Tales from Tiananmen

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Tiananmen Square 1989There’s been a lot written (and a lot still to be written, presumably) this week about the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, from the ongoing series of articles in The Irish Times, Banyan’s reflections on the changes in the Chinese Communist Party in the Economist, and news of ongoing clampdowns in the Chinese blogging sphere, including the story told by Ai (the artist who designed the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing) in yesterday’s Observer. But to my eyes one of the most interesting pieces of the week thus far has been the Financial Times’s ‘Lunch with’ Bao Tong, the most senior Communist Party official to be jailed as a consequence of the 1989 protests. Bao’s dark humour about his ongoing house arrest in Beijing – ‘it takes more than thirty people to keep an eye on me so if the government decided to monitor all 1.3bn people in China we could solve the unemployment problem for the whole world’ – belies the situation he and his family find themselves in. A Communist Party member since 1949, Bao worked closely with the reforming premier Zhao Ziyang (whose secret memoir, Prisoner of the State, was published recently), was arrested on 28 May 1989, spent seven years in prison and has been under house arrest since 1996. His story of a changing China and impressions of its current state of play offer an insight into a country whose history I (and, I think, we collectively in the West) still know and understand too little about.

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