Chinese try to buy off the protests Unease fills streets

Tiananmen Anniversary: Recent action by Christians and farmers fuels leaders' ever-present fear of the crowd
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The Independent Online
NO PLAQUE marks the spot where, 10 years ago tonight, the pavements turned red with blood. Instead, newly built traffic flyovers dominate this intersection at Muxidi in the west of Peking. Here, just before midnight, the first shots rang out in what was to be a night of slaughter as the People's Liberation Army blasted its way through the city to Tiananmen Square.

Hao Zhijing, 30, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was killed in the first volley at Muxidi, shot in the chest. Xiao Bo, a 27- year-old chemistry teacher at Peking University, was felled nearby while trying to persuade his students to leave the area.

Wang Chao, 30, a computer company employee who had been married just one month, died soon after. Others, their names unknown to the outside world, were among the thousands of local residents who had turned out to block the path of the advancing troops, only to be killed or badly injured.

These days, the vast Soviet-style residential apartment buildings for civil servants still flank the road at Muxidi. "I can never forget. So many people died," said a woman in her sixties yesterday. "They even shot at our building."

Jiang Jielian, a 17-year-old schoolboy, was among the first to die at Muxidi. His mother, Ding Zilin, a 63-year-old university professor, has never visited the place where her only child was killed, but had planned to go today.

"This year I thought I should be stronger, make an offering of a cup of wine and flowers ... I just want quietly to mourn him. But it seems impossible," she said. Since 4 May, Mrs Ding has been under effective house arrest. She is the driving force behind efforts by relatives to list more than 150 massacre victims and to launch legal action over the killings. Tonight she and her husband will honour their son's memory at home, where his ashes are kept.

"The country does not allow any different voices. They killed so many people 10 years ago, they are scared in their heart. The government is afraid of me showing up in the street," said Mrs Ding. The total number of dead is believed to be in the hundreds, possibly thousands.

Students started the Tiananmen Square protests, but the majority who died were ordinary citizens and workers. They received the harshest sentences, including execution. By the end of May, factory workers and new independent trade unions had joined the protests in huge numbers, rallying to such students' banners as "Down with corrupt officials" and "We want free speech".

Then, as now, it was an alliance between intellectuals and disgruntled workers which the government most feared. While the West looked upon the Tiananmen Square demonstrations as a pro-democracy movement, for many of the Chinese taking part the issues were more practical. They were angry about high inflation which had sharply eroded their salaries, and the corruption of government officials who had lined their pockets during the first decade of the economic reforms.

Bao Tong, who was a top-level aide to the then reformist party chief, Zhao Ziyang, said this week in a video message smuggled out of Peking: "Who enjoyed the fruits of reform? Was it the majority of China's common people, or was it the small number of people with power and influence that reaped the greatest benefits? This was ... the practice of profiteering, and the abuse of connections ... This situation caused great discontent among the people of China." Mr Bao was jailed for seven years after 1989, the most senior party official to be sentenced.

Today, corruption remains rife, and anger over inflation has been replaced by growing discontent over soaring unemployment amid a faltering economy. The economic boom of the early 1990s has burnt itself out, and laid-off workers regularly stage strikes and demonstrations. The greatest challenge for China's leaders is maintaining social control.

Just last week, three labour rights campaigners went on trial for subversion, having allegedly tried to organise workers laid off by a state-run firm in Gansu province. Among their grievances was the belief that, although unemployment pay had stopped, the bosses of the loss-making firm had bought themselves apartments and spent pounds 40,000 on entertainment and junkets.

The government views any social gathering as a potential threat to stability. Last Sunday, around 500 Christians in Xian, central China, clashed with police while trying to prevent the closure of the city's oldest church, which is to be turned over to commercial use after its congregation had grown to more than 2,000.

In rural areas, the past year has seen large demonstrations by peasants infuriated about the illegal taxes imposed on them by local party cadres. The biggest known protest involved 5,000 farmers in Hunan province, and one man was killed in the police crackdown.

Peking's recipe for stability is massive government spending on infrastructure. In the months leading up to the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic, on 1 October, the authorities are also developing and beautifying Peking.

In 1989, after the troops had stormed their way east from Muxidi towards Tiananmen down the main East-West artery of the city, people renamed the road "Blood Boulevard". Today, the route is the scene of frantic renovation. At Muxidi itself, the workers have just finished laying new, decorative paving stones - coloured pink.