Sun, Jun 23, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Checking the Tiananmen narrative

By Sushil Seth

Even though China’s rulers continue to, even more vociferously, justify the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 3 and 4, 1989, that in itself says that, at some level, they themselves might not be so sure about it.

However, they soldier on with the untruth, believing that China’s stability and growth since then is justification enough for the slaughter of hundreds, if not thousands, of students whose only “sin” was that they wanted openness and transparency, called democracy, to govern their country.

That was not happening under the prevalent political system, loosely called communism, or socialism with Chinese characteristics.

At the recent Shangri-La security summit in Singapore, attended by Chinese Minister of Defense General Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和) and then-US acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan, China was adamant that the massive use of force to destroy the peaceful democracy movement was the “correct” decision.

The military crackdown “was decisive in stopping the turbulence,” Wei said.

The Tiananmen protests were “political turmoil that the central government needed to quell, which was the correct policy. Due to this China has enjoyed stability,” he said.

However, there is a problem: If the massacre was such a success story, why is it that it is not shared by the Chinese regime with its own people? The “positive” narrative shared by Wei and others in the regime with the external world might as well be told to Chinese, who might be understanding about what a sterling job the Chinese Communist Party did in terms of ensuring stability that led to economic growth and made China a powerful country.

However, that is a risk the regime is not prepared to take, hence the blanket ban on any mention or discussion of the tragedy, as if the Chinese people have amnesia when it comes to the massacre or, for that matter, any of the purges or tragedies to affect the nation, such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) dismisses any criticism of the party’s past as “historical nihilism.”

One justification for the Tiananmen tragedy often trotted out is the negative example of the Soviet Union’s Glasnost democracy experiment under then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which is said to have led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

There are a few assumptions that are easily made to justify the so-called Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) killing of its own people, believed to be on orders from Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), who wielded immense power as a supreme leader of sorts.

However, these are simply assumptions that are stated as facts. How could it be proved that the Chinese and the Soviet situations were analogues? Their historical, economic and political trajectories were quite different.

The second assumption is that if the democracy movement had got its way of opening up China’s political system, it would have inevitably led to chaos and anarchy instead of the economic “prosperity” that dawned after the massacre wrought by unleashing the PLA on its on people. The PLA was supposed to protect its own people, not kill them.

It is equally valid to question if the price of the so-called prosperity was worth it in terms of so many lives lost in the midst of a peaceful protest movement? Besides, why is it taken for granted that a democratic alternative, voiced by peaceful protests, would inevitably led to chaos and anarchy?

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