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Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among Westerners to refer to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, which were violently suppressed by the Chinese government, as such that have been fueled by the ordinary Chinese citizens’ longing for democracy (Wright, 1999; Beja, 2009). In its turn, this prompts many people to discuss these protests in necessarily positive terms; whereas, the manner in which the government has dealt with supposedly freedom-seeking Chinese citizens is being usually deemed thoroughly inappropriate.
At the same time, however, there is a certain rationale in believing that the reason why today’s China is considered nothing short of a world’s major superpower, is that in 1989, the Chinese government had proven itself resourceful enough not to allow the country to begin descending into the chaos of a ‘street democracy’. In my paper, I will aim to explore the validity of this suggestion at length.
As of today, it represents a universally shared assumption, among political analysts in the West, that it was specifically the ineptness of Deng Xiaoping’s market-oriented reforms, which resulted in the fact that by 1989, many ordinary Chinese citizens have grown to dislike the country’s formally Communist leaders. However, if anything, the presumed ineffectiveness of these reforms contributed to the outbreak of the 1989 student ‘uprising’ the least. The reason for this is quite apparent – due to the implementation of Xiaoping’s reforms, through the years 1978-1988, the extent of Chinese citizens’ economic well-being was improving rather rapidly, even though that a bulk of these citizens continued to experience difficulties, while trying to take an immediate advantage of the situation.
This is because, just as it has always been the case in countries, set on the path of free-market reforms, the implementation of these reforms initially benefit the representatives of social elites. Hence, a certain dichotomy between people’s reform-related hopes, on the one hand, and the reforms’ immediately felt outcomes, on the other. As Xiaobo (2006) noted, “Stability at the macro level under strongmen does not mean that there is stability at the micro level… the rapid growth under reform do not mean that the entire population is prosperous” (p. 125).
As it has always been the case, throughout the course of history, the process of people’s living standards being steadily improved necessarily falls back on the concerned individuals’ irrational expectations, in this respect. In its turn, this explains why people in industrialized countries tend to complain about their current living standards being ‘unbearable’, even though that economically speaking, they fare so much better than it used to be the case with them, even as recent as 10 years ago.
Therefore, it would be wrong to refer to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, as such have been dialectically predetermined. Instead, these protests should be looked upon as such that have been orchestrated by the agents of foreign influence – just as it was the case with the orchestration of earlier mentioned ‘orange’/’Jasmin’ revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. In fact, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests should be referred to in terms of an unsuccessful attempt to undermine a large sovereign country’s socioeconomic and geopolitical integrity from within (Chou, 2005).
In its turn, this explains the counterproductive essence of protesting students’ political agenda – while believing that China was lagging behind USSR on the way of ‘democratization’, their long-term agenda was concerned the banning of the Communist party, a complete privatization of the economy, an abandonment of a socialist form of governing, and the country’s federalization. If protesting students succeeded, China would have been set on the path of self-destruction.
The example of happened to USSR in 1991, leave very little doubt, as to the full legitimacy of this suggestion. After all, the earlier mentioned demands were well consistent with how the Soviet first and last President Gorbachev proceeded with ‘modernizing’ the USSR, which resulted in the reduction of country’s population by 20 million (due to ethnic separatism and ‘natural causes’), in the destruction of economy’s technologically advanced sectors, and ultimately – in the wiping of USSR from the world’s map.
Therefore, in order for us to define the actual significance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, we need to understand that the qualitative dynamics in the arena of a particular country’s domestic politics extrapolate the dynamics in the arena of international politics. In their turn, international politics cannot be discussed outside of what account for three major purposes of just about every country’s existence – economic/geopolitical expansion, protection of internal stability, impairment of the internal stability of competing countries. Given the fact that America is being objectively interested in China’s socioeconomic destabilization, the suggestion that the Tiananmen Square protests were well premeditated and that the agents of foreign influence did contribute to the situation getting out of control, does deserve to be considered.
After all, this suggestion would well explain why, as it can be seen in ‘The gate of heavenly peace’ video, the leaders of protesting students did not even try to conceal the fact that the Tiananmen Square ‘uprising’ was financed by ‘human rights’ emissaries from Hong Kong and Taiwan – the puppet-states of Western major powers. Apparently, the participants of what would be the China’s ‘orange’ revolution were ill acquainted with the history of the Opium Wars, fought by Western countries in China under the pretext of ‘defending the democracy’; whereas, the actual purpose of these wars having been the maintenance of China’s quasi-colonial status.
Therefore, it is quite impossible to disagree with how Chinese official newspapers of the time used to reflect upon the actual significance of the 1989 protests, “If we are tolerant or conniving with this turmoil and let it go unchecked… Then the improvement of the economic environment and the rectification of the economic order, construction, and development; the control over prices; the improvement of our living standards… will all become empty hopes” (Ogden, 1992, p. 117). Nevertheless, it would not be fully appropriate to discuss the counterproductive nature of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests from only the conspirological perspective, because there is a plenty of evidence in ‘The gate of heavenly peace’ as to the fact that, had the protesting students their way – even without being helped from abroad, it would still hardly benefit the society.
For example, according to Feng Congde (one of the leaders), people gathered at the Square were constantly finding themselves indulged in violent clashes with each other. The reason for this is apparent – the majority of those who were ‘defending the democracy’ at Tiananmen Square, believed that it was specifically their vision of democracy, which could be considered ‘ideologically sustainable’ and consequently – as such that needed to be forcibly imposed upon others. We can only guess what would have happened if protesting students prevailed.
However, judging from what were some of these students’ existential attitudes (as seen in the documentary), it would only be logical to suggest that if proven victorious, the Tiananmen Square ‘uprising’ would result in China being subjected to yet another dictatorship – the dictatorship of Chinese-styled ‘democracy’. As a long-term consequence, China would have been plunged in the bloody bacchanalia of chaos – just as it has traditionally been the case with South-Asian countries, under the rule of young and ideologically committed ‘revolutionaries’, regardless of whether they happened to be ‘commies’ or ‘democrats’.
After all, there can be few doubts that the provoking of bloodshed was indeed the actual aim of the Tiananmen Square’s self-appointed ’field-commanders’. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated in regards to the interview with Chai Ling, in which she admitted that she and her cronies did strive to ensure a violent confrontation between the protesting students, on the one hand, and the Army, on the other, so that it would help to ‘awaken’ China. Just as it is being usually the case with particularly notorious sadists/serial killers, Ling revealed herself to be simultaneously both – an utterly sentimental (she never hesitated to cry, while talking about impending casualties) and yet bloodthirsty individual, who was willing to sacrifice as many lives as possible, in order to advance the cause of ‘revolution’. As Ling herself stated, “Our generation has the courage to die” (Yu, 1990, p. 173).
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People can admire Ling’s bravery and the strength of her determination to overthrow the Chinese government all they want, the fact remains – it was partially due to her ill-concealed agenda to provoke the government into attacking students that the tragedy of Tiananmen Square became possible, in the first place. As of today, even many of those who continue praising the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, as such that showed to the whole world that the values of a democratic living do in fact appeal to the Chinese people, have no option but to admit that Ling should be held partly responsible for the massacre.
According to Tsou (1991), “Chai Ling and her advisors and supporters, made no attempt to restrain the most radical students and residents of Beijing. Instead, their highly emotional speeches and flamboyant actions tended to inflame popular feelings” (p. 315). As we now know, later in her life, Ling became a strongly devout Christian believer. This, of course, only confirms the legitimacy of a suspicion that even, as early as in 1989, she must have been already not altogether psychologically adequate. Essentially the same can be said about the rest of self-appointed ‘leaders’, seen in the documentary.
Therefore, the Chinese government’s decision to use a military force, in order to disperse protesters, appears fully appropriate. Of course, this decision resulted in a number of casualties among protesters. At the same time, however, it allowed China to remain on the path of a continual progress, and consequently resulted in the creation of preconditions for the 21st century’s China to acquire the status of the world’s second most powerful and economically advanced country.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, as to the fact that the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square should be assessed in terms of a failed ‘orange’ coup, which was to be carried out by socially-irresponsible and often mentally inadequate individuals, such as Chai Ling, is being thoroughly consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.
Beja, J. (2009). China since Tiananmen: The massacre’s long shadow. Journal of Democracy, 20 (3), 5-16.
Yu, M. (1990). Voices from Tiananmen Square, Montreal: Black Rose Books.
Tsou, T. (1991). Contemporary Chinese politics in historical perspectives, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wright, T. (1999). State repression and student protest in contemporary China. mThe China Quarterly, 157, 142-172.
Xiaobo, L. (2006). Reform in China: The role of civil society. Social Research, 73 (1), 121-138.
Ogden, S. (1992). China’s search for democracy: The student and mass movement of 1989. New York: M.E. Sharpe.
Spartacus 2400 (2012). The gate of heavenly peace – Tiananmen Square protests. Web.
Chou, H. (2005). Zhao Ziyang: A CIA agent? Chinascope, 5, 36-38.