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Protests Turn Violent in U.S. Consulate

The Chinese community took to the streets Saturday, May 8, in front of the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and other Consulates around China to protest the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia.

Saturday afternoon, the crowds already had begun gathering in front of the Consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. As many as 20,000 would build up there, coming from all over the city. The crowd became increasingly loud and violent as their numbers increased.

Rock-throwing was common, and many of the windows within range of the protesters had been smashed. Objects set on fire were thrown into the compound while the protesters screamed anti-NATO and anti-American slogans. Threats were coming in over the telephones almost back to back. The Consulate, which has no protective or American military force of its own, had to rely on the Chinese military police, who held the crowd back from entering the Consulate grounds but failed to stop the protesters from throwing objects.

Hours passed, with some of the Consulate personnel in the main office building and the rest with the families in the residential building. In the back, protests got louder and some had climbed up on buildings along the east side wall of the compound. These people broke most of the windows in the Consul General's residence set the upper floor on fire. With the help of US. Consulate personnel, the first fires were extinguished. A small office by the front garage also was set on fire. After the Consul General' s residence was set on fire again, the fires spread too quickly to control them and burned most of the upper floor of the house, as well as some of the ground-level floor.

As the Consulate personnel contemplated moving all the families to a secure area in the Consulate, violence over the side wall escalated to a point where people could no longer move between the two buildings without being hurt. Soon after, all lights were ordered off, blinds drawn, and all doors locked. As the families waited in the dark, they received calls that a few of the protesters had gotten over the front and east side walls and were in the compound. Upon hearing this, the families locked themselves into rooms and closets, hoping for the best. After 20 minutes or so of extreme tension and anxiety, Chinese military police could be seen outside the windows, which brought some sense of security back to the families. Shortly after, at about 4 am, most people were so exhausted that they fell asleep despite the loud, protesting crowds outside. But they would not sleep for long.

At 6:30 am the families were awakened to the news that they were to leave the compound. No one had heard anything for hours, and everyone was curious. They later hear that some of the cars near the main office building had been vandalized, pool equipment was destroyed or thrown about, and many of the lights and windows were broken. Looking toward the Consul General' s residence, the walls above the windows were covered with soot; many of the lights and windows were broken. One could see that the shatterproof glass door leading in was smashed but had not been broken through despite efforts made using a bicycle rack as a battering ram. Protesters had gotten into the residential area and smashed a few windows, as well as getting into the building and into the stairwell but never into any of the apartments. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, just a local guard who had been hit on the head with a rock.

The families were loaded onto a bus and taken away. Although there was no loss of human life, these people have had their views on the world changed, and life here in Chengdu will never be the same.

Read more at: hftp://chengdu.freeservers.com David Tansey

[This is another article by David Tansey.]

On Friday, May 7, 1999, NATO hit an unintended target. That target was the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. That pilot has no idea what he had just started; no one did.

At nine o'clock in the morning, Saturday, May 8, I awoke with the assumption that I could get some Chinese news on the TV:  NATO had hit the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, and we needed to hear the Chinese side of the story.

To me, what my father said sounded logical; after all, we were American diplomats in China.

After setting up a radio for my parents, I went back to sleep. A few hours later, I was awake again. Only in the early afternoon did the local Chinese news broadcast the information. To make matters worse, the Chinese Government was angry at America.

"U.S.-led NATO forces" was the phrase of the times and because of that phrase, we were confined to our compound. This news was, at first, a happy change to our uneventful lives. Something to gossip about; something interesting was finally happening in Chengdu, China.

Everyone was predicting what would happen, but no one was even close. Not even my 7 years in China could prepare, or even let me fathom, what was going to happen. Everyone wanted some recent news, and our first choice was CNN. We saw thousands of people in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. They were marching around, and everything seemed orderly. Not very long afterward, reports were the only things showing, and because of the relatively peaceful demonstration in Beijing, everyone mellowed out a bit.

The next step in our quest for knowledge was to call the Consulate personnel in the main office building to find out what was happening. "Nothing really, just a few hundred people marching and shouting, nothing to worry about," one of them said. Daylight seemed to go quickly and with nightfall came more noise. Now we could hear the shouts from our homes, but we could not see anything because the office building was in the way.

No on was worried, just curious, after all, the last number we had heard was a few hundred, nothing to worry about. I decided I was going for a look see. I went to the gate that connected the two areas, residential and office. All I could see was black; there was absolutely no space between the people in the crowd. There were more than a few hundred, but still no problem, just shouting. It was then I could make out what they were saying, "da dao mei guo," (down with America) over and over. "Down with America?" That was not something pleasant to hear.

I figured they were just blowing off steam. I could see some rocks on the ground--let them throw rocks; we made a mistake. Let them throw rocks.

It was now just about midnight, and the families with small children had decided they were going to bed. I for one was not going to miss a second of this, so I went to a friend' s house. Fortunately, we had similar sentiments about this whole ordeal.

It must have been one o'clock when we got the call. "Everyone go into your homes, turn off the lights, lock the doors; they are in the compound," my friend's father said. I sometimes wonder how it must have felt for him and all the other fathers and husbands. I guess I will know when I am one. At that point I ran up to my house and woke my mother and told my sister to check the locks and kill the lights. I then drew the blinds, and we all prepared an evacuation kit--some clothes and water, just in case we had to get out quick. We all went into my parents rooms and hoped for the best.

My watch said we had been waiting there for an hou; I told myself two. Tension was high. I felt ready for anything. I kept planning what might happen if they came in; how many could I stop? Should I try to be my six-foot two imposing self or try to talk to them? I had so many questions but no answers. I figured there was no way 1 could have thought about all that in just an hour. By then 1 had looked outside and seen the Chinese military police marching around. Boy, l felt better. Soon the call came; they were out of our compound.

I stayed awake for a few hours after that, but then the excitement of the day and the hour of the morning forced me to go to sleep, phone in hand, crowds cheering in the background. I would not sleep for long.

Six thirty in the morning, and we families were summoned from our sleep and told to get ready to leave. It did not take long to prepare my bag, and shortly after I was waiting with the rest of the families.

I had a few minutes to look around, and I was amazingly rested considering I had only 2 hours of sleep. I saw the hundreds of rocks and bricks on the tennis court. I saw them strewn about pool equipment. I looked up at our Consul General's residence and could not stop staring at the fire damage above his windows. As I walked toward the main office building, I practically tripped over a mound of dirt. Actually, it turns out that pile of dirt was really the word "murderer," probably written using one of the potted plants. The main office building's windows were broken behind the grates, and the front door had been hit hard with a makeshift battering ram. There were bricks, bottles, and broken glass everywhere.

That day I thought about how much better I would feel had I been Chinese, on the other side of that fence, and not being attacked for being American. "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," at least for now, seemed to ring true.

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