• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Spring Donation Drive

CounterPunch is a lifeboat piggybank-icon of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Tiananmen Square, Twenty Years After

June 4th marks the twentieth anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests by the Chinese army. The American Dream—capitalism and Western democracy—inspired the students who occupied the square for nearly two months. The protests ended when tanks rolled into the square, but what brought a final defeat to the student movement was a new dream, the Chinese Dream—capitalism with Chinese characteristics.

Two decades after June 4th, 1989, nationalism, and pride in China’s new power has replaced student idealism. An economic powerhouse, and a global stakeholder, China is now at par with Japan, England, and other “foreign invaders” who left deep and humiliating scar in Chinese people’s collective memory. Proud of their country’s new international standing, the post-Tiananmen Square generation is mistrustful of those criticizing China’s politics, and its economic practices. Their nationalism is rooted in economics, and the successes of China’s model of development in the past thirty years.

Using fax machines, and eagerly engaging foreign journalists, the Tiananmen Square protesters brought the attention of the world to their plight, making their showdown with the government a global spectacle. Unwilling to rock the boat, and longing to join China’s prospering new middle class and share the fruits of economic reforms, the post-Tiananmen Square generation is resentful of the negative coverage of China by foreign media.

Traveling in China for an eyewitness account of ordinary people’s experience with economic reform, I encountered a new generation of youth interested not in making social change, but saving, and benefiting from the status quo. Many had not heard of the Tiananmen Square protests. Others were skeptical of the protesters’ motives. “Students are impressionable. They can easily get misled by others,” said a twenty-two year old university graduate who was told of the protests by a sympathetic professor.

No doubt, political repression and fear played an important role in creating this generational change. Equally important, however, is the visible achievements of the economic reforms in molding a generation of loyal youth willing to sacrifice political reform for a share of China’s new riches. China has entered the age of development, a national project requiring the faithful participation of everyone. Politics and activism create “chaos” and derail development. This has become the motto of the post-Tiananmen Square generation.

The occupation of Tiananmen Square began by the students from Beijing University, but soon, arriving in trucks and on foot, thousands of other students, factory workers, and ordinary citizens joined the protests. Setting up roadblocks and street barricades, workers from nearby factories protected the students by slowing down the movement of tanks and soldiers to the square. They endured most of the casualty in the final days of the protests.

Today, however, prejudice, conflict of interest, and, in cases, outright hostility, separate students from the new Chinese working class, millions of underpaid internal migrants working tirelessly, and under severely substandard conditions, in the country’s export-processing factories. The alliance that once threatened the power of the Communist Party of China is now broken. It is replaced by economic pragmatism on the part of the students, and the fear that increased workers’ power would endanger growth, and their chances for a stable and prosperous future.

“What could unions do other than destroy the stability China is enjoying now?” said a social work major when I made a case for independent unions to improve the living conditions of migrant workers. Unions lead to “chaos and revolution,” he told me. China could not help all its citizens at the same time. Someone had to get rich first; others—migrant workers and farmers—had to wait their turn, said others.

“Why do you focus on the migrant workers so much? They are not a representative group. It is not fair to judge a nation on the basis of a small group of people. This is what foreigners liked to do,” a graduate student of English literature told me. “Look at America. Many Indians were killed in the beginning, but America is now the greatest country in the world. The Indians were sacrificed for progress. Why should China be any different?” she said.

June 4th will be an anniversary of the death of idealism in China.

BEHZAD YAGHMAIAN is a professor of political economy at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and the author of Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West. Yaghmaian is currently working on a book about China. He can be reached at behzad.yaghmaian@gmail.com.

 

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
Paul Street
It’s Even More Terrible Than You Thought
Rob Urie
Grabby Joe and the Problem of Environmental Decline
Ajamu Baraka
2020 Elections: It’s Militarism and the Military Budget Stupid!
Andrew Levine
Springtime for Biden and Democrats
Richard Moser
The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos
Ron Jacobs
Uncle Sam Needs Our Help Again?
Eric Draitser
Elizabeth Warren Was Smart to Tell FOX to Go to Hell
Peter Bolton
The Washington Post’s “Cartel of the Suns” Theory is the Latest Desperate Excuse for Why the Coup Attempt in Venezuela has Failed
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Analysis of Undecideds Suggests Biden’s Support May be Exaggerated
Peter Lackowski
Eyewitness in Venezuela: a 14-year Perspective
Karl Grossman
Can Jerry Nadler Take Down Trump?
Howie Hawkins
Does the Climate Movement Really Mean What It Says?
Gary Leupp
Bolton and the Road to the War He Wants
Jill Richardson
Climate Change was No Accident
Josh Hoxie
Debunking Myths About Wealth and Race
David Barsamian
Iran Notes
David Mattson
Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle
Christopher Brauchli
The Pompeo Smirk
Louis Proyect
Trotsky, Bukharin and the Eco-Modernists
Martha Burk
Will Burning at the Stake Come Next?
John W. Whitehead
The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in America
Binoy Kampmark
The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet
David Rosen
Florida’s Sex Wars: the Battle to Decriminalize Sex Work
Ralph Nader
Trump: Importing Dangerous Medicines and Food and Keeping Consumers in the Dark
Brett Haverstick
America’s Roadless Rules are Not Protecting Public Wildlands From Development
Alan Macleod
Purity Tests Can be a Good Thing
Binoy Kampmark
Modern Merchants of Death: the NSO Group, Spyware and Human Rights
Kim C. Domenico
Anarchism & Reconciliation, Part II
Peter LaVenia
Game of Thrones and the Truth About Class (Spoiler Warning)
Manuel E. Yepe
The Options Trump Puts on the Table
Renee Parsons
The Pompeo/Bolton Tag Team
David Swanson
Where Lyme Disease Came From and Why It Eludes Treatment
Cesar Chelala
Lowering Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Problems are Deeper than “Capitalism” (and “Socialism” Alone Can’t Solve Them)
Chris Zinda
Delegislating Wilderness
Robert Koehler
War’s Unanswered Questions
Robert P. Alvarez
Let Prison Inmates Vote
Barbara Nimri Aziz
A Novel We Can All Relate To
David Yearsley
Carmen’s Mother’s Day Lessons
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ziya Tong’s “The Reality Bubble”
Elliot Sperber
Pharaoh’s Dream
Elizabeth Keyes
Somewhere Beyond Corporate Media Yemenis Die
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail