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Chinese Military Was Split over Bloody Suppression of 1989 Student Protests, US Intelligence Believed

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tags: Tiananmen Square



Significant cleavages existed within the Chinese political leadership and security apparatus over the decision to use force against student protesters at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, according to US military intelligence. Declassified reports citing well-placed sources inside China describe sharp differences among some of the country's military and political elite, as well as a range of other security-related concerns with important implications for the political longevity of the Chinese leadership.


Marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the crushing of the Tiananmen protests, the National Security Archive is posting 25 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) records relating to the event and its aftermath. The Archive obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).


Among the highlights of the DIA reporting cables are the following vivid accounts of events on the ground in Beijing during and after June 1989. (The local attaches are careful to note that the reports they are receiving are "not finally evaluated intelligence." In fact, at one point an author comments: "Each day everyone seems to have a new horror story about China." Nevertheless, these depictions effectively convey some of the great drama of the period:)


* In the heat of the moment, rumors flew, including that paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had died (he lived until 1997); without accepting the rumor as true, a DIA cable noted that at a minimum there was "great chaos among the high-level military leadership"

* Facing a "continuous stream of victims," doctors at a central Beijing hospital refused to turn over corpses to security officers when they discovered the bodies were being cremated before they could be identified

* Risking their own lives, pedicab drivers -- hailed by one source as "the real heroes" -- were critical to the effort to get the wounded and dead to medical treatment

* Some reports indicated military forces brought in from outside Beijing were spotted "laughing" and "shooting at random" at civilians

* Arrests of student protesters continued for months, to the point where the capital reportedly ran out of prison space for them

* Public reaction to the violence included a run on the Shanghai branch of the Bank of China that required the Army to airlift large quantities of foreign currency to meet demand

* Fears of "counterrevolutionary" retaliation abounded, including concerns that Chinese passengers planes might be bombed

Read entire article at National Security Archive


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