Perspectives on the June military crackdown in China were varied, but four Kansas University professors agreed Friday that the country's political and economic future hinges on a likely power struggle that will occur after senior leader Deng Xiaoping dies.
The remarks were made at a panel discussion at the Kansas Union. About 50 people attended "The events in Beijing June 1989: Four Perspectives," sponsored by the KU Center for East Asian Studies.
Participants included Daniel Bays, history department chairman; Robert Kleinberg, assistant professor of political science; Robert McColl, professor of geography; and Keith McMahon, assistant professor of East Asian languages and cultures.
The three professors agreed with Kleinberg, who said that when Deng Xiaoping dies, a power struggle will take place and the person who is able to control the army will retain political authority.
"In China, those who have conducted a moral stance have never won a struggle. The winner of the struggle has always been whoever controls the military," he said.
MCMAHON TOLD the audience that he was working in Beijing University during the crackdown. He said the Chinese students were very patriotic throughout their protests.
"They carried out their patriotism, in this case with great sincerity more than the usual ritualistic appeal," he said. "There was a lot of peer pressure to keep going out there day after day."
McMahon said the attitude of individual demonstrators ranged from great fear to great defiance.
"However the students were, they were completely out of tune with the suppression that occurred, and I don't think many of them had the slightest suspicion that it was possible," he said.
MCCOLL SAID he was teaching at a university in the northern part of China far from Beijing at the time of the crackdown.
He said that even though the students spent a lot of time trying to organize popular support during the protests, many were ignored by workers and the military because a threat was not perceived.
McColl said that when the military moved into Beijing's Tiananmen Square, it was difficult to obtain accurate information, especially from the American embassy there.
"My experience with the American Embassy was that it was the biggest rumormonger. They were never right on anything," he said.
"I was appalled by their behavior and their inaccuracy. They had everyone eventually terrified that China was coming unglued, that this was going to be another Boxer Rebellion, no foreigner would be safe on the streets, every foreigner would be chased and shot and killed . . . and we had people desperately trying to get out of the cities."
MCCOLL SAID he did not see any incidents of oppression. "It was not tense; it was not dangerous," McColl said.
McColl said the student protesters in his area were not demanding democracy.
"It wasn't democracy they were talking about. It was anti-corruption; it was getting rid of individuals. This democracy stuff, as far as I can tell, was coming from all of the foreigners."
McColl also said many Chinese outside the capital were not concerned about the massacre in Beijing.
"I got to talk to the peasants in different areas. Most of them didn't care about what happened in Beijing," McColl said. "There were lots of events in China. Beijing, with all of its tragedy, was one slice."
BAYS, WHO outlined some contemporary Chinese history, said the June tragedy mirrored past Chinese crackdowns.
"The Leninist structure that they adopted in 1949 is just as intolerant as the state Confucianism that it replaced," Bays said.
Kleinberg, who lived at Beijing University in 1986-87, said the students' demonstration failed because they had weak and ambiguous goals.
However, he said the future leaders of China must enact some economic and political reforms "because the Chinese economy is getting worse every day, and the demands that the students wanted still have not been met yet."