Sunday, June 04, 2006

Re-remembering Tiananmen

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the violent suppression of China's pro-democracy movment by the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army. If Beijing is anything like the city I lived in during the 7th anniversary of those sad events it is very quiet. I was quartered in a foreign dormitory of Beijing University at the time, and the silent stillness combined with the massive presence of soldiers and police created a claustrophobic atmosphere even in what is normally a beautiful, expansive campus. Rigid precautions against anything that might hint at the repression of 1989 have become a yearly ritual in Beijing, creating a postmodern tradition in which the event is commemorated in the very effort that must be expended on forgetting.

This sad irony is made doubly tragic by the opportunity that is lost in such bouts of Orwellian doublethink. The need for political reform becomes more evident every year in the PRC. Increasing rural violence and successive ecological crises make evident the degree to which the current system is incapable of responding to China's needs. The students of Tiananmen may have been naive and idealistic, but it becomes harder and harder to escape the conclusion that they were right.

Reforming a political system as complex and vast as that of China will not, assuming it is ever possible, be easy. It would be comforting to assume that reform has not happened because the CCP leadership are hidebound ideologues or power-mad despots. Even if China's leadership were exclusively composed of visionaries, statespersons, and patriots (and there is no reason to assume that China lacks enough of these to get the job done) the necessary reform would be excruciatingly difficult and could easily degenerate into cataclysmic violence despite everyone's good intentions. Though the reasons for China's political stagnation are obviously diverse and complicated, one powerful factor is the fear that any proactive step could set off a violent chain reaction leading to anarchy or worse.

Given both the acute risk and urgent necessity of reform no opportunity should be lost that might forestall or ameliorate the crisis toward which China is heading. Though nothing will serve as a magic bullet to make change easy or painless, one "baby step" that might ease the system onto the road to redemption without violence would be the rehabilitation of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstators and a reversal of the official verdict on that movement as a "counterrevolutionary" putsch. The time is past to "re-remember" Tiananmen. If the CCP had the courage to admit that the student protesters of 1989 were sincere patriots and that the repression of their movement was wrong it could set in motion a constructive dialogue about the system's problems and necessary change. Though admittedly an incremental move, such a dialogue just might set China on the path toward enduring stability and prosperity.

4 comments:

bobby fletcher said...

I'd like to offer couple more reference in addition to PBS Frontline's "The Tank Man", where it reported the fact Chinese government did investigate this, and release casualty figure of 240 some dead (incidentally in-line with our own NSA intel estimate.)

An article by Gregory Clark on pack journalism:

http://mparent7777.livejournal.com/7702519.html

"the so-called massacre was in fact a mini civil war as irate Beijing citizens sought to stop initially unarmed soldiers sent to remove students who had been demonstrating freely in the square for weeks. When the soldiers finally reached the square there was no massacre."

An article by Columbia Journal Review on passive journalism:

http://archives.cjr.org/year/98/5/tiananmen.asp

"as far as can be determined from the available evidence, no one died that night in Tiananmen Square.
...
Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under different circumstances."

[Just for reference, throwing molotov cocktail at riot police is a crime in US.]

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Sunday,

I'm not sure what your point is here. I didn't make any specific claims about what happened on June 4, I only implied that it was wrong of the CCP to suppress the student movement, it is wrong of them to ban any commemoration of that anniversary, and it is wrong of them to continue to maintain that the students were "counterrevolutionaries" rather than patriots.

bobby fletcher said...

Sorry, I'm merely offering my memory of this, after so many years (plese not the Columbia articls is from 1998) of mis-reporting and perpetuating the romantic myth that students were mowed down in TAM square...

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Sunday,

Students may not have been "mowed down" in Tiananmen Square itself, but that doesn't mean that terrible violence didn't take place in Beijing on June 4, 1989. If a tragedy really did not occur the only thing more bizarre than the Chinese people's desire to commemorate this anniversary is the determination of the CCP not to allow them to. The best way to dispel what you call "romantic myths" would be to allow an open and candid discussion of that time and its significance for today.