Comparative Analysis of the 1989 Student Movement in China
Many judgments and imaginations can be extrapolated from a single event, in this case, the student movement in China during the spring and summer of 1989. For example, severe human rights violation, or government's determination to political stability. However, these extrapolations, though bearing some degrees of truth, are of limited analysis. In order to understand a single "event", one should look further into the background, relate this event to other events, to reveal its complex nature. Anthropology serves as an useful tool in understanding the nature of the event due to its self-critical and comparative nature. [foot note one]
In order to understand a broader picture of what happened in 1989 during the student movement, I will compare it with the case of Afghan Taliban, the case of slavery in Mauritania, the case of Al-jazeera and the case of Northern Ireland during reconciliation. The origin of the movement, the nature of the governmental control, the use of media and the collective memory afterward will be discussed. Over the course of the semester we obtained some essential tools for the analysis, such as Wallace's revitalization movement, Geertz's Ideological cultural system, the idea of "Myth" which is propelled by the media. I will use them as conceptual frameworks.
After the cultural revolution (1966-1976), the People's Republic of China went through a series of ideological and economical reform in the 1980s while left the political system intact. As more and more people demand a change in the political system, the university students in Beijing took the responsibility of action. They demonstrated for democracy in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic center of the people's republic, and was well supported by the citizens, public media and even some senior reform-minded governmental officials. However, the situation aggregated as the students and government antagonizing each other. The movement eventually ended a tragic end with the government crushing the movement down through military force followed by massive retribution. Following the movement, despite being heavily criticized for using the military by the international community, the People's Republic took an 180 degree turn on its intention on political system reform. To date, after 20 years, political sensitive words such as "89`", "student movement" "democratic movement" and "June fourth"(the date of the actual military action) are still taboo in China and as a consequence, the younger generation who grew up after 89` generally has very little, if any, knowledge about the movement.
Becoming a movement -- compared with the Taliban
Indeed, the image of the Tankman and the brutal imageries of military "crush down" will remain most vividly in people's mind and consequently they are the most mentioned, and sometimes the only thing mentioned. Here I would like to seek for the origin and the steps leading towards the single event in order to understand it in a continuous chronological spectrum. In the quest of influences, we can trace as far back as the Celestial Empire that lasted over a millennium, in which the emperor holds the absolute power over his people, in which democracy is obsolete. Secondly, at the turn of the 20th century, after interacting with western civilizations, young Chinese intellectuals and students begins to realize the need of democracy for a nation's survival. It spurred many social movements, most notably the May 4th movement of 1919, which was surprisingly similar to the one 70 years after in 1989: Students marched to Tiananmen square, condemning the government and asking for democracy. The legacy of the May 4th is significant as it indicates the beginning of modernization of China in both Nationalist and Communist narratives. "Mr. Democracy" and "Mr. Science" was made slogan, Marxism and the idea of proletarian revolution was first introduced in this movement. Later, the communist ideology would be used as a cultural system in an revitalization movement which resulted in the Communist regime in 1949. The third influential event leading towards 1989 was the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" happened between 1966 and 1976. The party and nation's leader Mao Zedong immersed the nation in the dream of an ideological society. The definition of democracy lies in between the factional fights over who is more "revolutionary" and treating Mao's words as the absolute truth. Students movements was largely encouraged to attack party officials but would never question Mao's leadership and righteousness. Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader in 1989, was physically attacked many times by the students in the revolution. After the death of Mao, in the 1980s, people began to wake up from their ideological dream and realized the importance of modernization. Deng's reform was considered extremely progressive in the account of economy but left the political system largely intact. The reformists in the Communist party, lead by then Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang, tried to push forward democratic election, party-state separation and press freedom among other political-system reforms in a gradual, trickle-up fashion. Despite the effort, by the end of the 1980's, many intellectuals found themselves earning less and less compared to business men, and the freedom of the speech did not improve either. There had been student demonstrations for campus democracy. In Wallace's Revitalization Movement framework, this stage is the "cultural distortion", in which individuals have found a new mental image of the social system: the ideology of national democracy, instead of communism with a tweak of progressive economy. The sudden death of the reformist Hu Yaobang on April 16th shocked many who later paid the tribune in the form of a collective demonstration. The Communist Party, however, denounced this tribunal as "unrest" and "riot". From here on, The Tiananmen Square student movement for democratic society went into its peak over the next two months.
Under comparison, the formation of Taliban in Afghanistan was also an complex issue triggered by many historical steps leading towards it. Afghanistan was first established as a buffer zone with a distinct Pakhtun tribal society, where revenge was held as primary social principles (Haroon). Later, in order to construct Afghanistan as a "frontier", British Rajs wanted to reinforce on the "tribal" identity, the idea that communities within the tribal areas were socially and culturally "distinct"(Haroon). In this way British Rajs may govern at ease over the checks and balances of the tribal groups. Though the British intention was to make Afghanistan a buffer zone and a frontier, inevitably Afghanistan was greatly influenced by the British, as well as by the Russians and Americans. Afghanistan later went through the Soviet-supported communist regime, and then ended by the American-funded Mujaheddin "freedom fighters". At this chaotic historical moment in which people of Afghanistan experienced ideological crisis, the Taliban's emergence as a religious ideology to reunite Afghans is by no means coincidental.
First of all, there are similarities between the tribalization of Afghanistan and the factionization of China, in the sense that they are both reinforced by certain power. The British Raj made sure that the Pakhtun tribes are distinct from each other in the construction of the frontier, while Communist Party leader Mao Zedong made sure to have factions among his party officials in order for better manipulation. In this sense, the type of "democracy" promoted during the Cultural Revolution was no different from tribal mindset of Afghanistan. Secondly, similarities can be drawn from Pakhtun tribe's "revenge as primary social principle" and the Chinese version of "revolution is regarded as the highest". If a social system exert behaviors like this, it can only generate more and more social tension as time goes by. In an revenge or revolutionary society, the defeated faction would always think about ways to re-revenge or re-revolutionize the winner of the preceding step. A snowball effect will exponentially push the social-system towards higher social tension, followed by yet another revitalization movement. Thirdly, it seems that both the Taliban movement and the Chinese democratic movement adopted the similar method as used by the previous movement to overthrow the previous regime. The Taliban used American money to fight against its secular ideology and the Chinese students used the Communist revolutionary ideology to fight against the communist. In the Chinese case, most of the students participated or observed during the cultural revolution, hence inherent an "revolutionary mindset". Many critics argue that the movement failed because that the students used the same revolutionary mindset as the Communist in order to "revolutionize" the Communist regime, instead of a gradual trickle-up democratization.
parallel: Many member's of communist were student movement activists in the 30s. and now they are against student. (can put it in gov control)
parallel: revolution as a motto of the communist, and as well the motto of the students
Governmental control--compared with slavery in Mauritania
China has a long history of centralized government. Since the unification of China in 221 B.C., the Celestial Empire, Nationalists, Communists, even till today, The power structure of the society is centralized while the people are used to the centralization of power. The students movement of 1989 was in many way an unprecedented challenge to the centralized power structure. After the reformist party official Hu Yaobang's death, students collective demonstrated on the street to pay a tribune. This demonstration was soon defined as a "riot" that "must be struggled against" in the famous April 26th Editorial published by the Party's official newspaper The People's Daily. Up to this point, thought people's social tolerance is considerably high, it reaches the point when they cannot accept the government's high-pressure policy. In response, 50 thousand enraged students went on streets the very next day to protest against the April 26th Editorial. Since the protests in the following few days were well organized and the massive amount of participation, it drew the centralized Communist Party government to the negotiation table, for the first time in history, as part of the appeasement procedure. Meanwhile, the political horizon was complicated by the struggle within the Communist Party itself between the reformists and the traditionalists. On this account, the centralization of power was rather an oligarchy than autocracy. The reformists wished to conduct a gradual and trickle-up political reform and the party hardliners still held true to values inherent from the Mao era. Party hardliners deeply believed in the conspiracy theory that an foreign power was backing the student in order to revert the Communist regime. On top of this Oligarchy, the essential centralized power was held in the hand of Deng Xiaoping, who was influenced by either sides from time to time. Under the fluctuating power shifts, the student movement went through party negotiation, appeasement, more severe editorial. The reformist Prime Minister was forced down on May 15th by the inner political struggle. After this, party hardliners began to adopt more harsh treatment on students. In the evening of April 3rd, military was sent to the city and the bloody scene we all are familiar with took place.
In Kevin Bales' book Disposable People, there was mentioning of severe governmental control in Mauritania which helped slavery continue to exist in the region. After slavery was abolished in 1980s, slaves were never informed their freedom by the slave owner or the state, compared to the Chinese case, in which freedom of speech only remains on paper. Census number is treated as a Mauritanian state secrete so no outsider can obtain a comprehensive statistics. Bales notes, “while legal ownership of slaves was abolished, no change in the working relationship was legislated; masters don’t have to pay their slaves or provide any sort of social security. This arrangement allows the legal fiction of slavery’s abolition to continue” (Bales, 88) The government maintained this fiction by preventing foreigners from seeing it. Similar treatment also prevented China to be know to foreigners. Propaganda was used as a tool to keep slavery a social norm. In order to prevent the former slave class the Afro-Mauritanian from entering politics, they are told they too are Arabs and the government is on their side. After the military "crush down" and the student were forced to leave the Tiananmen Square, China Central TV station described it as, ironic as viewed by the bystanders, "The People's square finally returned into people's hand." To some extend, slavery itself is also an example of highly controlled society. Slave owners not only justify slavery by the Qur'an, they also would tell the slaves, according to Islam, "Obedience to their masters is the only way they will go to heaven." (Bales, 106)
Why would some social-system adopt a form of highly controlled society, Instead of a alternative, for example real democracy. This perhaps is one of the questions asked by the students during and after the movement. In Wallace's Revitalization Movement theory, individual stress is the causation of such an movement. A democratic society allows every individual to voice his/her own opinion and they have the right to maintain such opinions. Comparatively, in a highly-controlled state, individualism is not allowed, and the government will make sure everyone has the same opinions through propaganda. Further more, when the society has high stress level, people has the choice to either tolerate or create a new cultural system, both society examined here convinced people to choose to tolerate instead of creating something new, through special ideologies. Islam was used as such an ideology in Mauritanian slavery in which slaves can only be obedient in order to go to heaven. In the Chinese case, a trace of Confucian logic can be found. The very word Confucius said, "A governor is to govern, a servant is to serve, a father is to father, a son is to behave as a son", defined everyone's responsibility. In an Confucian society there shall be no mixing in the power structure. People's responsibility is to behave like people and be governed by the government. It is this logic created the Celestial Empire and eventually passed down to the Chinese society in 1989. This can explain, to some extent, why Chinese people was tolerant on high pressure and the government is justified to use military.
Power of Media compared with Al-jazeera
In Wallace's Revitalization Movement framework, "increase of individual stress" indicates that the social system in question is no longer at steady state. What comes next, is the stage of "cultural distortion", which has to be achieved collectively by the members of the society. The effort to connect each of the individuals, to gather them under the same scope is done by the media. After cultural distortion, the collective body has to decide whether or not to enter the stage of a revitalization movement, in which media again played an important role. The governmental press would dismiss people's will to overturn the existing social system while the press of the emerging collective force encourage people to take the change.
However, In the case of China in 1989, press was heavily regulated by the government and consequently there was practically no independent media that would potentially speak for the people in the movement. In April, following the death of the reformist Hu Yaobang, a shanghai-base news paper World Economy Journal published a lengthy article that referenced the undemocratic practices in the party elections, ignoring Shanghai Party Commission's "suggested editing". Jiang Zemin, then Shanghai Party Chief, immediately banned the newspaper. During the student movement, there had been student organized newspapers, radio stations and public bulletin boards. The effect of these independent press, however, cannot be compared with the state-run media. Interestingly enough, the state-run, Party and the government's official newspaper itself, the People's Daily, became the battle field within itself. From January to April 2009, prior to the student movement, many article calls for political reform and press freedom appeared on the People's Daily, in accordance to the reformist government's idea of gradual political reform. After Mr. Hu Yaobang's death, it seems that the Party hardliners took over the newspaper which resulted in the notorious "April 26th Editorial" that defined student movement as riot. On May 17th and 18th, the tone of the Daily made another 180 degrees turn, in supportive of the students citizens of Beijing, demanding governmental officials to meet with their people. Soon after, the Daily went back to hardliners as articles condemning the student riot and justifying the necessity of military involvement appeared. According to personal account of the Vice-Editor-in-Chief of the Daily in 1989, Mr. Lu Chaoqi, most of the editors of People's Daily sided with the students and the reformists. All the article in favor of using military came directly from a few member of the Party hardliners. The crush down of the movement left many editors in disbelief, who could only subtlely demonstrate their anger in between lines. The government controlled media went on to define students as a small bunch of mobsters who vandalized the city, and the military crushed them down with no casualty. They also warned people who discuss the movement not in accordance with the Party. One can argue this propaganda as being extremely successful. For the generation who grew up after 89', there was very little knowledge, if any, of the movement and the brutality of 89'.
On the other end of the world, in a later time, there comes the pan-Arabia TV Channel, Al-jazeera, who united the new Arab public. According to Marc Lynch in his book Voice of the New Arab Public, the first pan-Arab voice was a Egyptian radio show from 1950s to 1960s "aimed at emotionally inspiring the masses to political action under the control of the State".(Lynch) This is similar to the People's Daily prior to the student movement, which called for political reform and press freedom as mentioned above. After this effort, the new Arab public went on its dismal years in the 1970's and 80's in which state had fully control of all media outlets. The 1990's became a period of struggle over media freedom, many attempts of discussion over sensitive topics were cracked down. With the help of the emergence of Satellite TV and a better democratic environment, Al-jazeera was created in the late 1990's and soon became popular since it attracted audience by its open discussion on political topics in the Arab world. Lynch argued that Al-jazeera has permanently changed the Arabic public discourse by offering an alternative to state-sponsored programming. Compared to the People's Daily and the Chinese movement demanding press freedom, the Arabic version of the same story seemed to be much more successful.
We have to appreciate the mighty power of the media through this study. The Chinese democratic movement tried but failed to take over the media, consequently the next generation in China has no memory on the event that shocked the world. On the other side, through a series of struggles the establishment of Al-jazeera united the new Arab public where sensitive/controversial topics can be discussed freely. There are many factors that contributed to the different result. First of all, China is a centralized entity and has only one voice. The Arab world is composed by many countries, though collectively they have a shared identity, the political structure is not centralized. Secondly, media is becoming more and more powerful through the advance of technology. Al-jazeera became reality with a great deal of help from the pervasiveness of Satellite TV. In the Chinese case in 1989, state controlled newspaper and cable TV is still the only way people acquire information. After the military surrendered Tiananmen Square, due to lack of outside information, the student still believe that the military would only use rubber bullet, thought the massacre had already happened. This phenomenon will never happen in the modern world, as we equipped cell phones and various devices that connected us via internet. In the following subsections, I will also discuss the use of media in current world.
"Reconciliation", collective memory, etc.
After the student movement for democracy was crashed down on June 4th, 1989, the massacre did not end in the Tiananmen Square. The Party self-justified its use of military and started mass retribution process throughout the nation against the "anti-revolutionaries". The reformist faction in the Zhao Ziyang government was removed from political power. Mr. Zhao himself was put under house arrest until his death 16 years after. Many who had "good behavior" in the crash down were promoted, among which Mr. Jiang Zemin, soon became the next generation Chinese leader after Deng Xiaoping. Many who involved were arrested and many sentenced to death. Student leaders' most-wanted posters were broadcast throughout the nation. The lucky ones successfully escaped to other countries, the unlucky ones spent years in prison or in hide-outs in harsh conditions. Revealing information regarding the movement to foreign press was militantly discouraged. One who briefly talked to CNN about the massacre was broadcasted then found and sentenced 10 years in prison. It was hard to believe, if not in a society with extremely centralized government, that the same government promoted political reform, press freedom and had dialog with students merely a month ago. In the violent military-citizen confrontation, the killed soldiers were martylized with massive memorial ceremony across the nation, Beijing citizen who threw bricks onto tanks were sentenced to death. There was, however, claimed by the government, no citizen casualty. Though most people knew it was a blatant lie, they did not dare to speak out due to fear of governmental retribution. After a year, Deng Xiaoping turned the nation's attention once again on a strictly economical reform as he opened up special economical regions in the South. China once again went back to its very Confucian tradition with no interaction between citizens and its government. In terms of education, the focus went back to loyalty to the Party, the nation and socialism, as it was during the Cultural Revolution. Even till today, there was no account of the 1989 student movement in history books published in the People's Republic. Consequently, the massive post-1989 propaganda and retribution produced a generation of young people in China has extremely little, if any, memory about the movement or the massacre. Especially in the recent years, with a booming economy, Chinese government became much more agreeable among the post-Tiananmen generation along with the rise of nationalism. In recent year, due to the imbalanced economic development, many social problem start to reveal themselves. Most of the anger, however, was successfully directed to anger against foreign countries' biased portrayal of China. Generally, the post-1989 generation in China was more interested in foreign press' attack on the Olympic, than the social problem within China.
Starting in the 1960s, all the way till 1998, there had been a series of ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland, collectively referred to as "The Troubles", in which the mainly Catholic Nationalists wanted to secede from the Great Britain while the mainly Protestant Unionists wanted to stay. During the aftermath of the conflict, different from the Chinese case, there has not been massive political retribution against the Nationalists. Instead, a reconciliation procedure took place. However, the procedure of reconciliation and forgiveness wasn't as smooth. According to a study done by Keith C. Barton and Alan McCully, high school students who have been affected by the conflict are more willing to recognize the conflict as current event, instead of history. (Barton and McCully) The recognition of the conflict remains in the realm of "collective memory". History, to the Northern Ireland students in the study, is "something in the distanced past". The authors went on to suggest that "education needs to use history to address the confusion that resulted from contemporary reality' while in the same time pointing out that this educational power to build a sense of solidarity can "easily be abused". Taking this suggestion to the Chinese case. The education simply wiped out any information about the spontaneous democratic action in Beijing and throughout the nation, in order to achieve solidarity. In this account, the concern by Barton and McCully was necessary. Moreover, through Chinese government's massive retribution action, the Chinese people who had been through the movement, already wounded by the preceding experience of Cultural Revolution, can only remain in silence. Immediately after the movement, there have been cases of "indirect protest" by the editors of state-own newspaper and others in order to commemorate the movement. As time goes by and the increase pressure from the retribution, no one dared to mention it publicly, even privately. The collective memory of 1989 now mainly come from 3 sources. First, student leaders formed coalition oversea, mainly in America. Second, the other two Chinese speaking political entity, namely Hongkong and Taiwan, condemned the massacre and memory was encouraged. Third, victims in China formed their own support group secretly. However, the effort was constantly harassed and repressed. Consequently, in the People's Republic of China, the 1989 democratic movement did not become a part of history; moreover, the related collective memory was largely repressed.
conclusion and a look forward
The student movement for democracy, spontaneously happened and had its epic during the spring and summer of 1989, centered in Beijing, was a very brave attempt to question and action against the central authority that has been established for over 2000 years in China, simply by people's power. As mentioned in the earlier analysis, The protesters maybe have adopted the incorrect "revolutionary strategy" to "revolutionize" the Communist regime at an immature stage, in addition to a very established Confucian centralized power that had total control of military and media, eventually lead to the failure of the movement, only to be followed by a mass retribution process which resulted in the lack of collective memory in the young generation in the People's Republic.
At this very moment, exactly 20 years from the demonstration and the massacre, the People's Republic enjoys itself on the recent economical boom, the recent host of the Olympic, and the young generation's unprecedented nationalistic pride. Despite the harmonious outlook, the tension between individuals, between the rich and the poor, between the local government and the people are increasingly accelerating. According to Wallace, this would be the "increase of individual tension" stage, which may lead towards cultural distortion and a revitalization movement if given sufficient condition. The post-Tiananmen generation of Chinese youth starts to play an important role in Chinese society. They had very limited, if any, information about the student movement and the reform in the 80's, because the event was not recognized by the government, and their parents was afraid of retribution and other psychological trauma. Nevertheless the young generation experienced a better democratic environment through the new technologies and personalized media that empower the individuals and through the general democratic trend of the world. They have witnessed the inequality during the economical development and have a better understanding of the rights they have as citizens than their parents' generation. Through mass media, however, the government successfully redirected the youth's anger towards foreign government and press. The general consensus among the youth is that the western world was jealous of China's economical boom as they purposely distort the Chinese international image by attack on China's domestic problem such as human right, on the right to host Olympics, among others. The misdirected new generation generated new source of blind nationalistic pride.
However, history will not stop itself and the past historical events will eventually be brought up again for the new generation to examine. As the internet technology progresses, information became much more open and the media became harder and harder to control by nation machines. Individuals will be more and more informed. In this new era, a wise government would adopt to this change, re-initiate the gradual political reform as attempted by Mr. Zhao Ziyang's government 20 years ago. The Chinese youth might be misinformed at the moment; however, the truth would unveil itself through the youth's future interaction with better informed peers around the world. In this case, the youth would raise more social questions due to a potentially decrease of nationalistic fervor caused by the slowing down of the economy. The centralized government with Confucian mentality maybe stable for the past 2000 years. However, I would argue that it will no longer stay stable in the modern world in which nations constantly interact with each other and individuals are empowered by personalized media. Special interest should be paid to the development of media technology. Internet liberated the Chinese access to the rest of the world in the same way as cable TV liberated the Arab World. Though Chinese government tried its best to restrict the access to "sensitive sites" through its notorious Great FireWall of China, people still find their way to break through the barrier. Many individual reporters use tools such as blog and twitter, in addition to the secure technology, to inform the nation of all the unjustified practice where people cannot hear from mass media. Half way across the world, in Moldova, an anti-government protest was organized simply through twitter recently. Giving all these examples and analysis, we would hope to see the awakening of the young generation of China in the near future for a more democratic society.
[foot note one]
Looking back into the origin of disciplines such as political science, history and economy, they were created to tackle a specific division of a "civilized society". Anthropology, in another hand, was created to deal with everything happens in an ""uncivilized society" because they did not feel that those society deserved to be analyzed fully. In modern world, surprisingly, anthropology gained advantage since it is able to examine a social system through multiple angles to understand its complex nature. A beautiful example would be Miner's "Body Ritual among the Nacirema".
Labels: 六四 民运 中国青年 Tiananmen China