It’s been 18 years and a month since students took to Tiananmen Square to demonstrate and demand government reform. Why am I writing about this? After all, I was only 4 years old when it happened. It has some meaning for me because my mother participated in the demonstrations, and she has since then told me all about her own experiences.
Yet no major mainstream media outlet has covered the story on June 4th, the 18th anniversary of the event. The only thing I’ve seen so far is this retrospective and reflection in LRB. And of all places, it’s based in London.
America has always had a curious, frenemy-like relationship with China, but on this issue of the Tiananmen Square protest, it is complicit. Not complicit in any physical sense, but complicit because America is still supporting the same communist government that used tanks and guns to fire on student protestors. It’s understandable that the Chinese press cannot cover this, since censorship in China will never allow it. But given the circumstances, it might even be understandable why American media is hesitant to cover the story: because it wants to penetrate the Chinese market, and in order to do so, it does not want to piss off the Chinese government.
So much for freedom of the press.
Some commentators see the 1989 protests as a turning point in modern Chinese history, a watershed after which China became “modern” in the industrial sense. It is often said that the Chinese government signed a “reverse” social contract with its people: exchange political freedom for economic prosperity. What a perversion of the social contract! It totally turns the Western conception of the social contract on its head.
And yet we in America continue to support such a perversion of our own values. We turn a blind eye to the countless human rights violations, the lack of any real political freedom. Instead we buy up Chinese mass-products in bulks and pat ourselves on the back from integrating China into the global, liberal economy. We think that such an integration will inevitably “liberalize” China. But we forget that it took a bloody French Revolution to truly instill liberal values into the world, and it took an even messier Cold War to finally make liberalism, as Fukuyama calls it, the last man of history.
In this America is complicit, complicit with the Chinese government in that it failed the dreams and expectations of those students who fucking died that night in Tiananmen Square. America is complicit because it turns a blind eye to the dark side of market-liberalization while extolling its virtues because it can buy cheaper goods.