China Witness, 1989

In response to: China’s Spring from the June 29, 1989 issue

To the Editors:

The absolute cynicism displayed by the current Chinese leadership as they present their version of this spring’s events in Beijing and other cities offers a special challenge to the historian: that of assembling the factual record before it disappears altogether. Only thus, it seems to me, can we pay meaningful homage to the courage of the pro-democracy demonstrators, both those so callously killed, and those who have survived.

Once that record has been assembled, there may be a chance to move toward other actions that would vindicate their commitment to non-violence. One such action is to nominate some groups of the demonstrators for the Nobel Peace Prize. Several people in the United States have begun to take steps in that direction, among them fifty-five MacArthur Fellows, at a meeting two weeks ago in Chicago. But to be effective, such nominations must be well based on specific evidence, and that is exactly what the Chinese government is seeking to make impossible.

In an attempt to preserve the mixed and fugitive materials on what has just occurred in China, the Yale archives staff have now established a special program to receive and preserve all testimony on the 1989 prodemocracy demonstrations, on their suppression, and on the identity of the victims. They seek material in any format that may help in this endeavor: personal reminiscences and firsthand observations (in Chinese, English or any other language), pamphlets, clippings, tapes, videos, photographs, fax prints, electronic mailings, transcripts of phone calls, etc. Anyone with relevant materials is asked to send them to: “China Witness 1989,” c/o Katharine Morton, Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Memorial Library, P.O. Box 1603A Yale Station, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.

It would be particularly helpful to this venture if those reading this letter who have friends recently returned from China would pass on the message to them.

Jonathan D. Spence
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut