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30 Years of Propaganda and the Photos the West Don’t Want You to See: Nobody Died at Tiananmen Square

Michael East, Red Revolution

Warning: This article contains images of mutilated human corpses. Some readers will find these images disturbing.

There are some things concerning history that we simply know to be true without having to research them or look deeper. They are established and popular facts. Things that have always been true and always will be true. One such thing that we all know to be certain is the “fact” that the Chinese military slaughtered thousands of innocent and peaceful student protestors at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June of 1989… Only they didn’t.

“As far as can be determined from the available evidence, no one died that night in Tiananmen Square.”

Jay Mathews, Columbia Journalism Review

The myth of the slaughter at Tiananmen Square should be immediately familiar to anyone who has been following events in Syria or perhaps as a better example North Korea. Recent reports that originated in the South Korean media suggested that Kim Jong-Un had a key official shot for being a spy. These claims possibly originated with South Korean intelligence and were readily picked up by a mainstream western press. The press, of course, being hungry for anything that feeds into the “despotic regime” narrative and equally feeds future calls for imperialistic regime change.

Unfortunately for them, that official is alive and well and the long history of South Korea and the West claiming North Korea has had people executed on a whim are beginning to be exposed for the propaganda that it is. As with North Korea, China is an insular and closed culture, making the dismantling of propaganda all the more difficult. China didn’t have the benefit of social media in 1989 to quickly pick apart the narrative that would dominate popular perception for China for a generation.

The Times, June 5, 1989

The fact that nobody actually died at Tiananmen Square is not something that is debatable or open to interpretation, it is a known fact amongst the political establishment and the mainstream media in the West.

Sparked by the death of reformist leader Hu Yaobang in April of 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests were a reaction to the changing nature of China, moving from the age of Mao into the international economic superpower that we see today. The relaxation of economic rules allowed for corruption to re-enter Chinese society and create a wealth gap between newly affluent citizens and the working poor. Like most protest movements, those making up the bulk of the protestors had no single ideology and while there was certainly an undercurrent of calls for democracy, the thrust of the protests was not a people “yearning to be free”, but rather an anti-capitalist stance against corruption and the new direction of the state.

The United States has a tried and tested methodology of undermining governments and arranging coups and there are uncanny pre-echoes of events 25 years later during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square of Kiev.

There have always been claims that events at Tiananmen Square had been influenced and encouraged by the CIA in the country. In just one example, rationing of petrol was in effect in China during 1989, only being available to embassies, government ministries and for the small number of the public who owned cars. Yet arson was rampant during the protests, with a huge amount of Molotov cocktails being used against security forces. Many of the protestors were armed with automatic weapons.

Enflamed by passionate but angry agitators, the originally peaceful protests turned increasingly violent and the unprepared authorities lost control of the situation, leading to widespread insurrection throughout Beijing. Despite attempts by the authorities to negotiate with the protestors, Premier Li Peng even meeting protest leaders on national TV, firebrand radicals refused all possibility of negotiation​ and seemed to be intent in spilling the blood of the state.

Since the beginning of the protests, Tiananmen Square had been surrounded by soldiers armed with little more than truncheons. Once protestors began burning vehicles containing soldiers and even lynching and mutilating state forces, there was little choice but to move against the protests.

The bulk of the protestors were not actually students, but workers. It was the workers who had created and manned the barricades that the Chinese tanks so famously smashed through, it was the workers who were responsible for the killing of Chinese soldiers and it was the workers who continued to resist the army once they had entered the square. The real students in Tiananmen Square were allowed to leave in peace while the agitators continued the battle throughout the evening, leading to the majority of the deaths.

On June 13, 1989, The New York Times issued a correction after it has published claims first reported in the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po and then the San Francisco Examiner that protestors had been shot at Tiananmen Square. The NYT clarified that while people had been shot, it wasn’t at Tiananmen Square.

“The article does not correspond with accounts of other witnesses on important points… State television has even shown film of students marching peacefully away from the square shortly after dawn as proof that they were not slaughtered.”

New York Times, June 13, 1989

These claims are responsible for many of the falsehoods about Tiananmen Square that have been told ever since, a Qinghua University student alleging that students had been machine-gunned in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the centre of the square. The accounts that nobody died at the Square were further confirmed on July 12, 1989, when a Latin American diplomat provided an eyewitness account of events at Tiananmen Square in a cable later released by Wikileaks.

Chilean Second Secretary Carlos Gallo stated that he witnessed the military enter the square “and did not observe any mass firing of weapons into the crowds”, adding that “most of the troops which entered the square were actually armed only with anti-riot gear–truncheons and wooden clubs.”

“Although gunfire could be heard, Gallo said that apart from some beating of students, there was no mass firing into the crowd of students at the monument. When poloff mentioned some reportedly eyewitness accounts of massacres at the monument with automatic weapons, Gallo said that there was no such slaughter.”

Diplomatic Cable, 1989, released by Wikileaks

People certainly died during the six weeks of protests that swept China, but it was a number far lower that absurdist 10,000 figure such as the British government suggested, one that was spread by the BBC in 2017. China has long accused Britain of being behind much of the propaganda​ campaign that was constructed after the non-incident at Tiananmen Square, suggesting that it was an attempt by Britain to avoid the return of Hong Kong to Chinese authorities in 1997.

The video below shows the level of propaganda that was being disseminated, containing claims of shooting and slaughter at Tiananmen Square that was widely debunked by those on the scene, ignoring the fact that many of the burning vehicles highlighted early in the video contained members of the Chinese forces as can be seen later in this article.

Interestingly, an unnamed BBC journalist is said to have played more than their fair share of creating the fake news cloud around Tiananmen Square, stating that he had seen Chinese forces shooting students in the centre of the square while situated on a high floor at a Beijing Hotel. Tiananmen Square was not visible from that hotel.

The New York Times again gives an early answer to the actual death toll, writing on June 21, 1989, that “it seems plausible that about a dozen soldiers and policemen were killed, along with 400 to 800 civilians.” Numbers in this area predominate early discussions surrounding the 1989 protests, with the then United States ambassador to China James Lilley saying that after visiting hospitals around Beijing the number of dead was likely a minimum of several hundred. A declassified NSA cable says that between 180 and 500 were killed.

Once the value of the disturbances was realised amongst Chinese international opponents, the death toll began to rise as did the official narrative around the nature of the protests. Despite common claims, the majority of those who died were not students and were not peaceful protestors, many being described as “thugs with lethal weapons”.

The propaganda campaign even created a “relatable hero”, a single man who held back an army, the defiance of a man who craves the freedoms of the west… yet it actually shows that the Chinese were willing to hold up an entire column of tanks rather than simply run him down. What they also never tell you is that the tanks are leaving, not entering.

If the Chinese authorities had been intent on slaughter, why not just squash him where he stands?

Half of those killed were said to be police and security forces, many trapped in their vehicles when they were set ablaze by insurrectionists. Others were lynched and mutilated. What must also be noted here is that neither the military nor the police had sufficient anti-riot gear and armed with nothing more than truncheons and wooden clubs.

All verified accounts from Tiananmen Square say that protestors were allowed to leave peacefully when troops arrived, there is no video or photo footage of slaughter and no documented evidence from the aftermath that suggests the massacre of thousands. In fact, journalists at the scene, diplomats and even the NSA agree that there was no slaughter in the square and any killing took place elsewhere with the dead numbering around 300-500, including members of the military.

Of the 21 protest leaders on China’s most-wanted list, 15 were spirited out of China to Hong Kong, many first moving to France and then to the United States where they attended Ivy League colleges. The extraction missions were aided by MI6 and the CIA under what was known as Operation Yellowbird.

The propaganda machine not only changed the entire purpose of the protests to suit imperialistic “they want democracy” narrative, they willfully ignored the fact that many of the protests were violent and not peaceful, creating an entire massacre that never happened.

The claims that China had massacred thousands of peace-loving students turned China into a near international pariah, setting back reform and international investment. As a piece of propaganda, it worked. The myth of the event is regularly repeated by those wishing to demonise either Chinese “human rights abuses” or the “evils of communism”. While there is little doubt that the events of 1989 carried a heavy death toll and innocent people certainly were caught in the carnage on both sides, the official narrative does not tell either the whole story nor the whole truth. The truly innocent deserved better.


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Propaganda Blitz: How the Corporate Media Distort Reality

By David Edward and David Cromwell

Do you trust the liberal media? While the tabloid and right-wing press – the Sun, The Times, the Mail and the Express – are constantly criticised for dangerous bias, outlets like the BBC and the Guardian are trusted by their readers to report in the interests of the public. However, the reality is that all corporate media is systematically filtered by the powerful interests that own, manage and fund it.

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