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Panel reflects on Tiananmen protests

  • The way we saw it
    The way we saw it  Panelists for the forum marking the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre included (l to r) Amb. James R. Lilley (ret), Colonel Larry M. Wortzel (ret), Mike Chinoy and Wang Dan - all key participants in China during the crisis. Pictured back left, forum moderator Sophia Hart, visiting assistant professor of government.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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The world will soon mark the 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that occurred in Beijing, China in the spring of 1989. Key participants in the event and its aftermath gathered at William & Mary April 22 for a discussion of the events’ impacts and the Chinese and U.S. governments’ responses.

“You could go anywhere in the world and a thorough discussion of the events surrounding Tiananmen Square would include these participants,” said Sophia Hart, visiting assistant professor of government, who moderated the discussion.

The forum, sponsored by the college’s Government Department and Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies, brought together Ambassador James R. Lilley (ret.), U.S. Ambassador to China at the time of the Tiananmen Square Protests; Colonel Larry M. Wortzel (ret.), assistant Army attaché at the U.S. Embassy in China from 1988 to 1990; Wang Dan, Tiananmen dissident; and Mike Chinoy, former CNN reporter who covered the Tiananmen Protests in 1989.

The panel discussed what sparked the student protests and the ramifications of the Chinese government response.

Wang, who was jailed in China for his participation in the protests, said the students and their protests have been unjustly blamed for curtailing reform in China. It is corruption, Wang said, that is “currently the greatest obstacle to reform in China.”

In the future Wang said he’d like to see the U.S. and others focus on China’s civil society. “Western countries should turn their attention to the growing civil society in China,” he said. “That would be dealing with the China of tomorrow.”

Chinoy said that CNN’s real-time, live coverage of unfolding events in Tiananmen was the first of its kind. He also noted the coverage of the protests had “fundamentally reshaped U.S. impressions of China.”

Still Chinoy, who spent 24 years as a foreign correspondent for CNN - including eight years as the network’s first Bureau Chief in Beijing, said he feels the Tiananmen events put a disproportionate blight on China.

“Tiananmen Square notwithstanding,” he said. “If you compare the last 20 years to the previous 30 years, I think arguably [the last 20] could be the best in their history.”

Yet, Wortzel noted, the ramifications of the event are still being felt.

“Tiananmen Square is the ultimate backdrop to the massive threat the communist party [in China] still fears,” he said.