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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tiananmen aims lost in prosperity

A very apt article that in my opinion, is a rather accurate portrayal of the Chinese youths I've come across, at least here in Melbourne. Have come to realise that in modern China, you can practically say and do whatever you want, bar one thing - talk about the powers that be, i.e. leave the Communist Party alone. In today's age of Communism 2.0, what some call Authoritarian Capitalism, this much is clear: there is equivalent exchange in all things we do. I suspect, equally so, in any democracy. Whilst democracies manufacture consent, perhaps at least Communism 2.0 is less sinister, at least its intentions and boundaries are clear. Perhaps.

Tiananmen aims lost in prosperity
Source - The Age 04 June 2009
by Mary-Anne Toy

For most Chinese, affluence is more important than democratic freedoms, which is how the Government likes it.

DO CHINESE people yearn for democracy? Do they dream about being able to vote for a government or a leader? And do they approve of the job President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are doing? After three years as China correspondent for this paper, I'd say the answers are probably No, No and Yes. But no one really knows because such questions remain off limits in China today. No public pollster would dare broach them.

On the 20th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on democracy demonstrations in Beijing, Westerners might also ask whether ordinary Chinese people care about what happened in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

But you cannot care about something you know little about.

On June 4, 1989, China's leaders ordered the People's Liberation Army to open fire on unarmed protesters to end months of demonstrations around the country calling for democratic reforms and an end to corruption. Party secretary Zhao Ziyang, a reformist who argued that political reforms were necessary for stability and economic growth, was purged for refusing to endorse the military crackdown ordered by Deng Xiaoping and premier Li Peng. Zhao had gone to the Square and tried to talk the students into leaving because he feared a bloodbath. As a result, he spent 16 years under house arrest until he died, unrepentant, in 2005.

Most Chinese under the age of 30 - including millions of schoolchildren - are ignorant about this part of their country's history. The 1989 massacre and Zhao Ziyang have been airbrushed from schoolbooks and censored in the media and, when possible, on the internet.

The June 4 "incident", as is it is referred to on the rare occasions it is acknowledged officially, temporarily made China an international pariah, but it did force change - although not necessarily the kind the student protesters hoped for. Two decades of economic growth and increasing engagement with the rest of the world have made the Chinese people more affluent than at any time in the past 5000 years of Chinese civilisation.

Millions own their own home, are free to travel around the country and overseas, can start their own businesses and live how they please, if they can afford it. They can - if they have passports and travel outside the mainland or know how to evade internet censorship - acquaint themselves with those parts of recent history that the Communist Party prefers to remain hidden.

Current leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao acknowledge the people's anger over corruption, environmental destruction and the growing gap between rich and poor and talk of reforms, greater democracy and rule of law.

The liberal intellectual journal Yanhuang Chunqiu daringly started mentioning Zhao Ziyang's name last year and has so far survived attempts by party hardliners to shut it down or sack its feisty editor, Du Daozheng.

But, while 20 years of economic growth has delivered much to the Chinese people, it has not delivered the freedom to speak out loud what they may think privately if those private thoughts question Communist Party rule.

Three Chinese dissidents I met during my time in their country were later jailed. One is still in jail, another is under house arrest and the third is a broken man who has been released after recanting his former heresies (including acting for the banned Falun Gong movement and calling for the abolition of the CCP).

Another man, He Weifang, a brilliant young lawyer who has campaigned for an independent judiciary, has recently been banished to a small university in remote Xinjiang province. He believes this is punishment for signing last year's Charter 08 petition calling for democratic reforms.

Twenty years after Tiananmen Square, living in China under a one-party state that controls the judiciary, the media and the armed forces, life for most of the people, most of the time, is much like it is in a democracy such as Australia or the US.

People worry about getting or keeping a job or their business surviving. They worry about their family, friends, lovers and their children. They lament the state of Chinese soccer, complain about the price of pork and health care or fret about where to send their children to school. They wonder what the purpose of life is, what the future holds.

They most probably are not lying awake at night wondering about democracy.

Perhaps, the CCP had good reason to order the army to indiscriminately fire on students and others in the streets around Tiananmen during that long night of June 4 and into the morning of June 5.

Perhaps if they had not ended the protests, China would have become ungovernable. Perhaps, if they were aware of the situation, the Chinese people would have accepted that force was necessary and that the Communist Party was the only institution strong enough to steer China into its current prosperity.

But the citizens of the People's Republic of China don't know and can't have that discussion because the inescapable conclusion 20 years after Tiananmen is that China's leaders do not trust the Chinese people.

The Chinese leadership will not risk open debate about 1989 because they fear it could be the thread that unravels the legitimacy of their rule.

Mary-Anne Toy is an Age senior writer. She was China correspondent from 2005 to 2008.