Tanks Crushing Liberty…Not Liberty Leading the People

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, or as it is commonly referred to in the Chinese media, the “June Fourth Incident.”

In some strange way, this incident is connected to my fate: had it not been for this incident, my family would have never come to America, since Bush Sr. would not have issued an asylum for Chinese students coming into America. And if that had never happened, then I would not be here today.

In my opinion, the CCP’s brutal crackdown on student demonstrations was really the thing that killed the then-nascent movement toward democratization in China. And to this day, the political aftermaths of the Tiananmen Square incident still reverberates in China. It is largely responsible for giving the West a very unfavorable impression of China’s human rights record. It also essentially created the implicit contract that the CCP has with the Chinese people (especially the middle-class, businessmen, and intellectuals): which is that people are free to become economically prosperous, so long as they do not question the legitimacy of the CCP’s rule.

This implicit contract, to me at least, is the most damaging consequence of the crackdown, because it essentially entrenched the CCP’s rule and allowed it to co-opt social classes who would otherwise not accept its legitimacy. Furthermore, I think the incident seriously scared the CCP, such that it now values stability of rule over all else, including political liberty. This was reflected internally in the CCP, as party officials like Zhao Ziyang, who favored taking a softer approach to the protests, were replaced with hard-liners like Jiang Zemin and Li Peng, both of whom went to become party leaders in the ’90s.

Thus, the crackdown killed the nascent movement toward liberalization, both inside the CCP itself and among the populace, and although there are certainly signs of the movement’s re-emergence among the intelligentsia in China, it is not clear how effective they can be. And it is uncertainly clear whether the CCP itself has softened its stance toward political activism. It has taken almost two decades, but contemporary China is still living through the consequences of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

In the mean time, an entire generation of young Chinese people does not even know about the incident because of state suppression of any kind of historical information about the incident itself. I count myself lucky, because had my parents not came to America, I would be one of those Chinese youths (after all, I’m part of that generation, born in ’85) who would not know about this history. When I think about it, it truly strikes me how nightmarish, in an Orwellian way, this historical amnesia has become: how such a crucial turning point in recent Chinese history can be erased out of existence in the minds of young people.

This is why I feel compelled to tell people, because it is the only way to resist against this campaign of erasing something so important from the minds of an entire generation of people. Only by remembering what the incident meant can we learn from it. So it is very disappointing to see that the event has received almost no media attention in today’s major newspapers. In fact, the only thing I found was this op-ed in the Washington Post by Wang Dan, one of the leaders of the student demonstrations.

But in some ways, I’m not surprised, because the West has always had a less-than-pure relationship with China: from the “open door policy” to the Opium Wars. And today, this kind of relationship still exists, as evidenced by the West’s turning a blind eye to China’s human rights abuses, all the while pouring millions’ worth of assets into the Chinese economy, whose biggest and most influential player is the CCP, which then redirects and redistributes those foreign assets in strategic hands so as to further entrench its rule.

In other words, the West has, reluctantly but willingly, propped up the CCP, whose ruling legitimacy would collapse once foreign assets stop flowing into its coffers.

And if I sound angry, it is because I truly am. Even though I am an American citizen now, China is still the place where I grew up, and I would love for China to become a true power in the world, but not at the expense of its people’s liberty.

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