News / Asia

Experts: Tiananmen Discontent Still Persists

A blood-covered protester holds a Chinese soldier's helmet following violent clashes with military forces during pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
A blood-covered protester holds a Chinese soldier's helmet following violent clashes with military forces during pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
Sarah Williams
The 25th anniversary of the bloody government crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square will not be marked publically in China, but the event is being remembered elsewhere, both for its extensive loss of life and the potential for political reforms that time represented.

In the spring of 1989, mass demonstrations erupted in Beijing and other Chinese cities. The protesters, most of them university students, were calling for change. 

“They were tapping into a lot of long-buried feelings around the country, so the students didn’t really organize much,” said Andrew Nathan, political science professor at Columbia University, and one of the editors of The Tiananmen Papers, a compilation of secret Chinese government documents concerning the crackdown.

“But once they started showing up asking for a fight against corruption, and for the memory of the leader who had just passed way, Hu Yaobang, to be honored, and for what they called democracy, then a lot of people came pouring out to support those ideas,” he said.
 
Hu had been a reformist and worked to build China’s market economy. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution and was known as a critic of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Another prominent China scholar, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of China in the 21st Century, said the protests followed earlier unrest.

“I was there in the 1986-1987 academic year, and there was a wave of protest then, and that grew quite large in cities such as Shanghai, and then were tamped down quite quickly, but the grievances didn’t go away,” he said.

Wasserstrom says high inflation and other economic concerns, including resentment against unethical practices and nepotism of the Communist Party elite, also fueled the unrest.

“[It's] still a simmering cause of discontent in China now,” he said.

The Tiananmen Square protests began in mid-April and lasted until the june 4 crackdown. Nathan believes officials allowed demonstrations to continue because they were unsure how to handle them.

“They were divided, they couldn’t decide what to do,” he said.

The liberal faction, headed by Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, who agreed with the need for reform, and the conservatives, who wanted a crackdown, consulted with paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

According to Nathan, Deng was unwilling to get involved until Premier Li Peng warned Deng that the students wanted his downfall as well. 

Chinese officials retaliated by first publishing an editorial threatening the students, then imposed martial law, and finally launched the crackdown.

“What seems surprising is how long it took, for the government to take decisive action, and I think that division at the top is a key part of things,” said Wasserstrom.

“A series of moves that the government made that they thought would tamp down the protests actually served to rev them up.”

The government’s campaign to suppress any mention of its brutal crackdown has been called "forced amnesia": public references to the Tiananmen protests or June 4 crackdown are prohibited. In early May, several activists were detained after attending a meeting examining the 1989 crackdown.

“There are people, including younger Chinese, certainly who know that something happened then,” said Wasserstrom. “What the Communist Party keeps saying is, ‘look how far we’ve come; look at how strong China is in the world; look at the booming economy; look at the spectacle of the Olympics.’”

Nathan, who is banned from China because of his involvement with The Tiananmen Papers, believes Beijing remains very insecure. “I still feel as though the Chinese regime, although it’s strong and economically prosperous, isn’t the last word for China,” he said.

Wasserstrom agrees.

“The desire to change things has never disappeared from within China, and the lack of confidence, despite all the things that the country has accomplished materially, the Communist Party, as shown by the repression of the memory of 1989, is still fundamentally insecure in many ways.”

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
June 03, 2014 12:25 PM
There is already widespread discontent in China b/c of corrupt CCP officials and abuse of authority. Chinese people are not free to express their views and many have been arrested/imprisoned for what they say or write. Meanwhile CCP officials become fat & live a grand lifestyle off of public funds. The CCP doesn't want the Chinese people to learn the truth of the Tiananmen Massacre b/c they are afraid of the Chinese people and want to preserve their monopoly on power. The USSR tried to do the same thing but eventually failed. The CCP cannot avoid its fate. Like all one-party states it cannot both maintain a strong economy & oppress its people at the same time. Eventually, Chinese people will be fed up and demand reform and an end to the CCP's monopoly of power.


by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
May 31, 2014 7:04 PM
I am glad CCP did the right thing! Or China would be like Ukraine being in a civil war!
I am confident that The communist will lead China to become a superpower!


by: A from: China
May 31, 2014 5:14 AM
Many of my classmates just don't know this event.The government still show weakness and never want to public it.Hope all the people from China will notice this incident.


by: An from: Seattle
May 31, 2014 2:57 AM
I'm shocked. Article about VN and China conflict got so much Chinese comments (defending China) but none here. Could it be that Chinese gov't censored this article or nothing to dispute of this facts.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid