Twenty years ago, my friend Terry was an international affairs major at a major university in America’s west. A friend of his invited him to spend part of the summer with him back home, in Beijing. Terry read the tealeaves and thought that June would be a great time to visit China. What could possibly happen?
Terry’s friend was one of the young people camped out in Tiananmen Square. From what he saw, the demonstration was organic, taking advantage of a moment. Terry was there when the tanks rolled in. The Chinese helped him escape, but they decided to stay.
This wasn’t Terry’s fight, after all.
I’m told that the real reason that the Red Army moved in was that the Workers grew upset. Hard to believe now, but back in the 1980s the most powerful force in Communist China were the workers. They saw the students as a threat to the Great Strides made for workers, and the party officials knew who buttered their bread.
China has done some interesting things lately to indicate it is still very much a totalitarian state. I can’t say whether or not the students were right about how they did this, or what they did. China still gets protests and it scares them, which is why they have begun to even threaten Western news organizations. And maybe a protest that was that large, that shut down the Mall in Washington, D.C. would be met with armed force here, too.
Still, the anniversary makes me glad I live somewhere that, for all its faults and the decline in civil protections against the government, we enjoy a great deal of liberty.
I’ll also note something important: India had her elections last month. As Fareed Zakaria observed in the June 1 Newsweek (US edition), that the elections:
are also a fitting symbol — in this case of India’s strengths, which are defined no by state power [as is the case in China] but people power, with all the messiness and chaos that implies. With 420 million people voting, the recent polls were the biggest exercise of democracy in history.
Nice contrast to the Chinese shutting down possible dissident websites on the eve of the Tianamen Square anniversary.