The Fate of the Tiananmen Students and the Story of Edward Snowden

This post by Ron Unz made me wonder: What really happened when student protesters were removed from Tiananmen Square 25 years ago? Unz pointed to a strange website with undated blog posts (mentioned earlier), which claimed that the students were not harmed, in contrast to the usual Western view that many were harmed, even killed. I didn’t take the website seriously but I had to admit my ignorance.

I asked several Chinese friends about it. One dared reply. She wrote:

My mom once told me that she was near Beijing when the event happened. She said everything is a mess, no one can go into or out from Beijing. The army is everywhere and people are all in an angry mood, no matter the a-rmy (try to pass the possible check so use -) or the citizens. She said the students are innocent, they didn’t start the whole thing. And indeed the army was hurt first. But students are young and easy to be incited. Once the army began to take serious method, they didn’t care whether you are a student or a mob or a citizen, some innocent students hurt in the turmoil and other students try to gather together to fight back. Then everything began to lose control. After this event, all the students who participate in the sit-in were sent to poor countryside far away and never get a chance to get back to big cities in their whole life. (At that time, all the students are getting job position directly from the govern-ment, they don’t have options to choose.) My mom told me some female students were sent to countryside and raped by the local people, or have to marry to the local farmers even they have high education.

All the student protesters, according to my friend’s mother, “were sent to poor countryside” for the rest of their lives. I hadn’t read this anywhere, including Wikipedia. The fate of the protesters was far worse than I had been told by Western media.

My friend’s mother could be wrong. Even eyewitnesses can be wrong. But what people actually say, the story they tell, matters infinitely more than the truth.

I am optimistic that the story of Edward Snowden will begin to change how we talk about whistleblowing. Recent stories are not encouraging. Mark Whitacre (Archer Daniels Midland) spent 8 years in prison. That he suffered from bipolar disorder might be taken to mean that only crazy people whistleblow. Jeffrey Wigand (tobacco) was played in a movie by Russell Crowe but went from a $300,000+/year job to a $30,000/year job. Bradley Manning faces a very long prison sentence. Julian Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for a year, afraid to leave.

Whereas Edward Snowden, whose leaked information is at least as important, has not yet suffered terrible or even humiliating consequences. Maybe he will live the rest of his life in Iceland — as a hero. He won’t just have released enormously useful information, he will have set an encouraging example. That might be his biggest effect on the world.

4 Replies to “The Fate of the Tiananmen Students and the Story of Edward Snowden”

  1. I hope it works out for him, but I fear it won’t.

    It would’ve been smarter not to have gone public until he was already physically in Iceland.

  2. I’ve seen him accused of being unAmerican. Fair enough: the little bit I saw of him on the telly showed him not to be verbose, sentimental, ignorant or loud. Americans on the telly are rarely like that.

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