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Tiananmen Square’s Failed Revolution

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, June 4th, 2019 - 70 comments
Categories: China, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, democratic participation, International - Tags:

(With thanks to Alternatehistory.com)

Right now we could be dealing with a China with a similar mixed model to Vietnam, or a re-unified country like Germany.

We are not. And this hinges on that fateful political year of 1989.

In 1989, why did the Chinese protests in Tianenmen Square fail when all those cruel Soviet states imploded?

How come there was no moment similar to Ronald Reagan declaiming in 1987: “Mr President, tear down this wall”?

When they started in the Square, the demonstrations made the conservative faction led by Li Peng very nervous. There was fear that if they were allowed to continue, it would result in the eventual end of CCP rule.

Zhao Ziyang and the moderates within the leadership took a much more conciliatory approach. They hoped to persuade the demonstrators to go home by meeting with them and compromising with their demands.

There was still a chance to save something out of this. And there was still a sense that one moderate power-faction within the Chinese government could aggregate sufficient power to beat the hardliners.

But Zhao had to leave the country on a scheduled trip to North Korea, and this was the critical moment the Conservative faction used to move against the protesters.

Upon his departure, Li Peng called a meeting of the PSC at Deng’s home. At the meeting, he painted the protestors as being anti-socialist, anti-party, and anti-Deng.

Without Zhao to oppose him, it was easy for him to convince the rest of the leadership that the protesters were counter-revolutionaries funded and organized with just a few escaping the country.

Soviet Europe was liberated, but there was to be no liberation of China.

70 comments on “Tiananmen Square’s Failed Revolution ”

  1. Incognito 1

    If the Chinese want to be liberated, when might that happen? Or better, how might it happen? POTUS is trying hard to destabilise the fragile Chinese economy, and the global economy for that matter, and he may, inadvertently (?), cause a bloodbath unless the liberation will be peaceful. This is all pure speculation on my behalf because I know very little about China 😉

    • Peter Christchurch NZ 1.1

      Incognito, with the greatest of respect, you are talking total bs re POTUS.

      The primary pressures on China come from within its borders, as per my post below. China is not just full of 'Chinese'. It has many other ethnic groups, such as Turkmen, who consider the Han no more than colonisers, there it extract the resources of their 'country'.

      Also the problem of religion: Muslims in Xinjiang do not take too kindly to being placed in re-education camps to be force fed Han racial superiority and communist ideology.

      Then the languages. Over eight major distinct mutually unintelligle languages, over 300 distinct dialects. A very real north/south cultural and linguistic divide. Even Mao struggled with Mandarin!

      There is a very interesting once over lightly free book on the site babel.co.nz. Worth a read to get a feel for some of the nature of China.

      • Incognito 1.1.1

        I’m happy to stand corrected. I find it impossible to comprehend anything POTUS says or does and from where I’m sitting, it appears he’s destabilising the Chinese economy. Maybe that’s not his intention, although his motto seems to be “you lose, I win”, but his decisions may well act as a catalyst for unrest and what have you. No?

    • roy cartland 1.2

      Interestingly, it has happened before in China's history, and more than once. The Kuomintang/Nationalists ended a thousand years of imperial rule, while they in turn were overthrown by the Communists and ultimately driven to Taiwan.

      That's two revolutions in ~50 years.

      While there are some pretty awful government barriers now (like drones, facial recognition, social credits) is it really so hard to think that the CCP can be reformed or at least transformed in short order?

  2. Peter Christchurch NZ 2

    China will go the way of the USSR, albeit for different reasons. Xinjiang and its Uighurs will become the new Chechnya. They are already going the way of the Jews in Nazi Germany pre WW2. Increasing calls for independence in Nei Mongolia. And of course Xizang (Tibet).

  3. Pierre 3

    If the CCP had abandoned socialism in 1989 it would just have become another super-exploited Third World country, like India, or Indonesia. The Indian economy was subject to IMF structural adjustment in 1991. Around thirty years on, India continues to struggle to provide public welfare, meanwhile China is doing comparatively much better.

    I think it's fair to say that China watched closely what happened in the former socialist countries. The experience of capitalist restoration was devastating: co-operative enterprises privatised, welfare systems evaporated, life expectancy plummeted as public healthcare was ripped apart, basic social rights to food and shelter turned over to the market, all while Eastern Europe saw an alarming explosion of neo-nazi activity. If China had capitulated, that was the dark future which lay in wait.

    The Soviet Union was destroyed from within, the crisis got increasingly severe alongside the 'liberalisation' of the economy. As capital gained a foothold in the state, corruption flourished, and oligarchs emerged. It’s easy enough to see that there was no such self-destructive tendency within the CCP, which had long ago committed to regulating market forces under the control of the working class.

    • WeTheBleeple 3.1

      What a breath of fresh air.

      The whole 'reds under the bed' line is getting very tired.

      • Pierre 3.1.1

        Hey, someone's got to speak up for the left on this website! ✊

        • Peter Christchurch NZ 3.1.1.1

          Good return Pierre!

          But honestly, when we are talking about China, I really do not think we are talking about socialism or the left. And I am sorry if you think my comments were meant to be anti-left. With China, it is just 'anti-totalinarism', not anti-left that I was pushing.

    • Peter Christchurch NZ 3.2

      I suggest you talk to a few Chinese. Their take is somewhat different. This is particularly true of the 'semi-autonomous' states, which collectively make up the bulk of the China landmass and are resource rich but very poor. They would certainly regard themselves as being 'exploited third world'. But hey, lets not let the facts get in the way of rapid ideology.

      • WeTheBleeple 3.2.1

        "Rapid ideology"

        Making up new phrases now…

        'Reds under the bed' had a much better ring to it.

        There's 1 360 000 000 Chinese citizens. I'm sure you'll find dissenting voices – millions of them.

        Whereas there's no civil unrest in America (the great).

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-america-talk-turns-to-something-unspoken-for-150-years-civil-war/2019/02/28/b3733af8-3ae4-11e9-a2cd-307b06d0257b_story.html?utm_term=.caa4b4c9a261

        • Peter Christchurch NZ 3.2.1.1

          Yes, many dissenting voices without a doubt. Even during the Cultural Revolution there were many supporters of Mao, but I doubt today you will find a single person in China that supports that period. Or the Great Leap Forward.

          I would strongly suggest that you learn about China a little before pushing your views. It is a huge country with an extremely diverse population and a very sad history over much of the last 70 years.

          It is not without good reason that the Chinese in Hong Kong fear China. I doubt you will find a single Chinese person who does not support the liberalisation of the last 30 years. It is easy to spout ideology if you are not one of the poor unfortunates that are forced to live under it.

          • WeTheBleeple 3.2.1.1.1

            "I would strongly suggest that you learn about China a little before pushing your views."

            I would strongly suggest I read more than most of this site combined.

            • Peter Christchurch NZ 3.2.1.1.1.1

              Perhaps, but we all read selectively, I suppose often to reinforce our existing viewpoints.

              My comments are based on living in China, working now with a China related business, and so on, rather than mere reading.

              • WeTheBleeple

                I read to learn, while I don't expect you to pay attention to what I do, I've backed down being wrong several times here. Being RIGHT is more BS than being wrong and learning from it. Learning is the bees knees. Understanding, much harder but I try.

                I am merely bristling at all the pre-conceived notions trotted out here.

              • greywarshark

                Peter Chch NZ What books do you suggest that the ordinary person can get a picture of China from? Do you know some that are in the library system? Perhaps in Chch – I have the idea that their library is very good.

                • WeTheBleeple

                  I recommend Thick Face Black Heart (Chin-Ning Chu) to any wishing to do business in China.

                  • Peter Christchurch NZ

                    WTB: I will search that out and give it a read. Thankyou.

                    Greywarshark: nothing springs to mind.
                    The free ebook at babel.co.nz is a good simple read (note SIMPLE), but it is one we refer clients to to at least peake their interest.

            • WeTheBleeple 3.2.1.1.1.2

              I actually think one of Mao's greatest faults (other than ego) was that he was a bit gullible/malleable.

              e.g. Backyard steel manufacture

              e.g. Agricultural reforms without backing evidence

              Then, after the enormous screw-ups, the ego kicks in, and others pay. At his behest or via over eager state representation. The whole thing was an experiment to learn from, not trot out every time you want to denigrate modern China. There was a pattern of willingness to try things different and Mao changed tack several times. Without a working model to draw from, and with a huge unwieldy empire to try apply some semblance of order…

              Mao is in the past now, and trotting him out is similar to using Hitler to make judgement calls about today's Germany.

              The west never forgets the foibles of everyone else, meanwhile, their kids want to be influencers, youtubers, and other utterly useless shite.

              Let's hear it for striped toothpaste, minted dog biscuits and edible panties.

              Go the west!

              • greywarshark

                WtB

                Brilliant.

              • Peter Christchurch NZ

                Re Mao, I think that his greatest mistake was to try to isolate China from the rest of the world. Retarded China's economy for decades. As you say his ego also. He fell out with every ally sooner or later: USSR, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea etc.

                Trotting out Mao is not 'denigrating modern China', and sadly his influence is not in the past either. Every Yuan note still has Maos portrait on it. That is a little like if Germany still had currency with Hitler on it. Says a huge amount about the leadership of China and their continued brain washing and control.

                • WeTheBleeple

                  I think it says Mao's image is still in use on currency. I feel no obligation to Queen Elizabeth despite our currency, and considering she is currently entertaining Trump, she can fuck right off.

      • bewildered 3.2.2

        One problem Pete, the Chinese Han make 90pc of population irrespective of land mass and indigenous inhabitants or number of ethnicities I see China eventually collapsing on it internal contradictions, communism political system vs capitalist economic system, no separation of state and judiciary, statism vs religion, humanism etc This will only occur when Han majority decide they have had enough

        • Peter Christchurh nz 3.2.2.1

          Bewildered. You spotted the flaw in my plan. Bugger.

          • greywarshark 3.2.2.1.1

            Peter Chch nz

            Is that Chinese positional thinking – be enigmatic, step sideways?

        • McFlock 3.2.2.2

          The two big frictions I see are the urban/rural divide (e.g. booming cities vs a lack of indoor plumbing in rural areas) and the removal of presidential term limits (which allowed China to guarantee incremental adaptation, rather than entrenching a single leader).

      • woodart 3.2.3

        maybe we should think about the fragmentation of countries like china ,soviet russia, czechoslovarkia, and look at the likes of u.s. and u.k. tearing themselves apart from within. many parts of both u.s. and u.k. regard themselves as exploited third world. look outward to blame others . maybe with very large countries ,there is such a disconnect with citizens to the heads of government, that nothing much happens until there is outright revolution. either all or nothing.

  4. Stuart Munro. 4

    It's a complex phenomenon – as education levels improve the willingness of troops to fire on massed unarmed civilians may not be as strong now as it was in the '80s.

    The students were good Confucians, their leaders were not. Korea, being more Confucian, retains its demonstration culture, and any government measure bad enough will see its streets filled – shame we didn't manage it here over Rogergnomics.

    The Chinese system retains some of the features of monarchies – the ability to rapidly change and implement policies for instance. But presumably due to party structures or political culture, it's relatively rare to see intemperate actions of the kind that recently blotted Saudi's ledger. The discretion lacking in measures like the Skripal affair would be atypical of China.

    • greywarshark 4.1

      I was wondering if Confucianism would be a good background set of precepts that could provide a good model for even a Christian country – seeing we seem to be losing most of what we thought we had in NZ? What do you think as a quick reply and why.

      (And speaking as a Christian that occasionally goes to church.)

      • Peter Christchurch NZ 4.1.1

        Absolutely. It does not conflict with Christianity in any way that I am aware of.

        Reason? It teaches rules of behaviour and conduct that are based on mutual respect. I think Taoism is also pretty good, and a great match to Confucianism. But Buddhism is also strong in China. And Catholic in north east (Shandong especially)

        • greywarshark 4.1.1.1

          I think we have had enough of Catholicism for a period – give them time to reflect on themselves. Buddhism interests me but seems too passive and finicky for our present. I keep thinking that Confucianism and perhaps Taoism (Lao Tze) have worthwhile precepts – the former being about mutual respect. The Chinese have long been scholars. Joseph Needham combined their histories of invention, which I have yet to read. I have enjoyed reading van Gulik's detective stories based on Judge Dee's around the Tang? dynasty.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_Civilisation_in_China

          Yet I fear their eugenic thoughts referred to FTTT. And they do not respect Confucianism any more I hear, old fashioned. No doubt it would come round again, but in our short time span for cultural changes, I think it needs to be soon. I go with some of Sun Tzu’s precepts, the ones I have seen seem good. Make you think.
          This one: Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
          https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2014/05/23/sun-tzus-33-best-pieces-of-leadership-advice/#30f4adf05e5e

          • Stuart Munro. 4.1.1.1.1

            Confucianism has a few issues too – it was designed to create a stable society, so there's little or no provision for social mobility. Taken to extremes, such as Mencius's Mum, who expected he be able to write calligraphy even in the dark, or the civil service exam, which is exclusionary rather than objective and forms the model for the high school exam that drives youth suicide statistics across Asia, it has a few problems without even getting to the neoConfucian nastiness of a few centuries back.

            Broadly speaking though, it has much to recommend it. My old Korean friends reckoned that of the three beliefs they're familiar with, going for at least two out of three is a pretty good rule of thumb. If Buddha, Jesus, & Confucius are on the same page you're on pretty safe ground. If one is out on his own it might not be their best work.

          • Incognito 4.1.1.1.2

            Crikey, van Gulik, that brings back old memories of red ears and short nights because of reading a great story. Thanks for that!

          • Grant 4.1.1.1.3

            Try Epicurus on for size. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicureanism

    • Lettuce 4.2

      The 'Skripal Affair' as you call it was meant to be a warning. That's why it carried out using a sensational and easily traceable method. If the Russian secret service wants to bump someone off in a discreet and deniable manner they are more than capable.

      Skripal was a former UK spy. He got caught and was traded in prisoner swap between the UK and Russia. The rules once this occurs are simple. The traded spy agrees to leave the spying game and settle down to a quiet retirement in their new country, never to be heard of in intelligence circles again. Skripal broke these rules and was continuing to sell classified information about Russia to Eastern European countries for profit. That's why Putin decided to make an example of him in such a public manner.

  5. vto 5

    I have had colleagues say strongly that China is currently well liberated and that in comparison it is New Zealand that is in straitjackets. New Zealanders suffer less freedoms than the Chinese.. This is what they say. Of course, quite how we are supposed to verify that from Westport Taneatua Akitio or Gore I do not know….

    …but I think we should not be so arrogant in our assumptions Advantage…

    • McFlock 5.1

      I'm sure it's well liberated if you toe the party line.

      Not so much if you're religious, or want too much change in government policy, or want to know the unexpurgated history of your country.

      A Chinese flatmate once asked what happened in Tianamen square. All she'd been told was that "bad people" tried to harm the country. Struck me that the dominant "we" had the same basic assumptions about the Land Wars and Parihaka until people uncovered and publicised a less biased version of our own history.

      Funnily enough, I read an article a day or two ago listing several ways China has erased the events of 1989, and interesting repercussions (one was that it had to teach censors about it in order for them to identify references to it). Can't seem to find that article today, though. If I had a suspicious turn of mind…

      • vto 5.1.1

        Sure, I get the political thing, but there are countless other restriction/liberation spheres within a society and the feedback I was given was that outside of the political sphere it is NZ that falls woefully short in the freedom stakes…

        … how big an issue is political freedom in that context? That is one of the big questions of course, and is a very complex one for a society/societies like the Chinese have I think. It is even more difficult again for people like (most of) us to answer from Taneatua… especially when our own political elite structures and powers prefer a certain view of China ….

        dunno eh

        • McFlock 5.1.1.1

          Not too sure about the rights of accused criminals, either.

          Also freedom of association and movement – especially with their "social credit system" being implemented.

          With China and the US being the dominant powers of the day, it more and more seems that we need to choose the fine line between aligning with 1984 and aligning with Handmaid's Tale.

      • I taught English in Xinjiang a few years ago.

        On the first day at school we (the foreign teachers) were told never to mention the 3 'T's' – Tianamen, Tibet, Taiwan.

        ALL the students I taught were profoundly ignorant of what really happened.

        The world view of the average uneducated Han is about 2 metres ahead of the barrow he's pushing.

        • WeTheBleeple 5.1.2.1

          If you were to never mention these subjects, how is you you know ALL your students were profoundly ignorant on said subjects.

          ESP?

          Your description of the average Han reminds me of Trump supporters. National supporters, Hosking readers…

          But we are so superior.

          • greywarshark 5.1.2.1.1

            Yes how did you know Tony V? – but WtB he seems a sound commenter and I think you are being touch.

            • WeTheBleeple 5.1.2.1.1.1

              Yes I am playing Devil's advocate to Chinaphobic drivel. I've heard it all before freedom of press (like we have it), human rights (like we practice them), poor people (nothing to see here), warmongering (cough cough) etc.

              We've taken our 'freedoms' and created the twitterati.

              A billion sound bites of shite. Many of them to do with 'others'.

              The perception of ourselves as standing on moral high ground is resoundingly overblown as usual.

              • McFlock

                It's a fair approach to take, but shit sure went down in 1989. You might sniff at the "twitterati", but you're safe in the knowledge that by doing so you're not going to get yourself in difficulty with the authorities.

              • A late response: such a prohibition only spurred the foreign teachers to venture, tentatively, on the forbidden subjects. Invariably, in the case of Tianamen Square, nothing – the event had been erased from their knowledge of their own history. Tibet and Taiwan, when mentioned casually, occasioned a full blown propaganda response.

                I taught senior high school kids and young adults about the age of mid twenties on the whole. With very few exceptions none could place NZ on a world map. For God's sake, I even encountered one student who couldn't even find China without a search!

                Urumqi is the furtherest city from the sea in the world – 2250 kms in any direction. Perhaps that explains the depth of ignorance.

                I also taught a smattering of older students who had lived through the Cultural Revolution. Their stories, retailed in meetings outside the classroom, were quite harrowing. They confirmed the censorship that prevails in China about Tianamen.

                I might be spouting Chinaphobic drivel, but it is drivel derived from observation on the ground (albeit in a remote part of China).

                • WeTheBleeple

                  Yep it's largely drivel imo. Try an American class on geography if you want to see truly stupid.

                  America is interesting in that Trump represents them succinctly. Full of blow and nothing to show. The stats say America has the most PhD's but… 70% or more are foreigners getting them in USA. If you got the actual numbers, and then divvied up by country of birth, they're a bunch of morons.

                  What I'm doing here is similar to you making assumptions about a people but I'm using broad data not your experience in a classroom.

                  I'm sure America has a few folk sporting respectable IQ's. It'd be nice to hear from them for a change.

                  Try quizzing NZ folk you'll find some stunningly stupid fucks soon enough.

                  I will continue to use Whataboutism on the west so long as people continue with their high and mighty BS.

                  Check some of these morons out. The interviewee was the first muslim they ever met but they're doing hate marches against them.

                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwRVoHohD7c

                  Now, nobody want's a late night knock on the door from the CCP, and nobody wants to see camps for muslims. But what is America doing???? Preventing terror or promulgating it. We don't want the CIA or some merc piece of shit like Mitchell on our door either. Our wailing about others is hypocritical rubbish. The west must clean their own houses they're full of assholes bullies liars conmen and thieves.

                  Oh we do love a scapegoat to detract from what mealy mouthed little shits we've become.

        • Sam 5.1.2.2

          This

          The world view of the average uneducated Han is about 2 metres ahead of the barrow he's pushing.

          Back when the Red Gaurd was implementing the Great Leap Forward Chinese soilders was going around burning every book and destroying every art piece. Only things that survived was either buried or shuttled to the Taiwanese National Museum.

          People often say that China has a rich and ancient history and that they're reassuming there place as Middle Kingdom. I used to think that and I was wrong. About a hundred years ago or so there whole history was destroyed. They're effectively a juvenile state armed to the teeth with nukes.

          China was never this infatuated with foreign policy or Navy. They had such an overwhelming population number they didn't have to worry about what was outside there borders. All that history and knowledge was wiped away in the great purges. Now China's shining examples of how to be a superpower are Russia and America.

          Now APEC dignitaries and delegates will have to manage this relationship.

  6. The Chinese regime survived because it was (and is) prepared to exert force to maintain its power. Gorbachev wasn't prepared to exert force in 1989, so the Eastern bloc fell apart (the collapse of the Soviet Union proper was an internal power struggle, not a matter of popular will).

  7. RedLogix 7

    There are only two purposes for which the state is morally authorised to use violence. One is against criminals and the other is to protect the state from aggressive outsiders.

    The state is not morally authorised to use violence against it's own citizens for ideological purposes. This is the core point where the sovereignty of the individual supercedes that of the collective.

    As long as Russia and China continue to revere both Stalin and Mao respectively, they will fail this critical test and the rest of the world will be right to remain wary of them.

    • Mark 7.1

      Heard of a guy called Andrew Jackson, RL?

      He's still on a US banknote and is a hero of Trumps

  8. barry 8

    Actually in the years after Tiananmen China did make considerable advances in freedom and governance. They established an orderly transition of leadership with steady hands to guide the progression. It may not have been as good as the best democracies, but was considerably better than the worst.

    Unfortunately under Xi things have definitely gone backwards. Now there is no prospect of a change at the end of his 10 years, and the space for independent thought has greatly diminished. The fear of independent thought has provoked the overreaction in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.

  9. joe90 9

    High-tech totalitarianism and the economic miracle.

    China has shocked the world at least twice in the course of the past 30 years. The first time was the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement and the ensuing repression, which made the world aware of the ruthlessness of the Chinese Communist Party. The second time was China’s “economic miracle.” In 2010, with the phenomenal growth of its economy, China became the second largest economy by nominal Gross Domestic Product. In 2014, it surpassed the United States, achieving purchasing power parity.

    In fact these two—the extinguishing of the democracy movement and the flowering of the economic miracle—are closely linked. Without the massacres of June 3 and 4, 1989, there would be no Chinese miracle. “What’s most ironic is that the economic reforms of elite privatization that China carried out after June 4th were undoubtedly the most shameless and deplorable in moral terms, but also probably the most effective and likely to succeed. The Tiananmen massacre completely deprived people of their right to speak, and the lack of public participation and supervision in China’s privatization process allowed a minority of officials to treat public assets as their personal property. Officials instantly became capitalists, and privatization reforms attained their goal in a single step. Added to that, the relatively stable investment environment created by suppressive policies attracted a large amount of foreign capital.”[3]

    https://www.lawliberty.org/liberty-forum/china-since-tiananmen-not-a-dream-but-a-nightmare/

  10. millsy 10

    We hear a lot about how the Dengist reforms have "lifted millions out of poverty", however, before 1978, the average steel factory worker in Guangdong had a job for life, free health care, free education for his kids, subsidised housing and what was more or less a job for life, with a pension at the end of it. In other words, what steel workers in Pittburgh, Sheffield, Illawarra and Glenbrook had. How he doesnt have any of those. For all we know, he is probably begging on the streets now, having had his job restructured out of existence.

    It seems prosperity and wealth is all about buying electronic goods with cheap credit.

  11. millsy 11

    That said, I dont think anyone has a right to criticise China on human rights, when lawmakers in Texas want to execute women who seek abortions in another state.

  12. Observer Tokoroa 12

    Yes Millsy

    The Past quickly slips away. The horrendous Atrocities carried out by the English in many Lands, are not known by any English Citizens today.

    Perhaps the most Heinous was what the English did to India. Century after Century. Right up to recent times. Stricken by their losses in wars, the English gave India Independance and freedom in 1947.

    It will be nice to see India and Pakistan taking over the now disheveled British who have no idea of what they want. Or how to become Civilised. The Brits once ruled much of the world. They cannot now it would seem, even rule a Fish and Chip shop.

    Not that it Matters. Trump will pick the weakest Brit Brains and drag them through his cruel Health Plans and Trade Atrocities. He will Skin the English Banks alive. He will install his meek Republicans into London – and take over dull Merry England, for himself.

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