Ti@n@nmen Squ@re fatigue

NOTE: I have altered this post, removing a picture and re-spelling T.S. becuase the great cybernanny apparently didn’t like this post. Let’s hope it helps.

Last year, for the 15th anniversary of modern China’s most shameful moment, I put up post after post about how important it is not to forget. I participated in the usual debates here and on other blogs about what it all meant and whether the demonstrators were good or bad and whether there was a massacre, whether the students’ defeat wasn’t a good thing for China ultimately, etc.

I have to admit that this year I felt a sort of fatigue about the whole thing, especially the back and forth arguments about what happened and what its implications are. Like the Taiwan issue or the anti-Japanese demonstrations or the “liberation” of Tibet, everyone seems to hold a strong position and there’s a lot of fighting but little persuading.

I guess that’s just my way of apologizing for not focusing on the TSM this year. Readers sent me links to very cool stories about how the CCP must come forward with the truth about the “incident” and others, but I don’t have the stamina to do what I did the last two years with this subject. (And thanks a lot for sending me the links.)

Let me just say that I know every argument, pro-CCP and pro-demonstrators, and every interpretation and analysis. I’ve read the Ti@n@nmen Papers and too many books and articles, and I watched transfixed as the episode unfolded in real time on television news. I know how devious and elitist and dictatorial many of the demonstrators were, and I know how conflicted members of the CCP were, even some who ultimately took a strong stand against the Chinese people. It is a very un-black-and white event and the near-total misunderstanding in the US (in the West?) of what actually happened speaks to our own system of propaganda, which painted the sides as good and evil, as we Americans are wont to do.

But I also know it was an event the likes of which we see only rarely in history, and one fact arose as indisputable: nearly everyone in China felt the government was corrupt, unjust and in desperate need of reform. When so many people join in, from soldiers and policemen to peasants and day laborers, you no longer have a demonstration, you have a revolution. The way the leaders ultimately responded put a permamnent stain on them, and no matter how they try they will always be surrounded by the ghosts of the TSM — at least in Western eyes.

I said I wasn’t going to write about this, but it looks like I’m compulsive about it. My final point is that while I remain sympathetic to the demonstrators and not the CCP (by a long shot), I remain ambivalent about the whole episode, exhilirated by some aspects, disappointed and disillusioned by others. And I’ve worked hard to consider every viewpoint and see the tragedy from every side.

If you are relatively new to this site, I urge you to read my interview with a 1989 demonstrator, who saw things almost the opposite as I did. He gave me a deep insight into the modern Chinese psyche and underscored just how difficult is is to make definitive statements of Good or Evil when it comes to Ti@n@nmen Square.

The Discussion: 18 Comments

The most intriquing question is:
Why the crackdown failed to hold China back?

June 4, 2005 @ 6:41 pm | Comment

You’ll have to explain more about what you mean. The crackdown’s intention wasn’t to hold China back, but to keep it on its present track, maintaining “harmony” without political change. In that case the crackdown was a mighty success. Then in the early 1990’s Deng began his aggressive campaign to create special economic regions, reforming the economy even more dramatically than he had earlier and instilling a strong sense of nationalism in the people to help them overcome the trauma of 1989. In this sense, the crackdown served its purpose well; it worked. If you read my interview with the 1989 demonstrator in Shanghai, you’ll see he now views the crackdown as a positive thing for China. While I don’t subscribe to that belief I respect it. To me, economic reform and advancement doesn’t need to be exclusive of political reform.

Many of the CCP’s defenders argue how they need to take a gradualist approach to reform. Yet economic reform occurred relatively rapidly. Why is it only political reform that needs to take place in baby steps? Answer: Because the CCP is scared shitless of the idea of losing power and of the people finally having their just dessert. Economic reform bolsters their hold on power, political reform weakens it.

June 4, 2005 @ 7:01 pm | Comment

A great 2003 interview. That reflects a very usual transmission of the 1989’s generation, especially for those who came abroad soon after 1989.

Here, one of the interviewee’s quotes: “especially now that China is undergoing a natural transition toward democracy” particularly took my notice.

If, say, this claim is well said in the year 2003, and I would hold a very optimistic agreement with him in 2003. Yet I really doubt abt that today….

June 5, 2005 @ 4:29 am | Comment

“I know how devious and elitist and dictatorial many of the demonstrators were, and I know how conflicted members of the CCP were, even some who ultimately took a strong stand against the Chinese people. It is a very un-black-and white event and the near-total misunderstanding in the US (in the West?) of what actually happened speaks to our own system of propaganda, which painted the sides as good and evil, as we Americans are wont to do.”

It seems there isn’t very much left for me to argue about on this issue.

June 5, 2005 @ 7:28 am | Comment

“If, say, this claim is well said in the year 2003, and I would hold a very optimistic agreement with him in 2003. Yet I really doubt abt that today….”

The only benchmark, most relevant to Chinese themselves, to measue the government or the situation of China, is wether more and more Chinese feel they are having a better life.

June 5, 2005 @ 7:36 am | Comment

I just read your interview with the Tiananmen demonstrator. I would say this is the very best thing on this entire blog. You can delete all the other posts but you should keep that one. It is a gateway into the mentality of modern-day Chinese people. Everyone who wants to understand why so many Chinese people are satisfied with the CCP even if it is tyrannical should read your interview. Thanks.

June 5, 2005 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

“You can delete all the other posts but you should keep that one.”

Is this a blog or newspaper?

June 5, 2005 @ 1:34 pm | Comment

We Westernerns tend to nearly universally underestimate the Chinese desire for harmony, and the level of what is seen as acceptable costs to achieve it. Tiananmen is historically so low on the level of ‘suppresion of a movement’ in Chinese history that it really must be seen as a ‘blowing off of steam’ moment.

None of this is shocking if one is familiar with the philosophical, religious and political history of China and environs. However much we Americans of the Scottish Enlightenment would like for Asians from traditionally Confucian/Buddhist cultures to value personal liberty over social stability, wishing won’t ever make it so.

And yes, Richard, I still have the picture in my old wallet of the protester in front of the tanks in ’89, and it still nearly brings tears to my eyes to think of it.

June 5, 2005 @ 2:28 pm | Comment

I’m glad to know it, David; I remember when you told me that in the comments some two years ago.

I agree TS was relatively low on China’s suppression barometer, but I also think it was more than lettting off steam. It did, after all, result in what was practically a civil war and nationwide martial law, with political/social/economic effects that are still in evidence to this day.

June 5, 2005 @ 2:44 pm | Comment

Yes, but compared to things under Mao it’s been peanuts since ’89. Not trying to sound like a CCP apologist or anything, since I still find them loathesome in the extreme.

Twere the CCP more nuanced they’d realize that they can increase rule of law and equality before it, reduce corruption, and not necessarily democratize much more at the same time. In other words stay in power. Perhaps they need to read more widely about certain Western political models; so I guess I’m accusing them of an insufficiency of political imagination!

June 5, 2005 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

As usuall, we see China the same way David. Now, if only you’d come around on US domestic politics and see Bush as the Antichrist he is. (Just kidding, mostly.)

June 5, 2005 @ 4:58 pm | Comment

I am not surprised by the interview.

In fact, I went to visit my wife’s family with her for 3 weeks in May. Her family knew all about the Tiananmen square massacre. One of her uncle is a retired PLA airforce colonel and even he heard it on the day it occured, ironically, from voice of America radio ๐Ÿ™‚ And he said to us that he was utterly devasted by the news. And contrary to what Westerners believe, nearly everyone with a TV set knew about the Tiananmen square because Li Peng, the true mass murderer, stood up in front of the TV wearing a full dress military uniform and pronounced the “Counter Revolutionaries have been crushed!” on national TV. I think that sends a shockwave throughout China and her uncle was pretty pissed off by his statement.

What does it show? I was under the impression that every PLA guy is evil, from all the news i haev heard about Tibet, etc. Of course, that was my prejudice before the trip and it has totally turned me around. Not everybody in China who works for the government is evil, despite the evil things it sometimes did to its own people.

In fact, they tried to repress the protesters in 1989 with PLA troops from Beijing (initially they were only told to break up the protest with minimal force) and it REFUSED the order. the Bejing PSB also refused. This probably sends a wave of panic to Deng that they were losing control and the country may break up into pieces such that the draconian measure was taken with live ammunition.

China is a very complicated country, it’s often contradictory. You can talk to any Chinese and they’ll say they don’t like US policies with regard to China but they’d say they want to send their sons and daughters to the US to study.

The issue is that the West likes to look at China, not as the reality of China shows, but as what its own view of democracy and human rights. and INDIVIDUALISM. It fails to note that the Chinese society is very family oriented and very collective oriented for the last 5000 years. Democracy usually doesn’t do well ilna country where collective feeling is strong, nationalism does, however.

My opinion of the crackdown is that it is still evil. I think they should have used lesser force to break it up, but they would definitely need to break up the protestors or lose control and another era of Warring States would occur. Hence, this is why most Chinese while they don’t agree with use of deadly force on the students, they would agree that it was necessary – China has been through a lot of deaths in the last 200 years of history, so none of them wanted a Warring State period again (i.e. where the country is divided into 4-5 smaller countries and they’ll be fighting each other for the next 200 years until another one conquers them all)

I still think though, that the CCP today under the Wen and Hu leadership would do themselves greater good by pronouncing the Tiananmen crackdown, though it was the right thing to stop the protest, was a huge MISTAKE in using troops. This would at least gain them more popular support and would force old guards like Li Peng out of the door. The greatest threat to Chinese democracy is Li Peng. He still has a lot of clout over there from what i have heard and is still maneuvering even during the SARS epidemic to regain his powers.

June 5, 2005 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

Tony, really good summary of what was going on with the government crackdown at Tiananmen. That’s my reading on it too …

I’d disagree though that the collective / family nature of Chinese society makes it unsuitable for democracy. Really, if what you say is true, then the Chinese government has no need to be afraid of democracy? Surely? It probably makes it more likely to succeed? What happened in Taiwan … The people initially voted for the very party that had been ruling them by force for decades. I suspect that exactly the same thing would happen if you introduced democracy in China now … the people would vote very conservatively, and the CCP would retain power for at least a decade, and the people would gradually grow in political maturity, and real multi-party democracy would take years to emerge. At least, that’s one theory.

June 5, 2005 @ 11:26 pm | Comment

Good news. My Peking Duck is completely back to normal in Guangzhou. Very strange indeed. I wonder if it was some web-scanning software at work cranked up over the “@nniversary” to partially disable any sites mentioning TSM and/or using photos.

I can’t imagine what could cause a page to only partially download. I tried (to download Peking Duck) about 20 times yesterday and each time it was different. I.e sometimes I’d see nothing apart from an “Error” message and sometimes I’d get the Peking Duck banner, colours, and list of links plus all entires right down to half of the “Rumsfield Slams China” post (the one below the TSM post).

However, it appears to have something to do with the photo. Have you now hidden the photo in the “Tiananmen Square Fatigue” hyperlink? Becuase if I click on the link and try to see the photo the site responds EXACTLY like it did yesterday. I.e. it partially downloads, fails to download the photo and an “Error” message comes up.

I hope the above helps to explain this weird incident a little bit.

You don’t realise how much Peking Duck is part of your day until you can’t access the site and not being able to post is akin to torture.

June 6, 2005 @ 12:25 am | Comment

Apologies, the above post was a false alarm as I continued to experience download probs all weekend until you just amended the post and took out the picture.

I’ve just tried about half a dozen times (to access Peking Duck via my Bookmarks) and each time it dowloaded normally.

I can now access the site and links as normal (I don’t bookmark many other sites as I usually access them from PD).

I think it might be a good idea to continue to use “@s” etc and tweak the spellings of certain sensitive words rather than self-censor your posts.

June 6, 2005 @ 10:52 am | Comment

Thanks Martyn – I’m afraid I’ll have to kiss the cybernanny’s whatever. I’m glad to hear the site is loading fine now, but I’m frustrated because some of my best posts (in my humble opinion) are rich in these controversial keywords and I hate the thought of them being unreadable by the people I want to reach most.

June 6, 2005 @ 11:11 am | Comment

Oh, and Tony – I meant to thank you earlier for your excellent comment. Great contribution.

June 6, 2005 @ 11:12 am | Comment

I would have thought that tweaking the spellings of certain sensitive words is the exact opposite of kissing the cybernanny’s you know what.

Anyway, I reckon that at certain times of the year only, like six/fore, the cybernanny is cranked up or at least fine-tuned for more specific search+destroy missions. Rest of the time it should be business as usual.

Slim: surprised you couldn’t download this site AT ALL. In GZ, PD kept Error messaging when the download reached the TS post.

I would LOVE to know how the cybernanny worked exactly.


I’m now able to read the posts unhindered now. Great post, thanks very much for sharing that.

June 6, 2005 @ 12:52 pm | Comment

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