Xi'an incident (along with an apparently more limited incident in Changsha) was a key exhibit in the government's case. As an instance of 'assault, vandalism, theft and arson', it stood as a perfect example of the violence that would allegedly flow from continued demonstrations.

For this reason, the students and many young faculty members in Xi'an were particularly intent to expose the 'true story' of student innocence and police brutality in Xi'an. When students later travelled to the capital in mid-May, one of their objectives was to assure the Beijing students (many of whom had initially believed the official version of events) that Xi'an students were also intent on peaceful protest, and that most of the violence on April 22nd had been committed by the police.

The incident is of interest to anyone concerned with the study of collective behaviour. The political context and official sensitivity prevented my inquiring into the matter as closely as I would have liked. Nonetheless, a number of important characteristics of the April 22nd incident are clear enough and worth noting.

First, in a political system which prevents routine expressions of dissent through the formal political apparatus, informal groupings become the common setting in which 'griping' ( fa laosao ) is likely to occur. For most adults these groups are likely to form around family, friends and neighbours; but young students living together in dormitories and eating together in dining halls are more likely to form wider networks and produce more volatile solidarities. Since their time in the universities is limited, students feel less constrained by the Party apparatus than do workers or government employees, who are likely to live and work in the same unit for their entire lives. For students, a political error at most means a bad job assignment (which could be escaped by moving into the growing private sector); for a worker, it could mean a lifetime of political persecution. All of these factors make students the most likely segment of urban society to initiate political protest. In addition, both traditional culture and the requirements of a developing society (where the skills of college graduates are in high demand) enhance the status of students in the eyes of the general populace, and lend substantial weight to such political protests as they initiate. Twentieth-century Chinese history is replete with student-initiated protests (May 4th, May 30th, December 9th, etc.), and the spring of 1989 fits well within that mold.

Second, although routine dissent is denied group expression, there are some cases in which it is impossible to prevent students and others from engaging in collective public action. These cases include official anniversaries of events on the revolutionary calendar (December 9th and May 4th being the most critical for students), and ceremonies to mourn the passing of Party leaders (the Qingming memorials following Zhou Enlai's death in 1976, and the response to Hu Yaobang's death in 1989 being the obvious examples). These are always occasions for political theatre, and the Party tries very carefully to control the script. But the students are inevitably key actors in any such script, and there is always the danger that the creative abilities of the actors will overwhelm the authority of Party playwrights or the power of official directors.

Third, even as students adapt the official script to their own purposes, they act within certain repertoires of collective action which are closely analogous to legitimately recognized collective behaviour. Thus, in this case, they marched behind and offered memorial wreaths to Hu Yaobang, and they presented petitions to the highest available official authorities. In part this repertoire of collective action is selected because the actors know it will be very difficult for officials to prohibit it; in part it allows activists to mobilize more timid or apolitical colleagues for an officially tolerated mass action. For some activists, the adoption of orthodox repertoires deliberately mocks the official ceremonies. In this case, by demanding an explanation of Hu Yaobang's fall from power, the students demonstrated greater loyalty to Hu's legacy than did the national leaders who had removed him as General Secretary, but who now claimed Hu as their hero in the televised Beijing memorial. (5) However, this orthodox repertoire also reflects the likelihood that even the more activist organizers of political theatre are not fully alienated from the institutionalized political culture. They still hold out hope that their petitions might be accepted and help to spur positive political change.

Fourth, when the only permissible repertoire of collective action is street theatre in the form of mass demonstrations, it is impossible to predetermine the limits of participation. Anyone can join in. Later on, in Xi'an as in Beijing, students made more serious attempts to control participation: linking arms around the perimeter of the marchers, or surrounding them with a line of string. Such exclusionary attempts become particularly notable after the government has expressed explicit fears that the intrusion of non-student elements increases the chance of disorder. When such official expressions carry with them the implication that purely student demonstrations will be tolerated, students are likely to attempt to limit participation - especially when those limits are supported by anti-working class prejudices widely shared within the intellectual community. But such exclusionary tactics are of limited efficacy, and quickly break down if the government indicates that even student demonstrations will not be tolerated (as happened throughout the country after the declaration of martial law in Beijing on 20 May). In any case, these limits are not likely to be significant in the first stages of the movement, when activists are anxious to expand participation as much as possible. Thus in Xi'an, the students' April 22nd demonstrations were quickly joined by a wide variety of individuals, including many young men from the ranks of the unemployed or marginally employed.

Fifth, when even the organizers cannot dictate the cast for their street theatre, there is the likelihood that the new actors who join during the course of the drama will be acting out scripts of their own choosing. In this case, although we lack systematic data to establish the point unequivocally, it does seem that non-student youths who joined the April 22nd demonstration were responsible for much of the violence of the incident. Official accounts stressed that many of these youths were trouble-makers ( bufa zhi tu ) and hoodlums ( daitu ) who had been in trouble with the law before. Such accounts are of course designed to discredit the movement, and to appeal to intellectuals' prejudices toward the lower classes - prejudices which are the authorities' best hope of isolating the student movement from working-class supporters. Nonetheless, the reports are detailed enough (and sufficiently supported by the impressions of eye-witnesses and the publicly broadcast videotape record) to have a degree of plausibility. Furthermore, it must be admitted that there are concrete reasons for these youths to turn violent. Several observers, sympathetic to the demonstrators, suggested to me that such youngsters were quick to start throwing rocks at the police because of their pent-up hostility over mistreatment received in earlier arrests or incarceration.

Finally, although there is indisputable evidence that many youths threw bricks and stones at the police, and a few engaged in acts of arson against public property, the major escalation of violence was initiated by the authorities, and the violence of the official suppression far exceeded that of the youthful demonstrators.

May Days: Reviving the Movement

The April 22nd Xi'an riot (or 'police riot') was crucial to the dynamics of the entire movement in the city. In late April, the Xi'an student demonstrations were more firmly and effectively suppressed than movements elsewhere in the country. After the 26 April People's Daily editorial, Beijing students responded immediately and massively with major demonstrations on the following day. But Xi'an saw no marches at all. Even on the campuses, big character posters were strictly forbidden, and one student who decided to test the policy by putting up an ambiguous 'Long Live Deng Xiaoping' (or 'Deng Xiaoping lives forever') poster was called in by the administration and threatened with expulsion. The news media appealed for citizens to turn in participants in the violence, reported periodic arrests of young 'hoodlums', and on 5 May announced a death sentence for one Wang Jun, accused of burning several cars. The authorities did permit orderly student marches on 4 May, but after this, an uneasy quiet resumed until 17 May, when large-scale demonstrations broke out again. A central theme of these renewed protests was the call to 'Reveal the True Story of the April 22nd Massacre'.

In the first half of May, although the city was quiet, the students were not quiescent. There was considerable resentment of the official New China News Agency account of the April 22nd incident, which was published locally on 28 April. It maintained that no one had died, stressed the insult and injuries to the police, noted counter-revolutionary slogans including 'Down with the Communist Party', and generally portrayed the incident as the work of young hooligans out to destroy socialism. Many of the activities on the four big campuses amounted to efforts to gain an accurate account of what had actually happened on April 22nd. Students and young faculty members, with the cooperation of friends in the provincial administration, prepared their own accounts of the incident; and these began to circulate in mimeographed versions on the campuses. In addition, individual and collective petitions were prepared asking the Centre to send an impartial team to investigate, a team which was to be independent of any interference from the provincial authorities. Letters were sent to Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, Zhao Ziyang and the Central Administrative Office of the Chinese Communist Party. Others prepared to press lawsuits through the courts.

Meanwhile, the students in Beijing remained active and as the Gorbachev visit approached, a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square attracted the attention of the entire nation. By the middle of the month, Xi'an students were increasingly aroused - closely following events in Beijing by way of both the Chinese news media and the Voice of America and BBC - but still they were not on the streets. Then on 15 May, the authorities authorized a march by the Xi'an Muslim community to protest the publication in Shanghai of a volume, Sexual Customs ( Xing fengsu ), which they found insulting to Islam. With banners calling for death to the 'Chinese Rushdies' who had authored the book, and shouting slogans praising the Communist Party and its policy toward national minorities, about 20,000 Xi'an Muslims marched behind their ahong in orderly columns and strictly gender-segregated groups through the central streets of Xi'an. (6)

In comments to Jimmy Carter in June 1987, repeated almost verbatim to President Bush in February 1989, Deng Xiaoping had argued that China could not practice American-style democracy because if you let one group demonstrate on the streets, in a country as large and heterogeneous as China, soon there would be demonstrations all year round. (7) In this case, the events of Xi'an suggested that there was some logic to his position. No sooner had the Muslims been allowed to demonstrate than the students prepared a massive march of their own. There was still no formal organization linking the institutions of higher learning in the city, but it is clear that informal networks were working very efficiently, both within and between campuses. Few students at the big universities had returned to classes after 4 May, and the intensity of political activity picked up significantly after the Beijing students began their hunger strike on 13 May. Still, it took the Muslims to break the ban on street theatre in Xi'an. On the morning of 17 May, big and small character posters appeared on the walls of dining halls and other central meeting places, even at the smaller colleges of Xi'an. (8) The students' account of the April 22nd incident was prominently displayed (and everywhere read with great interest). There were criticisms of official corruption, poems ridiculing the nations leaders, and announcements of the schools which would demonstrate that day. Soon the students were on the streets again, marching to and through the New City Square, with delegations from the various campuses setting out around noon and arriving throughout the afternoon.

Discipline was good and the propaganda preparation excellent. Slogans for the march had clearly been unified, and the virtual identity of slogans in Xi'an and Beijing suggests that student leaders had contacted friends in the capital and were following Beijing's lead. Provocative slogans attacking the Communist Party or the socialist system were scrupulously avoided. Instead there were the ever-popular 'Down with official profiteers' and 'Eliminate corruption', appeals for 'freedom' and 'democracy', calls for the press to speak the truth and the cry that 'Patriotism is not a crime'.

The concrete focus of the demonstration was really two-fold: 'Support[ing] Beijing', and appeals to reveal the true story of April 22nd. The latter would remain a central and unique preoccupation of the Xi'an movement, and activists were certainly well prepared to press their case. As noted above, Xeroxed photos of police brutality (the most graphic obtained from official and/or press photographers who were inside the provincial government compound) were pasted on power poles throughout the city, and held up by propaganda teams moving about on pedicabs. Two-page printed copies of the student version of April 22nd were also pasted along the streets, and every copy attracted a small group of readers. There can be little doubt that by the end of this day, there was almost nobody in Xi'an who had not seen or heard, first- or second-hand, the activists' answer to the official view of April 22nd.

In this second stage of the movement, beginning 17 May, the students' repertoire of protest was significantly expanded. The marches followed the standard format: headed by official university, departmental, faculty and graduate student standards of yellow-fringed purple felt; including many privately prepared banners with the usual mix of slogans painted on white sheets; and sprinkled with large numbers of small red and yellow triangular paper flags with a great variety of messages. Walls and power poles along the main streets and billboards at major intersections were also covered with posters, leaving a more permanent record of the protesters' concerns. Pedicabs toured the streets exhorting the crowd with bullhorns and distributing leaflets. At various spots throughout the city, student speakers addressed crowds of 50-100 onlookers. Delegations went to factories, where they made speeches, distributed leaflets, and appealed for support. At the New City Square, a hunger strike began in the Beijing manner; and soon a large tent city had grown up with over a thousand fasters. At the Bell Tower, the central city's busiest intersection became the site of another form of protest: a silent sit-in ( jingzuo ). On 18 May, a final mode of protest was adopted from the Cultural Revolution (and pre-1949 student movements): commandeering seats on trains to Beijing, to support the struggle in the capital. Almost 2000 students packed trains on the 18th and 19th, most of them travelling without tickets.

The popular response to these protests was overwhelmingly positive. Small restaurants set out bowls and buckets and provided boiled water for the marchers to drink freely. Crowds two and three deep lined the streets downtown to applaud the students. Boxes that students carried to collect contributions were quickly filled, and the students themselves told how in the previous days they had been going to factories and had collected over 10,000 yuan from the workers of Xi'an. Much of this enthusiastic response can be attributed to the sentiment that the students were acting selflessly. In the words of one onlooker, 'The students are not asking for promotions, or housing, or an official appointment to get rich. They want nothing more than to save the nation'. Implicitly, their strike was compared favourably to an economic strike by workers - and also to a Party leadership now viewed as entirely self-serving.

The popular response expanded on the 18th and 19th. As the temperature rose past 30 degrees Celsius, even more water was offered and I passed one truck from a soft drink factory distributing free orange soda. Now all the major march routes were lined with home-made banners in support of the students, usually simple statements affirming the patriotic aims of the protesters. And the contributions increased. I was told on the 19th that workers from the massive Yellow River Television Factory not far from Xi'an had come in with 100,000 yuan - though that figure was almost certainly exaggerated. The students were exceptionally careful in thanking their supporters: vowing to fight for democracy for all the people - without claiming that they themselves were qualified to represent the people. The most effective students delivering this message were often young women, who managed an impressive combination of courtesy and conviction as they addressed the crowd through bullhorns.

On the 18th, and especially on the 19th, non-students began to do more than just line the streets and contribute money. More and more trucks filled with workers toured the city, plastered with slogans of support for the students. Middle and even primary school students marched in large numbers under the direction of their teachers, usually beginning in the late afternoon after school was out. Some students came to Xi'an from outlying counties. Most strikingly, on the 19th I encountered a group of young peasants from the county bordering Xi'an to the south, marching in support of the students to enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

The worker participation brought with it an interesting shift in the symbols of protest. I must have seen a dozen groups marching or riding in trucks behind massive posters of Mao Zedong. The other favourite poster was a 1950s scene of the old leadership group that had died in 1976: Mao, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De. Few intellectuals would march in Mao's name, but to many workers and peasants he still represents a strong leader personally committed to rooting out corruption and official privilege, a lost model of selfless dedication to China and its revolutionary transformation. In the little rhyme with which I began this narrative, we can see how discontent with China's present leaders was already, in the fall of 1988, beginning to produce a certain nostalgia for Mao. Now in the spring, these sentiments freely blossomed forth. The rhyme comparing the sons of Mao, Zhao and Deng frequently appeared on wall posters, to be taken up and repeated by members of the crowd; and in one poster I saw, it was further embellished to include Zhu De and his sons, and Peng Dehuai and Zhou Enlai, who died without heirs, among the positive examples.

By 19 May, criticism and ridicule of China's national leaders had become a major unifying theme of the protest, eclipsing the concern over reversing the official verdict on April 22nd. Several banners and posters called for the resignation of Deng, Li and Zhao. Zhao Ziyang was repeatedly ridiculed for his expensive golfing habits and corrupt sons. This criticism is notable, given the Party Central Committee's accusations in June (following Zhao's dismissal) that he had secretly supported the demonstrations. Presumably most Beijing students were cognizant of the inner-party struggles, including Zhao's softer line toward their movement. Some may even have tried to coordinate the struggles on the street to those going on within the Politburo. But that was almost certainly not the case in Xi'an. BBC and VOA broadcasts left the Xi'an demonstrators aware of the power struggle in Beijing. But before the declaration of martial law, their view of Zhao Ziyang remained unaffected: he was still very much one of the enemy.

The other major target was Deng Xiaoping. Many posters politely suggested 'Xiaoping, take a rest'; or commented directly 'Xiaoping is old!' One turned an old Deng saying against him: 'Black cats or white cats are OK [as long as they catch mice], but what about old cats?' During the Cultural Revolution, the much lauded oil workers of Daqing had chanted 'When the oil workers shout just once, the whole world shakes three times'. Now a group from an oil refinery chanted 'When the oil workers shout just once, Deng Xiaoping should go right away'.

More generally, in Xi'an as throughout the country the 'nepotism poster' was widely displayed, with its list of China's major leaders and the jobs that their sons, daughters and close relatives held. On it, for example, the current Secretary-General of the Party, Jiang Zemin, was identified (incorrectly, it seems) as Li Xiannian's son-in-law. Wherever it appeared, this small mimeographed poster attracted large crowds, with many people copying down the details.

The streets were totally in the hands of the people. Uniformed police were scarcely to be seen. On the 17th, there were still a fair number of police trying vainly to direct crowds and traffic, but most of these were older men. Younger officers had apparently already been instructed to circulate through the crowds in plain clothes. By the 19th, there were almost no uniformed police to be seen. Xi'an was 'out of control' ( shikong ) - but it was also very peaceful and friendly. In fact, this was one of the most dramatic human aspects of the movement in Xi'an, as elsewhere. As any visitor to China knows, crowded conditions in Chinese buses, trains and other public places are not usually conducive to civil behaviour. In many cities, the slightest bump can elicit streams of verbal abuse or angry (if largely theatrical) shoving matches. But during the height of the demonstrations, a festive carnival atmosphere prevailed. Amid all the confusion of the pressing crowds, people were extraordinarily polite. Again and again, after a bump on the streets, people would say 'Excuse me!' Before the demonstrations, I do not think I ever heard that phrase in a public place. Now, even drivers caught in the mobs retained remarkably good humour.

A common argument of those questioning China's readiness for democratic reform is that the 'quality' ( suzhi ) of the population is deficient - using a term which encompasses everything from educational level to civic virtues, and is sometimes used in a manner analogous to the notion of 'national character'. Before the demonstrations broke out, this was even a theme in reformist circles, among those arguing for a more gradual approach to China's problems. (9) Now, in May, it was almost as though the crowds were consciously demonstrating the people's capacity for self-control. More likely (since the behaviour was so automatic and unselfconscious), there was something infectious about the atmosphere in the streets - where people felt a genuinely liberating release from the official supervision which pervaded their prior existence, and at the same time a new fraternity with their fellow citizens. There was something of the revolutionary moment here, which Robert Darnton has described for France of 1792. The crowds in China's cities of May seemed to create one of those 'moments of madness, of suspended disbelief, when anything looked possible and ... [people] moved from vous to tu '. Such moments, Darnton argues, permit 'the social reconstruction of reality' and breed the conviction (in China, I would say, the hope ) 'that ordinary people can make history instead of suffering it'. (10)

It was difficult to avoid infection by the exhilaration of the crowds on 19 May. But after returning from a tour through the New City Square and the central streets, a Chinese friend said knowingly: tonight something will happen. I thought him wrong: it would take longer for the Politburo deadlock to break. But of course, he was absolutely correct. At about 11:40 pm, an 'important announcement' was said to be forthcoming on the television. Then came a long interlude of travelogue fillers. Finally, beginning around 12:20, Li Peng's hard-line speech calling in the army was broadcast twice. The next morning, martial law went into effect in Beijing. In the capital, the hunger strike was called off, and the Xi'an fasters followed suit. They also withdrew from the New City Square, which was sealed off by police and military police on the morning of 20 May.

(On 20 May, I left Xi'an for several days on a previously scheduled trip to Jinan, Shandong province. There, when I arrived on the 21st, several hundred students from the two major universities (which, as in the Cultural Revolution, were consistently unable to coordinate their activities) were on the streets shouting 'Down with Li Peng!' and 'Li Peng, step down ( xiatai )!' The universities were all on strike; and in the evening the students would sally forth, especially to block the bridge across the Yellow River whenever there were rumours of a troop train heading to the capital. I arrived back in Xi'an on 25 May.)

After Martial Law

The declaration of martial law in Beijing certainly represented a turning point for the movement in Xi'an. It significantly reduced the number of demonstrators, as many of the less dedicated or more timid students simply left school and returned to their homes. But the substantial remainder of dedicated students got better organized. On 25 May, Xi'an formed a union of the city's autonomous student unions ( Gaozilian ); and 'Democracy Forums' sprouted up on the larger campuses.

The Bell Tower became the focus of public activities. The tower itself was plastered on all sides with posters calling for the downfall of the Li Peng group in Beijing, though I was told that these were torn down every night, only to be replaced the next day. In the plaza in front of the central Post Office, which faces the Bell Tower, the students had set up a powerful loudspeaker system for their propaganda. From it they broadcast news from Beijing (much of which came from foreign radio broadcasts), statements of support from citizens (a significant number of which seemed to come from small private entrepreneurs [ getihu ] and retired cadres), and eyewitness accounts of people returned from Beijing (for which, again, retired cadres seemed a favourite source). A central theme of these broadcasts was that only true democracy could prevent corruption in high places. Since the authorities could certainly have shut these broadcasts down by cutting the power, the fact that they continued operating until 9 June indicated a significant continuing official toleration of dissent.

On the college campuses, all classes had stopped throughout the city. Small groups gathered to discuss events in Beijing, the fate of the movement, and what all these developments would mean for China and for themselves. At this point, the consensus was that events in Beijing would have a controlling influence. Thus the power struggle in Beijing became a much more common focus of concern. In this, of course, Zhao Ziyang was quickly transformed from being a symbol of corruption in high places to a sponsor of political change. Yang Shangkun's speech to the Central Military Commission, in which Zhao's crimes were outlined, quickly leaked out of the Party committees which were to study it and was transcribed onto big character posters. The effect was of course to enhance Zhao's standing among the students.

The period after 20 May also saw the spread of the movement to colleges in Shaanxi outside of Xi'an. In Yan'an, the university and medical school both went on strike, and there were sizeable demonstrations through the city. One of these attempted to present a statement in support of the Beijing demonstrators to the prefectural government. The gate was locked, and the students broke it down. In Yulin, students from the Normal School launched a similar demonstration, but there the authorities were more enlightened. They accepted the students' petition and gave them something to drink; and the youths left peacefully. There were also student demonstrations in Weinan and Baoji - in fact in every city in the province with a post-secondary school. In most of these cities, young people carefully followed the foreign short-wave news broadcasts as a key source of information. In Yan'an, where I arrived on 5 June, the demand for access to this information was so strong that the city was sold out of short-wave radios. Even cadres of some importance in the prefectural government were supplementing the Party's internal sources of information with news from the BBC and VOA.

June 4-10: End Game

Since 20 May, most of Xi'an's attention had been riveted on events in Beijing. Everyone watched the standoff between the citizens of the capital and the martial law troops trying to enter the city. No one missed the evening television news, where the scope of the popular resistance was obvious in scenes of troop trucks surrounded by massive crowds. Foreign broadcasts provided more details. Hope fought against logic as people tried anxiously to believe that somehow splits in the leadership or insubordination in the army would force the hardliners to back down. Then on the evening of 3 June came news of troops trying to approach Tiananmen and being driven back by the crowd. Another clip prominently featured a visit to the martial law troops by Qin Jiwei, Defense Minister and former commander of the Beijing garrison, who was widely believed to oppose the use of force against the students. With Qin apparently on board, the army was now sufficiently united to act forcefully. At that point, all politically sensitive observers seemed to realize that the moment of truth had come, and a violent suppression was all but inevitable. Many stayed up, or woke up in the early hours of the morning, to listen to foreign broadcasts. By dawn, most of the population (certainly virtually everyone who lived at an educational institution) knew that a massacre had taken place.

On the morning of 4 June, Xi'an was exceedingly tense and quiet. There were widespread rumours of troops ready to enter the city, but in the end none would appear. Small bands of students on bicycles toured the city spreading the news, one behind a large red banner inscribed with the words: 'The national flag is bleeding'. It was Sunday, and some people were going about their normal business: families out on bicycles visiting friends or relatives. But there were far fewer people on the streets than a normal Sunday in June, and the large stores downtown were particularly empty.

Power poles had small posters attached to them: most reported events in Beijing, often just relaying information from VOA. Others expressed a determination to resist a violent dictatorship to the death. As was characteristic of wall posters throughout the movement, few contained coherent calls for action. Most were emotional statements of conscience and determination, relying on literary devices to proclaim their fervor, rather than logical argument to chart a course. Painted on poles, doors and buses were the major slogans of this period, the most prominent being 'Strangle ( jiaosi ) Li Peng'. Others called for strikes of workers and merchants, and the overthrow of the 'reactionary regime'.

At the Bell Tower, the student loudspeaker which had been torn down two days earlier, only to be replaced the next day, continued its proclamations. It said that funds were adequate and asked for no more contributions, thanking those who had already given. It read simple poems of patriotism, agony and determination, and relayed news from Beijing.

Students were on the streets but not in great numbers, or at least only in relatively small groups of at most one hundred. They moved quickly to stay ahead of the authorities, sometimes on bicycles, sometimes jogging. Chants of 'Down with Li Peng' were greeted by enthusiastic applause from the crowds lining the streets. Especially east of the Bell Tower, an unbroken crowd sat along the rails waiting for passing demonstrators and greeting each small band with cheers.

As the day wore on, small gatherings of people throughout the city engaged in tense discussion - groups of ten, twenty, occasionally more. Mostly the subject was exactly what had happened in Beijing. VOA and BBC were the main sources of information, but some people had received phone calls - or more often, knew someone who had received a phone call - from Beijing. People proclaimed openly on what might be done: a general strike might topple the hardliners, but would enough workers strike? Was there any hope in the rumours of division within the military? In their hearts, however, most people seemed to realize that the fight was now over. Together with that realization came the sentiment, sometimes expressed with downcast eyes and shaking heads, sometimes with direct stares and a firm jaw: 'This wound will never heal'.

Despite the sense of resignation among the population at large, many young workers and students clearly had not given up. Throughout the night, as the city slept uneasily and everyone wondered when (not if ) troops would enter Xi'an, small bands of chanting youths passed through the streets, usually on bicycles. The next morning, new posters appeared on our campus: attacks on the 'fascist' methods of the small group of power-holders in Beijing. Students appealed to their teachers to resist the reactionary Party leadership, so that the students of Beijing would not have shed their blood in vain. They proclaimed their own willingness to die.

On the streets, the youths adopted the methods used so effectively in Beijing after 20 May: buses, trucks and any available vehicles were commandeered, parked across key intersections, and then immobilized by letting the air out of their tires. At the blockades I encountered, the activists seemed from their appearance to include more workers than students. There were also widespread reports of strikes, and it is believed that for a few days after 4 June, quite a few workers at some of the larger Xi'an factories stayed away from work. There were a few large student demonstrations, of perhaps 1000-2000 people. Behind funeral wreaths and red banners protesting the massacre in Beijing, they marched with grim faces and white headbands. The mood was now utterly different from the carnival atmosphere of mid-May. That had been replaced by feelings of grief and sad resignation. If there was any spirit of resistance, it was a determined readiness for suicidal self-sacrifice. There were no jokes, no smiles. These young people had heard of the bloodshed in Beijing, and now they too were prepared to die.

But the Xi'an authorities handled the situation more adroitly than their counterparts in Beijing. Perhaps their own experience on April 22nd had taught them not to move precipitously. Certainly the example of Beijing left Xi'an residents less prepared to launch massive resistance, so the Xi'an impasse was easier to resolve. In any case, the authorities made no immediate moves to arrest activists. The roadblocks were removed one by one in the middle of the night; and then the buses were simply kept off the streets for about a week. By the ninth, the students were ready to abandon the struggle (for the time being). The twenty-three campus representatives of the Xi'an student federation were to meet, but only seven showed up: the rest had gone into hiding. Those who attended disbanded the organization. The loudspeaker system at the Bell Tower was taken down. For their part, the provincial authorities seemed anxious to reciprocate these signs of moderation. The governor and the first Party secretary left for the countryside to inspect the wheat harvest, and evening television reports on their activities served to inform the population that there was no one in Xi'an capable of making decisions for a major crackdown.

Crackdown: A Matter of Appearance

Around 11 June, the authorities began making arrests: first 48, then 128, then over 200 within a week. The leaders of the student federation and those responsible for the loudspeakers at the Bell Tower were the first targets, and most of them are believed to have been caught. Worker activists were another target. After the first 48, most of the arrests were not publicly announced, so hard information was sparse and rumours numerous. In general, it appeared that more workers than students were arrested. One certainly got the impression that the authorities were much more worried about workers disrupting production than about students missing classes.

One of the primary obstacles to an accurate estimate of the number of people arrested in the crackdown is the deliberate disinformation campaign of the provincial authorities. This disinformation seemed directed as much at the central government as at the general population. From the very beginning, the central and Beijing authorities had justified their violent crackdown by pointing to 'unreformed ex-convicts, gangs of hooligans, and persons with criminal records' among the demonstrators. Such 'dregs of society' were allegedly responsible for much of the turmoil since April, and for the violence in Beijing. (11) By this standard, provincial authorities could claim to be suppressing unrest just by arresting petty criminals. Accordingly, the Shaanxi authorities soon broadcast an announcement of 7000 arrests in the province since April. But it was clear that this figure included everyone arrested for anything at all during the past two and one half months.

Shaanxi also ostentatiously 'rounded up the usual suspects'. On 17 June, I passed a caravan of police vehicles and three trucks parading convicted prisoners through the streets. Their crimes, listed on the front of the trucks and announced by loudspeaker, were mostly robbery and assault. But their arrest was portrayed as part of the suppression of 'turmoil' ( dongluan ). The seriousness of the security forces' effort was highlighted by a heavy machine gun, trained on the convicts, which was mounted atop the cab of a following truck. I doubt that this parade impressed many citizens. One onlooker muttered loud enough for me to hear: 'Look at that! A machine gun to guard a couple of kids!' But by running up the number of arrests, such measures probably helped convince the Centre that Shaanxi was serious about cracking down on the roots of unrest.

By July, as life began to assume the surface appearance of normality, a major preoccupation in the schools and government organs of Xi'an was learning to cope with the incessant political education and the occasional arrest of friends. Most striking about the arrests was the quick mobilization of friends and connections to try to free the individual. Any university student or graduate had an automatic network of classmates, all with their own familial networks, who might be called upon for support. University graduates all had classmates scattered throughout the provincial apparatus which, in order to raise the educational level of key administrative personnel, had absorbed large numbers of university graduates in the 1980s. I was told of one previously apolitical teacher, who had become involved in the operation of the Bell Tower loudspeaker after 4 June. He had been arrested with a number of documents on his person. Once the arrest was known, his former classmates began contacting friends in public security, in the legal system, and even in the subordinate organs of the provincial committee to try to get him free. In past political campaigns, the victims and their families have often been made into social pariahs, and subjected to various degrees of ostracism. But this time, the regime has been unable to mobilize that sort of moral support for its crusade against 'bourgeois liberalism'. (12)

The government's efforts at political education initially relied upon television. The first video footage of the Beijing violence - mostly shots, with little commentary, from the surveillance cameras along Chang'an Avenue - began to air on 5 June. For the rest of the month, there was a gradually escalating barrage of videotapes from Beijing - featuring burning trucks and tanks, rock-throwing youths, and the charred corpses of PLA soldiers - until four hours of evening television was taken up with the subject. The propaganda was not without effect. Some older people were troubled by the evident violence of the demonstrators, and were prepared to believe that the government had had to do something to preserve law and order. But most television (in urban areas) is watched in the privacy of the home, and there viewers are relatively free to interpret the films in their own way. Since everyone knew that eyewitnesses from foreign news agencies put a very different interpretation on events, it was not unusual to see people doing running critical commentaries as they watched the government's televised propaganda.

By the end of June, formal political study was underway in most Xi'an units. The key text was of course Deng Xiaoping's 9 June speech to the officers of the martial law troops . In addition, people were to report their activities, day-by-day, for the entire course of the movement. Carried out in small groups of colleagues from the same unit, this political study was a public political ritual quite different from watching television at home. At the heart of the ritual was the obligatory biaotai : announcing one's position - inevitably in support of the government. But this time, the ritual had become theatre: in the place of believers were performers, acting out lines memorized from the morning paper. (13)

Sometimes, the political apparatus was not even capable of inducing its actors to spout the proper lines. I heard of two examples of study in which the text was the opening lines of Deng Xiaoping's speech, in which he refers vaguely to the international 'macro-climate' ( daqihou ) and the Chinese 'micro-climate' which had given rise to the turmoil of the spring. (14) In one university small group, the cadre leading the study guessed that the international 'macro-climate' must mean movements toward political reform in the Soviet Union, Poland and Hungary; and the Asian democratic movements in the Philippines and Korea. All of these, he thought, were quite praiseworthy. As for the domestic 'micro-climate', he did not see how liberal thinking among a few intellectuals was enough to explain such a massive popular movement, so the 'micro-climate' must be dissatisfaction with corruption in the government. Given this interpretation, he could not see what was so dangerous about Deng's 'climates' and he had to confess that he was himself still confused. Needless to say, there was no dissent from the students, so this little exercise proved quite counter-productive from the standpoint of the Centre.

Presumably less direct attacks on the appointed wisdom were more common. One creative approach analysed Deng's 'climates' in the following manner: The earth's climate is strongly affected by a variety of phenomena of which sun spots are very important. This is a year of unusually intense sunspot activity, as a result of which the climate has become greatly disturbed. This disturbed climate has affected human beings as well, causing great confusion in their thinking. Bourgeois liberalism is a prime example of confused thinking, and it produced the confusion from which the counter-revolutionary riot resulted. When one is dealing with political theatre, this sort of tongue-in-cheek nonsense is presumably very difficult to combat.

The net effect of all this political education of the students in Xi'an was nicely illustrated by the graduation ceremony held for the seniors of Northwest University in mid-July. The number of students being rather large, they could not be accommodated in any university hall, so they had to proceed to a nearby theatre. As the students lined up to walk to the theatre, they quite spontaneously began singing 'The Internationale' and marched to the theatre chorusing it, much to the surprise (and quiet approval) of citizens along the route. Inside the hall, the students' emotions continued high and they sang on for more than an hour. Finally the university president quieted them and began his speech. Naturally it contained an obligatory reference to the 'counter-revolutionary riot', at the mention of which the students broke into very orderly but sustained applause. No one led. No one stood up. But the clapping continued for many minutes, despite the president's effort to restore silence. Finally, it was felt that the president (who was quite popular as a result of his efforts to protect students and faculty after 4 June) must be given some face. The applause stopped, and he was allowed to finish. The head of the Communist Youth League then rose to speak, and again mentioned the 'counter-revolutionary riot'. Again applause broke out, but this time it did not stop until the speaker abandoned the podium without finishing. A student speaker was third. He eliminated his reference to the 'riot', read his speech at top speed and sat down quickly. In that way the ceremony was finally concluded.

The lesson of this ceremony was clear: whenever students are brought together for a ceremonial occasion, they will try to transform the ritual into an opportunity to affirm their own identities and express their own views. 'The Internationale' was the most important anthem of 1989, and it will remain the anthem of the students. It is very hard to ban 'The Internationale' as a symbol of 'bourgeois liberalism'.

The problem goes beyond a specific song. Ritual has always been central to Chinese governance, especially given the Confucian preference for ritual over law. In the twentieth century, when Confucian ritual began to lose force in the political realm, politicians tried to substitute political theatre. Ceremonial occasions in the national calendar commemorated the revolutionary moments and great heroes of the Kuomintang and the Republic of China. Frequently, however, students seized these occasions for their own purposes, and soon the calendar was marked by the dates of student street theatre: May 4th, May 30th, December 9th. To this day, we still chart the narrative history of twentieth-century China in terms of these incidents, for each one fundamentally altered the political discourse of the times and the dynamic of Chinese politics. (15)

After 1949, the Communist Party sought to re-ritualize this political theatre, with campaigns directed by the Party-controlled mass organizations. This mobilization style has been characteristic of politics in the PRC. It feeds upon a cultural preference for rule by ritual (not law) and a twentieth-century repertoire of political theatre on the streets. But it is also related to certain structural characteristics of the Chinese state. Just as the small size of the imperial bureaucracy (only 40,000 officials) forced the Confucian state to rely heavily on ritual, so has the PRC's shortage of highly trained technical and administrative personnel (and her senior cadres' distrust of the technical cadres China has) impelled the regime to rely on political mobilization more than administrative rule. (16) This mobilization style of politics has made political theatre unusually important in the Chinese case. Despite all the attempts at administrative routinization since the present reforms began in 1978, in the end Deng's regime is forced back to the ritual of political study, and the theatre of 'announcing one's position' ( biaotai ). But the spring of 1989 has shown us that young people schooled in a politics of theatre will adapt the official repertoire to scripts of their own making. Once they bring their theatre to the streets, they are strikingly creative in devising new repertoires of symbolic protest. The tanks in Tiananmen Square brought down the curtain on this particular drama. But the creative potential of China's young actors was proved beyond a doubt. History will certainly recall them for an encore.


* The material in this article and all directly quoted passages not otherwise identified are taken from the journal that I kept through my ten months in Shaanxi. For obvious reasons, no Chinese informants are identified by name. I would like to thank Dawah and Elizabeth J. Perry for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.
1 The Great Learning ( Daxue ) 1.4, translation from James Legge, The Chinese Classics (Taipei reprint, 1971), vol. 1, p. 357.

2 At the time demonstrations broke out in Xi'an, I was conducting field work in the countryside of Northern Shaanxi. Though I heard about the demonstrations in a phone call on April 22nd, an unreliable power supply and irregular television transmitter in the area left me pretty much out of contact until my return to Xi'an on 4 May. Most of the account here is based upon conversations with Xi'an students, teachers, intellectuals and ordinary citizens after my return, and on a printed account of the April 22nd incident prepared by some of the activists. For the official version, see the New China News Agency account, 'Xi'an "4-22" dongluan jishi' [An Account of the April 22nd Riot in Xi'an], Shaanxi ribao [Shaanxi Daily, hereafter SXRB ], 28 April 1989.

3 The account here is largely based on 'Xi'an "4-22" dongluan jishi' (see previous note), an official account which naturally sought to exaggerate vandalism.

4 Zhang Boxing, the first secretary of the Party in Shaanxi, was in Beijing for Hu Yaobang's funeral ( SXRB ], 21 April 1989), so Hou was the ranking provincial leader.

5 I owe this insight to Jeffery Wasserstrom, 'Taking it to the Streets: Shanghai Students and Political Protest, 1919-1949', University of California, Berkeley, PhD dissertation, 1989.

6 See 'Xinwen chubanshu chajin " Xing fengsu " yishu' [The Newspaper and Publishing Office Bans the Book Sexual Customs ], Renmin ribao [People's Daily, hereafter RMRB ], 16 May 1989, on the controversy surrounding this book.

7 See selections from these talks in RMRB ], 24 June 1989.

8 I was living with my family at Shaanxi College of Education (Shaanxi jiaoyu xueyuan), a small college training secondary school teachers. Most of the students already have jobs, and are older than students at the comprehensive universities. With families and careers already set, they tended to be more conservative than students at other schools; and 17 May was the first day that posters appeared in our compound. I went out to take a few minutes of videotape, fearing they might soon be torn down. Within ten minutes I received a phone call telling me to cease and desist, and within half an hour officials from the municipal foreign affairs police were in my room questioning my intentions and credentials. (I was told that since I was not an accredited newsman, I was not to take pictures.) I talked my way out of trouble, however, and as the police became increasingly invisible over the next few days, I became increasingly bold in following and recording the demonstrations on film and tape.

9 See an interesting recent article by Su Xiaokang in Wenhui yuekan , no. 6, 1989, also Xue Dezhen and Yuan Zhiming, 'Jingshen wenming jianshe shi yizhong zhutixing de jianshe' [The Establishment of a Spiritual Civilization is a Fundamental Task], RMRB ], 14 November 1986, reprinted in Xinhua wenzhai , no. 1, 1987, pp. 3-5; and 'Tigao rende suzhi zhi wei zhongyao' [The Importance of Improving the Character of the People], SXRB ], 19 April 1989.

10 Robert Darnton, 'What Was Revolutionary About the French Revolution', New York Review of Books , vol. 30, nos. 21-22 (19 January 1989), p. 10. I would like to thank Resat Kasaba for calling this article to my attention.

11 See the announcement of the Central Committee and the State Council, 'Gao quanguo gongchan dangyuan he quanguo renmin shu', RMRB ], 5 June 1989; and the speech of Beijing Mayor, Chen Xitong, 'Chen Xitong tongzhi de guangbo jianghua', RMRB ], 6 June 1989.

12 If fact, Xi'an's most famous pariah was a woman who had turned in her brother, for whom a national arrest warrant had been issued on account of his activities in the Beijing student union. The media tried to make her a hero; but the population responded with ostracism and abuse. (Nicholas Kristof reported the story in the New York Times , 10 September 1989.)

13 My thoughts on this process owe much to Victor W. Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (Performing Arts Journal, New York, 1982).

14 See RMRB ], 28 June 1989, for the substantially abridged public version of this speech.

15 For a most insightful treatment of this history, see Jeffery Wasserstrom, op.cit.

16 See Andrew G. Walder, Communist Neo-Traditionalism: Work and Authority in Chinese Industry (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1986), pp.113-22.

XI'AN SPRING , by Joseph W. Esherick

From The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces , edited by Jonathan Unger (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1991).
Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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