4 June makes the security forces in China somewhat uneasy, especially in Hong Kong where, in the past, there were large memorial meetings tp remind people of 4 June 1989 when the military and police moved against those who had been protesting publicly for over a month. Students from colleges and universities in China’s capital initiated protests after the death of the former General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang on 15 April 1989 who was considered a liberal reformer.
The movement then spread over a number of weeks to most of the major cities. Students made numerous demands, among them were calls for an end to government corruption, increased funding for education, and freedom of the press. As the movement went on, students were increasingly joined by industrial workers.
Hu Yaobang (1986). By dati.camera.it, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
There were differences of opinion within the ruling government circle as to how to deal with the protests. As the protests continued, there was more and more international media attention, especially as there were an increasing number of journalists in Beijing in advance of the visit of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with a large delegation of Soviet officials.
Mikhail Gorbachev in The White House Library, 12/8/1987. By Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Goddess of Democracy.
Students and intellectuals started writing petitions setting out demands that were signed by more and more people. The decentralized structure of power and decisionmaking among groups in Tienanmen Square allowed for tactical innovation as each group was free to act as it desired and stress the symbols it wanted. Thus art school students created the Goddess of Democracy, largely based on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The growth in support for the student-led protests led the more anti-reformist faction in the government to order a crackdown by the military and the police. The tanks started to move into Tiananmen Square.
Replica of the statue “Goddess of Democracy” from the Tiananmen square protests in 1989. Photo taken in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, during the commemoration event for the 21st anniversary of the massacre. Photo by MarsmanRom & Isa Ng, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Democratization from Below.
Since June 1989 there have been reforms within China – what we might call “democratization from below” but without large scale, highly visible public protests. ‘Stability’ and ‘harmony’ have been the stated government policy aims, coloured by the breakup of the Soviet Union and fundamental changes in Eastern Europe. So democratization needs to proceed quietly and gradually. Such democratization requires long-term vision and skilful leadership. Democratization is basically linked to individualization, to an ever-larger number of people thinking for themselves, creating their own life styles and ‘thinking outside the box’. It can be a slow process and repressive forces within the government watch events closely.
However, it is likely that the direction of individualism is set and cannot be reversed.
René Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.