Crisis In China Shocks Visitor Far From Home

Posted: June 08, 1989

Zheng Guoqiang sat in a lawn chair 6,000 miles from the bloodshed, the bullets and the pain in Tiananmen Square. He wanted answers, but he found only metaphors.

"I'm shocked by troops moving into Beijing," said Zheng, a Chinese professor visiting Bucks County Community College. "It is a foolish and shocking action. . . . The people are like the water and the government is the boat. But the water can overturn the boat so the government must listen."

Zheng is patching together news accounts and infrequent letters from home to keep up with the democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, which he asserts are ushering in a new, and sometimes painful, era in China. His heart is with the students. "I think they are very positive for the future of China. They are patriots," he said. "But maybe they have not taken appropriate actions."

Zheng arrived in February at Bucks County Community College, where he taught Chinese culture and gave numerous lectures. Later this summer, Zheng, 34, will attend the University of Toledo for his doctorate in American history.

His wife and their 6-year-old daughter have remained in their home in Tianjin, about 80 miles from Beijing. Zheng teaches at Tianjin Normal University. "Right now I am trying to get visas to bring my family here," he said. In the mornings, Zheng works at a McDonald's near Newtown. "I want to taste the American life," he quipped.

But Zheng's thoughts are all on China. A thin man, whose eyes close completely when he smiles, Zheng balls his sinewy fists when he speaks of tanks rolling and students dying in Tiananmen Square. "It's just shocking. . . . When the TV cameras were barred I saw that something serious was happening. The Chinese leaders have their own concepts of social order. They are sensitive to outside opinion but they act regardless of it."

It is such contradictions that have led to China's current turmoil, Zheng said. Like the Soviet Union, China is trying to instill in its Communist system a more democratic government and economy, Zheng said. The speed and breadth of the effort to achieve a more open society have pitted the government's hardliners against its moderates. For now, the hardliners, led by Premier Li Peng, have gained control and are unleashing troops against the protesting students.

Zheng said he also believed that change of such magnitude in China will move slowly. "There will be steps forward and steps back," he said. "The students are thinking that they are trying their best to struggle for the future of China. But the leaders think these demonstrations are just riots. . . . In the future there has to be more of an understanding between the two.

"I think it is a major milestone," he continued. "It shows the people want to do something for themselves and their country. The Chinese have been in isolation for 1,000 years." Zheng said he believed that use of force against the students would not deter future demonstrators. "I think they will plan some other actions."

China, Zheng said, is committed to modernizing its industries and economy. ''China really wants to learn something from the outside world, especially in science and technology," he said. This will require expanding its markets with the United States and other countries.

"In the year 2000, I think the people of China will be better off," Zheng said. "Chinese industry will be modernized to some extent and the people will have more of a say in their future destiny."

Zheng, who has walked the vastness of Tiananmen Square, past Chairman Mao's tomb and the Forbidden City, said, "That square is symbolic of China." It is the place where demonstrators brought down the Gang of Four - the radical leaders who seized power during the 1966-67 Cultural Revolution - and, later, ended the Cultural Revolution. Can the current unrest compare with Mao's Cultural Revolution? "There is no way to say," Zheng said. "These are different times."

But, Zheng said, the protests in Tiananmen Square reveal that Chinese students and intellectuals have become infatuated with the ideals of the West, especially those from the United States. The Voice of America is extremely popular in China, Zheng said, adding, "China now has rock-and-roll and people know about the Statue of Liberty . . . but the U. S. is not a perfect country."

Of his countrymen, Zheng said, "Since China has been opening up to the world, people's eyes have been opened."

Zheng has found that being in a foreign country when one's homeland is being jolted by change is frustrating. He wants to read the Chinese newspapers. He wants to talk to fellow teachers and students in his native tongue. But most of all, Zheng said he wanted to "see the demonstrations with my own eyes."

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