Friday, June 6, 2014

Tiananmen Square, 25 years later

Compared to the Tiananmen protesters, China’s young today are more concerned with economic growth than political reforms.

by Adrian Brown
04 Jun 2014

Beijing, China - As a young reporter, it was hard not to get caught up in the euphoria of the student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing that ended in bloodshed 25 years ago.
"Is this a revolution?" I asked a group of them in early May 1989. "Yes, why not?" came the reply in unison. Looking back, I realise my questions were as naive as their answers. But they really did believe they could bring about change by daring to stand up to the one-party system that had ruled China for 40 years.

Their demands, on reflection, seemed quite modest. They included a free press, full disclosure on how much senior government officials earned, and an end to nepotism, in which the sons and daughters of party officials received the best jobs.

No one I spoke to specifically demanded the end of communist rule as such, but just a fairer society. Of course, in the eyes of China's rulers these demands amounted to treason. Yet the leadership was deeply divided over how to respond. The nascent pro-democracy movement seemed to begin almost spontaneously after the death of pro-reform party leader Hu Yobang on April 15, 1989. He was an iconic figure to many students who mourned his death by pouring into Tiananmen Square.

And that's where they stayed until the night of June 3. I arrived in the Chinese capital two weeks later on an official visa, ostensibly to cover a visit by Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of what was still the Soviet Union. There were so many students in the square by then that embarrassed officials were forced to cancel the official welcoming ceremony. Gorbachev was ushered into the Great Hall of the People through the back door. Of course, there was a profound irony in all of this. Six months later, on Gorbachev's watch, the Berlin Wall crumbled - but the Chinese one remained very much intact.

I know very little about this part of history. One reason is I am not very interested in politics. The second reason is this event was not mentioned in the history books I read.
- Wang Qian, young job seeker


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