Chaos Under Heaven: The Shocking Story Behind China's Search for Democracy

Chaos Under Heaven: The Shocking Story Behind China's Search for Democracy

by Gordon Thomas

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Chaos Under Heaven: The Shocking Story Behind China's Search for Democracy by Gordon Thomas

The story behind the struggle for democracy in China and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, still the subject of widespread government censorship efforts.

The first complete book on the Tiananmen Square tragedy reveals how diplomats from the United States, Britain, and Europe knew exact details of the impending massacre of the students in Tiananmen. In a vivid narrative window into secret meetings in the Oval Office, CIA headquarters, and the private compound of China’s leaders, more than one hundred interviewees contribute to an untold story.

Chaos Under Heaven reveals America and the West’s betrayal of the children of China, who, for a brief moment in history, brought democracy to their homeland. In this stunning book, Gordon Thomas takes readers inside the tragic drama of those fifty-five days when the young people of China, crying out for freedom, rebelled against the old men of the Long March.

At stake were America’s and the world’s roles in the future of China. Once castigated by Karl Marx as a “carefully preserved mummy in a hermetically sealed coffin,” China has become the superpower of the Pacific. As the students’ demand for democracy escalated, the Western nations realized that their carefully cultivated ambitions for China were at risk. Their goal was to preserve the status quo.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497663398
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 07/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 987,790
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Gordon Thomas is a political and investigative journalist and the author of fifty-three books, published in more than thirty countries and in dozens of languages. The total sales of his works exceed forty-five million copies.

He has been a widely syndicated foreign correspondent and was a writer and producer for three flagship BBC programs: Man AliveTomorrow’s World, and Horizon. He contributes regularly to Facta, a respected monthly Japanese news magazine. Thomas was the lead expert for a twelve-part series on international intelligence for Ian Punnett’s Coast to Coast, the most listened-to overnight radio broadcast in North America, with three million weekly listeners. He has recently appeared on Euronews (available in ten languages and three hundred million households) and Russia Today.

He has received numerous awards for his reporting, including an International Television Award and two Mark Twain Society Awards. Shipwreck won an Edgar Award.

Four of Thomas’s books—Voyage of the DamnedRuin from the AirThe Day the Bubble Burst, and The Day Their World Ended—have been made into feature films starring such A-listers as Paul Newman, Billy Crystal, Robert Vaughn, and Jacqueline Bisset. The Day Guernica Died is currently under option.

Thomas’s most recent bestseller is Gideon’s Spies: Mossad’s Secret Warriors. Published in sixteen languages and forty countries, Gideon’s Spies is known throughout the world as the leading resource on Israeli intelligence. It was made into a major documentary for Channel 4 in Britain, which Thomas wrote and narrated, called The Spy Machine. The Observer called The Spy Machine a “clear” picture of Israeli intelligence operations, and the Times called it “impressive” and ”chilling.”

A member of the London Speaker Bureau and Macmillan Speakers, Thomas continues to grow his already-impressive platform, lecturing widely on the secret world of intelligence. He also regularly provides expert analysis on intelligence for US and European television and radio programs. 

Read an Excerpt

Chaos Under Heaven

The Shocking Story Behind China's Search for Democracy

By Gordon Thomas


Copyright © 1991 Gordon Thomas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-6339-8


The Tiananmen Trump

JANUARY 1991 Washington, D.C.

In those first two weeks of 1991, despite the frenetic pace of events, time itself appeared to pass in slow motion as the entire world waited to see if there would be war with Iraq. In Washington hopes rose and fell as predictably as the flags on government buildings.

In one, the State Department, the last acts of diplomacy were being played out. Secretary of State James Baker and his staff detailed for those diplomats still able to reach Saddam Hussein—Arabs mostly, with a sprinkling of Europeans—the horrors awaiting Iraq if hopes died. It was a portrait of high-tech warfare the likes of which had never been seen: "smart bombs" with their own video cameras to show the very moment prior to impact, and guided missiles that could cruise down the streets of Baghdad looking for a particular building to destroy. It was the world of Buck Rogers finally come true. Nothing, and no one, those diplomats were told, could resist such a show of force.

But Saddam remained unimpressed. He saw himself as the avenger of the Arab people, chosen by Allah to redress the slights visited on Arabs for generations.

As the hours ticked by to the deadline for war set by the United Nations for Tuesday, January 15—and interpreted by Washington as expiring at noon Eastern Standard Time on that day—it became increasingly clear that Washington was conducting a dialogue with the deaf. Yet, anxious to show it was doing everything to avert what Saddam was predicting would be "the mother of all wars," the Bush administration was, for the most part, conducting its efforts as publicly as possible.

The exception was its dealings with the hardline Communist regime in Beijing. There, extraordinary secrecy prevailed. Only a handful in the administration outside President George Bush and Secretary Baker were aware of the precise ebb and flow of the discussions. These were first intended to persuade China to refrain from vetoing the United Nations resolution to use sanctions against Iraq shortly after it had invaded Kuwait and then, when the trade embargo failed, to persuade China to support a second resolution authorizing force to be used to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

The reasons for the secret dealings with China were rooted in the administration's embarrassment at having to depend on Beijing for support, coupled with a sense of pragmatism, which had come to permeate the Bush presidency more than any of its recent predecessors. To grasp that reality it is important to understand that both UN resolutions had been proposed in the high-minded guise of "restoring" Kuwait's democratic right to exist as a sovereign nation. Those Americans who squinted into the desert sun and spoke of being ready to fight "a just war"—one that would be swift and decisive, short and sweet, a Panama perhaps, but never another Vietnam—rarely paused to consider that democracy, as they understood it, had never existed in Kuwait. At best the Gulf kingdom was a family-run dictatorship that employed foreign labor under often harsh conditions: workers' passports were confiscated to stop them leaving until their contracts expired; abuses of basic human rights were commonplace. In some ways Kuwait was as repressive as the People's Republic of China.

Yet China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, had the power to effectively wreck Bush's determination to go to war unless Iraq obeyed the January 15 deadline.

For the President, Saddam had become a personal nemesis and a casus belli. At times the rhetoric from the White House was as fierce as that coming from Baghdad.

Bush had also learned much from his most recent experience of war. On December 20, 1989, he had ordered U.S. forces into Panama to arrest its de facto head of state, General Manuel Noriega. The UN General Assembly had denounced the invasion as a "flagrant violation of international law." But for the administration, and indeed many Americans, the lofty ends justified the means: The invasion of Panama would stop the drug traffic into the United States; it would restore "stability" in the region. And, of course, it would "restore democracy" to Panama.

By the time the Persian Gulf crisis was engaging President Bush, the reality of his intervention in Panama was all too plain. Federal agencies were reporting that the drug traffic there was running at preinvasion levels. Stability was as far away as ever in the region, and the prospect of a truly democratic Panama even further. And America itself continued to be branded as a bully and aggressor because of the invasion.

Bush knew he could not once more risk being accused of dangerous arrogance in assuming the role of the world's policeman by confronting Saddam. Consequently, since the very beginning of the Gulf crisis, he had worked hard to put together a coalition of Arab and non-Arab states to deal with Iraq. While he had made it clear that America would provide the bulk of the firepower, and in military terms would call the shots, it would do so with the blessing of the world. To that end it became critically important for Bush to be able to count on China.

The irony of the situation was most certainly not lost on the President.

Bush knew from the very beginning that the sheer speed and success of the Iraqi war machine depended, in significant measure, on China. In the past five years, the People's Republic had equipped it with 1,500 T-65 tanks, 9,000 Red Army antitank weapons, 150 F-7 jet aircraft, 12 million artillery shells and mines, and over 4 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition.

More sinister, China had sold to Iraq large quantities of lithium 6 hydride, a key component in the manufacture of a hydrogen bomb. Throughout 1990, the China National Non-Ferrous Metals Import-Export Corporation had shipped several dozen sealed plastic bottles of the grayish-white granular substance to Baghdad. Each bottle held 250 grams of lithium 6 hydride. The bottles were packed in lead and encased in metal barrels, each weighing 200 pounds. Each barrel had a label stating the substance was for use in the Iraqi medical industry.

On arrival in Baghdad, the barrels were distributed to Iraq's three nuclear facilities.

By the time Saddam invaded Kuwait, China had provided him with the means to produce a dozen hydrogen bombs. Each had an estimated destructive capacity of approximately fifty times that of the device released over Hiroshima.

With the lithium 6 hydride, several score Chinese scientists and technicians had traveled to Iraq. A number had helped China successfully build its own hydrogen bomb in 1967. Their presence, like the export of the lithium 6 hydride, was a breach of the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But China had never signed that agreement.

Despite knowing all this, the President was still determined to parley with China. With Saddam firmly in his gunsight, Bush was ready, according to his aides, to "deal with just about anyone if it meant putting an end to the Baghdad bully."

The President, long castigated as a wimp, was preparing himself for a massive act of expediency, one that would reveal the kind of ruthlessness most doubted he possessed. Only those who had served under the President when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) knew that Bush had the steel to balance the fate of a few against what he saw as the greater good for America.

In this case the few were students: young Chinese who had tried in their homeland less than two years before to stage a revolution Bush had been reluctant to support, despite the fact that its genesis was the one word now being increasingly used in Washington to justify intervention in the Persian Gulf—democracy.

In those first weeks following Saddam's occupation of Kuwait the unmistakable whiff of a nation preparing for war was added to the atmospheric pollution of Washington. It was part gung-ho, part fear, and part resignation and even resentment that it should have come at such a time.

The Persian Gulf crisis came in the wake of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and while the bone-picking continued over America's intervention in Panama. Yet the Iraqi action that burst upon the capital, catching unawares the powerful and the pretenders alike, had the potential to be more widespread than the quicksand of Vietnam.

The consensus in Washington was that deep in his fortified command bunker in Baghdad, Saddam had put into operation the first stage of a plan to reshape the Middle East in his image and create mayhem for the world's economic and political processes. Immediately at stake were Western oil supplies and the survival of Israel. Over both loomed the prospect of an even deeper worldwide recession, accompanied by the prospect of jihad, holy war, with Saddam leading hordes of fanatical fundamentalists in a struggle to the death against all Arab moderates and infidels in the region.

Saddam was no mere desert tribesman with grandiose dreams. He commanded the fourth most powerful military force on earth: a million men under arms, six thousand battle tanks in addition to those the Chinese had provided. With it came not only a potential nuclear capacity but also one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. There, too, China had played a key role, providing some of the ingredients and expertise.

In intelligence-gathering terms there was no great secret about any of this information. But the French and British security services, like the CIA, saw no real threat. Most agreed Saddam was "protecting himself"—the words are from a leaked report of the Service of External Documentation and Counterespionage [SDECE], the French security service, in July 1990—against Iran. Only Israel continued to warn about Saddam's probable intentions. But, not for the first time, Tel Aviv was out of favor in Western capitals. Its warnings were seen as self-serving.

The very day before Saddam invaded Kuwait, the CIA sent Bush a briefing paper on the region. It categorically stated that Iraq posed "no immediate military threat." Barely able to control his anger at such a grave intelligence miscalculation, the President had ordered, days after the invasion, a line drawn in the sands of Arabia across which Saddam would move at his peril.

The drift to war accelerated as through Washington's prism Saddam increasingly became the unacceptable face of Arab nationalism. For Bush it was soon all too clear that Iraq's leader was imbued with the Nietzschean principle that power is a good in itself. But the President determined America would disabuse Saddam of that idea, with the support of the rest of the world.

To maintain the moral high ground, Bush and Baker and their aides worked the phones out of Washington to cajole, remind, and reason or plead with nations to support the United States in a tough stand against Iraq.

Australia was quickly followed by Holland, Pakistan by Japan, Morocco by Egypt. The nations of NATO joined what remained of the Warsaw Pact. Mother Russia herself said she would support UN-approved action to drive Saddam out of Kuwait.

Finally only China still vacillated over the use of force in the two weeks before the UN deadline expired. While expressing its concern over Saddam's action against Kuwait, the Beijing regime continued to combine such talk with veiled criticism of an American-driven military action to remove Iraqi forces.

The longer China hesitated, the stronger grew the article of faith in Washington that the success of what was being planned—all-out war—depended on persuading the aged leadership in Beijing to support such action. No one in the administration undervalued the necessity of achieving this.

For a decade China had depended on arms sales to the Middle East and loaning out its technical expertise as yet another way to try and balance its embattled economy. In 1990, it had sold over $300 million worth of military hardware to Iraq, Iran, and Syria. That had also strengthened its political position as what Premier Li Peng had called "the new true friend of the Arabs."

With the collapse of Marxism-Leninism in half a dozen countries in eastern Europe, the People's Republic saw itself as the one surviving bastion against democracy. By definition, it had long held true in Beijing that anything bad for the United States was good for China.

Yet in its very role as communism's great survivor, China had given the United States a hold over it. Within the upper echelons of the Bush administration this advantage had come to be known as the Tiananmen Trump. The card had been slipped into the State Department's diplomatic deck following the massacre of students in Beijing's historic Tiananmen Square on June 3, 1989.

For the preceding fifty-five days those students, encouraged by a million, and more, of their fellow citizens, had called for basic human rights in a unique and most dramatic way. They had peacefully called for democracy in the face of one of the world's currently most intransigent regimes. Young men and women with names often difficult to pronounce and, at best, an imperfect grasp of English had held the entire world in thrall.

There was Wuerkaixi, then a twenty-one-year-old bantam cock, whose dark good looks and all-knowing smile went with the California-style denims he wore. The anchormen of the network evening news shows—Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw—hung on his every word. He did not disappoint them. His swashbuckling manner and confrontational style epitomized what was happening on Tiananmen Square. Within a week of first appearing there, Wuerkaixi received the ultimate accolade: His face appeared on T-shirts around the world.

Wang Dan achieved similar instant fame. At the time barely twenty years old, his wan face and physical frailty fitted the popular image of the fearless intellectual. His sweatshirts, baggy pants, and hand-me-down black cotton shoes became a style imitated on campuses around the world. His words were endlessly quoted. He had become the latest folk hero for a voracious media.

So had Chai Ling, an elfin-faced twenty-three-year-old. Her matchstick figure strode across the television screens of mesmerized nations. It somehow did not matter that what she said had to be translated. In any language it was a recognizable clarion cry, one that reflected her boundless energy and good humor. She was the revolution's La Pasionaria—and hauntingly pretty, too.

There was Liu Gang, tall, slim, and almost handsome, with a liking for Western-style casual clothes that could have come off the rack at Sears. He was the pensive-faced twenty-eight-year-old in the TV group shots of the student leaders—the brilliant, if at times quixotic, thinker, who knew which emotional button to push.

In those same group shots there sometimes appeared a young couple: Yang Li and his girlfriend, who like many of the student activists preferred to be known by one name, in her case her forename, Meili. Yang Li had the unfathomable face of a thousand generations of peasants, a physical reminder he was, indeed, the first of his farming family to have reached higher education. Meili had the pale skin of a city girl and the manner and mores of the middle class. They made a striking couple.

There was Yan Daobao. His tall and languid appearance masked a sharp political mind. To revolution he brought the broadening experience of a spell in California. With it came a preference for being known by his forename, Daobao.

Among them they had dominated the world's airwaves, showing themselves the natural masters of the news bite, the telling quote, and the dramatic decision timed to gain their cause the widest possible exposure. They had seemed unstoppable. The seeds of fire burning in their souls had appeared strong enough to sweep away their aged rulers and the deeply repressive system they had created fifty years before to control the world's most populous nation.

For those fifty-five days in Beijing, and elsewhere in China, it had appeared the students were going to succeed in overthrowing their recent past in the full glare of the media army drawn to witness what was happening.

No one—not the reporters on the spot, their editors at their desks—stopped to ask if this could really be allowed to happen, not just by China's rulers, but by all the other Western leaders, who each had a vested interest in ensuring that the status quo remained.

There was Britain with its vast trading ties to China. Her Majesty's then-prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, had made it plain that she wanted nothing—and no one—to threaten those trade links. Her attitude found its echo in Paris, Bonn, and all those European capitals where governments approved massive business deals with China, on any given day worth billions of dollars.

This attitude found its ready supporters in Washington, in all the corridors and offices where profit ruled supreme, where the view of China was primarily that of a vast untapped market. Its people—already more numerous than the combined populations of the United States, the Soviet Union, and all of Europe—represented a nation ready for Western investment and know-how. Every year twelve million more Chinese were born, each one adding to the attraction of the marketplace.


Excerpted from Chaos Under Heaven by Gordon Thomas. Copyright © 1991 Gordon Thomas. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Author's Note,
1. The Tiananmen Trump,
2. Seeds of Fire,
3. Illusions,
4. Secrets,
5. The Watch Keepers,
6. States of Mind,
7. The Roof of the World,
8. Persuasion,
9. Camelot, Almost,
10. Presidential Pragmatism,
11. Death in the Politburo,
12. Overtures,
13. Surges,
14. A Time of Decision,
15. Power Plays,
16. Countermoves,
17. Turmoil on Tiananmen,
18. The Beckoning Abyss,
19. Martial Law,
20. Marriage in Mayhem,
21. Massacre,
22. A Time of Pain,
23. For the Moment,

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