A delegation from the French arms manufacturing company Aerospatiale arrived in Beijing in mid-May, 1989 for the final negotiations for the sale of helicopters to China. Talks between representatives of Aerospatiale and Poly Technologies began in earnest on Friday morning, the 24th, for the purchase of four specially-equipped Dolphin helicopters for use by the PLA Navy.
"We had recently purchased 24 Gazelles from Aerospatiale for the Army Aviation Corps and several Super-Frelon helicopters for the Navy and augmented this purchase with the acquisition of several Sikorski Blackhawks from the United States," Yvonne recalls. "So, in one sense, this was simply ongoing business. But in another sense, the timing could not have been worse.
"When we received the fax at Poly on the last day of April informing us of the impending arrival of the French delegation we were not at all sure that they were serious. Were they merely going through the motions or in the midst of this crises were they actually expecting to negotiate a deal?
"When I read the fax, I couldn't believe my eyes. I remember saying, 'What? This isn't true! Is this a joke? Can you be sure that the delegation is coming and that final-stage preparations can take place in this pressure-cooker atmosphere?. This is impossible! Very simply, it was unbelievable."
But the Chinese Navy had decided earlier in the spring that it needed the four Dolphins because of the potential dangers involved in occupying and holding some of the Spratly(Nansha) Islands in the South China Sea. In March of 1988 the Chinese and Vietnamese navies fought a brief battle over the islands. The Spratlys were often on the minds of the naval planners because the international problems there were potentially explosive since several countries including the PRC, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claimed the islands. The Navy, as a result, was concerned about building up its ship-borne helicopter forces to support and defend Chinese claims in the Spratleys.
By the time the French delegation arrived in Beijing, the streets of the city were in near chaos. Ever since the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15th the city had been swept up in demonstrations and turmoil. On April 18th, 6,000 students from Beijing University marched to Tiananmen Square and sat down in protest in front of the Great Hall of the People. The Democracy Spring had begun. The eyes of the world were suddenly fixed on Beijing and the activities of the students. Martial law was declared at 10:00 am on May 20th and one hour later satellite transmissions from China to other countries was stopped. On May 23rd, one day before negotiations with Aerospatiale began, more than one million people took to the streets in Beijing to protest the martial law declaration.
There are 72 critical intersections leading from the outskirts of Beijing to Tiananmen Square. Block those intersections and you stop all traffic in the city. Block the intersections and no army can get to Tiananmen Square. By the end of May, that had happened. But it wasn't students who blocked the intersections. It was the workers of Beijing -- the common people.
"I saw the crisis intensify," Yvonne recalled. "The workers who blocked the intersections knew exactly what they were doing and their efforts were loosely coordinated. I believe that is what frightened the government most. They could deal with the students and the foreign press corps. But not the common people, they could not face down all those people. And there must have been, I would estimate, at least 100,000 people taking part in the effort to bring traffic to a standstill."
Each night the working people of the city drove buses, taxis and cars into the middle of the 72 intersections. They pulled concrete dividers from the middle of the streets across the traffic lanes and kept them there throughout the night. There were 300,000 troops around Beijing on May 19th. But they had trouble moving into the city. Truckloads of troops that drove into the city during the day found themselves stranded in the street at night. The People's Liberation Army was trapped by the People and they sat parked, helpless, and frustrated along side streets.
"The people were heroes from that point on. This is the great untold story -- the story of the people, the common people, not just the students."
But how long could this continue? "By the time the Aerospatiale delegation arrived, I felt something very serious was about to happen in the streets at any moment," Yvonne said. "You could sense it, you could almost feel it in the air. Troops ringed the city and were concentrated at several points near Tiananmen Square. But there was no way for them to get to the students in the square except by crashing through those 72 barricaded intersections."
The people carefully watched the troops. The troops and the government carefully watched the people. The troops didn't move during the day when the students and workers and newsmen could clearly see what they were doing. They dare not. And at night after 7 pm, they couldn't move either.
The people at the barricades stayed up all night talking and arguing about the future of the country. They talked, they complained, they laughed. This is the first time since 1949, some of them said, that they were really free, that they could do or say whatever they wanted. "They could openly criticize the government for the first time. And they were not afraid any more. Each night I rode my bicycle from our offices in the Citic building to my apartment. We were working late on the French contract and so I seldom left the office before dark. I stopped at these intersections and listened to the speeches and the conversations and I saw the glow and the confidence on the faces of these common people. I felt a thrill and a pride in being Chinese that I had never before felt. I fell in love with these nameless heroes. And I felt ashamed of what I was doing every day at Poly Technologies."
"In this atmosphere, we negotiated with the French for the purchase the Dolphin helicopters that the Navy insisted they so desperately needed.
"Later when we told our American and British friends what had happened and explained the timing of the deal to them, they just laughed. And they said, 'Oh, sure, that's the French!" "That's the French,' they insisted. 'They're just money oriented. Politics and ideals count for nothing with them.' They were never surprised at what the French did.
The French have been the biggest contractor for the Chinese military in the past several years. One of the things that makes negotiating with them relatively easy is that the they know how to do business in China. They know where the power really resides in China. They know which buttons to push and when, which officials are approachable behind the scenes and which are not. They are the experts in this field. So there was seldom any major problem with them in that area. And they had few problems clearing transactions with their own government. Under their defense ministry, the French had established a supervisory group that was known to us simply as the DCN. The organization supervises France's defense oriented research and production for export. They also assess and analyze the needs of potential foreign customers. It's a very powerful organization and many of the famous generals and admirals serve in DCN following their retirement from the military.
The DCN maintains an office in Beijing and has representatives present in the city at all times. And Aerospatiale also has a permanent office in Beijing.
The Aerospatiale delegation of about fifteen people was led by a Mr. Samuel, the director of the overseas marketing division of the company. The other members of the group were experts either on technical specifications or on price quotations or on commercial aspects.
"We Chinese who took part in the negotiations were worried, but we didn't talk openly about it. Who was not worried at that time? I watched the drama unfolding daily in the streets. I was for the students, but I couldn't leave work. I couldn't go to the Square to encourage them and talk with them. I had to prepare the contracts for the signings. I had to work very hard in those last days of May and the first days of June -- often putting in eighteen hour days at the office.
The French delegations customarily stayed at the Great Wall Hotel, which has an excellent French restaurant. The drive from there to Poly's offices at the Citic building normally takes only 20 to 40 minutes by limousine and taxi. But in late May many of the taxi drivers of the city were on strike and the streets were often blocked and impassable. Having been warned of this, the French delegation registered in the Beijing Hotel on Chang'an Boulevard adjacent to Tiananmen Square and also at the Jing Lun Hotel(Beijing Toronto -- a Chinese-Canadian joint venture) within walking distance of the Citic building should the streets be blocked.
The French, no doubt, saw the turmoil in the city as they made their way from the airport to their hotels. They knew what was going on outside, but it appeared they were completely unmoved by it. They just didn't seem to care. There was business to be done.
"On May 25th, the second day of the negotiations, PLA helicopters starting flying over Tiananmen Square to observe and photograph the students and to drop pamphlets. We could see them from our office windows like giant wasps circling and hovering ominously in the distance. It was just incredible -- they were the same Gazelles sold to us earlier by Aerospatiale!
"We had imported 24 of them early in 1988. They had been purchased especially for China's newly formed Army Aviation Corps, stationed at a specially designated airfield in Tong Xian County, a remote suburb of Beijing. It was from that airfield that the Gazelles took off and flew over Tiananmen Square. Several of the pilots on those Gazelle's owed their expertise at handling the craft to the fact that they had been well trained in France. The French also sent pilots and technicians to China to train crews for flying and maintaining the Gazelles.
"One of the selling points of the Gazelle is its simplicity. It is very easy to handle and is quite small with only enough space for a pilot and co-pilot. Yet it can be equipped with anti-tank guns, rockets or even missiles if they is required for the mission. Poly Technologies purchased them for the PLA theoretically for tank killing purposes. But on the 27th of May they, quite obviously, were assigned another task.
"I can tell you that more than once I looked out the window and saw those helicopters make a wide turn and pass over our building before racing back toward the Square and I wondered, 'My God, what have we done? And what are we doing here now?'
And so from our windows, we watched the Gazelles hovering ominously over the square. It was very clear, like watching a horrifying movie. My God, they flew so low, you know, and sometimes made their passes around the Citic building and they came so close we could see the air force insignia on the side -- August 1st, 1921, the day the army was formed in Jing Gang Mountain in 1921. On one unforgettable occasion I could even glimpse the faces of the pilot and co-pilot.
But the French were not to be distracted during the negotiations. They knew the Gazelles flying over Tiananmen Square to harass the students had been manufactured and sold to us by them. And far from being embarrassed by that fact, they seemed rather pleased by the expertise with which the pilots now handled the aircraft. I watched them nudge each other once as the helicopters flew nearby.
The PLA Navy also sent their own representatives to the negotiating sessions with Aerospatiale -- in civilian clothes, of course. In China, when foreigners are present at an event, military personnel must wear civilian attire. The government does not like foreigners to feel that the military chooses to deal with them directly, even when they do! But the military quite clearly was represented directly at these negotiations.
The head of the Chinese military delegation was Mr. Xie Tie-Niu(his name means "Iron Ox"), a navy captain, which is equivalent to an army colonel. He is the Director of the Naval International Procurement Division and his presence was essential at the negotiating table. He was accompanied by two other officers from his division. Captain Xie was newly promoted, and fairly young for his rank -- in his mid 30s. He had become very influential within the military and got along well with foreign businessmen. He is a striking figure -- unusually handsome and quite dashing in his confident gestures and appearance. His soft, clear skin, rosy cheeks and thick, perfect patent-leather hair -- indicate that he was from a wealthy as well as powerful family.
Unlike most of his fellow officers, Tie-Niu doesn't smoke, but he is devoted to social drinking and womanizing -- yet not yet to the extent that either of these diversions cause him personal or professional problems for him. He is an excellent dancer, and unabashedly romantic. Women adore him and he adores them. He is the envy of many of his young fellow officers since he has several mistresses -- all of them are strikingly beautiful. These women are, moreover, each independent individuals -- some of them even married -- and Tie-Niu is proud of the fact that he never has to concern himself with supporting them. He enjoys life and life has been good to him. He has a deep, resonant, commanding voice and is seldom not the center of attention either on the dance floor, at a cocktail party or at the negotiating table.
Another military negotiator at the meetings was naval captain Xiao Bo Ying, son of the late and very influential marshall and founder of the PLA Navy, Xiao Jingguang, the first naval admiral and the first commander in chief of the PLA Navy. Admiral Xiao, who had actually joined the Communist Party earlier than Mao Zedong, had been handpicked by Mao to head the Navy. He died two years ago. His son, Bo Ying, who basks in the glow and the influence of his father's career and power, is with the Technology and Equipment Division of the Navy and is in charge of aviation aspects of the Navy. He was present at the negotiations because he works in the helicopter sector of his division.
On the civilian side, I was present at some of the negotiations, representing Poly Technologies. Also present at the final stage was the general manager of the company, He Ping, son in law of Deng Xiao Ping and He Datong, vice president of the company.
But the individual primarily in charge of the project for Poly and the one I spent the most time with during the negotiations was Mr. Chun Kungmin, an unusually hard working and intense man who came from Guangdong Province. In addition to being a top-notch negotiator, Mr. Chun also an eccentric. He is in his early 40s and of medium height. His wire-rimmed glasses along with his constant pensive demeanor gave him the appearance of an intellectual. Originally from Guangdong Province, his absolute devotion to business was never quite concealed by the occasional flash of an official smile. Twenty years as an Air Force officer had somehow taught him to look serious even when he laughed. He wasn't completely devoid of a sense of humor-- he just looked that way. He was the perfect arms negotiator. His real internal thoughts were utterly indecipherable from his expressions. He drank only on ceremonial occasions and then only as much as was absolutely required. He did not enjoy music and the marchers in the street were merely an obstruction to him, a natural phenomenon that increased the time necessary for him to get to work. He had no vices I could recognize. He didn't smoke cigarettes and he didn't seem to be interested in women either. He was married, but he never spoke of his wife. I don't even know if he had children. He never mentioned them. Sometimes during the negotiations he stayed in the office overnight typing up paragraphs of a letters or documents without appearing tired in the morning. Not surprisingly, he was a devotee of physical fitness. He kept his business attire in a locker in the office, and at the end of his day, he'd slip into shorts, sneakers and a tee-shirt and then run several miles down Chang'an Avenue -- often in the dark -- before picking up his bicycle or catching a bus home. Then he'd run back to work the next morning, shower at work and crawl back into a suit. He was known to staff at the office for this unusual routine. In the winter he not only ran outdoors, but he swam in unheated open-air pools. The weather didn't phase him. He ran back and forth to work in the coldest winter snowstorm or on the hottest summer days.
He told me once that he got into that habit of running great distances when he was serving in the Air Force, where he had been the chief French interpreter for ten years. He could never break the habit. And so, although he still lived in the Air Force Compound in a Western Suburb of Beijing, there was never a problem of Kunming not showing up for work because of a breakdown in the public transportation system or the taxi service. Should the bus system fail, he would bicycle and run to work and show up as eager to work as those who walked or bicycled only a few blocks.
So altogether about six people from the navy were present, in civilian clothes, along with five people from Poly Technologies. The French had about 15 representatives present, for a total of 26 negotiators -- a relatively large group.
On the first day of talks we simply compared notes and exchanged our views on preparation of the final documents which would lead then to a formal contract. The discussions took place in two groups, one was for technical aspects of the sale and the other for commercial aspects.
The naval representatives appeared to believe right from the start that they were in a favorable bargaining position with the Aerospatiale, and they really pressed the French, saying that they intended to move ahead expeditiously with the purchase, they needed the Dolphins, and the only thing holding back an agreement was the price quotations by the French. So they urgently requested further concessions on prices. But the French were unimpressed by this position and held firm day after day. They insisted absolutely that there could be no further reductions in their quotations. My suspicions about this position proved, in time, to be correct. I had dealt with the French previously, and I believed that informal talks had taken place elsewhere prior to these formal negotiations. And I learned in time that indeed, through their special intermediaries, the French had contacted not only the top officials at Poly but also the top naval admirals, who were not present at these meetings. The admirals always played their games in this way, making promises and deals in other rooms that we never knew about. They were a shadow power when it came to negotiations with the French, always felt but seldom seen. And because of this the French, knowing what the final deal would be, invariably, could stand firm on this or that position. The French intelligence system was excellent. They knew everything about our situation. They had learned before negotiations that we had $US45 million in our pocket and that we had to spend it. They knew also that no matter how hard we pressed them they did not have to give in because they also knew that we absolutely had to buy the helicopters and to spend the money before the end of the year. If we didn't, we were obligated to return what was left of the financial allocation back to our superiors, the General Staff, and then there would be no profit at all for Poly. The General Staff didn't really care how much we spent -- and the French knew it, but we didn't know that they knew this. We at Poly always told the General Staff how much we needed and they allotted us the money at the start of the year. And so the French knew everything. And they knew that if they made the best bargain possible for themselves, a share of the profits would then be channeled to the admirals of our navy and could ease the way for future deals. Any deal on our terms would channel profits to Poly Technologies and make future negotiations more difficult.
The naval officers at the negotiations believed, apparently, if they pressed the French and at the same time showed determination that, as in the past, the seller would make some concessions just to ease the deal through. This is a common practice. And the guys from the Navy knew that. But what they didn't know was that the French knew what their position was and knew there need be no concessions. I knew what was going on from the opening negotiating session. I had been through this with the French before, several times. By the way they stuck adamantly and confidently to their original bargaining position, I could tell that the fix was in -- an agreement had already been arrived at behind the scenes. We were just going through the motions while the real substance of the agreement had been worked out elsewhere.
There were leaks, important ones, at the very highest level of the navy. And, as always, the French knew everything. And so on the one hand we were saying to them, "If you don't make further concessions there will be no deal." And they knew this was just bullshit. There would be a deal, whether they made concessions or not. So there would be no concessions
The top navy brass had been in touch with the French, through their intermediary, and made their own agreement. And, as always, they had been given special consideration -- had been bribed -- I had seen this before, too. But their subordinates were clean, the ones at the negotiating so seriously at the table each morning.
Even without their behind-the-scenes maneuvering, I felt uneasy negotiating with Aerospatiale in the first place, I can tell you. I mean that we knew full well that products manufactured by the French are cheap, undependable and poorly manufactured. The quality is simply inferior. And yet we have signed so many contracts with the French. Why? The answer is easy: their contacts and the special consideration given the top brass. It's that simple. The French were the number one Western arms merchants in China not because they had a good product but because they had learned how to do business with the Chinese much better than their competitors, the Americans and the British. The Americans simply are not good businessmen in China and the British, well, they are even worse than the Americans.
What is the problem, as I see it, with the Americans and the British? Well, they are just too honest, too sincere, too naive when it comes to China. Maybe their China watchers and academic writers have misprepared them. The French never had that problem, never fell into that category. And so before they headed to the negotiation table they knew exactly what our position and our arguments would be.
So in the Citic building the final negotiation phase was not very meaningful except in technical terms. Aerospatiale still had to explain to the customer how to interface their product with other products, system coordination and system integration and so on, because we would be putting on board the Dolphins some materials made in China. Part of the avionics are from China, for example. So the French did spend a lot of time explaining things like that to us, but that is hardly negotiating.
"Sometimes during the talks I looked up at the face of my section director or the deputy manager or even at the general manager of the company. Most of the time they smiled amiably. When they altered their expression and smiled, they smiled like robot might smile. They'd lost the color in their faces and it seemed they lacked any genuine emotion -- they had neither enthusiasm or sincerity. They smiled when they needed to smile. They laughed when they were supposed to laugh. They exchanged greetings when it was absolutely required. They controlled themselves and the meetings, I thought, beautifully, considering what was going on outside in the street and in the square.
Inside our comfortable air-conditioned offices on the fifth floor of the Citic building -- which is commonly referred to in Beijing as the "Chocolate Building" because of its rich brown color -- it might appear that nothing of consequence was going on outside. It was incredible. None of us were in the mood to do business. Yet everyone smiled dutifully. I didn't know what was going to happen. I certainly thought this was the worst time imaginable to be doing arms dealing for the PLA. Like most other employees of Poly and as well as the employees of other companies in the Citic building, I wanted to be in the Square or in one of those massive parades that passed by on Jianguomen Avenue. But I was needed to examine and translate technical specifications from English into Chinese. So every day I did my job. I sat through the droning negotiations and the discussions of so many American dollars -- dollars are the currency used in the international arms trade -- for this and so many technicians to be trained here or there at this time or that. And whenever there was a lapse in the conversation I just gazed down at the table, thinking about what was happening outside, forgetting for the moment what was happening -- tuning out the voices in the room. My mind as well as my heart wandered again and again to the students and the workers the streets and the square.
"I kept thinking, wondering what the solution to this crisis -- this uprising -- might be and what it might mean for the Communist party. I imagined on some days that it might be the end of the Communist party in China. Deng and the party might be actually be finished! And so I had almost convinced myself at the end of May that the Communist party of China was about to make its last gasp -- it had outlived its usefulness. I suppose the mood of those crowds at night in the intersections and the songs and cheers of the students in the street had affected me and I was thinking, like so many other Chinese at the time, with my heart rather than with my mind. I should have known better. I should have known better!
Since the intersections were blocked at night, it was difficult for me to get home after work. I had to ride my bicycle slowly around the city and walk part of the way. Some evenings I chose to stay in the office rather than go home, and on those nights I slept on a standby bed. Those among the French delegation who were staying at the Beijing Hotel also found it difficult to get a ride back to their rooms and they were forced to walk since even taxis could not navigate that short distance at night.
During the morning of Monday, May 29th, when we were in the final negotiation stage, we heard some unusually loud noise from just outside in the hallway. When we stepped outside to see what was happening, we found a group of employees from other companies who were very sympathetic to the students. They had learned that the helicopters, circling over Tiananmen Square and then flying over our building were purchased and imported through Poly, they leaked this story out to the students, and a lot of employees then mixed with the students and stormed our offices. They came right into the offices and the hallways on the fifth floor and belligerently questioned and accused anyone they could find. The guards in the lobby had lost control and couldn't stop anyone from coming into the building at that time. The receptionists told us that several times groups of people rushed up to the reception desks and swore at them and threatened them. When they found us, the first thing one student shouted at me was, "WHAT KIND OF FUCKING COMPANY ARE YOU, ANYWAY?" I said nothing but simply stared back at him. He was shaking with anger. Others came out of the offices to see what was going on. And the demonstrators and protestors continued to shout at us. They denounced anyone they could find. When someone tried to walk away they would actually grab them and ask, "What kind of company are you? Do you know what you are doing? You are spending China's treasure, her hard earned foreign currency to buy shit like this, like these helicopters."
Many of us were embarrassed and we really didn't know what to say. We just didn't know what to say. We weren't afraid at those moment, but we were profoundly moved. For the first time we stopped to think about what we had been doing. We knew that the French had sold us the helicopters and that those same machines were indeed now flying over the students and that at that very moment we were doing business with Aerospatiale again China's foreign currency for more weapons. What could I tell them? That we never thought the helicopters would be used against students? Would that answer have satisfied them?
The demonstrators made a lot of noise and threw paper on the floor, but that was all. We were not unsympathetic toward them. During the first three days of June things were getting out of hand in the office. Employees from other companies in the Citic building and other groups of people -- including students and their supporters --just came in off the streets, marched into the offices of Poly and tried to cause trouble. The security guards assigned to the lobby seldom showed up anymore and the whole building was virtually unguarded. Anyone could walk in. And they did.
Some employees of other companies in the building changed their attitudes toward us, too. There were several international companies in the building, including American, Yugoslavian and West German and a couple of Chinese business, also. And now the topic of conversation among those employees was our company. When we were approached on the elevator or in the lobby they would say things such as, "We always wondered what kind of company you were. In the past we didn't know that. But now we know what you guys are doing. And it stinks!" I personally experienced that sort of exchange several times. Whenever the elevator door opened onto the fifth floor those inside glared at us or talked about the company loudly, firing out profane epithets as though we weren't really there. They said the meanest things about us -- things that were true. And they glared at us with accusatory and disapproving looks and tried to stare us down. At other times would be absolutely quiet and refuse to exchange a simple perfunctory greeting or even to acknowledge our presence. We had become pariahs in our own office building.
The company officers immediately reported these incidents to the General Staff of the PLA of course and the General Staff made a decision. Later on that summer, after the massacre, Poly was moved from the fifth floor of the Citic building to the seventeenth.
Judging from my talks with one of the French delegation members I learned that they were not unimpressed by what was happening in the streets during the talks. They could see and hear; they were watching, too. But they cherished one thing, above all else. They believed that no matter what seemed to be happening at the moment, in the end the Chinese government was going to control the situation. Nobody is going to change the course of communism in China, they believed. Not the students in the Square and not the workers in the streets. They believed that those in power would remain in power. And, besides, even if they proved to be wrong and Communism collapsed, no matter who stayed in power or came to power was going to need a strong army to control China. And the only way of way of arming the military with modern weapons was through foreign assistance. They were very confident of that. So there would always be a need for Aerospatiale, no matter who ruled China.
So the French were confident of themselves and of the government in Beijing. And when I saw them each morning, after they'd walked or ridden to the Citic building, I noticed that the expressions they had and their attitude was not that of the other foreigners wandering around Beijing at that time. Foreigners on the street, I thought, were sort of nervous and in a state of heightened excitement. They were looking around -- and with good reason -- to see who might be following them. But not the French. No, not the French.
That is why, in the end, the signature itself on the Aerospatiale - Poly Technologies contract was more significant as a matter of timing rather than of actual substance of the agreement. The French wanted to demonstrate that they could do business, make deals and come to agreements and sign contracts, and give out favors, even in the most chaotic of times.
Despite the difficulties and interruptions, on June 2nd everything in the Aerospatiale agreement was in place. The French had not budged on price, we had conceded everything and we were ready to make the purchase and to sign the contracts. The signing ceremony was arranged for the next day, June 3, a Saturday.
On June 3rd, a massive crowd of demonstrators marched by and there was virtually no public transportation and no policemen in the streets. Everything seemed to be spinning out of control -- everything but our negotiations with the Aerospatiale. The completed contract between Aerospatiale and Poly Technologies arranged for the sale of four Dolphin helicopters for $US45 million. The contract called for two of the helicopters to be equipped with advanced avionics systems provided by a major subcontractor, Thomson CSF. The hardware and software package was to include S12 dipping sonar systems, acoustic signal processing capabilities, target display, fire control and an advanced C3I system. The helicopters were also to be capable of carrying anti-submarine torpedoes.
I didn't finish work preparing documents for the signing ceremony until 2 o clock in the morning on June 3rd. The ceremony was postponed until 3 that afternoon. On the morning of June 3rd, there was a feeling in the company -- judging from the situation in the street and in the Square -- that time was rapidly running out. The principal officers of the company who were who were militarily well connected were no doubt aware of what the army had been ordered to do later that day. They knew! It was going to be close, they knew. They had to get business done and get out of the building and off the streets. As a result, they were concerned with wrapping up our business with the French as quickly as possible. At the same time they dare not communicate their dire concern to the French or to others of us in the company. They were unable to conceal their anxiety, however, but at the same time could not tell us why they were so rushed. The atmosphere in those final hours on Saturday, consequently, was one of intense yet unspecified foreboding. There was something ominous in the air. The Poly executives and the naval officers wanted to get the contract signed and complete the deal before the killing began that night.
Student marchers had come by our building almost daily. And then on June 2 and June 3 it seemed that everyone in the city was in the streets and I watched the biggest crowds I had ever seen before in and around Tiananmen. At least one million people poured out into the streets on those days.
As those crowds gathered outside, I prepared many of the final documents for signing. During the night of June 2nd and the early morning of the 3rd, we printed them out and laid them out for the signing ceremony. All of them had to be translated into English, which is the lingua franca of the arms trade.
That morning the building looked almost abandoned, like a ghost building. The security guards did not show up for work -- indeed, hadn't been there for several days --and workers in most of the other offices were also not at their desks that Saturday. In fact, not all of our Chinese staff showed up that morning because they simply couldn't make it to the office. Kunming, of course, had run to work, and all of the major officers were present for the signing.
The French arrived at 3 pm -- they had walked to our office because no taxis were available -- and we showed them to a room with a long table which we had draped the national flags of France and China. Our front-desk receptionists, two pretty young girls, were recruited to serve champagne, which was a must for an occasion like this.
He Ping, Mr. Samuel and Xie Tie-Niu stood side by side and smiled for our photographer. Yet this was an unusually solemn ceremony since every one of us -- even the French -- knew what was happening outside. Everyone was somber and unsmiling unless it was absolutely required to appear otherwise. When we made a toast and said "Gen Bei" then people would flash a smile for a moment, but it was forced, and it was over in a moment.
And when we were finished, when I saw the contract signing, all I could think of at that time was that I really hated the French, from the depth of my soul I hated them. I had nothing but complete contempt for them.' The French, my God. How could anyone respect for them. I'll never have a friendship with them again, never in my life. I'll never speak to them again. They are filthy.'
At five o clock the signing ceremony was completed. Then there was an unexpected request. The French expected that as usual following such momentous events, there would be a banquet to celebrate the completed agreement. They asked He Ping where the banquet was to be.
The French usually preferred to celebrate at Maxim's, an expensive French restaurant, for their signing banquets. Most of us at Poly, though, never liked the place because we found French cooking to be nearly unpalatable. But this was an unusual night and Maxim's was far away and would require driving. And when they suggested a banquet, He Ping immediately suggested that we hold it right in the building, on the 28th floor, at the Windows of the World(She Zhr Jichua) a superb Chinese restaurant -- many people insist that it is the best Chinese restaurant in Beijing. The French insisted that they pay for the banquet on this evening, so He Ping telephoned the manager of the restaurant and reserved tables for 30 people.
There are A and B and C levels of banquets at the Windows of the World, and since the French were paying and price was therefore not an issue, He Ping ordered the A banquet. Everyone present at the signing ceremony, including the receptionists, was invited to attend. Since this was very short notice, and it was already late -- about 6:30 pm -- the banquet was not as formal as such affairs usually are. There was merely a brief rest period and then we took the elevators to the top of the building. We even called the girls at the front desk and the drivers, and reserved two tables for them in the restaurant.
Our party that night occupied only about five tables but we asked that the restaurant be illuminated by candlelight for this special celebration. The manager complied with our request and glass covered candles were placed on the tables while the overhead lights were dimmed. I noticed that the there were very few waitresses in the restaurant that night. We were told by the manager that many of his workers were unable to get through the streets to work. The service was consequently agonizingly slow and for a group of people in a hurry, this was unfortunate. He Ping wished to complete the banquet as quickly as possible and at the same time not seem to be discourteous to the French hosts.
Shark fin soup, the specialty of the restaurant was served as the opening course, and was accompanied by a dozen bottles of the finest French champagne available. While we waited for each course that evening, there were scores of toasts and the champagne was quickly consumed. There was plenty of time to talk between the courses and the toasts. And more time to worry, actually.
From the Windows of the World you could see out over the entire city. There were few other guests in the restaurant that evening, obviously because it was difficult to travel outside and very few of Beijing's businessmen were in a festive mood.
The dignitaries from the negotiating sessions -- Kunming, Tie-Niu, He Ping, Bo Ying, Samuels and others of high rank sat at a head table. They appeared to be involved in serious conversation during their eating and drinking.
As the sky darkened outside, some of us looked out the windows toward the illumination in the distance that we knew was Tiananmen Square. We couldn't resist it, of course. Those of us from Poly talked among ourselves about events outside. After all, we could still speak freely about whatever we liked. The French representatives at my table, who had to communicate with us through a translator, wanted to know what we thought was going to happen in China in the coming weeks and years. But they were polite enough not to ask pointed questions and not to press for answers. Some French representatives indicated, during the dinner, that they were actually more pleased with the negotiating process itself at this critical and pivotal moment in China's history than with the actual specifics of the contract. It indicated, they said, that the Chinese and the French could do business under even the most harrowing of circumstances. I recall, in particular, one individual stating that they had been successful in breaking through the "Chinese ice" in the past several days and sealing an important business deal. It proved, he said, that the events in the streets need not intrude into the talk of the negotiating room.
The Chinese around the table shared their worries and concerns, predicting what might happen and what the future might be like. Of course, we were wrong in our predictions.
We didn't say out loud what we all knew -- that the Communist regime was basically against the will of the people. All you had to do was to look at the numbers of people in the streets. You saw the banners and the slogans every day. Everything looked white in the streets from the shirts and the banners of the marchers. And along the sides of the streets were small camps for university students from other provinces. They could not get into Tiananmen Square because the Square was restricted to students, primarily, from the Beijing area. And those who couldn't make it in were encamped along the sides of the streets. Sometimes they slept in buses that never left their parking places. Some stood on top of the buses during the demonstrations waving flags. And they stood around the army trucks that made it into the city and tried to talk to the soldiers, who were stranded in the middle of this ocean of people and who obviously unhappy and in no mood to talk to anybody.
One of the officials of our company, I recall, said, "Why should I be worried. If the Party is finished, then half the people will be very happy. And if the party is not finished, another half of the people will be happy." And if China was to be more democratic, another asserted, then there would be perhaps a better life for all. That is what we dwelled on -- the impending death of either the democracy movement or of the Communist party. Everybody could not win. One side or the other would have to triumph and the other back off in defeat.
Out of politeness, we turned again and again to small talk and asked the French, through our translator, how they enjoyed their stay in China and what monuments and tourist attractions they had visited and enjoyed most. We tried to avoid politics with them despite their persistent questions. But, with each other, we shared our concerns, because we all could see what was happening.
He Ping and Mr. Samuel made their final toasts at 10:30. I noticed He Ping looking at his watch with some concern as the night wore on. When he had completed his toast, the banquet was finished and we prepared to leave.
A few minutes later we were on the elevators returning to our fifth floor offices. The French guests and a few of the Poly Technologies officers went down first and the rest of us followed in shifts on the small elevators. We stopped for Frenchmen to retrieve some of their papers and cases on the fifth floor and then escorted them to the lobby. I noticed that there were cars from the French Embassy waiting for them in front of the Citic building. I thought this was unusual. They were then driven away in the direction of the French Embassy rather than toward their hotels. I thought later that this perhaps indicated that they had some idea of what was going to happen. As I watched them leave, I thought just for a moment that I detected lightening flashes in the western sky and guessed that it was going to rain and that I should hurry home.
As I then walked to retrieve my bicycle from behind the Chocolate building, I saw Kunming almost silently come out into the dark street in his running shorts and sneakers and pad off into the darkness. Other employees of the company scattered in several different directions heading home. There were no taxis or cars moving about and so very little noise in the street at that time.
As I rode my bicycle home, in a general northwest direction, I noticed that the situation on the street was still tense. I passed many military vehicles parked along the side streets, loaded with silent soldiers. Yet, curiously, nobody seemed too worried about them and nobody I talked to thought they would shoot anybody. When you saw the trucks driving around during the day you weren't afraid because the general feeling was that the PLA might do something dramatic but certainly they would never shoot anybody, not indiscriminantly, certainly. I think the general anxiety came from the belief that something had to change, something had to give, and nobody knew what. But I must say now that the silent trucks sitting there in the dark were not a good sign. The soldiers inside were so quiet, they weren't even talking to each other. Some of them were stranded and some of them were lost, we thought. And all of them seemed, when you saw them in the light, unhappy to be in Beijing.
As I made my way home I found that there was some traffic on the street, but the main intersections remained blocked with buses and taxis and concrete dividers.
I took a roundabout way home. Despite my long day and staying up most of the previous night, I wasn't very tired. I rode around Beihai park.
Crowds of people were gathered throughout the area. They were talking, smoking, laughing. Predicting the future. Sometimes there were only a dozen or so gathered, sometimes more. They would be standing in a circle, arguing or listening to someone speaking. Some insisted that Communism was finished. And nobody believed that army was going to shoot anybody. I even stopped my bicycle and listened for a time to one of the more animated discussions in the street. There was a sizable crowd of people there and an army veteran was addressing them. I remember so clearly hearing him say, "The army may shoot, but they will only shoot in the air if they do. Don't forget, it is the People's liberation army and they will only shoot into the air, they will never shoot the people."
I wanted to believe him. But he was wrong. Within a very short time, of course, the People's Liberation Army moved in and they shot anyone and everyone.
I was getting ready for bed when I heard what sounded like firecrackers going off in the distance, near Mu Xudi. The noise continued and grew louder. I looked outside into the sky and saw searchlights scanning the darkness. I decided to bicycle toward Mu Xudi to see what was happening. As I approached the intersection it looked like a huge fire was burning in the distance. The sky was glowing red and there were sudden flashes of what appeared to be lightening. Then people ran by me in the darkness, some of them cursing, some crying, some just silently running away. I got off my bicycle and wheeled it beside me toward Mu Xudi. And as I got closer and closer I found myself whispering over and over and over again, "Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no."
Most of us from Poly Technologies were unable to get back to work for a week after that. So the contract signing turned out to be even more fortuitous for the French, it seemed at first. On June 4th soldiers came by and shot at the windows on the 27th floor of the Citic building. That floor was occupied by a Yugoslavian industrial engineering firm called SNELT Global Project Management and by AT&T. Some of the office windows faced west toward Tiananmen Square and from those windows you could see clearly what was happening in the streets. Some of the soldiers insisted later that they saw snipers in the windows. What really happened, though, was that the public security officers saw some videotapes they thought must have been taken from the 27th floor of the building and they wanted to intimidate people and prevent them from taking any pictures of what was happening from that advantageous position on the 27th floor. Later on the soldiers shot out not only the windows of our building but also some of those in the nearby foreign residential area and the diplomatic compounds. The offices of the British and the American army attaches, with the windows facing the west, were all shot out, too. The soldiers said later that they thought films were being made from those buildings, too.
Yet within a surprisingly short time, business was back to normal at Poly. And on the surface everything looked as it had a few months before the massacre. But very few of us felt the same inside. We saw what had happened and many of us had not supported the action of the army or of the military. Yet nobody dared to speak out about it anymore. Nobody dared to express his own opinion openly any longer. The atmosphere in the city and in the company had changed dramatically. We felt it was dangerous to speak critically about the government or the PLA. So we stuck to business. Poly Technologies was still in business and arms deals had to be made.
But what was interesting about that Aerospatiale contract was that later on, because of the Tiananmen incident, the French government joined the American government in posing certain restricted economic sanctions against China and consequently the contract failed to get approval of the French government. So the system was never delivered and the contract not finalized. French Aerospatiale worked closely with DAI to persuade the French government to approve the contract. Of course, since high technology transfers and military technology were involved, the French government had no other choice but to not reject the contract for the time being. But in time, naturally, it was approved because, well, you know the French. Business is business and politics is politics.
For several days after June 3rd, it was difficult for many employees of companies in the Citic building to get to work. Public transportation had come to a complete standstill. But when it was possible to get to work and the offices in the building were again operating, almost invariably, the employees of the other companies still spoke openly about what had happened. And many of them became really infuriated about Poly Technologies. They not only had seen the helicopters and they knew that we had purchased them. On June 4th, Soviet made MI-8 transport helicopter flew overhead towing a large aerial speaker and broadcasting, "Jun Wei shou zhang zhi shi: Bu dui bu de shou zu. Shou zu jian jue huan ji.(Instructions from the Central Military Commission -- troops should by no means be stopped from advancing. If they are, open fire.)" And down there in the street, an APC captured by some workers and students opened fire on the helicopter with the anti-aircraft machine gun, forcing the aircraft to accelerate quickly and climb away to a safer altitude to avoid being hit.
The discussions in the lobby and in the hallways kept coming back again and again to Poly Technologies. And then the harassment began again. People on the elevators said that "Poly is in this building, and these fucking guys have nothing to do with us. They are under no one's control." And several times these people would sort of wander into the reception area of our offices and question the girls there, who didn't really know what was going on. They sometimes spilled ink or papers and then shouted insults. Whenever an officer came out of the office they stopped him and cursed him. They were a continuing nuisance and they were embarrassing.
And so we moved from the 5th to the 17th floor of the Citic building. We had been planning this move for sometime, since we needed more office space. And the events surrounding the Tiananmen massacre, the harassment by others in the building, simply hastened the move. It was like Chinese politics. Anything that happens in Chinese politics is never based solely on one thing. There are usually many factors contributing to the final result. Harassment by other employees in the Citic building was merely one of the elements -- an important one, to be sure -- that caused our move up in the world.