Tiananmen massacre a myth

Updated: 2011-07-14 07:57

(China Daily)

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Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat who specializes in Chinese affairs, wrote an article in Japan Times recently, saying the Western media forged the so-called Tiananmen myth. Excerpts:

The recent WikiLeaks release of cables has helped finally kill the myth of an alleged massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3-4, 1989. But how did that myth come to exist in the first place?

Several impartial Western observers in the square at the time, including a Reuters correspondent and a Spanish TV crew, have long insisted, and written, that they saw no sign of any massacre.

So whence the story of a Tiananmen Square massacre? A lurid BBC report at the time was one important source. Other reporters may then have felt compelled to chime in even though none of them, including the BBC, had actually been in the square.

The best expose of what happened can be found in a detailed 1998 report from the Columbia University School of Journalism titled "The Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press". Prepared by Jay Mathews, a former Washington Post Beijing bureau chief, it notes how the Western media's pack instinct created the false massacre story.

Mathews traces much of the problem to a Hong Kong newspaper that immediately, after the 1989 disturbance, ran a long story under the name of an alleged student protester. He claimed to have been present at the square when "troops arrived with machine guns to mow down students in the hundreds".

Distributed around the globe, the article was seen as final proof that the original BBC and other massacre reports were accurate. But the alleged author of that report was never located, and for good reason: The article was almost certainly planted - one of the many black information operations.

Black propaganda was, according to an Australian researcher into the topic, Adam Henry, "the strategic placement of lies and false rumors", while gray propaganda was "the production of slanted, but not fictitious, non-attributable information".

According to Henry, it played a key role in helping justify or downplay one truly dreadful postwar massacre in Asia, namely the slaughter of up to a half a million leftwing Indonesians in 1965.

The fact is that for seven weeks the Beijing government had tolerated a student protest occupation of its iconic central square despite the disruption. Some then leaders even tried to negotiate compromises, which some of the student leaders later regretted having rejected.

When eventually troops were sent in to clear the square, the demonstrations were already ending. But by this time the Western media were there in force, keen to grab any story they could.

Ironically, the Western media, which barely noticed the massacres in certain countries, still go out of their way to paint a false picture of "a brutal Chinese government willing to march in and massacre its protesting students in the hundreds, if not thousands".

An April 17 review in this newspaper of Philip Cunningham's book, Tiananmen Moon: Inside the Chinese Student Uprising , - whose blurb on Amazon still manages to talk about a Tiananmen Square massacre - provides a clue.

It quotes one of the student leaders, Chai Ling, as having said that creating a "sea of blood" might be the only way to shake the government. If frustrated students leaving the square carried out those petrol bomb attacks on troops, then the anger of the government becomes a lot more understandable. But I doubt whether any of those responsible for the original phony story will get round to details like that.

Tiananmen remains the classic example of the shallowness and bias in most Western media reporting, and of governmental black information operations seeking to control those media. China is too important to be a victim of this nonsense.

China Daily