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It's your pals, Josh and Chuck. And we wanted to record an intro to this episode because when we first recorded it and got it ready to publish and edit, things were a lot different in America because that was like a week ago.
And I think the events of the past week or two have taught us that something like this podcast episode is more relevant than ever. And it just kind of worked out that way. Yeah.
And we also wanted to say that we grieve the death of George Floyd and everybody who's ever died unfairly at the hands of the police. And we stand with Black Lives Matter and anyone who's fighting for justice in the United States. Absolutely.
So when you hear this episode on Tiananmen Square and think, well, that could never happen, much less in the United States, uh, be careful, because that's the kind of dangerous thinking that can get us all in trouble. And I'm with the show. Welcome to Stuff You Should Know. A production of IHOP Radio's HowStuffWorks. Hey, and welcome to the podcast, I'm Josh Clark, and this is Charles W. Chuck Brian over there. And it's just the two of us, Chuck and I decided we can make it if we try just the two of us chuckers and.
How long did you plan that, buddy?
But it just came pouring right out of my brain through my mouth and just landed with a thud on the desk.
Yeah. All right. Up to the great Bill Withers.
Oh, I was thinking more Austin Powers. Yeah, repeated him to what? Austin Powers, he died a long time ago, right? You got me there for a second. Yes, he did. Mike Myers it best. I thought Mike Myers had passed. And then I was like, wait, did Dr. Evil? I was like, wait, Dr. Evil's not real. It was really confusing for a second there, man.
So I last night did one of the things that I love doing as part of our work, Chuck, which is watch a really great documentary and paid for it.
And you love that. Great. I love it. There's a really good documentary by Frontline PBS show about Tank Man, which you probably girl tank man, totally different kind of thing.
This is not Lori Petty, this is an unknown person who no one, as far as anyone knows, knows their name. But even earlier with Tank Man, just the name you probably if you live outside of China, seen this picture. It's a picture of just a lone man wearing a white kind of dress shirt and black pants, holding a couple of shopping bags to the side, staring down a column of heavy tanks that he has stopped single handedly just by standing in front of them.
Yeah, I mean, it's one of those. Indelible images that if you were, you know, still resonates, obviously, but if you were, you know, cognizant of the news in 1989, then you could not escape this image or forget it. Yeah, I mean, what you were close to around 18 or so. So I'm sure this really had a big impact on you and it was going on, right?
Yeah. I mean, just just had graduated high school. Mm hmm.
So, like, this must have really kind of raised the hackles on the back of your neck and gotten you pretty worked up like the rest of the world, I would guess.
Yeah, I remember it being kind of one of the first big political events that got my head out of my butt.
Yeah, it did that for a lot of people, too. I mean, like what happened that that day or those days, like, think June 3rd and 4th of 1989, the communist regime that had a iron grip on the country and still does today, maybe even more so today, almost fell, was almost toppled by a popular uprising.
And to stamp it out, the government went to the most extreme measures possible, which was commanding the army to murder. Citizens, unarmed, peacefully protesting citizens were gunned down in the streets like like like they were enemy combatants basically in their own city in Beijing, and it was just a horrific thing that managed to kind of trickle out and definitely captured the world's attention, pulled the world's head out of it. But as you would say. Yeah, so, you know, to tell the story, we need to go back in time a little bit and big thanks to our pal Dave Ru's for helping us out with this one.
This is very good, in fact, that it was on a different laptop and I kind of forgot it was sitting in my folder when I had been in there for like a month or so. Right? Yeah, it's been there a while. And then I saw it and I was like, oh, wait a minute, we got Tiananmen Square on the burner. So, yeah, they did a great job. And we have to travel back in time to previous to 1989, when the sort of feeling among students in China was that, you know what, this communism isn't working out so great.
And we want to start making a little bit of noise.
And we're not saying to topple our government or anything like that, but we're saying let's get the corruption in check and let's maybe get some free speech going on and see some free press and free expression. And they thought they could get there. They thought they could get there, which is what makes this really, really sad, among many other things.
Yeah. And then even sadder than that to me is they almost got there, you know, like this is I mean, this was close, like a hair's breadth away where they brought this so, so much to the government's doorstep and laid this at their feet that the government had to at least consider, if not openly, to one another, at least, you know, to themselves, like, do we just bow to the will of the people and just say, OK, we're going to do things differently?
Like it was a big, big deal. It was a big deal and I guess preemptively we should say, we're going to do our best with with some of the pronunciations of the names, they're really tough, they are tough. And we'll as usual, we'll do our best and probably fail and stop short of being perfect.
I think we learned our lesson on the underground city. At least we're not going to pronounce X like X, right.
Right. So the students had a little bit of wind in their sails because they're college students and that's what college students are like. That's why we love them. And they thought they had an ally who was a pro reform leader in pretty high up in the Communist Party in Hue Yaobang.
Sounds about right. OK, he was forced out of power in 87, though, and when he died in April, April 15th of 1989, the memorialising in the morning of his death is what really kind of kick started this whole process that led up to June 3rd.
Yeah, and in the late 80s, what you call the president of China was named Deng Xiaoping. And he was he had been in charge for a while. But in addition to the president, in a communist country, you also have the leaders of the Communist Party. They're not exactly like lateral, but they're pretty high up. You have like a prime minister, you have the leader of the party, the general secretary. Then you also have the president of the country.
And Deng was the president of China at the time. But within the party and within the leadership of the country, including you. And he was kind of the face of this movement. There was this idea that, OK, the Maoist revolution happened. Mao was great. But we we can't run a country just living by these kind of lofty principles that Mao espoused. We need to kind of get a little more loose script here, at least economically.
And there was a whole contingent led, again, by you that basically said maybe we should kind of ease up on the government planning a little bit and a little bit of free market. Go and see what happens. We really think that, like, there's going to be a lot less starvation, a lot less poverty if we just had a little bit of this stuff in there. So there was this kind of progressive movement. But then when you when this when these protests kind of started in 1987, they basically showed you the door like you were saying.
He was he was removed from office because he had kind of demonstrated that that level of like loosening of the grip on the people would lead to things like protests and demonstrations. But it was too late. They had open the door now and then, like you said, when he died, that was that was kind of the the the lit match that got thrown onto this powder keg.
And I take it you're on a first name basis now because it's easier to pronounce Hugh.
Hugh is actually his last name in China. They say that name first. Yes. So I go with it both ways. I'm having my my dumpling and eating it, too.
Oh, man. That's the best way to have it done. So and I learned something new today, too. Thanks, Chuck. That's basically why I wake up in the morning.
Uh, so what happened is, you know, he died on April 15th, 89. Bunch of students, like thousands of students, got together in Tiananmen Square to mourn his passing. And Tiananmen Square, we should say, is an enormous place. It's the largest public space in the world right in the middle of Beijing. It is just it's the town center, unlike any town center in the world. Yeah.
There's like no trees anywhere. It's just flat and then edged by enormous public buildings. It makes you feel very small. Yeah.
And it's also a perfect place to get like thousands and thousands and thousands of people together. Yeah. And this is what happened during the funeral celebration in Tiananmen Square. And it didn't go on for too long before students started to sort of use this as an opportunity to not only mourn someone that they believed was going to champion their cause, but they said, we can use this now and let's just let's just camp out and let's hold some speeches and let's sort of start giving our demands for political reform, like throwing peace signs and just basically peaceful protests that you would imagine students from.
And most of them came from Beijing University, which, from what I understand is the the premier elite university in the entire country. So these were like the children of the elites, as it were. So there is definitely a measure of tolerance of this going on. Whereas had it been, you know, just a popular uprising or popular protest from the start, they probably would have been treated a lot more roughly. And it certainly would not have been a.
Allowed to go on as long as it had. Yeah, and, you know, it's interesting, you mentioned that the sort of split in ideologies within the party, which is really interesting to think about now, but they were split about what to do about these demonstrations. This was the biggest civil protest, longest running since communism had taken hold in 1949. And there were some people it wasn't just like, all right, let's go in there and mow them down.
There was a complete faction within the party that was like, you know what? These are students and they want what's best for us. And maybe we should listen to him a little bit.
Yeah, because it's like you said, they were saying down with communism, down with the Chinese Communist Party. They were they were saying like down with corruption. And, you know, we want to we want a little more free speech, like some really basic stuff that didn't require the entire system to be overthrown, which was, I think, another reason why they were kind of allowed to continue. And then, yeah, like you're saying, there were sympathetic members of the Communist Party high up in the party who were like, no, no, we should just, you know, maybe hear them out or just let this thing fizzle out.
But then on the other side was a guy named Li Peng, and he was the he was the antagonist in this whole thing. Most people paint him as the villain. But I read an article about how he's actually the fall guy, that it was really Deng Xiaoping who was the president, who was the true architect of all of this and that Li Peng, while he gets all of the notorious higher credit. Yeah. For this whole thing, he he he didn't.
He didn't he wasn't the architect of it. But he also didn't stop his boss, Deng Xiaoping, from from carrying this out or from being the architect of it to. So it's not like he was a good guy. He was very easy to hate, I think, from what I read. And it made him an easy target of the protest and in the aftermath as well. Yeah.
And I think it's you know, I think people it's easy to paint a good guy in a bad guy in a situation like this. Right. And he was painted definitely as the bad guy. And again, we're not saying that he was some awesome person, but on the other side was the Communist Party general secretary and his name was Zahos Yang. And he was the one that was, you know, more sympathetic to the cause, basically. Yeah.
And so he was kind of holding back Deng Xiaoping's worst impulses and saying, like, no, we just need to kind of like approach this peacefully or whatever. And he got removed, too, which I really think kind of highlights just how how much crossing or opposing Deng Xiaoping would get. You get you removed at best. And actually, Zhao Ziyang, he spent when he was removed from office, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest because, I mean, that's what happens when you are removed from office there.
They just say go home and don't leave again. You're under political quarantine.
Yeah. So, you know, they had seen this happening all around them. The Soviet Union was crumbling. They saw countries, communist countries, people just like these students kind of rising up and saying that they've had enough. So they were nervous. And when XL's Yang went on, he went out of town, basically went to Korea on a state visit. This is when Li Peng said, all right, now is our time. This guy's out of the country.
And he's like, basically, we can we can start the the first piece to toppling these students. And it wasn't initially a violent piece. It was an ad. It was in April 2006. It was an ad. And The People's Daily, the state newspaper. And it was an editorial basically that just denounced the demonstrations. And that was their first sort of shot fired was your friend is out of town? Well, they didn't say that, but because he was out of town, they said, we're going to run an editorial denouncing this.
And they basically said, look, these students are being misguided, that the whole thing started earnestly as a memorial for for you, but that that it had been taken advantage of by probably outside agitators, maybe even like plants from other governments who were fomenting like a popular uprising out of this genuine, you know, sorrow for this guy who is, you know, a real, real advocate for them. But regardless of how it started or what's going on, we can't we can't abide this any longer.
And if we did, there's going to be I think they put it we'll never have another day's piece unless we act. They didn't say brutally. Oh, resolutely. Unless it's checked resolutely. They said. And then on the margin, it said S. brutally, right? Yeah, we like that's not checked resolutely against a popular protest is the menacing stuff. Should we take a break, more menacing stuff. All right, we'll take a break and we'll come back and talk about the effect that this editorial had right after this.
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Make sure you're ready for Election Day. Visit head count dawg today and register to vote. That's w w w head count dot org. All righty, so they ran this editorial, they said that the they would be checked resolutely if they didn't disperse and they thought that that would do the job, basically. But all that that had the complete opposite effect. Yeah. Like literally overnight, people all over China, 400 cities across China, had people coming out and protesting because they were invigorated by these students and what they saw going on in Beijing.
And I think it says they've had an estimate here of one in 10 citizens took to the streets.
And these were people of all social strata, all walks of life in China.
One in 10 in Beijing, but then tends to hundreds of millions of protesters all pouring out into the streets in cities across China like they had a huge problem overnight on their hands.
Like they they people were like that was the editorial was the exact wrong move. Yeah, it was the wrong move and things just kind of went on this way for a little while until I think about mid-May when Gorbachev was coming to visit in China. So they said, this is the perfect chance. Let's stage a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. And this was not a good look for the Chinese Communist Party. They were not happy that this is going on.
What Gorbachev was going to pay the visit.
Yeah, because, I mean, you wanted to impress Gorbachev here is probably the most popular guy in the world, right? Then in 1989. Yeah, they lost face and it was it was a pretty well done move on the part of the students who carried out the hunger strike. But that that editorial that kicked all this off, that really kind of changed things. There was a huge turn. There was a sea change in the entire thing when regular people started taking up this protest because it started out as a student protest.
And now all of a sudden it was an everyday Chinese person protest. And that apparently changed the entire attitude of the government toward this whole thing that was no longer paternal and kind of head paddy and patient. It was like, wait a minute. I saw on this Frontline documentary that somebody said it was like the workers are the ones who who put the Chinese Communist Party in power and now suddenly looked like the workers were about to take the power away from them.
And this scared the bejesus out of out of them because, again, this is a very they had an iron stranglehold over their population. And there are also there is a lot of corruption in the government, too. So the the whole idea of being removed from power had a lot more at stake than just, you know, losing power like there was. These people are doing quite a bit that they might have to answer for after they lost power, you know.
Oh, yeah, big time they were they were officially worried at this point, right? You still had XAO calling for cooler heads to prevail here. But and this is before his removal, just before. But Leaping said, you know what, the only way to take care of this is by kind of cracking the whip in a hard, hard way. Martial law should be imposed. Students heard about this. And this is when the big, big protest at Tiananmen Square, I think they estimated like over a million people, one point two million people, students.
There were police involved. There were some military that were protesting. And this is when everything really started to gain some momentum. And you know what students thought? Was that the right direction, but it turns out was a bad move. Probably. Yeah, I mean, in hindsight, you can never yeah, sure, yeah, yeah, I mean, like, like, yeah now. But at the time it was like, OK, we're we're we're going to go to the mattresses rather than backing down.
They said, OK, we're going to escalate on our end as well. If they're going to amass troops and invade Beijing, which is what they did, we're going to meet them and try to drive them out. And at first it actually worked. There was a a first incursion into Beijing of about 300000 Chinese soldiers. The Chinese military showed up in Beijing and tanks, armored personnel carriers, troop transport trucks, the whole shebang, like imagine 300000 soldiers showing up in Atlanta and just basically being like, everybody needs to go home.
The thing is, everybody would go home this first.
Probably the first this first incursion, I guess, into Beijing didn't actually make it to the city center because the people in the suburbs came out and swamped these army convoys and prevented them from moving forward and actually kept them there in gridlock of a sea of humanity for about four days, I think.
Yeah, I mean, it was a it was a huge victory, kind of right off the bat. They had you know, they they went after these personnel carriers in these tanks. They had children. They had older adults. They had they basically kind of paralyze what they were trying to do and then decided to do a very kind of brilliant thing, which was appeal to the good nature of the soldiers as human beings.
Right. I saw one article that that kind of guessed that about 60 percent of the PLA soldiers were illiterate. Mm. They were uneducated. They were from out in the country and these Beijing city folks would approach them and they would bring them food and they would bring them things to drink and they would send their children out to talk to them and say things like, you know, you should be defending us, you shouldn't be attacking us, you should join us.
And some of them did. Some of those soldiers step down and kind of quit on the spot, knowing full well that that would not end well for them and the majority of them obviously didn't.
Right, right. But even, you know, even if they didn't step down and quit, some of them did step down and mingle and talk. And I saw footage of them when they finally left on the fourth day, they turned around and retreated away from Beijing. You know, a good third or half of the troops on these trucks that were driving away were waving to them, to the people of Beijing who'd just been who just spent the last four days, like feeding them and talking to them and basically trying to change their minds about this, because I don't know if we made it.
We made it clear when the people from the Beijing suburbs swamped these trucks. This is a big non-violent form of resistance. It wasn't violent. Oh, yeah, it was it was a charm offensive. It was just straight up nonviolent resistance. And it worked like it totally worked. On the one hand, it worked because the Chinese government hadn't given them orders to fire on anybody and probably gave them orders not to carry out any violence against the people.
And that that's really why it actually ultimately worked. Because if if you're being met with that kind of resistance and you can't meet that resistance with violence, it's not like the soldiers we're going to explain their position or the government's position to the Beijing residents and change their minds. There's a right they could do, but just sit there and then finally turn around and leave. And so at first, the the residents of Beijing were kind of chuffed with themselves, you know, like like that really worked.
This non-violent resistance turned back 300000 troops from China's equivalent of Arkansas who just showed up in China's equivalent of New York and and kept them from invading, basically.
Yeah, so the government sees this happen and they they're on full they're on high alert now, they're fully worried and they see the writing on the wall that this could be the end of the Communist Party as we know it if we don't squash this thing once and for all. And so they said, all right, here's what we're going to do.
Let's in the army and again, just like we did the first time, except now you're going to get to Tiananmen Square and squash this uprising. If they come out and meet you in the suburbs, take care of things however you need to to get to Tiananmen Square, like full authorization to use deadly force. Yeah.
And I saw again on that documentary they were saying like they were given guns and ammunition and the ammunition they were given were thumb sized bullets, the kind of bullets that from what I could tell, they were what's the kind that, like turn into like like circular saws inside people? What's it called? It's like a really common word.
Everybody knows that hollow point, I think.
Anyway, they they were meant for, like combat the the bullets they were using. These weren't rubber bullets. They weren't even regular bullets. They were like combat grade bullets that these the troops are given. And you have to you have to remember to check by this time. There's nobody now because XAO has been removed, there's nobody arguing against this impulse, at least not openly. And so this impulse is allowed to go unchecked. Nobody stopped and said, well, wait a minute, wait a minute, this is crazy.
We're talking about going in and slaughtering our own people. We have to find another way. Nobody was saying that. And in fact, Li Li Peng was at the very least, keeping his mouth shut, if not supporting this whole thing as well.
Yeah. So, you know, the students get word that this is what's coming. Basically a second wave. They were victorious in that first wave. So they were like you said, they were chuff. They were probably like, all right, bring it on. Let's do the let's do the same thing again. We're going to chant again. Yeah, pretty much.
And they did the same thing. They had these they improvised these barricades at the entrance points. They blocked off roads with people with buses, tire like stacks of tires and stuff.
And on June 3rd, the night of June 3rd, the tanks roll in, the personnel vehicles roll in. By this time, there are some rocks being thrown and some Molotov cocktails and stuff like that. And things start to get a little unruly. And the play just charge through. And at nine thirty pm, the first shots rang out and it was very clear very quickly that they were just going to mow people down.
Yeah, but apparently, even though it was clear to some people, to other people, it was so surprising and just so utterly unbelievable that it took way too long for it to sink in what was going on?
Oh, I'm sure everybody was shocked. Yeah. So some people, I think, just started running when they saw people falling and bodies starting to pile up. But other people were still, you know, throwing rocks and it hadn't really sunk in yet. And then ultimately, eventually everybody got it and they started to turn and run. And then as they would turn and run the the government there, the soldiers would fire into their backs, keep firing into crowds that are running away, unarmed crowds, maybe have rocks, maybe a Molotov cocktails, set a bus on fire.
But they don't have guns. They don't have machine guns. I was looking and apparently Chuuk, China has one of the strictest gun policies in the world. Like if you're just the average Chinese person, you are not armed. You could get a gun if you apply for one and the government gives it to you if you have a real need for it. Like maybe there's bears that live around your house that keep killing your livestock or something. But if you live in Beijing, you don't have a gun.
And it makes me wonder, like, would this have erupted into civil war if Beijing was armed, you know, or would it have been even worse? You know, would they have fought back a lot more if they had had guns? Who knows? But the fact of the matter is, these people did not have guns and they were shot in the back, running away by government troops from their own government, from their own country. And this is just the first time this happened.
This wasn't an isolated incident.
So I read this article, I think about three years ago there was a sort of firsthand account from a writer from England named Sir Alan Donald. And it was declassified three years ago. He wrote this account on June 5th. So, you know, we'll we'll finish up on what happened June 3rd and 4th. But it was a very fresh account of what happened. He was over there and he got his information from a source who had spoken to a very close friend in China's state council who apparently previously had always proved a very.
Reliable, very even handed and very factual, and the things that he would, I guess, leak out to his friend and the account of what happened is just like mind boggling that they were there were snipers shooting people on their balconies that weren't even not down on the street protesting. They said that there were snipers using street cleaners and things just sort of as target practice. There were young women who were begging for their life that were bayoneted through the chest.
There was one account of a three year old that was wounded and the mom was racing to try and help it. And they mowed her down. They were, you know, hosing body parts and entrails into the drains of the street. It was just they were mowing people down at like 40 miles per hour, just running people over in these personnel trucks. And it just can't be overstated what a complete and utter massacre this was. Yeah, I mean, the end result of this was on the high end, maybe 10000 thousand people, civilians almost almost to a person, was were killed overnight from June 3rd to fourth in the violence that took place.
And then on the next day, June 4th, unarmed, many of them shot in the back, just just killed and including. Yeah, like like you say, some people weren't even down on the street. They were in their apartment. They just had the misfortune of having an apartment whose windows looked out on the Tiananmen Square and who had caught the attention of a sniper on a nearby rooftop like it was just just ghastly. One of the worst things that any government's ever done to its own people.
Certainly in modern times, it doesn't really get much worse than that. Yes, so one 30 a.m., the army is finally in the heart of Beijing. They have surrounded Tiananmen Square, all of these or not? All of them, I'm sure some people got out of there. But most of these protesters are still there. They are ordered to leave the they open fire again. I think at this point they sent in something called the twenty seven army.
Which the best, best I could find is that just as was a very loyal division, apparently, that they knew that would just obey the orders no matter what. Mm hmm. And so now they're in Tiananmen Square. They're throwing rocks, they're getting strafed by machine gun fire. And within a few hours, most of Tiananmen Square had emptied out. They were down to about three to five thousand students. They took a vote. The student union basically said, you want to go or do you want to stay?
And most people wanted to stay. But the leadership said, now we got to get out of here, otherwise we're all going to be killed. Basically.
Yeah, they just said the girls have it. Let's go. And in retrospect, that was the smartest possible thing they could have done. There wasn't any anything that would have been gained necessarily by this slaughter, but they were all very surprised that they weren't just indiscriminately slaughtered themselves like they you know, a lot of people have been killed in Tiananmen Square already and they were cornered by the military. But then rather than just mow them down, like had been done to everybody else, they were given an ultimatum that they could either leave now and just drop the whole uprising thing or they could be jailed, prosecuted and probably killed.
So they decided to go. And it makes you wonder, like, would it have had an effect if they had been killed? Because these these must have been the very students from the elite Beijing University who were the sons and daughters of the elite leaders in China at the time. So what repercussions would there have been had they died? But ultimately, it was the right move. It was the smart thing to do. And the best thing to do is for the leadership, the students themselves, they were in their early 20s tops to say we should leave.
And they did. Yeah, so, you know, Tiananmen Square itself gets all the press and the and the historical record kind of lies in Tiananmen Square, but it was it was all over Beijing June 4th, like it was on June 3rd, on June 4th. Some say that's where the most loss of life happened and some of the bloodiest. I was about to say battle, but it wasn't even a battle. The bloodiest part of the massacre happened the next day in the surrounding streets.
Yeah, for Tiananmen Square to have, like you say, all the press, very little actually happened there. It was mostly in the area around it in the rest of Beijing. But the street that actually runs in front of Tiananmen Square, shooting on. Yeah. Shounen Avenue, it it got the most coverage and has the most record of what happened, because there happened to be a high rise hotel along Union Avenue that that housed a bunch of Western journalists who were surreptitiously recording and photographing this whole thing and documenting it.
Yeah, so that was very fortuitous because, you know, we'll get to Tank Man later, but on this avenue, the protesters gathered and they started to get on the plane. Troops demanding answers. The army said, all right, you need to disperse again or face the consequences. And once again, just like in the other instances, the army just opened fire and they just barreled down the avenue and people were scrambling. They were getting out of the way.
They were hiding behind trees and buildings. And there would be a little period of calm and then people would gather up again. And this is what makes this also tragic is the people would continually get the nerve to try again over and over.
Yeah, a lot of those people the next day on Changan Avenue were the parents of these these protesters who they wanted to get into Tiananmen Square to find out what had happened to their kids. They didn't they hadn't heard from them yet. They thought maybe they were dead in there. So I think that might have been what drove them to to come back over and over again even after being fired upon. And I saw footage of this. There's like after that first wave, maybe even after the second wave, this whole thing went on a dozen or so times where the people would come back up and confront the military.
The military would open fire and they'd run away. And the people would like gather their courage up again and go do it again, at least after the first or second wave. There's an ambulance that's shown like rushing to the scene and they fire on that. And they seem to have either killed or possibly injured the driver because it like it veers off course and runs into like a booth or some sort of some sort. So they were firing on ambulances that were coming to help the the injured who they they'd fired on just a few minutes earlier.
Yeah, I saw one report that they won. I'm not sure how that split up, but one troop fired on their own officer and murdered him because I think he had shown a little bit of resistance or maybe the way I read it, it was a kind of even just like, hey, what are we doing here? Like, a little bit of self-doubt about their mission. And so they murdered him.
Wow. Man, I mean, imagine this, like whether you're in America or the UK or Australia, like imagine your own army doing this to you, like showing up in your city and just opening fire, like just a nightmare situation. That would be.
Yeah. So we take another break. Yes.
All right. We'll take another break and we'll talk about Tank Man and sort of the legacy of the massacre at Tiananmen Square right after this.
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I mean, the account from the one guy said that it was at least ten thousand. Wow. And that was from his supposed source from inside the Chinese government.
And that's that's just killed. That's not killed or injured. This is just total casualties that's killed. Yeah. The the the government of China, whenever they they did acknowledge that this even happened, which we'll get to in a little bit, they said I think it was like two to forty one, like two hundred something is what they said. And they included in that a lot of soldiers and officers. And it is true that there were reports of, you know, some of these barricades that people had put up around Beijing where they there were enough people that they overran, you know, troop like troop transports and killed soldiers on board.
So there were some soldiers that die. But far and away, the most casualties were on the civilian side, unarmed civilians. I'd keep in mind.
Yeah, I think I saw the Chinese Red Cross initially said twenty seven hundred, but that was quickly squashed and that even seemed super, super low. Right.
Right. So this is that was June 4th that the worst of the massacre happened. It was in broad daylight and then June 5th, things had calmed down, some in the sense that there was not necessarily indiscriminate mowing down of people in the streets any more. People had just basically resigned to give up and stay inside. The the Tiananmen protests have been completely squashed. And it was, I guess, calm, as calm as could be, considering that there were still plenty of like tanks and martial law in the area and on shooting on avenue, like a column of, I think eight tanks or a few a few tanks.
I'm not sure how many there were gathered into a line and sort of going down the avenue. And then just out of nowhere, this one guy tank man steps out of nowhere and just stands in front of the lead tank. And eventually the tank just comes to a stop. And I guess there were this is all right in plain view of the Western journalists, of a lot of people who were watching this, waiting for the tank to just run this guy down or just shoot him with the machine gun, just basically treat him just like like, you know, 10000 or more other people have been treated in the last day.
And to everyone's great surprise, it didn't happen. Instead, the tank just tried to move. Yeah, so he stops the tanks, he's motioning, you know, like kind of get out of here, he's kind of sweeping his arm around him. And, you know, this footage is remarkable to look at. Even today, the tank tries to go around him and like you said, then the guy gets in its path, the tank stops again, the tank goes to the left.
They're doing this just surreal dance of the tank moving and the guy moving in front of it. And then finally, the tank stopped again, cut its motor and the guy climbs up on top of the tank and starts yelling at the soldiers.
Yeah, one of the dudes in the tank pokes his little head out and they start talking. And I say, little head. I think he had a normal sized head. But just from the vantage point of the footage, the little head. Sure. Or who knows, maybe he was a tiny headed person. It was smaller than normal, you can never say.
So they start yelling at each other and having an exchange and the guy gets back down on the ground. Tank man does the tank starts his engine and he gets right back in front of it again. And that is when that very famous photo from Charles Cole is snapped.
Image of him just standing there again with those shopping bags by his side, just as defiant as a human being's ever been. And I mean, this is after 10000 of his fellow Beijing Beijing ers have been killed in the street in this guy said this is enough. That's the thing to me. The guy said, this is enough. I'm sick of this mess. You guys need to go that very clearly what the guy was saying. But the beautiful thing about Tank Man is you can't hear what he said.
You can't see you can't see his face. I nearly enough to to even tell who he was. There's no way anybody saw who this guy actually was, at least not from a camera or anything. So you also couldn't read his lips or anything. So it's left up to you in your imagination what this guy was saying and what he was doing. And that actually comes through in the fact that China, right after this incident, broadcast it on TV, but they broadcast it as clear evidence of just how much restraint the Chinese military had shown in Beijing and how all of the casualties that had actually come out of it were the fault in the on account of the these rebellious anti-communist uprisings and that the military had really done a good job with this.
But it really kind of underlines, like you can put in the tank man what you want, but far and away the vast majority of the world, because that Charles Cole photo quickly got out.
And we'll explain how in a second. The vast majority of the world was inspired by this guy showing courage, if that's how they took it, that this guy was saying, enough, you can do what you want to me. But I represent the real true feeling of the people of Beijing or the people of China, of all freedom loving people in the world. I represent how they feel about you in that tank and all the people who sent you here right now.
Yeah, it was it was remarkable. So Charles Cole takes this picture. He is seen by some security officials that are on a rooftop across the street. And he knows this and he's like, they're going to come for my camera for sure. So he very smartly pops this roll of film out and hides it in the water tank of his toilet and his bathroom. Yes, I will show. Was it?
Oh, I don't know. I think. Can you imagine? I think the keester would be sought out sooner than the toilet tank, I guess pretty quickly. Right. The first thing they did was probably bend over and see what he had. So they did come and they did confiscate his camera and they confiscated a roll of film. But it was from the day before. And he came back the next day and that that roll of film was still in the toilet tank.
Yeah, got it. Otherwise, the world may have never seen this image.
Yeah, no, I don't know that that's necessarily true because there's that video footage of it that it the whole thing true.
And did we say also that he would have we gotten to the part where he's hustled off. Who coal tank man? Oh, no. OK, well, I just spoiled it, so, I mean, there is the video of it, but yeah, that that that photo that the world got to see because of Charles Cole's quick thinking that that became like the symbol of, you know, the Tiananmen Square uprising, like tank man just standing defiantly.
I wonder if you know the release date of the video footage. No, I don't. I know that stuff leaked out pretty quick. I imagine that everybody was kind of like, ho hum. I'm just leaving Beijing for no good reason. I'm a Western journalist, just traveling to Shanghai to fly back to London for no good reason. You don't need to search me for anything and just got out of there as fast as they could.
I just wonder if they released the footage after the photo had become released.
I'm not sure I know that there were a lot of journalists watching that at the time, including just, you know, text journalists, writers, I guess you'd call them that, that they were witnessing this and writing about it and memorizing and documenting it and the fact that they were left alive.
Let this idea get out because we'll see the Chinese government, like, squashed a memory of this. This is a lot of bears, a lot of resemblance to to the Tulsa race massacre. Yeah. You know, it just follows a lot of the the same key points. But to sum up, Tank Man, to wrap up his story after this, like you said, this weird dance goes on for a little while and he's just standing there and there's they're in a standoff.
It's between him and the tank. The guy runs it comes up on his bike and you could tell he's just kind of like you, OK, you need to get out of here. This is not going to go well for you. And that kind of cues up a couple of other guys who run into the frame of this video footage and just grab Tank Man and hustle him away. And there's some debate over who those people were and what became of tank man.
Some witnesses say, well, they were clearly, you know, members of the Communist Party, you know, secret police, and he was taken away and executed. But if you watch the footage to me, these are these are people who are getting him out of there to help him. That's how I thought it looked like to me. Yeah.
So they think the fact that the Chinese government did not parade this guy around, hold a public trial in probably a public execution to make an example out of him and the fact that no one has any idea what his name was and no one's ever said it was this guy definitively makes people think that he is still alive and hadn't told anybody that he made it out of there alive, basically.
Yeah. I really wonder. I mean, there have been various accounts over the years of who they think it was. Some people have even named individuals. Some people have said that, no, he was executed. Some people said no, he wasn't. Some people said he was incarcerated, never to be heard from again. And we just there's really no way of knowing. It is interesting to read all the accounts of what people think might have happened.
Yeah, I like to go with that. He was absorbed by a crowd and disappeared. I like to live, not disappeared, they disappeared like from the government's radar. Yeah, like at the end of victory, the great World War two soccer movie.
Oh, I never saw that one. Well, should I spoil it? Sure. I think again. Did they win? All right, if you want to see this movie, don't listen to this, people. OK, but the whole deal is as they stage the allies, prisoners of war stage the soccer match against Germany. But the real plan is that they are to escape during a tunnel in the locker room. Oh, no.
This ragtag team of soccer players that the prisoners assemble featuring Sylvester Stallone as the lone American in goal.
And they think that they can win the soccer game at halftime so they don't escape. They decide to not go and to play that soccer match. What? And they win.
And it's amazing. And the stadium field is stormed and they are absorbed by the crowd. And you see images of them getting hustled off and having, like street clothes put on them over their soccer uniforms. Right. And that's the end of the movie. It's great.
So they they were very fortunate that the crowd treated them that way, but they didn't know that that was going to happen. No, then that was one of the dumbest decisions ever made by a group of human beings in the world to try and win a soccer game instead of game, because it doesn't matter.
The soccer game doesn't matter. Oh, but it does. Keeping the freedom that matters. That was such a good movie. It's based on a real life true story. You know, I have no idea.
I don't think so. But it has to be. I have hope so.
OK, so anyway, we don't know what became of Tank Man, but the the his his image, they think or they say actually inspired a lot of those protests in Eastern Europe that it made the Communist Party so nervous for a while, Chuck, that they actually inspired those protesters to go all the way and actually led to the downfall of the USSR. What he did not lead to the downfall of was the Chinese Communist Party because they won. They they they went as far as they needed to go to make sure that they hold on to power like they went far beyond.
Like any reasonable point and engaged in civil war, a massacre of their own people just to hold on to power and keep things the way that they were. But one thing that really changed that directly came out of this June 1989 popular uprising was a shift toward economic reform that they had said, OK, you people, you want some economic reform, you want a bigger shot at life, you want more. You want to make more money. You want, you know, luxury brands to build malls and open up stores here.
We'll give you that. And they did. They opened up China to foreign investment. And I mean, we all know how that story went. This rise of China that we're seeing now and have been seeing for the last couple of decades directly came from the June 1989 uprisings and the decision for the government to say, OK, we'll open up some economic reform. Yeah, and in the end, like we said, you know, up to and perhaps more than ten thousand people murdered, at least six hundred people imprisoned.
I got to think it was much more than that. Oh, yeah. But that's from a human rights group called the the Di Hua Foundation and, you know, imprisoned for, you know, crimes against the government, reeducation camps, life sentences, supposedly in 2016. A man was supposedly the very last prisoner from the Tiananmen massacre to be released. Twenty seven years later. But who knows the truth?
And a lot I mean, a lot of public executions, like making examples out of people, scaring the bejesus out of the population, saying, like, this is what happens. Look what happens if you're a if you're anti-government. But again, they were they were doing it in a way saying, like, there is just a few people who are really against the government. We know you would never do this. And it really had this huge chilling effect on that.
And so they said, we'll give you economic reform. Do not ever ask for political reform again, because this is what happens when you do. We're in charge. We're keeping things the way they are, but we'll make it so you can have more money or whatever. And now China is basically like much wealthier. There's a huge middle class than there was before. But there's also a tremendous amount of inequality that wasn't there before. But you can also say, on the other hand, everybody was equally poor.
Now there's a lot less people who aren't poor. And even a lot of the poorer people are way better off than they were. But they still live under one of the most repressive regimes in the world. And that was the that was the trade off. That was the bargain that was made. Yeah. And you know what? There's one thing that I think I really learned from this, and it was that you have to nip corruption in the bud before it takes true root, because if you let your government and your leaders get away with corruption, they're going to try to get away with a little more and a little more and a little more.
And then before you know it, corruption is so entrenched in your government and in your society that the people who are in charge have so much to answer for. I have so much that they've done that they would not want people to know about, that they can't ever afford to let go of power. And so they will do anything to hold on to power, including murder their own people who try to take them out of power. And I mean, this happened in China.
But if it if it reaches that point, you could make a pretty good case that this could happen anywhere. Just that's what I took from it. You cannot as a society, you cannot as a political group of citizens, a citizenry put up with corruption, no matter how big or how small in your leaders, in your government, you can't do it.
Yeah, it's a man. What a time. But like you said, it's it's a cautionary tale for ever. Agreed.
Oh, one more thing, Chuck. They showed some they showed a picture of Tank Man to some kids from Beijing University when that documentary is made in 2006. And either either they pretended they didn't know who it was or they legit did not know what they were looking at. Yeah, it looked real to me, man. Yeah, but you could also make the case like this is such a taboo subject that you would pretend on camera to some Western journalists with government minders sitting right next to them or that.
No idea what it was. Yeah. Yeah.
Well, that's Tiananmen Square now, you know, and if you want to know more about it, there's a lot to read about it all over the Internet, thankfully, as long as you live outside of China.
Yes, but say all over one Internet. Right. And since Chuck said one Internet, time for listener mail.
Uh, this is which one should I read here? So, you know, let me read this. This was a this one just came in. This was a listener mail prediction that puts Jared from Subway to shame. Did you read this one?
No, I don't know which one that is. Uh, well, just sit back then and hold onto your seats, OK? Hey, guys, my family and I live in Oregon have been in lockdown for the past ten weeks. My husband is a firefighter, a paramedic. So we are really staying home so we can minimize the risk of spreading the virus because he has so much exposure due to his job. I am a substitute teacher and I'm not working right now, but I'm home schooling our kids age two, six and eight.
We're very lucky. My husband's job is essential, though, because so we're not in the position that so many Americans are in with losing. Both of our jobs, and when I'm not home schooling, I get to listen to as much stuff he should know as possible. So onto the reason I'm writing this, I was listening to the Globe of Death episode from December twenty seventeen, and I went back and listen to this. In fact, maybe we should play this one again.
So listen real well. Let me just read this.
We'll see if we need to. We'll play the entire episode in the listener mail now. Just the listener mail. Oh, gotcha. OK, the listener mail on this episode was really eerie. It's a woman who predicts the next global outbreak will be a flu pandemic and it calls on the government for cutting CDC funding to prepare for an event like this. It's very strange to be listening to this. Listen to me on the situation after being in quarantine.
I know you guys love it when your show predicts events. So I thought I would throw this out there. Thanks. You do all that you do to keep me sane and that I'm able to hear other grown ups talking about interesting talk topics.
My kids are always asking what I'm laughing at and then ask to hear what Josh and Chuck are saying. Thank you, guys. That is from Tiffany Howard.
And should we play a portion of that? Yeah, we should. All right.
Well, here's the listener mail from twenty seventeen and see if this is sounds a little eerie to you.
I'm going to call this flu epidemic, OK? Hey, guys, I'm a masters of public health candidate in Atlanta at Emory, and we spent a good amount of time discussing the flu. I remember you mentioning the Spanish flu and wondered if such an epidemic could happen again. Bad news as it can, and it probably will, according to public health scholars. That is the culprit is our meat industry, which keeps an overabundance of fowl and pigs in tight, unsanitary quarters because of the way this industry is growing.
And some might argue due to its lack of regulation, these unsafe conditions led to the rapid mutation of the virus. This, coupled with the ever decreasing CDC budget, makes it harder and harder for vaccine scientists to create accurate vaccines. On top of all that, the flu is seen as a low threat by most of our society, rendering us ill equipped and underprepared. Most people are scared of Ebola or other difficult to catch viruses.
However, influenza is a rapidly mutating and highly aggressive virus that is easily transmittable and is right here on our doorstep. Scientists predict the flu might be the next most deadly epidemic if we're not careful. My recommendation to our congresspeople stop cutting the CDC budget prevention is key and will probably sound like a quack not to me for real, but just wanted to spread a little knowledge and say, hey to my favorite podcasters. Thanks for putting on such an amazing show.
And that is from Jasmine. Wow, that was pretty eerie.
It turned out to be Dr. Deborah Burks herself. Oh, well, thanks, dude. That was a that was a good listener mail. And that was from Tiffany, you said? Yeah. That was from Tiffany. Thanks for that one, Tiffany. Thanks. Good catch. And thanks for letting us know that you guys are doing OK. Hang in there with the home schooling and hang in there. Everybody who whose job was not essential is on furlough or beating up the unemployment office website.
Hang in there, everybody, because things are going to get better and we will be here the whole time, too, OK? That's right.
OK, if you want to get in touch with us in the meantime to say hi or whatever, well, you can do it via email. How about that? Wrap it up, spank it on the bottom and send it off to stuff podcast and I heart radio dotcom.
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