Ma Lik's Comments on June Fourth

Hong Kong's DAB party Ma Lik invited press reporters to a tea session.  On the next day, here is the selected press coverage:

This is a comparison of newspaper coverage on what Hong Kong legislator Ma Lik had to say about June 4th, 1989.  Ma Lik is the chairman of the DAB party, generally considered to be leftist and pro-Beijing.  There is a parallel situation in the English-language and Chinese-language newspapers.

(South China Morning Post)

DAB chairman Ma Lik's remarks on the 1989 pro-democracy movement, in which he explained why Hong Kong was not ready for universal suffrage, were criticised by witnesses and families of victims killed in the Tiananmen crackdown.  The leader of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said the incident was "not a massacre" because soldiers did not indiscriminately kill everyone in their path. [Note: the rest of the article cites opinions from four other persons about what happened at Tiananmen Square: teacher Lai Hung, journalist Law Yee-ping, and Ding Zilin and Zhang Xianling whose sons died.] 


On Wednesday, Mr Ma told local radio he did not mean to insult activists calling for democratic reform in the mainland. He said he only meant to doubt the use of the word ''massacre''.  ''The description of the June 4 incident as a massacre and massive bloodshed is not the full picture or the correct view,'' Mr Ma said.  ''I did not say no one was killed,'' he said. ''I am not insulting the students fighting for pro-democracy.''  He said he was indiscreet and rash in citing examples to support his view. ''I think I might be indiscreet in citing examples for my remarks.''

(The Standard)

Ma, a former member of the Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee, said constitutional reform should go hand in hand with nationalistic education. This would include "the rise and history of the Chinese Communist Party, its mistakes and its accomplishments, including the June Fourth Incident and the Cultural Revolution which are two major mistakes acknowledged by the central leaders."

So South China Morning Post had a great deal of coverage and spoke to many people, while The Standard made one mention of June 4th in passing without any details of what Ma Lik said.  Next, we have the top two Chinese language newspapers.

Apple Daily had the story on the front page.  The headline across the top is "Ma Lik Cold-blooded" and the sub-titles are "He denied that the tanks crushed people on June 4th" and "he told people to 'try it out on a pig.'"

[in translation]

The tea session with reporters was originally meant for Ma Lik to discuss the political reforms.  Instead, he talked about the inadequacy of civic education in Hong Kong and used the June 4th incident as example.  He asserted that Hong Kong students should learn Chinese history, including the June 4th incident.  However, the relevant educational material should be cleared up, because the June 4th incident was not a massacre as asserted by outsiders.

Ma Lik explained that that a massacre implied intentionality to murder.  "If you starting shooting everywhere, you intend to commit murder."  But Ma Lik emphasized: "If this was a masacre, then that person (meaning student leader Chai Ling) would be the first to be killed.  On that night, the four people (student leaders Chai Ling, Feng Congde, Hou Dejian and Wuer Kaixi) were able to leave readily.  If they wanted to have a massacre, those four thousand students would be all dead."  Thus Ma Lik insisted that the central government did not intentionally clear the square by killing pepole.

Ma Lik also questioned the claim that bodies were incinerated at Tiananmen Square: "What do you mean by incinerating the bodies at Tiananmen Square?  They would need an incinerator if they want to do it quickly."  He also questioned whether people could be flattened into meat pancakes by tanks: "So find a pig and test if it can be turned into a meat pancake!"  Ma Lik: "I have never said that nobody died on June 4th.  I only felt that it was not a massacre."  He said that he hoped outsiders could comment based upon the facts "and not treat the parts as if they were the totality."  When discussing the June 4th incident, "one should mention what people were saying at the time and then today.  We should not only cite what overseas people say.  We should exchange our ideas.  But we should not listen to only those people whose family members have died, because they obviously feel wronged."

[Note: the article goes on to cite other persons such as legislators Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho who deplore what Ma Lik said.]

Oriental Daily/The Sun had nothing on the Ma Lik remarks anywhere.  The front page in Oriental Daily was about a triad gangster unleashing a dog which bit a police officer trying to make an arrest.

[Note: Ming Pao covered it, but am730, Headline Daily, Sing Pao, Sing Tao, Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po did not.]

The immediate reaction to an incident in which some media reported it and others did not is to be skeptical.  What really happened?

The circumstances of the meeting was that DAB chairman Ma Lik invited reporters from a dozen or so newspapers to attend a tea session, during which he made certain comments on the record.  What were the reporters thinking as Ma Lik expounded on his views about June 4th?  Were they appalled?  Did they engage and debate him?  Did they egg him on knowing that they have the front page story for the next day and they wanted him to give them more rope to hang himself?  Did they tell him to stop and desist before further damage?  Were they dismayed because they know that their editors would never publish on the subject?  Did they feel sorry for him because his political career was probably over and done with?

A year or two ago, we would not know what those reporters think.  Today, there is a bunch of jorno-bloggers in Hong Kong.  Almost all of them are anonymous, although their identities are easily guessed at by industry insiders.  Two of them have blogged about their meeting with Ma Lik.  Oh, yes, they worked for two newspapers that reported on the Ma Lik's views about June 4th.  We can only wish that we have heard from the journalists from the newspapers that did not report on this.

(Life Is But An Empty Dream ...)

[in translation]

If it were not for what friends are saying, would it feel easier?

June 4th.  That is obviously a major issue about right-versus-wrong.  Even if you did not personally witness from Tiananmen Square about how the tanks entered the city to suppress, you can still see the absurdity and brutality of the Chinese Communist government and the deeply-felt pain of the victims' families from the various media reports.

There was no massacre on June 4th?  I remembered at the time of the meeting that I could not help myself and I posed one question: "But many people clearly died at the time ..."  Then he provided some definitions for a massacre, including whether there was the intention to kill and whether certain people were able to depart the scene safely and then he continued to provide many opinions that denied the incineration of corpses or tanks flattening people in a pulp, including an experiment of using pigs as test subjects.

I was pained.  Very few people objected  to what he was saying.  Including myself, we were partial towards him.  At most, we just followed up softly.  From our hearts, we wished that he would just shut up and not commit political suicide.  Although I was among the very few reporters who would even follow up softly, I am ashamed that I did not adhere to professional conduct.

I was pained.  Someone indicated to him that he should stop, but he continued to speak.  This proved that he was saying what he sincerely believed from his heart.  Frankness is probably a burden for him.  Even more sadly, he himself said that he knew that he would be criticized tomorrow with big headlines but that was what he thought.  Patriotism should not be blind love.

I was pained.  Among the dozen or so newspapers represented at the meeting, some of them did not publish a single word and others just brushed over it in one sentence.  It was regrettable that some veterans even turned it around to accuse the reporters of distorting other people's speech.  Isn't hiding the truth in order to curry favor even more morally defective than our factual reporting irrespective of our personal feelings?

I have received plenty of telephone calls over the past two days.  Skeptical ones, sarcastic ones, condemning ones, I have got them all.  I am glad that many people listened to the description of the affair and believed that we did not create something out of nothing.  As a person, I must be worthy of myself and I cannot use personal relationship as an excuse.

Even now, I feel that he is basically a good person.  But he may be too pro-Communist and does not differentiate black from white clearly.  After the frivolity, there should be some reflection.  Was the night of June 4th really not worth our while to vindicate?

I wish I had never gone to that tea session.

(Our Ridiculous Thoughts)

[in translation]

As I dragged my feet heavily home, I was thinking that tens of thousands of blank white pages will be printed one after another with "Ma Lik: Get a pig to test if a tank would flatten it into a meat pancake" ...

Then I became afraid from the bottom of my heart.

Because I could foretell that when dawn arrives, he will be finished.

After finishing my article, I knew that many newspapers will be using the front page to report on his words.  Each second of that interview was replayed through my mind like a recording.  It felt even more shocking than when I experienced it at the time.

Among the China-friendly people, he is supposed to be friendly with me.  When he sat at the restaurant and expounded on "incinerating bodies" and "meat pancakes," I was hoping in my heart: "Please shut up!"  But he did not.  He went on to explain why "massacre" should not be used to describe the June 4th incident and he uttered several thousand words to analyze the word "massacre" in the style of a dissertation.

I am a person with blood, flesh and feelings.  By this stage, I could only hope that he make a firm request: "You cannot write anything about June 4th."  Instead he uttered this sentence: "I know that you (note: the newspapers) will say tomorrow that I spoke about June 4th."

I am a person with blood, flesh and feelings but I also have to abide by the professionalsim of a reporter.

Political figures have to be responsible for their own mistakes.

I can only sigh: "I wish I could help."

More than ten media persons were present at the tea session.  Fewer than half of them reported on what happened.  I noted that some reports brushed over it and some newspapers did not even mention a single word.

My colleague WY (note: this is the Life Is But A Dream ... blogger above) said: "Isn't hiding the truth in order to curry favor even more morally defective than our factual reporting irrespective of our personal feelings?"  I agree with that very much.

The victim may never consent to be interviewed by me again.  But I can at least face my readers with a good conscience.

If I can go back in time, then I wish I had fallen seriously ill and therefore was unable to attend the tea session.  I don't want to be your executor.

Unfortunately, time can only move forwards and not backwards.  You cannot take back what you said and I cannot pretend that I never heard it.

This was a lifelong lesson.  You learned it and I learned it too.

Related Link:  I say "tomato", you say "massacre", let's call the whole thing off  Imagethief