Bob Hawke's post Tiananmen legacy



On 9 June 1989, then prime minister Bob Hawke addressed a memorial gathering in Canberra. This was just days after People's Liberation Army troops in Beijing were ordered to use force against their fellow citizens.

Chinese Lanterns hang along the trees in Melbourne's Southbank for Chinese New Year (Nigel Killeen / Getty)'For more than a month now, the eyes of the world have been on China,' he said. 'We were inspired by the idealism and courage of youth, the peaceful determination of students to create a better future, and the support that rallied around their cause from throughout Chinese society.

'Our spirits were buoyed by the optimism of their vision and, no matter how far we were from the events in Tiananmen Square, our hearts were with them. Then last weekend, our optimism was shattered as we watched in horror the unyielding forces of repression brutally killing the vision of youth.'

His empathetic outpouring of grief at the state-sanctioned violence was accompanied by a captain's call beyond all others when he decreed that Chinese students in Australia, as well as their families, would be able to obtain permanent visas. Some 42,000 took up the offer and in the process constituted the largest Chinese migration to Australian since the time of the 19th-century gold rushes. By way of contrast, in 1992 around 80,000 Chinese received June 4 Green Cards when the US Congress passed the Chinese Students Protection Act.

Over the next 30 years, this June 4 generation and their children have come to exert a quiet, significant influence on Australian contemporary society. As one example, our art world has been the recipient of contributions from artists like Guan Wei, Ah Xian, Shen Jiawei and Xiao Lu. One of these, Guan Wei, won the Archibald Prize in 2016, while Shen Jiawei has been an Archibald finalist 14 times as well as a winner of the John Sulman Prize in 2006.

Like many of their contemporaries, most of these artists are now also Australian citizens and work in that liminal zone of cross-cultural exchange, often reflecting on being at once a foreigner and a local in both worlds.

The June 4 generation also brought about changes in the societal fabric of many of our cities, moving into suburbs such as Ashfield in Sydney and Box Hill in Melbourne, and transforming them into vibrant hubs of Chinese culture and cuisine and a decidedly non-English streetscape. In turn these locales attracted other Asian cultures as well. Likewise, linguistically, the steady rise of Chinese immigration has now seen Chinese languages (specifically Mandarin and Cantonese) be the first and third most spoken languages in Australian homes, after English, numbering together around 3.7 per cent of the population, or close to 900,000 people.


"Most of these artists are now also Australian citizens and work in that liminal zone of cross-cultural exchange, often reflecting on being at once a foreigner and a local in both worlds."


Hawke's compassion clearly had massive consequences, and not just on the lives of those immediately affected. Yet at the time of the 30th anniversary, it is also poignant to remember the cost of this act of state generosity.

For many of the Tiananmen Square generation, while being able to apply for permanent visas removed the stress of worrying what would happen to them once they finished their courses and returned to a China that now seemed harsh, it also began a period of intense emotional and cultural exile for them. Australia's quiet suburban streets were vastly different to the bustling alleyways of their home cities, and especially to Beijing's boulevards with its shoals of flittering bicycles. Often they were seen as being scary in their silences and their vast vacant spaces.

Chinese-Australian poet Yu Ouyang (who arrived in 1992) often writes of the feelings of dislocation felt by many of these soon-to-be citizens. One poem, known by its first phrase 'On a grey winter morning of Melbourne', contains a line describing the 'hectares and hectares of nothing-nothingness' and in another he writes 'In Australia / the boundless grass land drives me crazy.' Quite simply, Australia seemed strange, scary and even boring.

Members of this generation were also driven crazy by the fact that their university qualifications were not often immediately recognised, and many of them also spoke poor English, which meant that regardless of their cultural knowledge and specialised skills, they ended up working as kitchen hands in restaurants or any of the many other low skilled, difficult jobs that would nevertheless enable them to pay their rent and pursue their dreams.  And yet they persevered and, over the decades since, their sacrifice has meant that their Australian-born children have now reaped the benefit of their hard work, as has the rest of our society as well.

The events of 4 June 1989 were horrific, but Hawke's leadership and the skills, passion and sacrifice of the generation of Chinese that stayed here in Tiananmen Square's aftermath have consequently made Australia a more vibrant society. This is decidedly one of Hawke's most significant legacies.



Jeremy ClarkeDr Jeremy Clarke, PhD, is the founding director of Sino-Immersions Pty Ltd, a China consulting company, and a Visiting Fellow in the Australian Centre on China in the World, Australian National University. His company also leads people on immersions through China.

Main image: Chinese lantern hanging in a tree in Melbourne's Southbank for Chinese New Year (Nigel Killeen / Getty)

Topic tags: Jeremy Clarke, China, Tiananmen Square, Bob Hawke



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Existing comments

Highlighting Bob Hawke’s horrified response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre by Dr Clarke is welcome. PM Hawke had previously regarded China highly. But now the utter brutality of the 1989 Chinese Communist Party publicly saw him in tears. Beijing had killed many hundreds of its own youth to force a demonic hold on power. We add to the wickedness of Tiananmen Square massacre, the current intolerable horrors of unrestrained CCP power such as putting one million Uighurs in prison, all human rights lawyers jailed, thousands of Christian churches destroyed, take-over of islands in South China Sea, extreme surveillance of its citizens, , sustained wholesale rorting of the international trade system, massive internet theft of IP around the world et al. The list is long. While China continues to be a totalitarian communist power untrammelled in its abuses of power, Tiananmen and subsequent events have profound implications for Australia’s future. Despite being our major trade partner, we must treat China with the greatest caution, as any turning against us by China is likely to be nasty. We must wait some while yet for China to reach a state of natural confidence and security in its own skin, for genuine maturity to occur, for the savage excesses to cease.
Barry | 04 June 2019

When I saw an American pro-Portuguese-Fascist Propaganda film (Pius XII bless Salazar!) even at my age, 8, the idea arose "if the Sun did THAT, the Earth would've stopped, and no building would stay intact, or its fragments come to rest within miles of its site!" I loved Jennifer Jones, so "The Song of Bernadette" is sacrosanct. I leave Lourdes alone, but the Miracle of Tienanmen leaves hers and Fatima's for dead. The Chinese Com Party and PLA have done some very nasty stuff, equalled only by the U.S.A., C.I.A. and their sponsored States, Terrorists and Coups d'État, with millions of oppressed and butchered. In 1989, our Very Own Free World Media and Great Leaders spoke of "at least 100" murdered in the Square of Heavenly Woteva. Every year since, our Indisputable Sources (dispute them, and join Julian Assange!) have by implication leaked the Apocalyptic News: the Dead are BREEDING! Today, on the 30th anniversary of that atrocity, the "up to 200" have become THOUSANDS!! Timor mortuis conturbat me! but why worry?
James Marchment | 04 June 2019

The action of the Chinese leadership in ordering the PLA to use live ammunition against young Chinese students was a shocking crime against humanity. It was entirely appropriate for Bob Hawke to show compassion and allow Chinese citizens in Australia to seek political asylum. He was also very public in his condemnation of an even worse crime -the immoral US war against the peoples of Indochina. And we should never forget the role he played in supporting black Africans against the extreme right wing, racist and apartheid regime in South Africa. These actions made many Australians feel some pride in our nation. However, it has to be remembered that Bob Hawke was not always consistent in his concerns for human rights. Sadly, many will remember with shame that he showed no compassion whatsoever for the peoples of West Papua, East Timor, Acheh and Indonesians who were victims of the Indonesian military or the Palestinians as they suffered at the hands of the Zionist regime in Israel. In addition Bob Hawke supported the US instigated Gulf War. Sometimes the most popular leaders do not live up to the principles they claim to hold. We have to praise them when they take action to help the oppressed, but we should speak out strongly when they assist the oppressors.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 04 June 2019

A heartfelt article Jeremy. Qld Uni on the day of the massacre, two of us shared a house in Highgate Hill ( duplex) and on the other side of the building there were 5 Chinese Students. They shared our boxing bag. In the wake of Tiananmen Square they all were granted asylum. On Mar 5 2019 reported: "There’s a new name in the South China Sea’s growing list of flashpoints: Thitu Island. While nowhere near the scale of Fiery Cross or Mischief Reefs, this island and bundle of low-lying sandbars off the Philippines coast is just as significant. It’s a prosperous fishing spot. And it’s another potential territorial marker in the hotly contested international waterway. Now, China has physically staked its claim over the sandbars that surround it. Filipino fishermen say they are being driven away from their traditional fishing grounds, by Chinese boats." And State and Territory Governments selling off our leasehold Ports in a grab to stock their election coffers continues. Chinese state-owned companies now control about 76 ports in 35 countries - including Darwin, Melbourne, Adelaide. Beijing insists it only wants to use these ports for commercial purposes but its record in the SCS suggests otherwise.
Francis Armstrong | 05 June 2019


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