Foreword to ‘The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth’
Wu Renhua | China Change
This article was first published on China Change website on May 29, 2017
Wu Renhua is a unique scholar. For over 20 years he has been immersed in the primary source materials about what Chinese authorities call “the June 4th incident,” and what is known around the world as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. His academic training of nearly a decade was in ancient Chinese historiography — a set of research methodologies that he never expected he would apply to unraveling the genesis, execution, and aftermath of the bloody slaughter of unarmed students and Beijing residents in 1989. Wu was a junior faculty member of the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing at the time of the protests, in which he was also a participant. He was one of the last to leave Tiananmen Square in the early morning of June 4; on his way back to his college residence he witnessed tanks crushing students in Liubukou. In February 1990 he swam four hours through the Zhujiang River Estuary from Zhuhai to Macau, then made his way to Hong Kong and finally the United States. He edited Press Freedom Herald, a pro-democracy magazine, for 15 years. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
China Change has undertaken a translation, performed by Matthew Robertson, of the first chapter of The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth (《六四事件中的戒严部队》), one of Wu Renhua’s three books on the 1989 movement. The other two books are The Bloody Clearing of Tiananmen Square: The Inside Story and The Full Record of the Tiananmen Movement.
The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth was first published in 2009 in Chinese, and a revised edition was published in 2016. It has not yet appeared in English. It is an exhaustive, meticulous account of the decision-making process behind the command to impose martial law in Beijing and, later, open fire on the students; the command and control structure of the military; the manner in which commands were communicated through the ranks; the marshalling of military forces and their composition; the routes they took to Tiananmen; the countermeasures established by the military to guard against a coup; the clearing of the square; the reasons for the savagery of the troops; the rewards later given to officers and soldiers, and more. The bulk of the book is dedicated to a minute analysis of the force composition of each of the group armies mobilized for the massacre, the routes they took, the orders they received, and in some cases the specific actions of specific units, and even individual officers and soldiers.
The foreword to the book and the section headings of the first chapter are presented for readers below as the 28th anniversary of the massacre approaches. — The Editors
The foremost question in any study of the 1989 Beijing massacre is the mobilization of a fully-armed military force for the slaughter of peaceful students and protesters. When discussing the “truth” of the June 4 incident, the most important truth to be discussed is this. As a participant in the protests, a witness to the killings, and a scholar with a background in Chinese historical research, I’ve worked for years to gather documentary materials about the June 4 incident and to explore the truth of the massacre that took place. My previous book, The Bloody Clearing of Tiananmen Square: The Inside Story, was a careful documentation of the entire process by which the square, and surrounding area, was cleared. The current volume is an examination of the PLA units that were ordered into Beijing to impose martial law. It is, therefore, testimony to another side of the truth of the June 4 massacre.
This book was conceived in March 1990, soon after I had escaped the mainland by swimming across the bay to Zhuhai and then to Hong Kong. I’m indebted to the veteran journalist Ching Cheong who gave me the book One Day Of Martial Law that provided a preliminary explanation of the June 4 martial law troop deployments. The detailed arrangements for the mass use of lethal force by Party leader Deng Xiaoping and his key supporter and senior military leader Yang Shangkun shocked me deeply. At the same time, there was much left to clarify: the order to open fire, the unit designators of the martial law troops, the number of troops involved, and more. So I made a vow: I would cast a vast net to collect material, begin a detailed study, and write a volume specifically dedicated to the martial law troops of June 4. This would also be a recording of the decision-makers and executors of the June 4 massacre, ensuring that all their names were listed in history’s hall of shame.
To this day, the June 4 massacre remains an area of inquiry forbidden by the Chinese Communist Party. This made writing a book about the subject particularly challenging. The first problem is a grave lack of data and the absence of officially-produced reliable materials. The second issue relates to the Chinese military itself and in particular the difficulty in finding information on the units involved in the imposition of martial law. Chinese communist historiography has always regarded military affairs as a state secret. Every PLA unit has a numerical unit designator, and every organizational unit in, for instance, the 38th Army Group, has a code name at the regimental level or above. All public references to the unit use this code name. The most well-known are Central Guard Unit, which goes by the code “8341.” Thus, even the unit designators are secret and not allowed to be used — code names are used instead. On top of this is the extreme political sensitivity of the June 4 massacre, which has been blotted out of official Communist Party literature. This extends to propaganda about the successes of “suppressing the counterrevolutionary riot,” and the material regarding awards given to “Guardians of the Republic” — not only are the unit designators absent, but even the code names for the units are elided, making it almost impossible to determine from the official materials which soldiers and officers were in which units.
To my great fortune, I specialized in classical historical and documentary research at Peking University, undergoing seven years of professional training in bibliographical studies, bibliology, historiography, and textual criticism, first obtaining a Bachelor’s degree and then a Master’s. Furthermore, prior to entering university, I was an enlisted soldier in the PLA at a border defense garrison, and thus have a certain foundational knowledge about the Chinese military and its organization. With this background, and after many years of assiduous effort, the secrets hidden in materials about the June 4 martial law troops were slowly revealed, and I was able to verify each and every one of the unit designation numbers, which provided the foundation for this volume. On the basis of this — having cracked the code and discovered the unit designators — related materials fell into place and were able to act as mutual-supporting verification for official documents that had previously been a mystery. Thus, formerly worthless propaganda material celebrating the “suppression of the counterrevolutionary riot” assumed an immediate value, and the position of the PLA’s Command Center for Clearing the Square, as well as the forward deployments of military units, became clear.
Writing this book was a grueling process — but since it involved the constant unraveling of surprises in the primary sources and the solving of riddle after riddle, it was also a process full of delight and surprise. I regularly commented to my friends, half in jest, half in earnest, that I never thought that I would find myself, exiled in the United States, separated by so many years of my study of classical documentary research and textual criticism, able to put to full use the things I studied at university. Perhaps in all this, the hand of providence is at work.
To this day, this is the first work to clarify the unit designators of the martial law troops of June 4, along with the number of soldiers. This includes the 24th Army Group, 27th Army Group, 28th Army Group, 38th Army Group, 63rd Army Group, and 65th Army Group under the Beijing Military District; the 39th Army Group, 40th Army Group, and 64th Army Group under the command of the Shenyang Military District; the 20th Army Group, 26th Army Group, 54th Army Group, and 67th Army Group under the Jinan Military District; the 12th Army Group under the Nanjing Military District; the 15th Airborne Corps under the direct command of the Central Military Commission; the 14th Division Artillery under the Beijing Military District; the 1st and 3rd Security Divisions of the Beijing Garrison Command; the 1st Tank Division of the Tianjin Garrison; and the Beijing Municipal People’s Armed Police Corps. In total, this comprised over 200,000 troops.
The current volume devotes one chapter to enumerating these units and describing, blow-by-blow, their actions — from when they received orders to enter Beijing until they received the command to clear Tiananmen Square, including the routes and methods by which they entered the capital, the manner in which they cleared Tiananmen, and so on.
Another chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the order to open fire, as well as other questions about the June 4 massacre that are of widespread interest. This chapter is broken into 14 parts, and includes discussion of: the origin and decision-making process behind declaring martial law in Beijing, the deployments of the martial law troops in Beijing, the military unit designators and number of troops involved, the measures to ward against an internal coup d’état or mutiny in the military, the routes by which PLA troops entered Beijing, the specific orders given in the clearing of Tiananmen Square, the goals and itinerary of the martial law troops, the specifics of the orders to open fire, the circumstances surrounding the clearance of Tiananmen Square, the helplessness of unarmed students in confronting a highly armed opponent, the list of names of officers and soldiers awarded and promoted for their involvement, the deaths of paramilitary and military troops, the reason the martial law troops were so savage in their killing, and the wild retribution visited upon protesters by martial law troops after the incident.
The current volume provides what is to date the complete list of military officials who were promoted due to their roles in the June 4 massacre, including a partial list of the officers and soldiers involved in the incident. This includes their military unit designators, positions, and ranks — a list of over 2,000 names. These individuals may not all be personally responsible for the June 4 massacre, but they are at the very least eyewitnesses, and they have a responsibility and a duty to testify as to what they did and witnessed all those years ago.
Given China’s current political circumstances, the only way that the full truth of the June 4 incident will be told is through the joint effort and work of scholars and insiders. Obviously, the largest and most important group of insiders knowledgeable about the crackdown are the soldiers and military officials involved. Unfortunately, however, to this day there are only two soldiers involved in the massacre who have emerged to speak about their experiences. The first is First Lieutenant Li Xiaoming, a radar station master in the 116th anti-aircraft artillery Division, 39th Army Group, who resides in Melbourne, Australia. Li spoke about his experiences at a press conference in New York City on May 30, 2002. The other is Zhang Shijun, a soldier in the 162nd Infantry Division, 54th Army Group, who lives at Number 35, Lane 2, Shanguonan Road, Tengzhou City, Shandong Province; he wrote about his experience in an open letter to then-Chinese leader Hu Jintao on March 6, 2009. In the early hours of March 30, he was arrested and detained for over 10 days.
I look forward to any material and research leads that readers may be able to provide about the martial law troops of June 4, so that this text may be further revised, supplemented, and updated.