The Tiananmen Square “Massacre”
I still watched TV news in 1989 even as I was in the process of breaking free of the American propaganda machine. So I greeted coverage of the events in Beijing, China with wide-open eyes, not comprehending, and not yet aware of the degree to which American news was a manufactured mural of fake imagery. So Tiananmen took up residence in my mind, though it was neither resolved nor understood.
In or around 2004 I read the book “Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot To Print,” a compilation of articles rejected by major American magazines. I have forgotten most of it, but clung on to this passage by T.D. Allman, who claimed to be present in Beijing on June 3 and 4 of 1989. He wrote (in an article supposedly rejected by GQ Magazine)
“As anyone who was there knows, the ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’ is a myth. No one was killed inside the square that famous night of June third to fourth, 1989. Instead, when the troops reached the entrance to the plaza, the armored column paused. Following negotiations with the military, most of the hundreds of thousands of people in Tiananmen Square left in an orderly, self-disciplined fashion. But people felt they had to stay… No one was killed right in the square, though from my balcony I saw dozens killed on Chang-Ang Avenue when demonstrators attempted to reenter Tiananmen Square the next day.”
Wikipedia, our official repository of official truth (I think of it as “LOOT, or Lies of Our Times), has also backed off the idea that a “massacre” took place that night:
Chinese government officials have long asserted that no one died in the Square itself in the early morning hours of June 4, during the ‘hold-out’ of the last batch of students in the south of the Square. Initially foreign media reports of a “massacre” on the Square were prevalent, though subsequently journalists have acknowledged that most of the deaths occurred outside of the Square in western Beijing. Several people who were situated around the square that night, including Jay Mathews,[a] former Beijing bureau chief of the Washington Post, and Richard Roth, CBS correspondent,[b] reported that while they had heard sporadic gunfire, they could not find enough evidence to suggest that a massacre took place on the Square itself. Records by the Tiananmen Mothers suggest that three students died in the Square the night of the Army’s push into the Square. Democracy activist Wu Renhua asserted that the government’s discussion of the issue was a red herring intended to absolve itself of responsibility and showcase its benevolence. Wu said that it was irrelevant whether the shooting occurred inside or outside of the Square itself, as it was still a reprehensible massacre of unarmed civilians.
This is misdirection. As long as we think a massacre happened, it does not matter where we think it happened.
I sat in my family room in June of 1989 as CNN offered us coverage of the Tiananmen Square events of June 4, 1989. It was after my workday, so must have been around 6PM or so, perhaps later. Since Beijing time is fourteen hours ahead of United States Mountain Daylight time, it would have been around 8 A.M. there.
I distinctly remember CNN having on-the-ground coverage of the event. That coverage of events was abruptly halted that evening. A man dressed as a soldier was seen at the back of the broadcast studio, words were exchanged, and the live feed ended. The news switched back stateside, and we were left with the impression something very bad was going to happen.
That is the essential nut of the Tiananmen massacre, mere power of suggestion. That night those who were in the square were told to leave, and they did, if T.D. Allman is to be believed. His piece, however, also reads like misdirection, merely moving the supposed massacre outside the confines of Tiananmen. His words about people killed on Chiang-Ang ring so hollow, devoid of emotion. Seeing just one person killed is shocking, but he hardly blinks at dozens gunned down before his eyes. But Americans (and the rest of the Western world, I suppose) were left with the impression that several thousand people had been killed. This did not surprise me in 1989, as I knew the Chinese government to be terrible.
But horribly ineffective, it seems. Martial law was declared in China on May 20th, meaning that the protests in Tiananmen were over. Those who stayed risked arrest, court-martial and imprisonment. Yet two weeks later we will be led to believe that the protests were active the entire time, and that the Chinese government even in time of martial law sat on its hands. Far more likely, by the night of June 3rd, Tiananmen Square was empty.
I suspect that the “soldier” seen on set was an actor, and that particular footage to have originated at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Watching CNN footage of Tiananmen as I have, I doubt that anything they put out about that event was true. I have searched for the newsroom footage of the soldier entering the studio, but no luck. I trust my memory, however, as I was deeply enthralled with the news coverage at that time.
That in mind, I ask you watch the following videos, but understand that people reading on computer screens are reluctant to do so. I will offer descriptions to aid you if you choose not to watch. Also keep in mind that photography was illegal during martial law, so that all scenes shown the following videos are either from before June 4, 1989, or are fabricated and/or juxtaposed.
First up is Sam Donaldson and ABC News. I cannot get the video to run here, so can only offer a link. (The video is preceded by an annoying “pre-roll” where we are forced to watch a 30-second ad. Do what I do, take note of the advertiser, and vow never to buy any of its products.)
The video is 2:41 and is a voice-over with dramatic scenes, the first of which are two young men supposedly injured in Tiananmen. They are Westerners. The footage is all shot at night, and no one explains how the cameras happened to be there to be there to film it, including troop movements, during a time of martial law when photography was an “imprisonable offense” in China. Says narrator Gary Shepard, the ABC correspondent ‘on the scene’ in Beijing,
“It is difficult not to use the word “massacre” to describe what happened…”
This is classic ‘plausible deniability.’ Note, he did not call it a massacre, but only said it was difficult not to use the word. Also this:
“There has been no official announcement of casualties. Student leaders claim they are staggering, and that the government is attempting to cremate the bodies as quickly as possible so that the true number of fatalities will never be known.”
Again, plausible deniability, use of unidentified sources, and a classic ‘out’: We cannot know how many died because the government burned the bodies. Therefore we have no evidence. We also have no evidence that any bodies were burned. But trust us.
The footage is indeed shocking, but there are no markers, since it is all shot at night, that is, no landmarks to properly place the footage in Tiananmen or anywhere.
This video then is classic American propaganda, use of symbols and lies to infer that something happened. More likely, something did not happen. Note to the right here something I’ve seen in other manufactured tragedies … anguished expressions and absence of real tears. Columbine was but
two (oops!) ten years away.
This is agitprop, nothing more. Where the scenes were shot, when shot, we do not know, will never know. I can only guess where they were not shot: China.
Here’s another video, this one 7:59. I would suggest turning off the sound if you watch it, as the backdrop music is, to me anyway, intense and very annoying. The messages are contained in the words printed on the screen and film footage, so sound is not needed. If you do not watch it, simply fast-forward to the places I indicate.
The constant backdrop in this and every other propaganda video surrounding the events is “democracy.” It is a word without meaningful content, something even Chinese students of the time would recognize to be an empty vessel. Enlightened people of China (and the U.S.) then and now might want things like accurate information and accountability, real debate, transparency in government, punishment of corruption … but “democracy?” What does it mean? Here in the U.S. it is cradle-to-grave propaganda, fake elections and potent symbols lacking substance. The Chinese want this too? I doubt it, and doubt they wanted it in 1989.
Notice fifty seconds into the video and throughout that China seems to lack blue skies. This, as will be explained after the third video below, is probably a “green screen” effect. More later.
At 1:10 we see students apparently sitting on the Monument to the People’s Heroes, seen to the left here with actual blue skies. This could be an actual group shot pulled from another time, but was definitely taken before May 20th, as desecration of national monuments could be added to the charges on arrest. Remember that suggestion is everything in these videos – once we are convinced we are looking at the Tiananmen protests of 1989, any image inserted in the narrative takes on that context.
At the center of the Tiananmen events is a large paper mache statue called the Goddess of Democracy. Again that word. It is seen to the right here, and again note the color of the sky. That again is a likely green screen effect. The statue, along with Tank Man, described later, became the symbols of the events of 1989. It was constructed in Tiananmen with a wire mesh center to hold the paper and wheat glue in place.
Wikipedia tells us that the students made the statue very large to discourage the Chinese government from destroying it. That makes no sense, of course, as the Chinese government, willing to kill 2,500 students on June 4 (per Sam Donaldson in the first video) would surely have no problem using a fire hose on a paper and glue statue. (Later photos in the video place Goddess next to Chairman Mao, a none-too-subtle hint.)
At 2:22 the video turns dark. Says the screen,
“Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping gave the order to end the peaceful demonstration from a hospital bed where he was being treated for cancer.”
Deng is an interesting feature of the events of 1989. He held no official position. We are told by Wikipedia that he was the “de facto” leader of China. That makes no sense, as he had no power to address the public from a podium or behind a desk, give orders that needed to be obeyed, or speak to leaders of other countries. Here is what he said about the events of Tiananmen time:
“Their goal [the underlying protest movement] is to establish a totally Western-dependent bourgeois republic. … the entire imperialist Western world plans to make all socialist countries discard the socialist road and then bring them under the monopoly of international capital and onto the capitalist road.”
He was right about that, of course. In 1992 he would go on a “Southern Tour” of China where he advocated just that, the invasion of China by international capital. He appears to have been installed as controlled opposition. Though holding no position in China, he was a go-to guy for Western media.
At 3:41, Tank Man is introduced in the video. At 5:22 we are told that hospitals all over the city were flooded with wounded and dead. Citizens formed “protective walls” around journalists, we are told, so their message would get out to the world. This, I suggest, was inserted to explain why cameras were even there in a time when they were an imprisonable offense. (Photography was outlawed in Tiananmen and all over on May 20.)
At 6:29 we (at last) see an overview of the entirety of Tiananmen Square. It is empty, of course. It is quickly juxtaposed with video of marching troops. That video is of such low quality that you had to wonder if the Chinese knew at the time how to make a video camera. The object of use of such low resolution footage, however, is a little more subtle. The makers of the filming are implying “war zone,” but if there are images in the footage that show it to be from another time, they are obscured.
Taken as a whole, the video is an exercise in juxtaposition of images, context, and dialogue. Separated from Tiananmen context, it is easily seen that the images were pulled in from all over – I even thought they might be using World War II footage at times. The scenes purportedly taken in Tiananmen bear the hallmark of green screening. This video is, in my view, a fabricated presentation.
While China was no paradise in 1989, some other game was afoot with Tiananmen
The final video is our favorite American propaganda outlet, CNN. It is 5:04. I suggest that if you watch it not to do so for any meaningful content, but rather to examine the nature of the images. Though undated, it references the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev, which would be May 15th and 16th of 1989. China declared martial law on May 20th, so no journalists would have been allowed in Tiananmen. I wonder however, if this reporter was even actually there in this video. (He looks familiar, but I have not been able to learn his name.) [Thanks to Ty and Jennifer, he is Mike Chinoy.]
It starts out with our CNN reporter [Chinoy] front and center, but by eight seconds in he is no longer in the shot and is seen no more. Notice that his suit is well-defined, and he looms large in the foreground. The sky behind him is gray, not blue. This might be significant, along with the sharp lines, as will be shown later when we discuss green screening.
Is he standing in front of a green screen? If so, it is a large one, but don’t rule it out.
Keep in mind, once it is established by the CNN correspondent at the beginning of the video that he is in Tiananmen, by power of suggestion and then juxtaposition of images we assume that is where all the footage was shot.
The larger scenes in the video bear another possible sign of trickery, layering. See the image below:
I see three distinct layers there, the real people in the foreground, the banners and flags behind them, and the Mao Zedong Mausoleum as a backdrop. Again, no blue skies on a day when we are told students are being carted to ambulances due to heat exhaustion.
The Mao Mausoleum is a massive structure 700 feet wide and 110 feet tall. It is a tan structure with brown frontispieces, as seen below.
Notice how even though the CNN video is on a clear hot day, there is no color in the backdrop, and the sky and building are gray. More about this later.
CNN’s entire video, presented to us in 1989 as live footage, is a montage of images gathered together and interspersed with what I suspect are green screen images of Tiananmen Square. It is in my view fabricated.
So what happened in Tiananmen after May 20, when martial law was declared? Typically, martial law means curfews, suspension of civil rights, and civilians subjected to military tribunals. We are led to believe that the student protesters controlled all of downtown Beijing, and so were able to defy government and military power up until June 3rd. But we have no film to that effect, in fact, we know nothing of the status of Tiananmen after May 20th.
This is critical, as the presumption of any kind of “massacre” on June 3-4 requires the presence of a mass of students willing to risk their futures, defy the military, and face prison sentences. I suggest that lacking evidence they were there, we assume they had ceased and desisted and gone back to classes.
And again, I do not claim China in 1989 to be a workers’ paradise.
Green Screen Technology
What follows is a quick primer on green screen technology before we move on to the pièce de résistance of the 1989 hard sell given us by Western news outlets, Tank Man. If you are already familiar with the technology, skip this section. I will try to be brief.
Below is a simple demonstration of green screen (or digital screen, which would use a blue chroma key) technology. It has been around for decades. Standing in front of a green screen, the background can be changed to anything desired.
The “chroma key” allows a computer to neutralize anything that matches the green (or blue) it is programmed to ignore. Any image can be put in place of the green. It is a fun thing when used for trick photography, but in news, movies and advertising, it is a serious tool. Below is a group of panelists from the BBC:
This goes beyond mere green screen to green immersion. These eight talking heads can be placed in any setting from Buckingham to the Tower of London to a bridge on the Thames. In the hands of our “news” outlets, green screen is an effective tool of deception. But it does have telltale giveaways, such as sharp defining lines of someone standing in front of the screen, and also that in outdoor settings, the sky often changes colors. This is why so much of the footage seen above shows a pale yellow or gray sky. Here is Wiki on the problem:
In order to create an illusion that characters and objects filmed are present in the intended background scene, the lighting in the two scenes must be a reasonable match. For outdoor scenes, overcast days create a diffuse, evenly colored light which can be easier to match in the studio, whereas direct sunlight needs to be matched in both direction and overall color based on time of day.
In the Tiananmen scenes we saw above, they superimposed protesters and banners in front of the known moments in the square, the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Where on one hand they tell us the weather was brutally hot and sun was beating down, in the photos we see a pale yellow or gray sky. Now we perhaps know why.
But how large can they make this technology go? See below:
I am not suggesting this is where the Tiananmen footage was shot, only that something like this would have been used.
So we need to move on to our final image, where green screen was not used:
Tank Man was the Iwo Jima moment for the Tiananmen protests of 1989. What we are told was that an unnamed young man (who was possibly later executed by the Chinese government, suggests Wikipedia), decided to confront a column of tanks on Chiang-Ang Avenue on the morning of June 5. This after the previous night’s massacre. A movie of this same event can be seen in the CNN video above.
Film and photos would have been taken by Western news correspondents from nearby hotels. Here is a map of the area:
The arrow I inserted is from the Beijing Hotel to the place where I put the column of tanks and Tank Man. Notice the Great Hall to the lower left. It can be seen in the CNN video. This is approximate.
The armored column stops for Tank Man. This is why the film is iconic, showing us the power of one. It is hard to understand for a several reasons:
- It is the morning of June 5th, and Tiananmen Square was forcibly vacated the night before by ruthless soldiers using guns, trucks and tanks. Thousands were killed.
- The streets are deserted. An empty bus sits nearby. There are no spectators seen.
- Martial law is in force, so that photography is forbidden. So there are no cameras. Tank Man might well have realized all of this, lending futility to his quest. Was he suicidal, or a hired actor?
Tank Man would have no publicity motive for doing what he did. No one would see him, no photos would be taken, his life would be on the line for no apparent reason. The driver of the lead tank would not be aware of any cameras or onlookers, and since we are told the Chinese military behaved ruthlessly during this time, he could easily have just run him down.
The scene, to me, looks staged. We are told that five photographers captured this confrontation, that is, five Western photographers who managed to sneak the film out of the country. True, the tanks were headed down Chiang-Ang Avenue right in front of Tiananmen, and there were hotels in the area where the international press stayed. So it could be that five cameras were at the ready to capture this event. But how did they know to be out on the balcony? The movie footage in the CNN film zooms in right when Tank Man has stepped onto the street.
One camera capturing this iconic image I can accept, two a large coincidence. But five?
If five cameras were on the ready, I suspect advance notice. (I would guess that five were on hand to make sure the event was captured and the film saved, in case pesky Chinese authorities confiscated it.)
In other words, the Tank Man moment, like the Iwo Jima moment, was staged. And this leads us to the true meaning of Tiananmen.
So, what happened in China in 1989? There were indeed student protests, and to make that happen would require agents provocateur. No doubt there was discontent in China at that time, but for that discontent to turn into open rebellion requires some external stimulation. I think this to be true of people everywhere, busy making a living, living small lives … we don’t just get up and leave those lives. We have to be enticed.
These things do not happen naturally. Going into this project I operated on the assumption that China was infiltrated with Western agents leading up to the uprising, I now think that all of the necessary seeds of rebellion were sewn internally. Tiananmen 1989 was a Chinese psyop.
There were factions within China, some of whom wanted the status quo, which was a staid socialist government, jobs, housing, food and health care for everyone, but none getting rich. It was not a workers paradise, but neither was it a hell hole. That is pretty bland state of existence, but much of the world lives that way. (I am aware of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – I do not minimize the impact of these attempts at reform that backfired. China was not a model country. But the Cultural Revolution ended with Mao’s death in 1976, and the Great Leap, centralized agriculture gown awry, was over by 1962.)
Western industrialists saw potential in China, and had many agents there in local industry and in government. That infiltration probably started in 1976, with the death of Mao, but Mao himself is oversold as a revolutionary. He might have been put there just to bide time as the planned events of the late 80s began – the collapse of the Soviet Union, and along with it the establishment of China as the manufacturer of choice for western corporations. He might have been a place holder.
But the Chinese people were not ready for this move, and so had to be jolted into it. They needed perhaps a “… catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor“. The events in Tiananmen, like our own 911, were scripted in advance, and shown on TV even as there was little underlying substance. There was no confrontation, no massacre. Tiananmen was empty on the night of June 3rd, in my view. But they showed a massacre on TV, and that made it real. It was for the Chinese, just as 911 was for us, trauma-based mind control. China makes our TV sets, and in 1989 most Chinese households had one or more.
Elements within the Chinese government and military cooperated by allowing its tanks to be used in the iconic Tank Man showdown, and allowing the cameras to roll. What we witnessed was a psyop.
To what end? To the end we see today, where virtually all of our manufactured goods come from China. International capital was drawn to that massive, intelligent, well-educated and deeply indoctrinated labor force, one that would work much cheaper than American and European counterparts. Add to that the absence of meaningful pollution laws, and China was a grand and beautiful prize.
It only needed for the Chinese people to be cajoled, shocked, and dragged if necessary into the brave new world that awaited them. And that was the purpose of Tiananmen.
*The song Shiny Happy People by REM was voted by Arquivo.pt as the wussiest song of all time. I did not know it was about Tiananmen. [Add to the mix here that Stipes was probably instructed to write a song about Tiananmen, as fame is given and taken away at will, and we have a better picture of reality. He simply failed in his mission, and wrote a syrupy and bad tune that could be used in a Disney movie. ]
“Disowned by the band on its 2003 greatest-hits album despite being one of the critically adored “college rock” group’s biggest chart successes, ‘Shiny Happy People’ is a case in point that irony doesn’t always translate. (That’s why they created emoticons 😉 Supposedly written in response to the horrific Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989, the song finds poetic lyricist Michael Stipe borrowing from a bit of Chinese propaganda roughly interpreted as “shiny happy people holding hands.” But the finished product was no trenchant political statement from a human-rights warrior exercising the power of his celebrity. Instead, it was an anthemic lobotomy, precisely the kind of pop puffery the band meant to skewer.”