Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

The Legacy of the 1989 Beijing Massacre: Establishing Neo-Authoritarian Rule, Silencing Civil Society+

Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

The Legacy of the 1989 Beijing Massacre: Establishing Neo-Authoritarian Rule, Silencing Civil Society+

Article excerpt


The significance of the 1989 military crackdown on the broad social movement for political liberalization in central Beij ing was enormous. In retrospect, the outcome of the violent crackdown was earth-shaking for both China and the world, as the ideology of technocracy and economic growth spurring a market society was given unprecedented momentum, aided by pragmatic Western political and economic elites. Silence over human rights issues and benefits of cooperating with authoritarian capitalism and neo-authoritarianism in China has led to a slow convergence of logics of authoritarian power in global politics today. China gradually attained political stability and high economic growth - albeit at a very high cost. Neo-authoritarian political repression and predatory state capitalism entailed delaying democratic development and improvement of human rights, while deterioration of political accountability, corruption and the natural environmental increased. Today, Chinese youth know little about the events of the Beijing 1989. Effective state censorship has turned the vast majority of Chinese youth into "amnesiacs", while their parents and others of their generation keep silent about the recent past. After June Fourth, it was crucial for the Party-state to quickly take the initiative to write history to inscribe its version of the events into the collective memory of China. The powerful memory politics of the Chinese Communist Party managed to silence an incipient civil society for more than two decades. Yet, under its new leader, Xi Jinping, championed as a new neo-authoritarian ruler, social stability is at risk if deepening market reforms are carried out.

Keywords: collective memory, civil society, neo-authoritarianism, democratization

JEL classification: A14, H11, H12, Z13

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

1. The Rise and Fall of the Broad Social Movement of 1989

On 3 June 1989, horrific scenes took place at Muxidi in central Beij ing. When thousands of students, workers, and ordinary citizens attempted to halt the advance of the People's Liberation Army toward Tiananmen Square, they realized in disbelief, that the soldiers were using live ammunition against them. The martial law troops had been given a direct order by Deng Xiaoping, China's elderly and "paramount leader" behind the scenes, that the square must be cleared on the night of June 4 (Brook, 1998; Nathan et al., 2002). As the bloodied bodies fell to the ground, people screamed: "fascists", "murderers", and "gangster government". Muxidi on Chang'an Avenue was the main site of the Beij ing massacre, the bloody end of nearly seven dramatic weeks of marches for democracy in the capital and across the country. It was a broad social movement, whose ranks and supporters were not limited to young students and the capital alone. What had begun as mourning over former General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who died on April 1 5, quickly turned into a strong movement against corruption and expanded civil liberties (Calhoun, 1995; Chai, 2011 ; Shen, 1998). Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of China, soon became the headquarters of the mobilization. It was not immediately crushed because the one-party state did not speak with one voice. The demonstrations had further widened the riftbetween the more lenient approach of General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and the hardliner Premier Li Peng, who orchestrated the publication of a strident editorial on April 26 in the Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily. It accused the students of concocting "a planned conspiracy intent on confusing and poisoning the minds of ordinary people", echoing the class struggle rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution. This was an insult to the students, who insisted that their marches and intentions were peaceful and patriotic, and they demanded that the government retract its sharp words.

It was when the students were met with complete silence that they began to occupy Tiananmen Square around the clock. …

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