China’s 1980s and its Denouement on 4 June 1989


‘Open Source’, a program based in Boston, MA, North America, calls itself ‘an American conversation with global attitude’. Initially a podcast it is now a weekly show on 90.9 WBUR, broadcasting on Thursday nights at 21:oo and on Sundays at 2:00 pm. It is a program that draws on its roots in Boston and works to remind listeners why that city has been the capital of ideas in America since the heyday of Emerson and Thoreau in the 1840s.

‘Open Source’ is hosted by Christopher Lydon, a journalist who covered politics for The New York Times from its Washington bureau in the 1970s. He hosted The Ten O’Clock News on WGBH TV through the 1980s and he co-founded and hosted The Connection on WBUR in the 1990s.

Chris invited me to discuss the events of 1989, and the background to the Beijing Massacre of 4 June on a program that also involved the art historian Eugene Wang 汪悅進 and the writer Zha Jianying 查建英.

My thanks to Eugene and to William Kirby for suggesting that Chris contact me when I was visiting New York to address a forum on China at the Asia Society at the invitation of Kevin Rudd.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
10 June 2019



June Fourth, 1989, 2019:

Tiananmen Square and China’s 1980s

Tiananmen Square and China’s 1980s

Chris Lydon


China in the 1980s can sound like a Paradise Lost — paradise crushed by tanks on Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, paradise erased by massacre and state propaganda ever since, an unmarked memory hole. Except that people remember: the freedom of Democracy Wall; longhair students steeped in Confucian classics but sampling Virginia Woolf and Nietzsche for the first time, and dancing to Bob Dylan. Cosmopolitanism was in: Mao was dead, and Time magazine made the new ginger man Deng Xiaoping its man-of-the-year. John Denver of Rocky Mountain High cheered China’s long march to modernization. Bob Hope cracked jokes and swung his golf club in an NBC special from Tiananmen Square—till, poof, everything changed.

What we know of Tiananmen Square is mostly the tanks turned against plain people 30 years ago. What’s just as compelling in restored memory is the charged air of hope and possibility in Tiananmen, and in China of the 80s, until just days before the crackdown, the end of reform. Tiananmen Square had more and bigger Speakers’ Corners than Hyde Park in London: students, workers, artists plying agendas; musicians trying tunes, rehearsing democracy, you could have supposed. It was a romantic proving ground of blooming civic virtue and community spirit, and the American audience loved it, too.

Chris Lydon interviews: