China is expected to become the No. 1 economy in the world soon. China represents 1/5 of the human race. And China is an one-party dictatorship. What does it mean for the world, for the U.S., and for us as individuals?
May 26, 2014
Lately not a day has passed without me stopping in the middle of something, gripped by disbelief: It’s been 25 years since the Tian’anmen democracy movement in 1989, and today, in 2014, I cannot believe that China is still under authoritarianism that seems to be going stronger than ever.
At China Change, that disbelief is enhanced in other ways as well: young people born around 1989 are now being locked up in jail, or punished, for fighting the same battle. For example, Huang Wenxun (黄文勋) was born in 1990 and has been detained, now pending trial, during his “Bright China” tour last year. Zhang Jialong, the 26-year-old young man, who asked the U. S. to help tear down the Great Fire Wall in his meeting with Secretary Kerry, was fired last Friday by his employer at the behest of the government.
For much of the 1980s, even though economic reform in China had largely been limited to policy relaxation in the countryside and in cities, China was a place where people for the first time could breathe a little freer and look forward to the future with hope after the grim ten years of Cultural Revolution. On university campuses in particular, palpable was the excitement about new books, new courses, new ideas, new art, new things to do, and new things to come.
That hope climaxed in the 1989 movement and in the demands that emerged on banners over a sea of heads, despite earlier clampdowns known as the “anti-spiritual pollution campaign” in 1983 and the “anti-capitalist liberalism campaign” in 1987 to stem a gathering tide.
“Hello, Mr. Democracy!” “Protect human rights; oppose political persecution.” “Eradicate corruption!” “We’ll not regret to die for China’s Future!” “Democracy, our common ideal.”
That ideal was mowed down by tanks and machine guns on the night of June 3rd and the morning of June 4th.
At the time, I was in Shenzhen, the economic special zone adjacent to Hong Kong and China’s first experiment toward prosperity, and experienced the movement mostly as a viewer of the Hong Kong TV that we were able to receive. I remember the crowds on streets and in Tiananmen Square in Beijing; I remember those young faces whose radiating passion I, a recent college graduate, readily shared; I
remember the flat-bed tricycles carrying the wounded rushing to hospital; I remember tanks rolling over the makeshift tents on the Square in the flickering orange light and how my heart knotted when the flimsy-looking tent gave way under the tank tracks.
Among the most indelible images was a scene broadcast on CCTV – China’s official mouthpiece – the day after June 4th. Tian’anmen Square was completely empty without a soul, with the Martyr’s Monument, cleared of any sign of recent agitation, thrusting toward an overcast sky. The ground around the monument, and as far as the eye could see, had been freshly washed, reflecting light. Accompanying the shot was a female broadcaster’s voice, severe, stringent, condemning a “counter-revolutionary riot” and “anti-party, anti-socialist bad elements.”
I felt the chill on that sweltering day in the south. To me, that CCTV screen encapsulates the communist rule in China: emptied square, gray sky, glinting wet floor, and a menacing voice.
Into the 1990s, the economic growth rate and GDP became the predominant topics. Politically, after the post-June 4th persecution, people resumed their fear and ducked their head in sand. Staying away from politics once again became the most cherished wisdom for most Chinese.
Since then the world has watched China transform with amazement. When much of the world suffered a financial crisis during 2007 – 2008, China was basking in a grandeur best embodied in the 2008 Summer Olympics. In the free world, we have debated the “Chinese model” and are envious of its “efficiency.” Some have questioned democracy and wondered whether it is overrated. Many talk about the two political systems – democracy and the kind authoritarianism practiced by the Chinese communist party – as if they are two different ice cream flavors and a matter of preference.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, we have become fearful of the Chinese government in real ways. Our politicians are tiptoeing to avoid having an attitude on fundamental questions of what’s right and what’s wrong for fear of upsetting the Chinese government. People whose career involves dealing with China are fearful of saying anything “radical” or “biased” for fear that they might get on some kind of blacklist and find themselves denied of a visa to China as many foreign journalists have been.
People squirmed when I used the word “dictatorship” to describe the Chinese regime, or “political opposition” to describe the pro-democracy movement. I would then promptly point out that these are the very words used by Chinese who are working to change China into a democracy that observes the rule of law, while worrying that people would perceive me as a “radical” if not a lunatic (thank you).
Lazily and wishfully, we bet our hopes on CCP to “reform,” forgetting that they have always been “reforming” for all these years and today the Chinese people enjoy less, not more, freedoms, and China is not a responsible country internationally. We are content with pointing out “flaws” of that system but fail to acknowledge the fundamentals. Until we look straight into, and address, the nature of the Chinese Communist Party, we are corrupting ourselves and the world, and we stand to lose.
Twenty-five years ago, if you asked me what China would be in twenty-five years, even at the most despairing and chilling moment, I would readily say without hesitation that, in twenty-five years, China would have become a vibrant democracy. How could it be any otherwise? Twenty-five years is an eternity!
Now, I am not so sure if you ask me what China would be in another twenty-five years.
It seems to me that the Communist regime can be a creature capable of continuous metamorphosis, or a virus that will mutate indefinitely.
This much we know: June 4th represents a defining moment: it defines what the Chinese people want and what the Chinese communist regime does not want the people to have. The latter has been winning.
This website has always maintained that the China issue is not just a China issue; it is a world issue that concerns every country and each one of us. This website, to some extent, exists to help present and bring home that point.
The stakes are high. So today, China Change invites you to give us your thoughts – not your agreement with us – on this question:
What does it mean for the world, for the U.S., and for each one of us as individuals to have an authoritarian China with the world’s biggest economy (soon) and 1/5 of the world population that rejects universal values embraced by much of the rest of the world? What will the world be like in another 25 years?
You can leave comment in the comment section, or email it to me – not as an attachment please – at email@example.com. The discussion is open until June 4th. We look forward to hearing from our readers and we will post your insights as they come.
(Comments left in comment section go through screening to eliminate commercial spam, so don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up immediately – it only means I haven’t had a chance to “approve” it. No, we don’t practice censorship on this site, and all opinions are welcome.)
— The Editor
Tiananmen Square Anniversary Prompts Campaign of Silence, The New York Times
Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were, by Jonathan Mirsky
China After Tiananmen: Money, Yes; Ideas, No, by Perry Link