Survey: Should Washingtonians care about those June 4th, 1989 liquor bottles?
By Wen Liu June 3, 2017
This blog is mostly about info and news of what has happened between Washington state and China, in business, exchanges, etc., not usually politics. However, this 28th anniversary of June 4th of Tiananmen crackdown has caught up with Washington and Sichuan, our sister province. For a year now, as reported in the NY Times, four men in Chengdu, the capital, have been under detention for designing and marketing a set of Chinese liquor bottles with labels that said “Eight Liquor Six Four,” homophones for 89.6.4, with a drawing of the Tank Man and boasting of 27 years aging of the liquor. They have been charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” with no trials date yet. Considering China’s aversion to any mention of Tiananmen and the importance of China relations, here is the question:
Should Washingtonians, while engaged in their business and exchanges with China, care about those commemorative June 4th, 1989 liquor bottles and their producers, and why?
Here are some responses from our China hands and watchers in the order they were received. You are welcome to add yours in Disqus.
George Koo, int'l business consultant; board member, New America Media; member, Committee of 100:
As a recently published and carefully researched and compiled book, “Massacre? What Massacre?" by Wei Ling Chua, disclosed, there was no massacre on June 4 1989 at Tiananmen and the protest was not about democracy but against corruption and favoritism on job assignments. (Yes, corruption was a problem even then.) I suspect the liquor celebrating June 4 is exploiting the market for western media and expats living in China for them to buy as a souvenir. As Chua's book pointed out the protest became a massacre through the skillful distortion and exaggeration on the part of western media.
Mingxia Li (Zhang Er), professor, biomedical sciences, Chinese poetry, the Evergreen State College
Yes, for the sake of good business if not for the basic right of freedom of speech. How any business functions securely, say nothing of thrives, when the laws and policies are vague and are not enforced according to the book? Just imagine the government would intervene in marketing strategies in such obtrusive manner!
Steve Harrell, anthropologist of China and Taiwan, retiring from teaching at UW from 1974:
It’s saddening but not surprising that the defendants, audacious and open as their act was, were arrested for subversion. Every year around this time, Chinese internet monitors scour the web for any mention of the numbers 6.4, let alone 89.6.4, and even such cryptic references as 5.35 (the fourth of June is the 35th of May, get it?). That they are from Chengdu is of double significance since it’s not well-known that Chengdu was the only major city other than Beijing where government troops killed demonstrators on June 4, 1989, even though there were demonstrations in almost all major cities around the country. An archaeologist who was a UW colleague at the time was in Chengdu about to start a joint excavation project. In those days most foreigners stayed at the Jinjiang Hotel, and he watched from the roof as troops (I’m not sure but I think they were People’s Armed Police) beat and kicked to death about 60 or 80 people. None were shot, according to his report. In the shadow of the much more extensive massacre in Beijing, which was broadcast live on NBC, the Chengdu killings tend to be forgotten.
Someday, like the even bigger February 28, 1947 massacre in Taiwan, the full story of June 4 will come out. Meanwhile, Washingtonians and everyone else should definitely care about anything that keeps the memory alive until the story can be told openly. Save me a bottle if you can find one, and I will toast the distillers.
Bruce Ramsey, former editorial writer, the Seattle Times:
Washingtonians shouldn't allow it to obstruct their business and other exchanges with China, which are important to us, because fundamentally the bounds on political speech in China is a matter for them to decide. Washingtonians might express an opinion if asked though they probably won't be asked, because to ask is to invite criticism. I think that if the government there would allow four men in a provincial city offer for sale a few bottles of political liquor, it would discover that it is no threat to state power, but that's just a foreigner's opinion. It's their decision.
Carson Tavenner, executive director, the Tai Initiative:
A government worried about the power of liquor bottle labels is a government that lives in fear, and this fear is something we should all be concerned about in bigger terms than just this new episode involving the labels. As for the four men in Chengdu, we should indeed care about them and their fate. We should rigorously test the description of their crime (“inciting subversion of state power”) against the description of their behavior ("designing and marketing a set of Chinese liquor...labels") and weigh this against the realities of what a year-long detention (and subsequent long-term incarceration) does to families and businesses. The Great Forgetting (taking this phrase from the WSJ article of 5/31/2014) should be counterbalanced by at least some forms of remembering among mainland Chinese beyond overseas residents' ability to remember "for them".
Bob Anderson, founding president, Washington State China Relations Council; long-time trade consultant to Snohomish County:
No -- We need to stay away from that one if at all possible!