Huge crowds hold Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong

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Tens of thousands of people attended a vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, calling on China to vindicate the student movement that led the protests, Bloomberg reports:

Visitors to the event at Victoria Park were greeted with loudspeakers broadcasting slogans and banners demanding an end to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. A human-sized Goddess of Democracy statue stood in the park, where many were sitting. As night fell, hundreds lit candles and observed a moment of silence at 8:38 p.m. after organizers placed wreaths to commemorate those who lost their lives.

Some estimates put the crowd at up to 180,000-strong.

Tiananmen is generally thought of as a student movement, but there was also a great deal of worker participation, as workers, students, and other participants had the same goals, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan.

“They all wanted the ruling Chinese Communist Party to open itself up to dialogue with society over issues of corruption, reform, rule of law, and citizens’ rights,” he writes for the Shanker blog:

A group called the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation took shape during the movement under the leadership of Han Dongfang, then a young railway worker ["one of the few activists from Tiananmen who has been able to translate ideals into real change for thousands of Chinese"]. Today he leads an important worker rights organization, China Labour Bulletin, that works on Chinese labor rights issues from its office in Hong Kong.  Outside of Beijing, demonstrations occurred in more than 300 other cities, also with worker participation. Some of the harshest penalties after the crackdown were imposed on workers, rather than students.

Looking back on the Tiananmen movement, it is striking how modest the protesters’ demands were: an end to press censorship and restrictions on demonstrations; openness about the income of state leaders; increased funding for education, notes Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

“Since then, China has made progress in many ways: building a modern economy, lifting hundreds of millions from poverty and becoming an influential power. It is hard to imagine how granting the demonstrators’ demands would have held back any of this progress; on the contrary, China could have advanced even further and shared those advances with even more of its people,” he writes for The Washington Post.

Eventually, China’s communist leaders may find their efforts to suppress memory backfire, the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Ellen Bork writes for The Daily Beast:

According to Min Xin Pei, a scholar of totalitarian transitions at Claremont McKenna College, half of China’s population was born after 1976. They don’t remember the chaotic and violent Cultural Revolution in which millions were sent to perform manual labor in the countryside, as marauding Red Guards sowed paranoia among family and friends. Might this contribute to a change of rule one day? “The basis of rule of all authoritarian regimes is one simple fact—fear,” Pei told an audience at the National Endowment for Democracy.

“A psychological shift can come very very quickly.” What that shift will bring, no one can say for sure. But the world will have had at least 25 years to prepare for it.

China’s repression worse than ever

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The Chinese regime argues that the massacre of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square laid the groundwork for political stability and China’s miraculous economic growth, according to Andrew J. Nathan and . Yet the continuous intensification of repression since then tells another story, they write for The New Republic.

Five years ago, Tiananmen activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo was handed an eleven-year prison sentence for advocating civil rights and constitutionalism. Earlier this year, human rights activist Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison for opposing corruption and abuse of power. The National Endowment for Democracy, with which we are both affiliated, honored Liu and Xu on May 29 in the U.S. Congress in an effort to raise awareness of their cases in advance of the Tiananmen anniversary—and through their cases, to bring awareness to the estimated 4,800 political prisoners in Chinese jails and camps.

The need to sustain and progressively intensify repression is a sign that the June 4 crackdown did not solve China’s problems; it exacerbated them. The ruling Chinese Communist Party faced a fork in the road in 1989. It could have dialogued with the students, as party leader Zhao Ziyang advocated, forming a common front against corruption. But the prime minister, Li Peng, argued that dialogue could end the Party’s monopoly on power. The top leader, Deng Xiaoping, sided with Li and the rest is history.

Refusal to dialogue with citizens has marked the regime’s modus operandi since then. This explains why citizens lack trust in government when it comes to land seizures, corruption, and pollution. Recent demonstrations against the building of a chemical plant in Maoming, Guizhou, and against an incinerator project in Hangzhou are signs of this corrosive mistrust.

Keeping mouths and minds shut is the task of a growing security apparatus. In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon, a book one of us co-edited with Xu Youyu, one of the persons who disappeared on May 3, shows how the political police have a wide range of flexible measures that they can use to warn people to keep quiet….

Read the rest.

Hua Ze is executive director of China Rights in Action, a former documentary film producer in China, and co-editor of In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon. Andrew J. Nathan is a professor of political science at Columbia University, co-editor of The Tiananmen Papers, and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Tiananmen: there was alternative to crackdown for CCP

china-tiananmen_jpg_600x713_q85China’s ruling Communist party today defended the Tiananmen massacre, but the leadership had a clear alternative to the crackdown that could have still generated a high levels of economic growth, says a leading analyst.

“I think Li Peng [then China's premier] was right that had they agreed to dialogue with the students on authentic grounds, giving some real power to civil society, it would have changed the form of rule,” Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan told The Guardian.

The alternative to a crackdown was there. Even Deng Xiaoping saw the good sense of the proposal until Li Peng came to him and said ‘the students are calling for your head’,” said Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Had they moved to a political model that had more transparency, more independent rule of law, more independent media, more chances for civil society to supervise, I believe China would still have had economic growth – it was a period of the growth of Asia and the globalised trading economy – but a more healthy form. I think China would be more stable.

Despite the party’s attempts to expunge the events from the record, the scars remain in the collective consciousness of its subjects. For the idealistic student leaders who gathered in Tiananmen Square to face down the ageing autocrats, the trauma, guilt and rage from what followed has haunted them ever since, the FT reports.

“These students were called on to the global stage as very young people but many were not ready for it and they still feel an immense pressure and responsibility for what China could have been and what it is now,” says Perry Link, a professor at University of California at Riverside, who co-edited the Tiananmen Papers.

What Poland did on June 4 1989 was stunningly original, pioneering a new model of peaceful regime change. Yet China’s June 4 1989 was deeply unoriginal, Oxford University’s Timothy Garton-Ash writes for The Financial Times:

Deng Xiaoping just did what communist leaders always used to do when faced with men and women rising up spontaneously for freedom: shoot them.

By contrast, what China has done since 1989 has been extremely original, combining the dynamism of a market economy with continued one-party rule. Leninist capitalism! That is why China today is, for a student of comparative politics, the most interesting place on earth. For here is something very rare in politics: a genuinely new experiment, its future wholly uncertain.

“I am fairly confident that Poland in 10 years will be a western, European liberal democracy, in the same boat as France and Germany,” says Garton-Ash:

But China? Will it muddle through on its journey without maps, “crossing the river by feeling the stones”, as Deng put it? Or will the contradictions between its political and economic system, and the growing tensions afflicting its society, lead to another crisis?

Despite the party’s attempts to expunge the events from the record, the scars remain in the collective consciousness of its subjects. For the idealistic student leaders who gathered in Tiananmen Square to face down the ageing autocrats, the trauma, guilt and rage from what followed has haunted them ever since, the FT reports:

“These students were called on to the global stage as very young people but many were not ready for it and they still feel an immense pressure and responsibility for what China could have been and what it is now,” says Perry Link, a professor at University of California at Riverside, who co-edited the Tiananmen Papers.

Economic growth can’t stifle discontent

Some 25 years after the Tiananmen massacre, you would think China’s Communist rulers would feel confident. Yet their behavior suggests fear, notes The Washington Post:

They dare not let their people know what happened at Tiananmen Square. They employ tens of thousands of agents to watch over online conversations, blocking and censoring any hint of criticism. They knock down churches that become too popular. Increasingly, they bully, harass and imprison peaceful citizens who urge the regime to follow its own constitution.

Two of those citizens, Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong, received Democracy Awards last week from the National Endowment for Democracy here in Washington, though neither was able to accept the honor in person. ….Mr. Xu’s award was accepted by another brave activist, Hua Ze, who now lives in exile in the United States. When she was kidnapped by Chinese security agents in 2010 and interrogated brutally over many days, she infuriated her captors with her fearlessness. (Her account is published in the recently published “In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon: Stories of Repression in the New China.”)

RTWT

China’s defends Tiananmen: crackdown legacy its ‘biggest weakness’

chinacongressChina defended the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Tuesday, the eve of the 25th anniversary, saying it had chosen the correct path for the sake of the people, Reuters reports:

The anniversary of the date on which troops shot their way into central Beijing in 1989 has never been publicly marked in mainland China, though every year there are commemorations in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, as well as in self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own. The government has never released a death toll for the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

“The Chinese government long ago reached a conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the 1980s,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing. “In the last three decades and more of reform and opening up, China’s enormous achievements in social and economic development have received worldwide attention. The building of democracy and the rule of law have continued to be perfected,” he said.

“It can be said that the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics which we follow today accords with China’s national condition and the basic interests of the vast majority of China’s people, which is the aspiration of all China’s people.”

Despite the party’s attempts to expunge the events from the record, the scars remain in the collective consciousness of its subjects. For the idealistic student leaders who gathered in Tiananmen Square to face down the ageing autocrats, the trauma, guilt and rage from what followed has haunted them ever since, the FT reports:

“These students were called on to the global stage as very young people but many were not ready for it and they still feel an immense pressure and responsibility for what China could have been and what it is now,” says Perry Link, a professor at University of California at Riverside, who co-edited the Tiananmen Papers.

Almost none of the student leaders have been allowed to return to China, even to attend funerals or visit ageing parents, rendering them irrelevant in their native country and adrift in the places where they sought refuge.

“These young people were taken out of their ecology and deprived of oxygen,” says Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, who was also in Beijing in 1989. “You’d have to say the party’s strategy of exporting people like them has proven to be a smart one.”

In the aftermath of the crackdown, China’s leaders made a bargain with their people: We will make you richer, as long as you no longer dissent, notes Bloomberg analyst William Pesek:

After the crash of Lehman Brothers, the regime had to go to extraordinary lengths to keep up its end of the bargain, pumping up what was already the world’s highest investment rate. In doing so, China itself became a Lehman economy — powered by shadowy funding sources, off-balance-sheet investing and unconvincing claims that all remained well.

For a while this rampant investment growth seemed to make China stronger; now that strategy is its main vulnerability. Yet Xi and Premier Li Keqiang apparently can’t bring themselves to roll back those policies and rebalance the economy away from exports and toward more consumption. They know that if they do so, growth will slow a lot, challenging the post-Tiananmen compact — and in the Internet age, no less. As anger grows over any slowdown, Chinese censors won’t be able to delete text messages and microblog entries fast enough.

“While lip-service is paid to human rights, the world’s soon-to-be largest economy continues to pursue Deng’s mix of dictatorial politics and free-market economics. The hope that the winds of liberal democracy might sweep the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall has been dashed,” writes Johan Lagerkvist , senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs and associate professor at Stockholm University:

Nonetheless, western policymakers enthusiastically promote national business interests in China, still hoping that democracy will naturally follow from China’s embrace of capitalism. At a time when the wind has changed, the world must revisit the failed promises of 1989 and pose new questions. Pu Zhiqiang has argued that “a certain lazy comfort” attends the collective amnesia about the massacre. Complacency and fear are shoving universal human rights into deep freeze as quaint, but impractical endeavors of the past. However, the party-state’s enforced amnesia about the country’s recent past won’t work forever. Rising China is up against the very nature of memory. Suppressed memories want to return, and they will – in subtle and sublime ways.

Johan Lagerkvist’s new book “Tiananmen Redux” will be published in English later this year. © 2014 The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. HT: RCW

Details emerge of army chaos before Tiananmen massacre

US China Tiananmen PhotoOn a spring evening in 1989, with the student occupation of Tiananmen Square entering its second month and the Chinese leadership unnerved and divided, top army commanders were summoned to headquarters to pledge their support for the use of military force to quash the protests, Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley write for The New York Times:

One refused.

In a stunning rebuke to his superiors, Maj. Gen. Xu Qinxian, leader of the mighty 38th Group Army, said the protests were a political problem, and should be settled through negotiations, not force, according to new accounts of his actions from researchers who interviewed him.

“I’d rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history,” he told Yang Jisheng, a historian.

Although General Xu was soon arrested, his defiance sent shudders through the party establishment, fueling speculation of a military revolt and heightening the leadership’s belief that the student-led protests were nothing less than an existential threat to the Communist Party.