On June 4, 1989, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime sent its army in to suppress peacefully protesting students and other citizens, a move that sent shockwaves around the world and came to be known at the June 4 Incident, or Tiananmen Square Massacre. Although 23 years have passed since those events took place, memories of what happened have not faded, except in China itself. The Chinese government finds it difficult to understand why, so many years after the event, people around the world still cling to the issue. In fact, the reason is quite simple: When a government openly deploys armed forces to slaughter people in its own capital city, it has gone beyond humanity’s bottom line; it is a tyranny among tyrannies.
When it crushed the democracy movement, the Chinese government challenged not just the Chinese people, but the basic dignity and ground rules of the whole human race. If such behavior is tolerated, social order cannot be maintained. That is the main reason why the June 4 events marked out the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as an enemy of humanity.
Western countries may do business with Beijing and show it feigned courtesy, but in their hearts they still regard China’s rulers as barbarians.
People around the world have, for many years, been calling for the events of June 4 to be reassessed and for those involved in the 1989 democracy movement to be rehabilitated. However, things have moved on and perhaps now it would be more fitting to call for the official verdict on June 4 to be overturned. The difference is that rehabilitation would have to be done by the CCP, whereas overturning the verdict would be a decision made by ordinary people and facilitated by objective developments.
Of course, if the CCP were to reassess June 4 of its own accord, that would doubtless be the best way of resolving the questions that surround the events, because it would allow society to pay the smallest price. Rumors have recently circulated that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) and other CCP figures have been talking among themselves about June 4, and these rumors have given people some hope that things might change. However, current indications are that the CCP is extremely unlikely to take the initiative in resolving the issue.
Although there is no evidence to confirm such reports at the moment, some things could be taken as grounds for assessing whether the CCP is getting ready to resolve the June 4 problem. For example, the authorities could allow exiled activists from the 1989 movement to return to China, or permit Chinese to discuss June 4 openly, or they could engage in collective dialogue with the Tiananmen Mothers, and so on. However, we have seen no change or progress whatsoever in these areas.
China’s process of reform and opening up has been going on for more than three decades and it has been accompanied by increasingly serious corruption. As a result, many possibilities for resolving political issues are impeded by concerns over economic interests. Even if individual leaders are willing to make a few changes, opposition from gigantic political interest groups is sure to prevent them from doing so. In view of this reality, any expectation that the CCP will take the initiative to reassess and rehabilitate June 4 is no more than an illusion.
China’s political situation has reached a stalemate. The authorities are fully aware of the public’s dissatisfaction and hopes for democratization, but they are hopelessly entangled and paralyzed by the old system and groups that have a vested interest in its continued existence. The only possible way of breaking this stalemate is to further strengthen civil society and move as quickly as possible toward concentrating, mobilizing and integrating popular pressure groups. A movement built from the bottom up, such as through street protest movements, would put the authorities under massive pressure to make historic concessions and such concessions would, in turn, activate popular forces. The starting point for such a process must be a resolution of the June 4 issue. That is what is meant by “reversing the June 4 verdict.”
We are now 23 years on from June 4, 1989, but nobody can be sure when the verdict on those events will be overturned. However, anyone who has researched history and drawn lessons from it must be aware that a ruling clique as corrupt as the CCP is bound to crack sooner or later. When and how this will happen, we do not and cannot know, but that day will surely come.
Wang Dan is a visiting associate professor at National Tsing Hua University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Translated by Julian Clegg