A Song was Heard in China - A Different Tiananmen (Version 2.0)

A Song was Heard in China
A Different Tiananmen
by Tony Kwok (KWOK Tin-lap)


Seven years have passed since I first began writing a timeline on an alternate Tiananmen. Back then I was a student with a strong sense of belonging to my Chinese heritage, with the firm belief that freedom and democracy could change China for better, and that democratic China would be good for the well-being of mankind.

Having studied in the UK and thanks to a lot of readings during my stay, (I still go back to the UK every 2 years so just give me a message on Facebook if you want to see me), Brexit, the failure of Arab Spring, chaos in Syria, the refugee crisis, Donald Trump's election, and boarder ASB events that happen daily have also changed my initial perception and approach in answering the key question in my timeline - what would happen if China becomes a full democracy in 1989.

On a local level and as a Hong Konger, the Umbrella Revolution, the 2016 Mongkok civil unrest, the illegal and unconstitutional disqualification of 6 lawmakers and a far more authoritarian society, have changed the way I see myself and society as a whole. Today, while working as an assistant to a Democratic Party lawmaker in Hong Kong, I have grown increasingly localist, gradually getting sympathetic to the course of the calls for self-determination from the young generation in Hong Kong.

One thing has never changed in me - since 2005, I have attended every candlelight vigil in remembrance of the June 4th Incident regardless of where I am - 10 times at Victoria Park, Hong Kong, twice in London and once in Berlin. It has always been my strongest belief that the innocent freedom fighters on Tiananmen Sqaure must be rehabilitated, those responsible for the massacre must face trial, there should be an independent commission to investigate the government's handling of Tiananmen - and state compensation should be offered to the vicitims on Tiananmen Square, Beijing and Renmin South Road Square (now known as Tianfu Square), Chengdu.

Democracy is not the solution to all problems - it does not necessarily mean good governance, and it does nothing to deal with corruption. Despite its flaws, democracy makes corrupt and imperfect government officials accountable to public opinion. People could sometimes be wrong - but they can always vote alternatively in the next election.

A democratic China may not guarantee rapid economic growth, and indeed it does not mean a better and more peaceful world. Controversial infrastructure projects, in particular the Three Gorges Dam may be subject to heavy opposition, lawsuits and unavoiably huge protests - it may still proceed, or it may not get the approval from the parliament in democratic China.

Indeed, democratic China would be more sensitive to public opinion regarding territorial disputes, and it would may potentially have been unpopular to divide Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island or Heixiazi Island into two between China and Russia (or any names if the USSR still exists in any capacity), and Sino-Japanese relations may get even worse.

Whether or not the world will be a better place to live depends on your perspective - it's a wonderful world for ordinary North Koreans and perhaps some Chinese, but not necessarily a better world for some others.

In the past few years, I have more than once been asked to explain the rationale behind my focus and emphasis on the Chengdu protests instead of the more well-known Beijing protests. At once, a fellow member on this board even told me that a Beijing-centric story would be more intriguing to potential readers. To quote from Chinese dissident Fang Zhi, "whenever we talk about June 4th, we would automatically think of Tiananmen, and it's so easy for us to forget the Chengdu massacre. Chengdu had the second highest number of casualties on June 4th, 1989, indeed just after Beijing. Its nature was similar to that in Beijing - the deployment of the people's army against weaponless peaceful protesters. " (Fang Zhi, 1999) On the other hand, tear gas was fired against peaceful protesters in Chengdu before bloodshed took place. It also proved some of the arguments made by Beijing apologists that the PLA did not have adequate tear gas to deal with the situation in Beijing absolutely stupid.

I would also like to thank all those who have assisted and supported me throughout the years. Without your help, I cannot imagine myself rebooting this timeline that I love so much.

Disclaimer: All names in this timeline, including but not limited to names of real-life historical figures or living politicians are purely fictional, they have nothing to do with their real life counterparts.


[Above: Beijing, China (May 1989)]

"A song was heard in China
in the city of Beijing.
In the spring of 1989
you could hear the people sing.
And it was the song of freedom
that was ringing in the square,
the world could feel the passion of
the people gathered there"...
"For many nights and many days,
waiting in the square.
'To build a better nation'
was the song that echoed there.
For we are China's children,
we love our native land,
for brotherhood and freedom
we are joining hand in hand."
- Phillip Morgan


[Above: Chengdu, China (May 1989)]
"That disillusionment came from a series of market-oriented reforms begun a decade earlier, in 1978. While the changes produced rapid economic growth, they also led to contradictions: opening the economy negated the moral authority of the Communist revolution and unleashed unbridled corruption in its place. The 1989 democracy movement had two slogans. One was "freedom and democracy", and the other was 'no official business dealings, no corruption.'"
- The Path to Freedom by Yang Jianli

"The Tiananmen movement has become the watershed of not just China, but the world’s contemporary history and politics. After the fall of Li Peng, the government of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Mongolia fell one by one. No one could halt the historical trend of democracy and freedom."
- Prof Joseph Cheang, Professor of Political Science, City University of Hong Kong

"In the spring of 1989, during their resistance on the streets, people started to communicate with each other freely. All of them suddenly found out that everyone else’s thought were the same as their own, thus their confidence was significantly boosted and the number of people demonstrating on the streets increased; the slogans against Communism became more and more in open. Afterwards the media also openly stood on the people’s side, the democratic movement became a movement of all the people"
- Wei Jingsheng, former Chinese Prime Minister (1996)

"Next year, we will be remembering the 30th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution. One more year later, it will be the 40th anniversary of the Anti-Rightist Movement. Thanks to the gradual reforms these years, we are allowed to carry out non-official research, and the people are getting to know more. Nevertheless, how many people in their early 30s could truly understand what has happened? As we are embracing the Beijing Olympics in 2000, it is now time for Beijing to declassify all relevant historical documents. Only when we can bravely face history, could China become a truly modernized nation."
- Governor Liu Binyan of Jilin (below), the first opposition governor in China, addressing the people of Jilin in May 1995

Part 1 Li Peng's Coup
"1989 was a rather unusual year. Just after the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, another energetic and healthy leader suddenly passed away. He was Hu Yaobang, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party.

It was the 8th of April. The meeting began at 9am. The Politburo was talking about the Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Several Issues Concerning Education Development and Reform (Draft), which was to be approved by the the 4th Plenary Session of the 13th Central Committee later.

The staff began to read the draft. After 40 minutes, Li Tieying began to talk. Suddenly, Hu Yaobang stood up and said, 'My chest is rather tight, it's unbearable!' His face was pale as ashes. We knew that something had gone terribly wrong. It was 9:48.

Sitting next to Hu was General Qin Jiwei. 'Call a doctor!' shouted General Qin.

Within a few minutes, both eyes of Yaobang closed. He cannot speak. The hall was in a state of fear. Shanghai CPC Secretary Jiang Zemin came forward and took out a first-aid box.

After the doctors came, it was decided that we should not move the body of Hu Yaobang. The meeting was moved to another room, only Wen Jiabao stayed in the room with us. After another hour, Yaobang was transferred to the Beijing Hospital.

Due to the effort of doctors, the condition of Yaobang was rather stable for the next three days, and I fled Beijing. Suddenly, I heard of his death in Hainan. Totally shocked. I immediately took a plane back to Beijing.

The doctors told me that it was all because Yaobang refused to rest quietly. He did not want to stay calmly on his bed. Until the very last minute of his life, he was still working for the best of our great nation."
- My Years in Zhongnanhai by Wang Minqing, former Central Health Secretary of Zhongnanhai

"On 18th April, tens of thousands of university students gathered in front of the Tiananmen Square. They made 7 demands, including the full rehabilitation of Hu Yaobang and democratic reforms. The Government sent Chan Xitong, Liu Yandong and Wang Shixiong to meet them. Failing to acheive anything, students crashed with the police outside the Xinhuamen on the following day. More than 300 was injured, including a Hong Kong reporter."
- Tiananmen and Me by Jiang Jielian


People's Daily said:
April 26 Editorial
In their activities to mourn the death of Comrade Hu Yaobang, communists, workers, peasants, intellectuals, cadres, members of the People's Liberation Army and young students have expressed their grief in various ways. They have also expressed their determination to turn grief into strength to make contributions in realizing the four modernizations and invigorating the Chinese nation.

Some abnormal phenomena have also occurred during the mourning activities. Taking advantage of the situation, an extremely small number of people spread rumors, attacked party and state leaders by name, and instigated the masses to break into the Xinhua Gate at Zhongnanhai, where the party Central Committee and the State Council are located. Some people even shouted such reactionary slogans as, Down with the Communist Party. In Xi'an and Changsha, there have been serious incidents in which some lawbreakers carried out beating, smashing, looting, and burning.

Taking into consideration the feelings of grief suffered by the masses, the party and government have adopted an attitude of tolerance and restraint toward some improper words uttered and actions carried out by the young students when they were emotionally agitated. On April 22, before the memorial meeting was held, some students had already showed up at Tiananmen Square, but they were not asked to leave, as they normally would have been. Instead, they were asked to observe discipline and join in the mourning for Comrade Hu Yaobang. The students on the square were themselves able to consciously maintain order. [Beijing Xinhua Domestic Service in Chinese at 1400 GMT on April 25, reporting on the April 26 Renmin ribao editorial, deletes this sentence.] Owing to the joint efforts by all concerned, it was possible for the memorial meeting to proceed in a solemn and respectful manner.

However, after the memorial meeting, an extremely small number of people with ulterior purposes continued to take advantage of the young students' feelings of grief for Comrade Hu Yaobang to spread all kinds of rumors to poison and confuse people's minds. Using both big- and small-character posters, they vilified, hurled invectives at, and attacked party and state leaders. Blatantly violating the Constitution, they called for opposition to the leadership by the Communist Party and the socialist system. In some of the institutions of higher learning, illegal organizations were formed to seize power from the student unions. In some cases, they even forcibly took over the broadcasting systems on the campuses. In some institutions of higher learning, they instigated the students and teachers to go on strike and even went to the extent of forcibly preventing students from going to classes, usurped the name of the workers' organizations to distribute reactionary handbills, and established ties everywhere in an attempt to create even more serious incidents.

These facts prove that what this extremely small number of people did was not to join in the activities to mourn Comrade Hu Yaobang or to advance the course of socialist democracy in China. Neither were they out to give vent to their grievances. Flaunting the banner of democracy, they undermined democracy and the legal system. Their purpose was to sow dissension among the people, plunge the whole country into chaos and sabotage the political situation of stability and unity. This is a planned conspiracy and a disturbance. Its essence is to, once and for all, negate the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system. This is a serious political struggle confronting the whole party and the people of all nationalities throughout the country.

If we are tolerant of or conniving with this disturbance and let it go unchecked, a seriously chaotic state will appear. Then, the reform and opening up; the improvement of the economic environment and the rectification of the economic order, construction, and development; the control over prices; the improvement of our living standards; the drive to oppose corruption; and the development of democracy and the legal system expected by the people throughout the country, including the young students, will all become empty hopes. Even the tremendous achievements scored in the reform during the past decade may be completely lost, and the great aspiration of the revitalization of China cherished by the whole nation will be hard to realize. A China with very good prospects and a very bright future will become a chaotic and unstable China without any future.

The whole party and the people nationwide should fully understand the seriousness of this struggle, unite to take a clear-cut stand to oppose the disturbance, and firmly preserve the hard-earned situation of political stability and unity, the Constitution, socialist democracy, and the legal system. Under no circumstances should the establishment of any illegal organizations be allowed. It is imperative to firmly stop any acts that use any excuse to infringe upon the rights and interests of legitimate organizations of students. Those who have deliberately fabricated rumors and framed others should be investigated to determine their criminal liabilities according to law. Bans should be placed on unlawful parades and demonstrations and on such acts as going to factories, rural areas, and schools to establish ties. Beating, smashing, looting, and burning should be punished according to law. It is necessary to protect the just rights of students to study in class. The broad masses of students sincerely hope that corruption will be eliminated and democracy will be promoted. These, too, are the demands of the party and the government. These demands can only be realized by strengthening the efforts for improvement and rectification, vigorously pushing forward the reform, and making perfect our socialist democracy and our legal system under the party leadership.

All comrades in the party and the people throughout the country must soberly recognize the fact that our country will have no peaceful days if this disturbance is not checked resolutely. This struggle concerns the success or failure of the reform and opening up, the program of the four modernizations, and the future of our state and nation. Party organizations of the CPC at all levels, the broad masses of members of the Communist Party and the Communist Youth League, all democratic parties and patriotic democratic personages, and the people around the country should make a clear distinction between right and wrong, take positive action, and struggle to firmly and quickly stop the disturbance.
"On April 25, Deng declared in front of the Politburo that the demonstrations constituted a 'conspiracy' or 'turmoil' that must be suppressed. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who cancelled his trip to Pyongyang to deal with the worsening situation, reassured Deng that most of the protesting students were patriotic students, and he was confident that he could stop the protests through direct dialogue with the students, and he would affirm the student action as spontaneous, patriotic, and in conformity with the government's own anti-corruption policy. Deng was skeptical of Zhao's approach, but he nonetheless reluctantly agreed - on the grounds that he did not want the public to be notified of his true feelings about the protesters. However, on the request of Li Peng, two party writers formerly connected with the Cultural Revolution and the 1986 'Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization' campaign, wrote an editorial for the April 26 issue of People's Daily entitled "CLEARLY RAISE THE BANNER OF OPPOSITION TO THE TURMOIL".

The essence of the article was that the government was locked in a grand political struggle against a "turmoil" that had as its target the destruction of party leadership and the socialist system. Capitulation to student demands, it warned, would turn a promising country into a hopeless, turbulent one. The contents of the editorial were not even wired to Zhao Ziyang or Deng Xiaoping before publication.

When Deng found out that words of his private conversation was published on the front page of People's Daily, he was shocked and angered. Fearing that his image would be badly affected, he asked his daughter Deng Rong to 'stop Li Peng', seconds before he had a massive heart attack..."
- The Rise of Modern China by Immanuel C. Y. Hsu
For those who've never read Version 1.0, the link is here:

As you may notice, my POD in Version 2.0 is different from that in Version 1.0.
In this timeline, Zhao Ziyang did not go to Pyongyang, ensuring Zhao's presence at Deng's April 25th meeting with the Politburo. Next, Deng Xiaoping had a heart attack upon reading the April 26th Editorial. In OTL, the children of Deng would never forgive Li Peng for the April 26th Editorial - given that Deng has always wanted to maintain a good public image, and he would want Li Peng to sort things out instead of putting him onto the table. In other words, in OTL, Deng disliked but ultimately approved the 4.26 editorial given that it did represent his approach on the student protests; but in this timeline, Deng has already given his support to Zhao's moderate approach owing to his eagerness to protect his image, and Li Peng simply disobeyed his order. Don't forget the fact that Deng in OTL only decided to get rid of Zhao after Zhao openly told Gorbachev in front of television that Deng is the de facto leader - Deng was very conscious of his public image, and disliked it when someone openly exposed his influence behind the scene - even though everyone in China knew that he was in charge.
Wonder how the rest of the world will be affected...

Waiting for more, of course...

At least China will be better in the long run; not many people are going to protect Hong Kong's handover ITTL, methinks...

Wonder what parts of the world will be worse than OTL...
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If this were a round of the perestroika game:

"Hu Yaobang has died and the people are protesting! How should the Party respond?"

Turn over the crisis to Li Peng.
A Put pressure on Zhao Ziyang

Seriously, this looks like a great restart. I'll have to have another look at the original to contrast.