Eight Days in China: Eyewitness to History   -  PART 1


by Dr. George K. Kostopoulos


Special to The Hellenic Journal


In May, I called my associate in Shanghai and told her that due to the travel warning issued by the U.S. government, my June visit to China was indefinitely postponed. She said to me, “Oh, you Americans, you are so self-protective; there is simply a friendly gathering in Beijing at the Tiananmen Square, and Shanghai is very quiet, just a few people walking up and down. Your business hosts are eager to meet with you, they have watched the video of your system, they want to see the prototype you are bringing and sign a purchase and cooperation agreement. They will be so disappointed. I assure you there is nothing to worry about.”


Since she was really giving me the Shanghai picture, I also called my academic hosts in Beijing to further assess the situation. Their response was “everything is orderly and peaceful, our university has a sizable delegation at the Square, and we will be at the airport at 8 p.m. sharp.”


Well, rather than listen to Washington, which has access to a wealth of intelligence information, I listened to my unsuspecting friends and associates.


I announced my trip to my family, friends, colleagues, and associates, and all in a subtle way expressed their concerns. I assured everyone that I was expecting business to be as usual in China, and that the activities at Tiananmen Square were not going to lead to a confrontation.


I was expecting a trip similar to my previous three, which included lectures, academic meetings, and industrial visits. This trip would also include the conclusion of a business agreement.


A short stay in San Francisco preceded my departure to China for a visit to The Hellenic Journal -I promised them a picture of me in front of the “Goddess of Democracy.”


The next day, I was boarding a U.S. airline on my way to the Orient. From that point on, things started looking a little bit different. I checked in at the airline counter, where the attendant looked at my ticket and said, "Oh, you are continuing to Beijing. Have a safe stay." That contrasted with comments from previous trips like, "You will love it," or at least, "Have a pleasant trip."


From the waiting area at the departure gate, I looked at the plane. It was a huge and proud 747, yet the passengers waiting in the gate's lounge could easily have fit into a 727. I flew to Tokyo with a dozen seats at my disposal; in all my previous trips that route was always fully booked. After a two-hour stay at the Tokyo Narita Airport, I continued on the same airline to Beijing.


The plane was similarly sparsely populated. It was obvious that tourism to China was non-existent and business travel significantly reduced. Yet, I was ready to experience the unexpected.


At passport control as well as customs, I noticed the lines moving faster than expected. The officials would expediently perform their duties, without the displayed friendliness that was noticeable on previous trips. If one were to read their looks, one would probably sense that something was different. Their looks were telling us, “Aren’t you concerned about coming to China?


My gracious hosts from a Beijing university received me at the airport and took me to my usual hotel, the Beijing hotel of an American hotel chain.


All my memories of that hotel were most pleasant-banquets, meetings, old friends, new friends. I had even met businessmen from Greece with whom I had shared business experiences in a most cosmopolitan atmosphere, full of joyful people from all over the world and most gracious Chinese hosts.


As I walked into the hotel this time, at 10 p.m., I could see only the hotel personnel; gone were even the four gray-suited security men with walkie-talkies that were a permanent fixture at the entrance and lobby before.


Well, I said, something is strange. I asked my hosts about the general situation and was told that there was nothing to worry about since the military had just made a flat statement that they would “only protect government buildings and that they will not harm the students.” Well, I said, that is normal with such a massive gathering of people, and I retired to my room.


The next day—Friday, June 2—-I visited the campus of my hosts, where I made a presentation on my engineering research, which happens to be Chinese-language text processing. Afterwards, we drove through the capital, also visiting Tiananmen Square. By now, the Tiananmen Square had become known to the world the same way that the Great Wall is known. A Chinese creation that puzzles the West. There is no need to further identify its location by saying Beijing or China. It is the Square, Earth.


The Square was a theatrical stage where tourist spectators were witnessing free of charge Chinese history being played in real time. The "stage" had one hundred thousand actors, and as for the "script," it appeared on the headband of the students who made the Square a forum to the world through which they were expressing their nation's aspirations. A free and democratic China, open to the world both ways. This historical play also had a silent actor, a lady. She was thirty-three-feet tall, brave and beautiful. She was not the Goddess Athena made of gold and ivory, she was only of clay, but she was worshipped just the same. She was the goddess of an ancient Greek political “religion” called democracy. She was holding, with both hands, a torch, which some thought was an imitation of the Statue of Liberty, but she was all Chinese out of one of their own legends. She was surrounded by a sea of worshippers, who had been praying to her day and night, so that she would bring them progress, prosperity, and, most important, a structure of authority in which everyone would be a participant to some extent.


The worshippers - students, teachers, workers, farmers, and even policemen—loudly prayed that the Goddess of Democracy make China's leaders understand that they are not the modern-day, infallible, imperial rulers of China, but only the trustees at the helm of the destiny of the most populous nation on the face of the earth.


Also praying to the Goddess of Democracy was the Chinese power-structure, asking the goddess to wise up the students, and not let them turn the demonstration into a confrontation where the "survival of the fittest" would undoubtedly prevail.


While the message of the Chinese masses has been loud and clear, China could not possibly turn around over night.


Western democracy is as alien to China as the Chinese language is alien to the West. Democracy cannot be institutionalized in China on demand. There is no democratic political structure waiting to replace the present one. China has to progressively evolve into a democracy, preferably from the top down.


Democracy is not the dictatorship of the masses, but the unreachable ideal, that of cooperation and mutual respect among all of a nation’s citizens.


The events of China parallel a troubled family with authoritarian and publicly disagreeing parents, where the children rebel and side with the parent who promises more. The Cultural Revolution was not much different, only at that time the children had sided with the other parent.


As I looked at the ocean of worshippers and at the Goddess of Democracy, I thought that what China needed now was the Goddess Omonia, the ancient Greek goddess of unity, who might prevent the Chinese from destroying the foundations of social, economic, and political progress that have been built with so much difficulty over the past decade. What China needed was, as someone said, “the wisdom of the old to balance the enthusiasm of the young.


At Tiananmen Square, I saw a unified Chinese nation. The entire spectrum of Chinese society - from farmers and workers to students and professors - was represented there. Men and women, old and young, carrying banners identifying their organizations. There were universities, business, factories, and even employees of government organizations participating.


Many identified the gathering as a political protest; I would call it a “festival of Unity.” There was a joyful atmosphere, an ocean of people who deeply believed that they were free after  forty years of Communism.                 


The unity, however, was not complete, as indicated by the two most powerful loudspeakers that were "talking" to each other, one inside and one outside the Square. The one outside was carrying the government line, calling on the students to return to their

schools, while the one inside the Square was calling on the government to live up to its promises to clean up corruption and institute reforms that would lead to a healthy, democratic political system. Neither side was insinuating violence or hostility. This was the picture on Friday June 2.


On Saturday morning, I went to the commercial district, a few blocks from the Square, for some shopping and then to a restaurant with some of my hosts for lunch. To my disbelief, the restaurant waiter came to our table and told us that there was a phone call for me. Who in the world knew that I was there? I wondered. I went to the phone and there was a good Chinese friend of mine, who urgently advised me to stay out of the Square in the afternoon, since a demonstrator was killed by an army truck and there was going to be a procession of his coffin through the Square, and my friend warned that the riot police might move in. I thanked my guardian angel and expressed hope that the day after, Sunday, would be a better day for pictures. My angel did not share my hope.


I was driven back to the hotel, which I had practically all to myself. I walked through the lobby and the large tea lounge only to be greeted by empty chairs. I looked at the stand where a lively band used to play, only to see draped musical instruments, covered as if they were mourning.


I then went to my room to rest, awaiting a longer and better day.







                  (concluded next issue)
































Eight Days in China: Eyewitness to History  -  PART 2



by Dr. George K. Kostopoulos


Special to The Hellenic Journal



Having gone to bed early and still experiencing jet lag, I was up at 3a.m.on Sunday morning, June 4. Beijing was as silent as it can be, yet in that silence I thought I heard fireworks accompanied by distant explosions. There must be Chinese fireworks, I concluded. I looked outside the window, but things appeared calm.

I knew that the day before, presidents of Beijing-area universities had met with the military, and I was hoping that an “honorable solution” had been found for the Tiananmen Square impasse.

I was privileged to have CNN, the cable news channel, in my room. I turned it on, and realized to my amazement that, contrary to the calm, I was in a war zone.

It was only then that the full impact of the government’s announcement on Saturday, that “the State has the right to clear the Square,” really hit me.

Later that morning, punctual as usual, my Chinese hosts came to the hotel to take me on a one-day trip to Tianjin, the Chinese port that serves Beijing.

This time, however, they came not in their usual Chinese-made, chauffeured sedan, but by bicycle. They had not slept all night and were very upset about what had taken place in the Square. They gave me a preliminary account of what had happened.  I couldn’t believe, with all the options available, that the government had chosen massacre. It seemed as if it was Deng Xiaoping’s revenge on the students for embarrassing him during Soviet leader Gorbachev’s visit.

In spite of everything, we still hoped we could visit Tianjin. We took a taxi and headed for the train station, about four miles away, only to find that certain areas of Beijing, within a five-mile radius of Tiananmen square, had been closed off to all traffic, both vehicles and pedestrians. Endless lines of Chinese soldiers, their fingers on the trigger, where silently blocking major intersections of the city.


Immediately outside the blockaded area were hundreds of people, or "citizens," as the Chinese call themselves, watching the motionless soldiers. Beyond this perimeter one could see groups of citizens, presumably exchanging rumors on what had happened at the Square.


At this point, it was obvious that our side-trip to Tianjin would have to be postponed for my next visit to Beijing, and we returned to the hotel.


But I was not about to let the day just go by, so I borrowed a bicycle and along with my hosts, professors at a Beijing university, rode around the free parts of the city for about two hours.


Everywhere we went the scene was the same, with much evidence of the aftermath of street fighting. Burned and burning military vehicles of all types, abandoned military trucks, some with a few stranded soldiers in them, and citizens everywhere, lecturing and questioning the bewildered soldiers. The streets were full of rocks and bricks, indicating that fierce battles had taken place.


We got off the bikes and looked at the damaged military vehicles, which were by now surrounded by people in despair. A man turned to me and said in Chinese, ”Go to your country; there is war in China.” Further down the road, an old woman with arms raised asked me, with a desperate voice, again in Chinese, ”Why are they killing our children?”


The city was now quiet, and it was hard to say who the victor in the confrontation had been. But I knew who the loser was - it was China, and particularly the Chinese government.


It seemed evident, however, that whatever had transpired during the night against the entering troops had the full support and participation of the citizens.

Later in the day, on Sunday, a Chinese professor friend called to inform me that under the circumstances he would not be able to join me for dinner that evening. Safety, especially after dark, was a major concern. In the course of our conversation, with a shaky voice, he told me that, according to a preliminary estimate from academic circles, about 7,000 had been killed at the Square and throughout Beijing.


After returning to my hotel, I went down to the restaurant, where I noticed a sign in the lobby that read, “The American Embassy advises American citizens to stay at the hotel for the rest of the day.” I did just that.


Despite all that had happened, I managed to conclude an agreement in Beijing for the marketing and sales of my Chinese language word processor.


The next day, Monday, June 5, a faculty member from my host university, wearing a black armband, came to my hotel to say goodbye. I was going to Shanghai, and I was sorry to leave the friends I had in Beijing. But I felt even more sorry when I was told that my host university had lost 20 students at the Square, with another 200 injured. My colleague accompanied me to the airport bus, wishing me a safe return to Florida.


Despite the experiences of other travelers, my airport check-in and boarding were very normal, and we had a smooth landing at the Shanghai airport.


I disembarked and headed to the baggage claim area. As I looked toward the exit, I saw a lot of people outside the airport. I wondered if there was a demonstration, because someone was carrying a big sign. I could not see what was on it, so I moved

closer to get a better look. To my surprise, the sign read, “Ideographics Research Corporation - Dr. George Kostopoulos.” At that point, I was certain that at least the sign-holder was not a political protestor.


I was received by a team of engineers headed by the deputy director of my host, an industrial organization that is a major producer of electronics equipment.


I was informed that the City Hotel, where I was supposed to stay and which had just opened a few weeks before, was in the road blocked area of the city, so I would have to stay at the Rainbow Hotel, which overlooked the road to the airport.


My hosts apologized that their company car could not be used because of the roadblocks, and that we would be taking a taxi.  In about ten minutes I was at the Rainbow Hotel, a large and spacious establishment under Chinese management.


From my 19th-floor room I had an excellent view of the major intersection below, where about 200 young Chinese were passing the time by stopping vehicles and deflating their tires. I was told that should a Westerner ride in a car, the crowd would let the vehicle go by undisturbed.


I later went downstairs and walked out into the street, where the Chinese looked at me strangely. At one point, I even asked for a copy of a clandestine newspaper that was being plastered onto a wall. After some hesitation, I was given a copy.


I continued to walk along the avenue on which the hotel was located, literally rubbing shoulders with the thousands of Chinese who were in the streets hoping to hear news from each other. Every major intersection had disabled buses serving as a playground for kids who had taken them over.


I must say that at no point did I feel threatened as I walked the streets of Shanghai "absorbing the culture." Everyone was courteous and helpful.


The next day, my hosts picked me up at the hotel for my scheduled lecture to the engineers of one of the largest electronics firms in China. It was an all-morning affair that included the demonstration of my system, which I had brought with me.


My method of Chinese text processing is totally different from all other methods, and my presentation, made with the aid of a translator, was received with great attention and silence, up to a certain point. Then, all at once, practically the entire audience, about 40 engineers, programmers, and managers, started talking to each other, as if they were explaining my method.


When they regained their composure several minutes later, I was told that they had understood the concept, and would very much like to see a demonstration.


The demonstration of the prototype, which consisted of a standard keyboard, standard computer monitor, and my own processor board, created even greater excitement among the attendees. It was described as "simple and practical," and through my Shanghai representative, who served in a variety of capacities, from translator to executive assistant, I was informed that the industry's management was impressed with what they saw and had decided to work with me.


After the presentation of the prototype, most attendees left the room, leaving six engineers, headed by the company’s general manager. We then sat down to discuss how best to cooperate. But instead of facing each other across a long mahogany table flanked by legal advisors extending stern looks at each other, we sat comfortably in soft chairs around a coffee table, sipping orange juice. The atmosphere was not me versus them, but us. It was a congenial and friendly two-hour discussion on how together we would satisfy the word-processor needs of the Chinese market.


The Chinese basically had two equally important things on their minds: the importation of technology and the exportation of Chinese products. This was exactly what I wanted, to offer the technology that I had developed over the past seven years, in exchange for products that could be used, marketed, or sold outside of China.


At the end of our meeting, I was told that the next day we would sign our cooperation agreement. I asked for a draft, to study it overnight, only to be told that it would be perfectly agreeable if I prepared the draft, which I agreed to do.


From the long discussion that I had with my industrial hosts, it had become obvious to me that their friendliness and openness at the personal level was similarly extended to business relations.


Rather than looking for a Western-style, one-inch thick document full of legal terms they could not understand, they simply wanted a formal confirmation of what we envisioned our cooperation to be.


Next on the agenda was a dinner hosted by me at my hotel for the engineering team, which, this time, was headed by the company's chief executive officer. The only thing I did not need to do was to reserve a table, since the turmoil had left the hotel virtually empty.


The next morning, Wednesday June7, the intersection below me was clear, there was no crowd stopping cars or any other unusual activity, everything was orderly under the supervision of three white-uniformed traffic officers. At 11:30 a.m. the officers went to lunch, and seconds later a crowd of about 200 people had taken over the intersection, obstructing motorists, but not for very long.


All of a sudden, at l2:15 p.m., the crowd hastily disappeared without being replaced by any traffic officers, which left me surprised. The intersection was again clear. There must be an explanation, I said to my self. Later, I found out that the Shanghai City Council had met that morning and had declared that such activities, which were "detrimental to orderly life in Shanghai," should stop. And they did stop.


By that time, I had drafted our purchase and cooperation agreement. It was a single sheet, and only one side.


Early Wednesday afternoon, a three-member team came to the hotel, headed by the company's general manager. We reviewed the terms I had written down, a few were revised, and that was it.


Next on the agenda was dinner put on by my hosts, of course at a round table, which included the industry's chief executive officer, as well as his chauffeur.


Resting on the table between me and the chief executive were copies of our agreement, in both English and Chinese. I read over the English version, as he read the Chinese one. We signed all copies, I in English and he in Chinese. Handshakes followed, and I was assured repeatedly that China's political unrest would not affect our cooperation in anyway, since our cooperation depended solely on our relationship.


We had made a start. Through this agreement, China had built one additional two-way bridge to the world market by having accessed needed proprietary technology unavailable elsewhere, and by having secured one more export channel for its own products.


As for my side, I had just made a powerful friend and partner in China, who, through my Chinese text processing technology, would bring office automation to China in its native language.


The next morning, June 8, I was driven to the airport by the company sedan, which had been left at my hotel overnight to make certain that under no circumstances would my departure be adversely affected.


As I was flying out of China, I thought of the happy and unhappy memories of my trip, and of the sign I’d seen in the airport coffee lounge that read, in English, "Love one another."


My trips to China have had several things in common. One thought that occurred to me was that on each of the four trips, a different Chinese host or friend had asked me, "Do you believe in God?" Their responses to my affirmative answer were evolutionary. In 1984, I was scolded by a woman engineer, who pointed out to me that such belief was unfit for a computer scientist. In 1985, my answer was received with silence. In 1988,I was told that many Chinese believe in God. In 1989, the response was, "I also do."


Being in China is almost like being on another planet—something that needs to be experienced first hand.




Dr. George K. Kostopoulos, a native of Athens, Greece, is a professor of computer engineering at Florida Atlantic University at Boca Raton, Fl. He is also the chairman and chief executive officer of Ideographics Research Corporation, an organization formed for the commercialization of his Chinese text processing technology. Dr. Kostopoulos is internationally recognized for his scientific contributions in the area of ideographics, having lectured on this and other subjects at several universities and conferences around the world. He is the author of numerous scientific papers and two books, Digital Engineering and Greece and the European Economic Community. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from the Arizona State University and a Master's degree in International Economics from the California Sate Polytechnic University. Dr. Kostopoulos, his wife, Zoe, and their daughters, Lydia and Sophia, make their home in Boca Raton, Florida and in Ekali, Greece.