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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid