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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs