On the night of 3rd June 1989, soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army moved in, with tanks, into the historic Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to crush protestors. The protest was led by students but included citizens from all walks of life. The dissent had been joined by about a million people.
By next morning, the troops had killed hundreds, rather thousands, of unarmed protesters and bystanders. The precise number of the dead remains unknown till date. The Chinese government has never revealed any figures. Independent estimates put the number at between 3,000 and 4,000. This massacre had the symbolism of writing the epitaph of craving for democracy in China, once and for all.
Aftermath of Economic Liberalization
The seed of economic liberalization was sown by the “paramount leader” Deng Xiaoping in 1978. This movement led to an opening up of minds too, especially that of juveniles of China. The youths of China started asking for a crackdown on corruption, greater political participation, freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
The Tiananmen massacre marked an ideological moment of reckoning for the Chinese Communist Party. The liberals were briskly ousted to be never heard again. Although economic reforms were halted only briefly, but political liberalization would never again be on the anvil.
Ghost of Tiananmen Square
China has never allowed any event to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre. All references to the event have been banished from all media, history books and political discourse in an organized manner.
Any mention of the movement, however indirect, has led to vindictive action. On 1st Jun 2019, at the Shangri-La regional security forum at Singapore, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe found himself unable to avoid the Tiananmen topic, since a correspondent asked a question about it. He defended the government’s actions as “the appropriate policy.”
Discussions at a Party Politburo meeting immediately after the pogrom revealed a deep persecution complex about domestic and international forces conspiring to destabilize China. It seems that the Party never recovered from that paranoia. Indeed that fear psychosis has turned into its very essence.
Numero Uno and Ataxophobia
Xi is the most uncontested and powerful leader of China since Mao Zedong. Even the mildest hint of political dissent is trounced instantly. He has used technology to develop the greatest surveillance state on this planet. Over 200 million surveillance cameras with the world’s most advanced biometric identification software are ready to be installed.
This hardware will be supported by gigantic databases of transactions of all possible types being used to create the country’s social credit system. Due for national rollout in 2020, the paraphernalia will estimate people’s political and economic credibility. The populace would be rewarded or punished according to their credibility marks sheet.
Untrustworthy behaviour not only includes political dissent, however mild or unintentional. It also includes jaywalking, smoking in non-smoking areas, playing too many video games, not walking one’s dog on a leash or letting it bark too much. Retributions range from travel bans, denial of bank loans, suspension from the job, disallowing children, education, and being publicly shamed as a bad citizen by having the accused’s face and name displayed on hoardings.
Height of Surveillance
It is only a matter of time before the Chinese start getting judged right from their pre-school days up to their deaths. The ongoing horrific repression of the Uighur community in Xinjiang in north-western China is too well-known. Ever since Tiananmen, the men who rule China have been obsessed with “stability.”
“A single spark can start a prairie fire,” goes a Chinese saying, and for the last 30 years, the Communist Party has been looking out for sparks and stamping them out. Xi is merely taking the efforts to their logical extreme. The official word is “harmony.” The Chinese state seemingly craves for harmony for the people.
If the Communist Party had not crushed all dissent, even the most humble request for openness, in its fear psychosis about real and imaginary enemies lurking everywhere, if it had not thought of itself and its ideology as so fragile that any criticism could cause its surface to crack, it would not have found itself in this position now.
The liberals in the Party, who had pushed for talks with the Tiananmen protesters and more inner-party democracy, had not asked for a multi-party system. They had only said that it might be a good idea to listen to outside opinion and not be in denial. They had only said that if the press was given a little bit more freedom, and the courts just a touch of more independence, the Party could look more legitimate in the eyes of the people, which would lead to a happier nation and a more secure regime. But they were overruled and wiped out.
Great Power, Yes. Great Responsibility, No.
In fact, as China has grown more prosperous, and more Chinese have come into contact with the world outside, the burgeoning middle class has become more aware of what freedom means, what rights are. These citizens do not speak, because that is dangerous, but they surely chafe at the bit. The anguish keeps on building up inside.
Sure, there will possibly never be another uprising like the one that happened in 1989, but one can see signs of a growing rebellious spirit in the labour unrests. Alibaba honcho Jack Ma smugly asserted that the only formula for success is “996” working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Probably this was his way of commenting on the robotic manner of life of a quintessential Chinese.
Xi did observe and made note of this murmurs of dissent. He responded with clamping down even harder, suppressing common man’s voice, putting more and more people behind the bars. China’s leadership refuses to understand the mutual exclusivity of economic reform and thought control.
The leaders still seem to believe that “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” will find popular appeal with masses of China. But the reality on the ground seems to suggest otherwise. Tiananmen continues to haunt them. Democracy continues to elude China.
14 Jun 19/Friday Written by Naphisa