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Interview: Former PLA Military Driver Recalls 38th Army Commander’s Massacre Rebellion

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Ma Lap-hak  |  Radio Free Asia

Former People’s Liberation Army driver Liu Jianguo (inset), whose former commanding officer Lt. Gen. Xu Qinxian (Liu Jianguo)

The 1989 military crackdown on the weeks-long student-led democracy protest on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square shocked the world as China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) used armored cars, tanks and machine guns to quell the movement. The bloodshed, which resulted in an unknown number of deaths, was ordered by then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping and carried out after initial resistance from within the PLA itself. Lt. Gen. Xu Qinxian served a five-year jail term for refusing to lead his 38th army troops into Beijing on the eve of the crackdown, as his former military driver Liu Jianguo recalls in an interview with RFA’s Cantonese Service. Former student leaders have said that they were expecting the army to use water cannons and rubber bullets, but diplomatic archives recently declassified by the U.K. government said the army was ordered to “spare no one” as they used dum-dum bullets, automatic weapons and armored vehicles to carry out mass killings in Beijing:
RFA: How long had you been in the army when the events of June 4, 1989 took place?
Liu Jianguo: I joined the army in October 1982, and I worked for the 38th Army for 10 years in all. During the June 4th incident, our commander Lt. Gen. Xu Qinxian refused to implement the high-level massacre plan and was persecuted for it. I was implicated in the loss of this combat plan and was persecuted for a long time. At the end of1992, I was prematurely decommissioned on the grounds that I was no longer fit for the armed forces. In May 1993, I went to do office work in the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau as a retired army officer.
RFA: And how did Xu’s refusal come about?
Liu Jianguo: Before the imposition of martial law in Beijing, Lt. Gen. Xu Qinxian had been recovering from an illness in the Beijing 301 Hospital. One morning, before the crackdown, a group of officers from the Beijing Military District came to visit him, bringing him a battle plan. I was waiting by the door, and I felt that there was something unusual about the way they all filed out after they were done talking.
RFA: How did Xu come to be relieved of his command?
Liu Jianguo: That same day, in the afternoon, a group of people from the general political department of the ministry of defense came to Xu Qinxian’s ward without prior notice and politely told him that the 38th Army was now under the command of someone else. Initially, Xu Qinxian remained in the 301 Hospital, recuperating and receiving treatment. He told me: “Young man, you can pack your things and go back to your unit. I won’t be needing you here any more.” I haven’t seen him since.
RFA: So what happened next?
Liu Jianguo: During the June 4, 1989 crackdown, I was still reporting to the head of the general’s transportation team, but I wasn’t told to do anything important. When the 38th Army had done its job suppressing the protests in Beijing, the “clean-up” operation began in our unit. Also, the leaders thought that a copy of the battle plan given to Lt. Gen. Xu had gone missing. This battle plan was cast-iron proof of the military operation in Beijing.
RFA: So who actually signed the order [to send troops into Beijing]?
Liu Jianguo: The battle plan was signed by President Yang Shangkun, who was vice chairman of the Central Military Commission at the time. The refusal of Lt. Gen. Xu Qinxian to carry out those orders made a number of people in the Central Military Commission very unhappy, even furious. The commanding officers of the 38th Army were very worried about future repercussions over Lt. Gen. Xu’s rebellion, and that it would prevent anyone in the 38th Army from receiving any medals. The other army chiefs were not particularly sympathetic to him but were very annoyed, because many people felt that they would lose out, and that they would inevitably be implicated in any future investigations. After Lt. Gen. Xu was relieved of command, the new army leadership demonstrated its determination by carrying out the crackdown orders with particular resolve.
RFA: What was the situation on Tiananmen Square?
Liu Jianguo: The 112 armored cars division went in ahead to clear the square for the rest of the troops. Their commanders wore a white scarf around their necks, but they had men armed with automatic weapons sitting right behind them. They told the soldiers: “You see those officers with white scarves? They’re the leaders of this operation, and you’ve got to let them have a free hand. If you don’t, we’ll be finished.” There wasn’t much response they could make to that.
Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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