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Tiananmen Incident scholar fights lonely battle for past 30 years

2019-05-26  English News
Wu Renhua, a scholar and witness to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989/Photo courtesy of CNA
Wu Renhua, a scholar and witness to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989/Photo courtesy of CNA

Taipei, May 25 (CNA) "The enemy is too powerful and many of us have already retreated," Wu Renhua, a scholar and witness to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, said on the eve of its 30th anniversary.

Thirty years ago during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, Wu was a young lecturer at China University of Political Science and Law and was one of the million protesters.

This made him a witness of the bloody crackdown China's government ordered the military to carry out between June 3-4 that year, commonly known as the June Fourth Incident.

Thirty-years later, Wu still struggles with the horrors of that night, but instead of trying to forget what happened, he has spent the past three decades painstakingly trying to reconstruct the incident and sorting out what the facts, lies and false rumors are.

"I've been fighting this battle on my own," said Wu, who has been living in exile in the U.S. "I want to have my own life back."

Before the martial-law troops began to kill protesters on the evening of June 3, he and the students did not believe the Chinese government would order the army to open fire on the crowd, Wu recalled.

Some of the victims' bodies were sent to the campus where Wu worked and five of them were placed on the desks in front of a lecture hall, Wu said.

"I heard a voice in my mind as I looked at those bodies," Wu recalled. "It told me I should never forget this. Never forget."

Wu fled to the U.S. after the crackdown thanks to Operation Yellowbird, a Hong Kong-based rescue effort that helped dissidents in the protests escape overseas.

Instead of starting a new life in the U.S., Wu has devoted himself to reconstructing the crackdown ever since.

Based on his study of stemmatics and bibliography, which focuses on reconstructing the relations between surviving texts and classifying literary material respectively, Wu was able to compile a list of the victims, the code names of the troops responsible for carrying out the crackdown and a list of some 3,000 soldiers in those troops.

"Reconstructing the truth of the June Fourth Incident is really difficult because the Chinese government regards the incident as one of its biggest taboos," Wu said. "Few data is available, no matter if it is about the perpetrators or the victims."

The scholar said some people thought he had confidential files from the Chinese army in hand, but what he did was piecing fragmented information from government documents, online platforms and even chat rooms of retired soldiers, in order to see the whole picture.

In his latest book "The Complete Records of the June Fourth Incident," published in May on the eve of the crackdown's 30th anniversary, Wu revealed his findings, which often contradicted the official statements of the Chinese government and the public's understanding of the incident.

For example, the Chinese government said the crackdown was forced and inevitable because it was the protesters who attacked the soldiers and seized their weapons first.

However, Wu said he recovered the list of 15 soldiers who died during the crackdown and none of them died before 1 a.m. on June 4, 1989.

As the crackdown started a day earlier at 10 p.m., a "counter-revolutionary rebellion," dubbed by the Chinese government, did not happen and it was the troops that opened fire first, Wu said.

Wu went further to say that among those 15 soldiers who died, only seven were victims of mob violence and the rest of them were killed from illnesses, traffic accidents or bullets fired by other soldiers during the crackdown because they were not wearing a military uniform.

Wu also looked into the death toll of the incident and said 2,600, a figure released by the Red Cross Society of China, was credible based on his survey of some 200 hospitals and more than 100 sites where the troops opened fire in Beijing.

The number is far greater than the 300 deaths released by the Chinese government, but far less than the 10,000 deaths published by Western society, Wu said.

Wu also refuted a popular rumor that during the crackdown, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) used expanding bullets, better known as dumdum bullets, designed to create greater wounds.

The use of those bullets is prohibited by international treaty.

Wu said there was no evidence that the PLA used dumdum bullets in the June Fourth Incident and that large skin wounds spotted on the victims during the crackdown could be a result of low-quality ammunition or machine gun bullets used.

"There are a lot of things that need to be done, especially the part involving the victims," Wu added. "They must be recorded."

Despite his dogged persistence to disclose the complete truth, Wu said it was painful to revisit the tragic incident and his study in the past three decades had taken a toll on him.

"The study is engraved in my mind but sometimes my mind goes completely blank when I want to write something about it," Wu said.

Suffering from periodic bouts of "agraphia" -- an acquired neurological disorder which leads to the loss of the ability to communicate through writing, either due to motor dysfunction or an inability to spell, Wu could not prepare any syllabus or written material when he lectured on the June Fourth Incident at Taiwan's Soochow University in 2018.

Before the Tiananmen Square protests, Wu only had one more year to work as a lecturer before he could apply to become an associate professor.

"This is not how I wanted to live. I had my own vision and I also longed for material wealth and social status," Wu said. "My goal was to be a college professor."

"For all these years, I have been fighting this battle alone and it is quite lonely," Wu said. "Among those student leaders in 1989, how many of them are still talking about the incident?"

"The rest of my life will not be long and I only want to live like a normal person with no worry and no pressure," the 62-year-old said. "I just want to be carefree."

But Wu said before he stops his research on the June Fourth Incident, there was still one last thing for him to do.

"I will work on my last piece of writing and it will go as detailed as possible," the scholar said. "It will record every hospital that received the victims and every site where soldiers opened fire."

"This will conclude my research," Wu said. "I will then move on and try to live my own life."