Observations at the Closing
of the Century

I would never be able to understand the Tiananmen Incident of 1989 if I had not had experience with the Chinese Nationalist Army in my youthful years. And probably I would not even connect that kind of experience with the incident if I had not been reminded by Professor Fairbank of a dialogue that he had with his mentor T.F. Tsiang. In the pre-World War II days Tsiang told Fairbank that Chinese intellectuals often knew more about the affairs and customs of the modern West than the conditions in their own backyard.

In 1946, when China's civil war was about to be uncapped, two outspoken anti-war professors representing the Democratic Leagues were assassinated in Kunming, allegedly by KMT secret agents. Colleagues of the two martyred men went to the American consulate seeking protection. President Truman sent Chiang Kai-shek a stern warning. The whole world soon learned the names of Li Gongpu and Wen Yiduo, the fallen professors. To this day even historians who pay special attention to this period are unaware that after the American protest Chiang personally ordered the execution of Captain Tang Shiliang and Lieutenant Li Wenshan of the Kunming Garrison and admitted to the White House that indeed his subordinates "made mistakes." In 1941, when KMT and CCP forces clashed, Zhou Enlai cautioned Theodore White not to jump to the conclusion that even in wartime Chiang Kai-shek set up traps to ambush Communist forces. He also said, however, that if the subordinate generals resolved to fight the CCP forces, Chiang, the commander-in-chief, had to yield to their wishes because that was how the Generalissimo maintained his ascendancy over the generals. The conversation is recorded in White's autobiography, In Search of History.

What has all this to do with Tiananmen? Because I happened to have been both a junior officer with the KMT Army and a professor, I know that it is exceedingly difficult to govern, under one set of rules, social groups of such divergent mentalities. Would fifty years' time make any difference? The point is, living conditions of some of the groups have not changed a great deal. Man follows the mores carried by the


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China, a Macro History


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