The masters of China must have been holding their breath that day: would the soldiers follow their orders? Would the rebellion shrink away, or metastasize? You really never know.
By night, the masters of China could exhale.
Judicial reprisals were mere days in commencing … and June 21 appears to mark the first known executions* resulting from that tragic movement. And while most “perpetrators” didn’t die for the affair, it seems from the distance of a generation as if their cause did.
Despite the harsh crackdown on protest, Chinese leaders and mass media have been almost desperately urging foreign businesses to maintain their ties with the country.
The New China News Agency carried a whole series of reports aimed at promoting international economic ties. These included:
– A report that foreign businesses will in the future be permitted to set up officially recognized chambers of commerce in China.
– An announcement that 10 large international industrial exhibitions will be held this year in Shanghai.
– A report that a Japanese businessman said investors from his country have confidence in China’s economy. “Some businessmen from the United States and the European Community have expressed their desire to continue to invest in China,” the report added.
– A statement by Ma Shizhong, vice governor of Shandong province, stressing that his part of China has “a favorable environment for import of foreign capital and introduction of up-to-date overseas technology.”
Only eleven days after the June 4th massacre that cleared Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the first trial of pro-democracy protesters saw three workers condemned to death in Shanghai.
According to this pdf on the aftermath of Tiananmen, Xu Guoming, a brewery worker, Bian Hanwu, unemployed, and Yan Xuerong, a factory worker, were all convicted of “setting fire to a train and indiscriminate destruction of transport and transport equipment in a serious riot at the Guangxin Road Rail Crossing of Huning Railroad on June 6.”
According to Nick Kristof, that “riot” had been a sit-in on a rail line to protest the June 4 military incursion — until a train actually rammed the demonstrators, who retaliated by torching the machine. Some firefighters were beaten in the disturbance, but nobody was killed.
For their part in this — whatever part that was — Xu, Bian and Yan were deprived of their political rights, and expeditiously shot on June 21. Eight other people got prison sentences shortly thereafter for the same “riot”, having pleaded guilty (all but one of them) to “smashing railway cars, setting fire to nine railway cars and six public security motorcycles, turning over police boxes, beating up firemen to impede them from putting the fire out and fabricating rumors to mislead the people.”
Lin Zhaorong, Zhang Wenkui, Chen Jian, Zu Jianjun, Wang Hanwu, Luo Hongjun, and Ban Huijie, meanwhile, were sentenced for “vandalism and arson in a counter-revolutionary riot” on June 17, 1989, by the Beijing Intermediate People’s Court — stuff like burning a military vehicle, looting supplies from it, and beating up (although again, not killing) a soldier.
(This pdf gives the execution date as June 22; most other sources list June 21.)
An eighth member of their same party, Wang Lianxi, received a suspended death sentence instead. She was spared.
State radio reported that 10,000 people attended the trial, which meted out 45 sentences in all on a variety of charges and is said to have mixed political prisoners with common criminals.
We note in passing a gentleman who has never qualified for an entry in this blog, and we hope never will.
The identity and fate of the figure at the center of those protests’ most indelible images, the so-called “Tank Man”, remain an enduring mystery.
There exist widespread rumors and ill-substantiated press reports of his execution. But who Tank Man was and what really became of him remains utterly unknown.
* Amnesty International’s appeal for the three workers — and this is the Spanish version; if the English is available, I have not found it — very plausibly alleges that secret, summary executions were already underway before this date’s grim milestone.
On this date in 1924, a group of Japanese Oomoto* sect members was lined up for execution by a Manchurian warlord — only to be saved at the last moment by the intervention of the Japanese consulate.
These inordinately lucky folk were the remnants of a bizarre “spiritual army” under Onisaburo Deguchi, who set out to plant a utopian colony on the Mongolian steppe.
Onisaburo (left) and Ueshiba, shackled together for deportation after their near-execution. Onisaburo’s part of this image looks a little touched-up.
Oomoto got started as a splinter sect from Shinto with an illiterate peasant woman named Nao Deguchi, who began receiving spiritual visions in the in the 1890′s. Onisaburo was her follower, and then her son-in-law, and certainly the foundling cult’s greatest exponent.
With his guidance, it blossomed as one of the early 20th century’s most successful “new religions”, a term encompassing the dizzying array of novel religious movements in Japan after the Meiji Restoration.**
A born showman and innovative communicator, Onisaburo was a natural to
[mediate] between traditional and modern Japan in a time of national transformation.
… he was no less a master at what Eric Hobsbawm termed the “invention of tradition.” …
Onisaburo’s imaginative rituals and personal presentation (he loved to star in movies, and to dress as a shaman or Shinto deity) combined enough folk tradition to seem familiar, yet always with a new twist suggesting up-to-date modernity and “scientific” awareness to boot.
In private communication with this site, Ellwood compared the advent of new religions like Oomoto to the roughly contemporaneous advent in the west of movements like Christian Science and Religious Science. Both of these, like Oomoto, explicitly aimed to yoke tradition and modernity together.
“In Japan the leap from a closed-off feudal society to a modern industrial powerhouse was particularly profound, and naturally disturbing to a lot of ordinary people,” Ellwood said. “The new religions tried to combine old and new, giving people baffled by change and the breakup of traditional peasant communities and ways of life something to hold on to. They said in effect, ‘We understand your problems; we can show how it all makes sense, how it will come out good in the end, and how you can fit in, be part of exciting times, and gain power in the process.’”
Onisaburo’s brand of evangelical, grassroots millenialism hit the big time in the 1910s and 1920s.
It also attracted official censure from authorities wary of deviation from the official Shinto religion.
Onisaburo did a short stint in prison for subversion in 1921, and shifted his attentions abroad.
“Onisaburo considered himself strongly internationalist in an idealistic way, and therefore was led to challenge the increasing nationalism of his time and even the Emperor himself, whereas many of the other new religions accommodated themselves to the prevailing political currents,” Ellwood observed. Later, Onisaburo would actually be prosecuted for lese majeste for his insufficient accommodation to imperial authority.
At any rate, as part of feeling out the proper spiritual direction after his first stint as a ward of the state, Onisaburo and some followers quietly slipped out of Japan in early 1924.
They made for Manchuria, then a de facto independent principality under the Tokyo-allied warlord Zhang Zuolin.
There, they recruited one of Zhang’s subordinates on a mission to form up a “spiritual army” to invade Outer Mongolia.
According to Stalker, this adventure initially had Zhang’s blessing — but he quickly soured on the freelance militia, a leader now calling himself the Dalai Lama, and the gang’s escalating aspiration to unite all of Mongolia on his borders. Zhang surrounded and suppressed the expedition, summarily executing most of the Chinese personnel.
Even if my body is exposed
on the plains of Mongolia
I will still keep the dignity of a Japanese
I will ascend to Heaven and protect
not only Japan but the whole world
Far away from Japan
I will now join the gods
in the sky of Mongolia
But the execution was dramatically aborted when Onisaburo was fortuitously able to hail a Japanese consular official who protected his countrymen.
Scarcely chastened — indeed, the adventure with its miraculous escape drew romantic media coverage back home — Onisaburo returned to Japan to rebuild Oomoto. He would continue dabbling in both internationalism (Oomoto adopted the sometimes-persecuted artificial language Esperanto) and Japan’s right-wing fringe (Stalker says that Onisaburo wisely declined Ikki Kita‘s invitation to finance a disastrous right-wing revolt).
Oomoto was violently suppressed in the 1930s, but retained many adherents and still exists today.
Martial artist Morihei Ueshiba was one of Onisaburo’s disciples to escape execution this date. Upon returning to Japan, the man parted ways with Oomoto and instead created the martial art form aikido.
* Alternatively, Omoto, or Omotokyo.
** And continuing to the present day. While Oomoto is also a going concern, the “new religion” most widely familiar to most readers will be the Aum Shinrikyo sect — notorious for carrying out the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
This master’s thesis (pdf) sets the scene for new religions (and specifically Oomoto) in early 20th century Japan.