The man who bankrolled Tiananmen movement still wanted in China
It took Wan Runnan, now 73, and his Stone Corporation, China’s first high-profile tech start-up, just months from being the Communist country’s poster boy of private entrepreneurship to a “counter-revolutionary” in 1989.
Around the time Infosys was set up in Bangalore in the early 1980s, Wan was setting up his computer hardware company in a Beijing district. In a few years, it was to become China’s first multi-million dollar tech company, touted to be China’s IBM.
Wan was sitting alone in his Stone Corporation office in Beijing on 3 June 1989 when news reached him that tanks and guns had crushed the pro-democracy protesters at and around Tiananmen Square, killing an unknown number of civilians by the dawn of 4 June.
Wan knew he had to escape from China.
He was among those who had bankrolled the movement, hoping that the pro-democracy protests could usher in political reform, transparency and economic opening-up.
In online interaction with HT from Paris, Wan said his company had given “…money, communication equipment, medicine, in all about 100000 RMB to the protesters”.
Reports say he had pumped in much more money and openly extended political support to the movement.
“Yes, so the government said that our company was the ‘command, staff and logistics department of the 1989 student movement,” Wan said.
“I have (since) been wanted by the Chinese government and the warrant is still in effect,” Wan said.
Just a year earlier, in 1988, China’s official news agency, Xinhua had heaped praises on Stone Corporation, calling Wan one of the “red capitalists” of the 1980s.
He had even set up one of China’s first privately-funded think tanks: Stone Social Development Research Institute.
Wan said at that time local leaders in Beijing helped him achieve success.
Wan said he had to withstand a severe test before emerging (to) become the largest IT enterprise in China at that time.
The company, he said had been established for five years, with an annual increase of 300 per cent.
In 1988, the operation scale exceeded 1 billion RMB. Overseas commentators, according to him, said that the company was one of the most outstanding achievements of China’s ten-year reform.
Unfortunately, 1989 ended such a golden period of development and the fate of the Stone company began to reverse, Wan said.
The company was specifically targeted by Beijing’s Mayor Chen Xitong in a report on the incident.
“Wan Runnan, general manager of the Stone Company, listed the following six conditions for retreating (of students) from Tiananmen Square when he called together some leaders of the Autonomous Students Union of Beijing Universities: To withdraw the troops, cancel martial law, remove (premier) Li Peng, ask Deng Xiaoping and Yang Shangkun to retire and let Zhao Ziyang resume his post. During the meeting, they also planned to organise a grand march to claim victory,” Chen Xitong, wrote in a report on the protests titled “Report on Putting Down Anti-Government Riot”.
Clearly, the accusations were serious enough for Wan not to be able to return to China in the last 30 years since 1989.
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