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Sunday, May 29, 2011

READERS IN COUNCIL

Book challenges making of myth


Tokyo

I am baffled by Gregory Clark's May 26 letter, "The myth of Tiananmen Square," suggesting I have been taken in by the myth about a massacre in Tiananmen Square, since we seem to agree on the central point of where the killings took place.

In my April 17 review of Philip Cunningham's superb book, "Tiananmen Moon: Inside the Chinese Student Uprising," I never suggest that any killing happened in Tiananmen Square, nor does the author. Clark notes that the killings took place on the roads to the square. In the first sentence of my review, drawing on Cunningham's firsthand account, I wrote, "This is a gripping story told with page-turning brio by an American who had ringside seats for the gathering student protests in May 1989 that ended in the early hours of June 4 with the massacre of hundreds of protesters by security forces in the streets and alleys off Tiananmen Square in Beijing."

Thus Clark has invented a disagreement, since we and Cunningham agree that the killing of demonstrators by state security forces happened in the vicinity of Tiananmen Square, not on the hallowed ground itself. Clark refers favorably to the quote I cited from Cunningham's interview with Chai Ling, a student protest leader, that indicates students sought bloody clashes. So, how am I perpetuating the myth?

Clark suggests that Chai Ling's admission is why "Beijing remains uptight about the whole affair," but I think that the killing of hundreds of demonstrators (Cunningham's estimate) is the main reason it remains a taboo topic, and that the students in 1989 were protesting Communist Party corruption and nepotism, charges that resonate powerfully in contemporary China.

I urge Clark and other readers to read Cunningham's excellent account, one that challenges denial and mythmaking about Tiananmen Square.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.


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