Tiananmen Massacre: Validating China’s Vision of Growth?

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“Two hundred dead could bring 20 years of peace to China”. 

After 30 years of Tiananmen massacre, this statement made by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping days before the incident of June 4th, 1989 presents a vision which China has successfully pursued. Some two dozen secret government files released by the UK’s National Archives clarified how the government planned the massacre to stabilize the situation at that time and complete social reforms in China. 

Nearly a million people, majorly students, were protesting at the Tiananmen Square in support of democracy, freedom of speech, and accountability of and transparency in the government. After Chinese economic reforms of the 1980s termed as ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ and ‘socialist market economy’, some sections of the society were greatly benefitted while others were seriously disaffected. The one-party political system was dealing with risks of inflation, corruption and restrictions on political participation, while facing challenges to its legitimacy. AS turmoil increased, the death of Hu Yaobang, Communist leader, in April 1989 set off mass apprehensions for the future of the country, and the protests began. 

The authority responded in all ways possible to suppress the protest; however, by May 1989, the unrest spread to around 400 cities. Deng Xiaoping and other leaders considered it as a political threat and decided to declare martial law. This decision fostered disagreements within the party; Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party’s leader in 1989, was ousted for opposing military action. Zhao opined that the protesters were patriotic and endorsed their demands for constitutional freedom, accountable government and anti-corruption measures. Most of the Chinese officials, however, jointly dissented with the protest for the sake of the development and economic growth of the country. 

The students were passionate, young, and angry and had the zeal to change the country’s political structure; they made a statue, a replica of America’s ‘Statue of Liberty’, and referred to it as ‘the goddess of democracy’. The statue was erected right in front of Deng Xiaoping’s poster, which the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, thought was “an act of folly” and predicted that the only option to resist such intensified protest was the use of military action, something which he “felt in his bones as a Chinese“. 

Zhao met the students along with China’s future prime minister, Wen Jiabao, on 19th May and broke into tears while saying ‘we have come too late’, signalling the forthcoming violent crackdown. Many officials were already aware of the plan; however, it was still difficult for the citizens to believe that the authority would use violence against its own people, including young students in their early 20s. This is still a historic event in China during which no one backed out despite knowing they would be killed soon and dared to demand freedom. On 4th June, the People’s Liberation Army began firing and killed thousands of protestors ending this historic struggle.

I feel guilty and humiliated… If I hadn’t been a soldier, I would have joined the protest” says Xiaoming Li, a junior officer who was ordered to end the movement. This was a common feeling amongst most of the soldiers, and many of them said on camera “I support them (protesters)”. A popular face amongst the students, 21-year-old, Wu’er Kaixi was studying education administration when he influenced many students during the protests. Kaixi now lives in exile in Taipei, Taiwan and in an interview; he says “We did not want to bring down the Communist Party. We wanted to hold them accountable. We wanted political reform, freedom of speech and an end to corruption. We believed that the answer is democracy.”

The official elision of the Tiananmen massacre had begun, and since then, China has successfully eliminated every detail of the 1989 incident from their history books. Baidu, (Chinese search engine) shows abrupt pieces like ‘Tiananmen massacre: a myth’. The death toll was never revealed, history books do not even mention ‘1989’ in the list of significant historical events, and Kaixi, who then appeared on the cover of Time magazine, is not known in his own country now. 

Families and relatives of the killed people are discouraged from expressing their opinions and are kept under surveillance during June 4th every year to stop them from mourning publicly. The students of this generation barely know about one of the most courageous protests for democracy in China. The history of people’s demands and the struggle for freedom has been forgotten – or as the Communist Party claims ‘has successfully established the legitimacy of their vision in the country’.

China’s Remorseless Growth – Legitimizing Violence?

The rise of the country is dangerous, be it in the technology field, which is arguably – and to an extent – evidently expanding for its surveillance purposes, or the military which has violated international laws to expand in the South China Sea and further moving towards the Indian Ocean. But, does this kind of steep growth in the country legitimize the unethical methods used by China? 

The country’s rise is unnerving for the whole world and even for its own people, who are kept under surveillance, suppressed for expressing opinions, and forced to follow rigid rules of the Communist Party of China.

This compels to contemplate the Chinese vision of growth, which is far away from the theory of communist ideology and regards ‘Chinese Characteristics’ as an essence of its ideology. 

The party constitution adheres to multiple principles – Marxism–Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, socialism with Chinese characteristics, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era. Thus, it would be difficult to debate its ideological standing; it is the ‘Realpolitik’ that the country is focusing on and can violate any principle, ethics or ideology for growth and expansion. The historical suppression of freedom has led the country on the path of the most controversial development; however, they justify all these violations, killings or suppressions of ‘the others’ like Uyghur Muslims as a ‘price worth paying’ for the country’s growth. 

Wei Fenghe, General of the People’s Liberation Army defended the massacre by referring it as a ‘correct policy’to stop the turbulence. It is not difficult to predict that in the next few years, the history of Tiananmen would be completely forgotten, firmly legitimizing the political violence, and the citizens would conveniently embrace this vision of growth for the most populous country, which is daunting. 

Kaixi sums up the present situation by saying “Fear is very, very present in China. In 1989, they established that with this massacre, the PLA soldiers. These days it’s no longer bloodbath. It’s more of patrolling police on the street to make sure they are very present and then throwing hundreds of thousand dissidents in prison.” In an article ‘Tiananmen, 30 years on’ in The Economist, the author presents similar fear by stating ‘…a serenely unified, nationalist Chinese autocracy, unequivocally backed by its people, would be a terror to the world’.  

Sugandh Priya Ojha

Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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