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Monday, June 3, 2019


Dear reader,

The 30th anniversary of June Fourth is here, and a short roundup of recently published stories worth checking out related to the infamous crackdown are included at the bottom of this email. One common misconception to address is that Tiananmen is “forgotten” in China. Despite what the BBC may want you to believe based strictly on Beijing residents’ immediate reaction to the “Tank Man” image, the memory of Tiananmen lives on, even in China. Here are a few examples to think about:

  • Eric Fish in TIME: “While researching a book on Chinese millennials and their relationship with the state, I interviewed at length more than 130 youths from across the socioeconomic and geographic spectrums. Those conversations would usually find their way to Tiananmen Square, but one of the biggest surprises was that often I wasn’t the one who brought it up…Overall, complete ignorance of Tiananmen among my interviewees by the time they reached their 20s was the exception rather than the norm.”

  • Kaiser Kuo on SupChina: “I’ve been told by many Chinese people that they’ve deliberately told foreign reporters asking them about the suppression of the student uprising in Beijing that they knew nothing about it, because it was the fastest way out of a conversation that to them had no upside at all.”

  • Anonymous contributor to ChinaFile conversation: “I personally disagree with the narrative that the younger generation, especially the generation under 25, does not know or is not interested in June Fourth. It is not true from what I have observed of the young people I know. I am studying in the U.S. now, and my young friends are very curious about and eager to know the truth.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis, Associate Editor

From the Chinese government to McConnell’s back pocket

Mike Forsythe, Eric Lipton, Keith Bradsher, and Sui-Lee Wee of the New York Times have a massive investigative story (porous paywall) on the family business and political connections of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao (趙小蘭 Zhào Xiǎolán). Secretary Chao is married to Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, and has served in both Bush administrations, so her connections in American politics are well known.

Here are some key findings the Times made about her family’s connections in China, and how they have formed a foundation of her husband’s political fortune:

  • The American Embassy in Beijing raised ethics questions after Secretary Chao requested to include “relatives who were fairly wealthy and connected to the shipping industry” in meetings in China in 2017. Those meetings were later “abruptly canceled.”

  • These requests were “alarmingly inappropriate,” said David Rank, a top American diplomat in Beijing who “learned of the matter after he stepped down as deputy chief of mission in Beijing earlier in 2017.”

  • Foremost, Secretary Chao’s father’s business, is a small but successful American shipping company whose “fleet is overwhelmingly focused on China.”

  • “Foremost has received hundreds of millions of dollars in loan commitments from a bank run by the Chinese government… Foremost has relied on the Export-Import Bank of China, or China EximBank, to finance at least four ships in the past decade… As of 2015, the bank had made at least $300 million available to Foremost, it said at the time.”

  • “The Times found that the Chaos had an extraordinary proximity to power in China for an American family, marked not only by board memberships in state companies, but also by multiple meetings with the country’s former top leader [Jiāng Zémín 江泽民], including one at his villa.”

  • “Public records show that she has benefited from the company’s success. A gift to Ms. Chao and Mr. McConnell from her father in 2008 [“valued between $5 million and $25 million, according to federal disclosures”] helped make Mr. McConnell, the Republican majority leader, one of the richest members of the Senate.”

  • “In all, from 1989 through 2018, 13 members of the extended Chao family gave a combined $1.66 million to Republican candidates and committees, including $1.1 million to Mr. McConnell and political action committees tied to him, according to F.E.C. records.”

See also a short article published by the Times with five takeaways from the investigation, and this Twitter thread by reporter Mike Forsythe that walks through some of the corporate documents and other evidence uncovered by the investigation.

The Tiananmen Square crackdown, at 30 years

General reporting on Tiananmen’s legacy and how it is remembered:

Witness accounts from Tiananmen in 1989:

—Lucas Niewenhuis

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