2019: Retracing Steps at Beijing University

The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 17 | Issue 22 | Number 3 | Article ID 5328 | Nov 15, 2019
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

Retracing Steps at Beijing University, 1989-2019
Philip J. Cunningham

Beijing University
A retrospective tour of the haunts and hideouts of the 1989 Tiananmen student uprising would not be complete without a visit to Beijing University, known simply as Beida. Arguably the most prestigious university in China, Beida has long been home to creative thinkers and intellectual ferment ever since the days a young Mao Zedong worked in its associated library and literati such as Hu Shih and Lu Xun graced its grounds.

In 1989 Beida was the fount of discussion and discontent that spread to other campuses. Among Beijing colleges, it was the most distant from Tiananmen, but the Beida contingent always seemed to show up first. 

Thirty years ago, I joined a march on Tiananmen from this campus. Later, on the eve of the hunger strike, I got into a heated discussion on this campus about the different dynamics among Beijing's elite schools. Why was it that students at liberal arts schools, such as Beida and Beijing Normal University got on board the protest train right away, while tech schools, including Beida's prestigious neighbor, Tsinghua University, were reluctant to join the protests? Was it a matter of campus tradition or did it reflect different intellectual outlooks between those in the arts and sciences?

Beida is a privileged enclave. It has maintained a peaceful facade--the walled-in campus was originally a large imperial garden--but the bucolic tranquility belies a long history of intellectual ferment. It doesn't look like ...

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