Hello. My name is Yang Jianli. I grew up and attended college in China. After graduating, I was a mid-level official of the Communist Party. I disenchanted by the corruption within the party, and decided to go to the United States. I attended U.C. Berkeley to study mathematics. I saw the violence that was going on with the student demonstrations on TV and knew I had to join the movement in China. I witnessed the events at Tiananmen Square. An officer order troops to begin shooting. I saw students run over by the tanks. I went back to the United States to study democracy. I returned to China in 2002 to help the labor movement with non-violent demonstration strategies. I was arrested for having a faking identification card. I was kept in solitary confinement for 15 months. Later, I was sentenced to five years in prison. I am now free and continue to stand for human rights and democracy. I returned to the United States and formed the Initiatives for China to advocate for a peaceful transition to democracy in China.

Here is my IAMA photo: http://imgur.com/8BSouHY Here is my interview at Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD8CtbCUlrE

My assistant Daniel Gong is assisting me with answers on the computer.

Comments: 137 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

618033988749894848228 karma

Do you think that America's perception of the protests is mostly accurate? If not, how is it wrong?

yangjianli65 karma

Largely accurate. But two things. One, the Americans failed to recognize that was a moment of revolution although they condemned China's atrocity in slaughtering innocent people.. Two, Trump's description of the Tiananmen demonstrations as "riots" is unacceptable.

UpvoteYoursTruly2 karma

are you fucking kidding? did that asshole really say that?

autodidact200014 karma

Thanks for doing this. I'm happy you were able to get out of China to be here. How do you propose to transition China from a communist state to a democracy? How can bloodshed be avoided, or do you expect it?

yangjianli25 karma

I am a believer and practitioner of non-violence. It takes four things to happen at the same time for china to change: general robust dissatisfaction with the regime; a viable democratic opposition; cracks in the government; and, international recognition of, and support for, the democratic opposition. Wide spread bloodshed is possible but unlikely. We are relentlessly advocating the nonviolent principles and strategies and running training programs on nonviolence for potential leaders from various ethnic, religious and regional groups.

MattBaster14 karma

Do you know and/or have you worked with Ai WeiWei?

yangjianli20 karma

Yes, I know Ai Weiwei. I was involved in the work supporting his protesting activities in China.

MOPMetallica12 karma

I've read that many normal people in China don't even know about Tiananmen and the shooting, is this true? As in, did the events spread via word of mouth or were the Chinese government that effective at suppressing even gossip.

yangjianli35 karma

Many young people don't not know about the movement and the massacre that ended it. But almost all people over 40 must have memory of the incident. The Chinese government's persecution and threat have deterred people from talking about it. Over time, many people choose not to remember. Seven yreas ago, I came up with 5 Never principles: Never Forget, Never Fear, Never Be Indifferent, Never Fall, Never Give Up.

sega310981 karma

Do most younger people under 40 know about it through unofficial word of mouth?

yangjianli3 karma

Yes. Some know how to get around the Great Firewall to acquire info about Tiananmen among other taboo topics.

vj7usa7 karma

A lot has been made about the rise of China's middle class. Do you think this growth will propel eventual democracy in China?

yangjianli9 karma

Eventually, yes. But takes longer in China. Why? The government was prepared, not long after Tiananmen, to co-opt middle class people whenever they become so in the process of economic development. As a result, the middle class people are largely part of the ruling group enjoying the perks that yo cannot even imagine in the west. They have long defenders and apologists of the status quo. The situation is just beginning to change, which the deepest crisis facing Xi Jinping.

BaronBifford7 karma

I read this article by Fareed Zakaria on present-day censorship in China. Here is an interesting excerpt:

What do they find? Contrary to what you'd think, it turns out criticisms of the state are not more likely to get censored. Even vitriolic criticisms are allowed. Instead, the focus is on stopping mass mobilization. Last year Beijing blocked internet searches for Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution" to prevent discussions about the Arab Spring. Similarly last week searches for the numbers 4/6 were censored - the numbers represented June 4th, the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

The Harvard study shows that Beijing's leaders are making measured concessions. It is said that some 500 protests take place every day across China. But anything that could lead to something larger or more organized is instantly censored and clamped down on.

What do you think of Mr Zakaria's assessment?

yangjianli2 karma

The Harvard study is more accurate.

DaHispanicNinja5 karma

Where did you end up after the incident? Did you have to take refuge elsewhere?

yangjianli11 karma

I went the suburb of Beijing hiding for 2 days. Later, a friend of mine helped to get me to the Beijing International airport where the government had yet reassert it's control. I left China by air three days after the massacre begun.

TEFL224 karma

What do you think about Taiwan. Should it join China or become an independent country?

yangjianli6 karma

By all standards, Taiwan is already a civil democratic country. I respect the Taiwanese people's right to self determination. In any case, Taiwan should bot join China when the latter is still a dictatorship. I often go to Taiwan speaking in various universities. When asked by Taiwan students what they can do to help with our cause, I would answer the most important thing you can do to help us is to be a good democratic citizen of Taiwan and help perfect Taiwan's democracy which will shine to the people of China. Taiwan's democratic success can only encourage their desire for and firm their belief for democracy. Then I would ask them:What is the most important thing I can do to help Taiwan? My own answer to this question? The most important thing I can do is to help democratize China. Only when China becomes a democracy can people of Taiwan live without the constant military threat from the CCP regime and have a free choice about their true identities and relationship with China.

Smellthetrongor4 karma

Very interesting IAmA, thanks for taking the time to post. In today's age of viral media, what do you think would happen in the demonstrations were held today?

yangjianli10 karma

The news of any demonstrations will be spread widely in no time and get more people to join. That is why the Chinese government tries to do everything possible to control the Internet on top of heavy handed measures to control people from taking to street.

Smellthetrongor3 karma

Do you believe Chinese citizens would rise up again? Or are they content with the status of the nation and their rights.

yangjianli11 karma

They will inevitably rise up. The problem is the the government put more resources than national defense to control the people. There are many protests every day, almost on in 3-5 minutes, but they cannot come together.

Crabmonster703 karma

Is your family harassed by authorities back home?

What do you think of Xi DaDa's gov't and his subsequent crackdown on rights in general? Is there any hope for certain persecuted groups i.e. Falun Gong, Uighurs, etc? (Maybe it's a loaded question but I'm still curious)

At TianAnMen did you believe the Deng gov't at the time was capable of such horrible things?

My deepest apologies for the horrible things you witnessed. I have lived in China and found it to have some of the nicest/most hospitable people I've ever met. It's a shame that the gov't is so afraid of losing face even at the expense of its own people. Alas... I guess some could say the same of the US.

I'm looking forward to your responses, thank you.

yangjianli13 karma

Yes, my family members back in China are under constant surveillance. I am by no means alone. Xi has attacked the civil society on a scale and ferocity not seen in two decades. I think he acted our fear. His anticorruption campaign and economic downturn have just begun putting away the elite who have far the regime's defenders and apologists. This crisis facing him will add to the general discontent with the regime which is only mounting. I believe there are going to be opportunities in 3-5 years for a change in China.

yangjianli7 karma

Xi has attacked the civil society on a scale and in a ferocity not seen in two decades. I think he acted our fear. His anticorruption campaign and economic downturn have just begun putting away the elite who have far the regime's defenders and apologists. This crisis facing him will add to the general discontent with the regime which is only mounting. I believe there are going to be opportunities in 3-5 years for a change in China.

Smellthetrongor3 karma

What was the absolute scariest moment of the protests?

yangjianli3 karma

There were a couple of them. The moment when the martial was first declared and that when the first gun shot was fired.

Smellthetrongor2 karma

Did people panic when the tanks approached? Did you think they'd actually fire on fellow Chinese? Have you spoken to any soldiers who were following orders?

yangjianli2 karma

We did panic when the Martial Law was first declared but gradually reasserted ourselves. Most of us did not expect they would actually fire on us. I have not got a chance to meet and talk to any of them. You may want to read my essay Two Tank Men https://chinachange.org/2015/12/07/the-two-tank-men/

Not_dr_phil2 karma

What was the reaction among protesters when the government opened fire on protesters? How many wanted to stop vs how many wanted to continue?

yangjianli3 karma

It is difficult to tell the numbers. Instead, I just want to share with you what happened during the last hours before the students retreated the Tiananmen Square. By the early morning, still dark, the soldiers, who had fired their way to the Tiananmen Square, circled the square where about 4-500 students remained. Soldiers could be ordered to open fire to the remaining crowd any moment. Among with the students were 4 scholars: Liu Xiaobo (who would win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize), a very popular singer, Zhou and Gao, who were on hunger strike demanding the People's Congress to address the political crisis. The 4 seniors felt the responsibility to protect the young lives around them and decided to demand a negotiation with the soldiers for a peaceful retreat. It was a bold move. They chose the singer as the chief negotiator because he was most recognized. The singer, accompanied by Zhou, walked slowly toward west side of the circle of soldiers behind it was the Martial Law headquarters. The soldiers got really surprised and yelled Stop to them,raising their guns at them. The singer yelled back " I am Hou Dejian. We want to have a negotiation." The soldiers ordered them to wait while reporting to the headquarters. A while later soldier took them to the headquarters and they successfully convinced the commanders to agree to let them leave peacefully but they had to to leave under the gate made by two crossing guns of two tanks. They agreed and returned to the crowd but to find many would rather die than retreat. Liu Xiaobo fully understood whoever stayed would surely be dead and was determined not leave anyone behind. He was very wise. He made a speech to the crowd. He said he knew some wanted to leave but other wanted to stay; we all believe in democracy, right? lets vote. Whoever want to retreat, raise your hands. He pretended to count. Then, whoever want to stay, raise your hands. He pretended to count again. He then announced the outcome: those wanting to retreat outnumbered otherwise. He then ordered: retreat. The students moved slowly through the insulting "gate" with tears in their eyes. I met them when they just left the Square. But we we moved onto the major street crossing the square, four tanks were running at a fast speed from the Square toward us. The first tank threw tear gas bombs to the retreating student and crowd on both sides of the street; the second open fires to the crowd and the third and fourth chased and ran over the students. As far as I witnessed, 11 died on the spot. Many injured were carried to nearby hospitals.

flyaway942 karma

Do you hate the soldiers or people in power that made this happen? How do you feel about them now?

yangjianli12 karma

I used to hate them a lot. I am lying if I say otherwise. Gradually I learned hatred does not help. It is the communist party who mobilized hatred in peoples' heart to win its revolution and continue its rule to this day by planting hatred. If we are sincere about the better, democratic,civil future of China, we must abandon such mentality. Now I believe the enemies are the autocratic system and the evil in everybody's heart which, if not controlled by good systems and norms, will naturally do harm.

flyaway942 karma

Thank you, great answer.

yangjianli4 karma

You may want to read my essay Two Tank Men https://chinachange.org/2015/12/07/the-two-tank-men/

PM_ME_UR_number2s2 karma

Can you describe what it was like to be imprisoned in China? Have any of your views changed since then?

yangjianli9 karma

I was kept in solitary confinement for nearly 15 months. To be honest, I had a lot worries, anxieties and even regrets. I had to write poems in my head to prevent me from becoming insane or losing my memory. But later I found there was outpouring support behind me; I asserted myself to begin rights defending acts in my prison cell. I have become more tolerant if any change, but I have upheld my ideal to this day and I will continue.

ferrous11 karma

What's your favorite Chinese food?

Mines an egg roll.

yangjianli18 karma

Ma Po Tofu :)

window51 karma

Do you think that if people like yourself stayed in China there would be more pressure on that country to change for the better?

yangjianli2 karma

Yes. In many cases, we have to either leave the country or remain in prison. It is an extremely difficult choice for us.

S8600E561 karma

It's always been a mystery what happened to the students that "disappeared" in Tianamen. What do you think happened, as someone that was there?

yangjianli3 karma

Due to the government's measures of controlling info, much of the truth about the Tiananmen incident has not been reveled. The best known case of missing people is the Tank man who stood in front of a string of Tanks sent to crush students and civilians. No one knows what happened to him, what has become of him. We are running a global campaign seeking the truth about the Tank man. You can support by signing and spreading the petition. The link is https://www.change.org/p/xi-jinping-tell-us-what-happened-to-the-two-tank-men

stansord1 karma

Do you think Xi Jinping's mission to end corruption in China is legitimate or is just a facade and more of a witch-hunt?

yangjianli4 karma

It is complicated. Xi's anti-corruption campaign has multiple goals: pulling down challengers or potential challengers and fill in the emptied positions with his men; soothing people's anger; and, largely overlooked, reducing the cost of the ruling model established and continued by his predecessors to this day. Simply put, the ruling model: co-opting political elite, business elite, cultural elite and intellectual elite, exchanging corruption for their loyalties. This has become increasingly costly.

window51 karma

Do you think Donald Trump is right in that China's leaders and power players see American leaders as idiots who do not defend their country from excessive Chinese imports and ownership of income producing assets?

yangjianli4 karma

They may not see American leaders a idiots but they have become increasingly better at playing games with Americans. They know how to use business people who are doing business or wanting to do business in China and so many so called China experts who exercise tremendous self-censorship when it comes to "sensitive issues" to act as China's lobbyists and apologists in the US. They know how to use money as weapon to penetrate in all walks of democratic life here in the US. They know how to take advantage of freedom and democracy in getting their propaganda machine working in the US while so determined not to let what they don't want enter China. In short, there is no reciprocity in many fields of US-China relations.

Sethsayno1 karma

I am a student learning in Boston right now and can we have a talk in Boston regarding Tiananmen massacre and Tankman face to face? I was born in China but really don't know what happened in 1989'.Will you come back China in the future? and When. Thanks

yangjianli2 karma

I flew in Boston last night and will stay here until Monday morning. I come to Boston on a regular basis. In fact, we will come to give a lecture at Harvard Kennedy School of Government on June 23. I would like to meet you. May I know how to contact you?


Do you think the growth of religion in China is as much a threat to Communist Party power as some western commentators have suggested?

yangjianli1 karma

Religion is intrinsically a threat to the CCP regime in terms of ideology as well as organization.

Skagarak1 karma

How did the protestors feel about the more sympathetic members of the Chinese administration?

yangjianli1 karma

At first, there was not enough trust but it was too late when they became trusting the latter. Unfortunately.


Do you know the guy who stood in front of the tank?

yangjianli2 karma

No. We are running a campaign seeking the truth about the Tank man. Please see this https://www.change.org/p/xi-jinping-tell-us-what-happened-to-the-two-tank-men permalinkembedsaveparentEDITdisable inbox repliesdeleteREPLY

You may also want to read Two Tank Men https://chinachange.org/2015/12/07/the-two-tank-men/

IAmARedditNoob1 karma

Have you visited China since Tiannamen Square happened?

yangjianli1 karma

Yes. Thirteen years later in 2002, I returned (smuggling in) to help the labor movement with non-violent strategies. I got arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

studiosucof1 karma

Firstly, thanks for doing this. How did you keep sane during your time in solitary confinement? I would have lost my head.

Kudos to you for standing up to the Gvt despite everything you have had to endure at their hands.

yangjianli1 karma

I had to pray and write poems in my head. I wrote more one hundred poems, long an short. I exercised my brain by reciting, rewriting, changing a word here or there, restructuring poems. I got no pen or paper. I did all this in head.

loqutor0 karma

Do you see the United States government headed in the same direction as the Chinese government of the early 1990's?

yangjianli2 karma

Not really. I trust the American people.

LifeWin-3 karma

I was under the impression nothing happened in Tian An Men square.

How do you explain the through documentation that Tian An Men square was full of nothing but kittens and hugs, in the Spring of 1989?

yangjianli2 karma

I was there. We peacefully demanded for curbing government corruption , dialogue with the government and political reform. We were so sincere and peaceful that many thieves were touched to publicly denounce their past theft and stopped doing it. You judge for yourself.

PM_Me_UR_LabiaMajor-6 karma

Would you rather fight one Mao-sized duck, or one hundred duck-sized Maos?

yangjianli20 karma

In many cases, we don't have a choice. We have to fight what we have to fight. Quite unfortunately, in Chinese government, there is a Mao-sized duck as well as hundreds of duck-sized Maos. I guess we are taking up a job more difficult than losing weight.

Mantisbog-9 karma

Do you think that the new Ghostbusters movie will be good?

yangjianli3 karma

Sorry that I have no idea about it.