Thirty years after the brutality at Tiananmen Square, China has become a powerhouse nation. But it can’t erase its past
One of the enduring images of protest in the 20th century is that of the ‘Tank Man’. Who he is? Nobody knows but the image of a man standing up to a tank, it’s gun raised in anger, moving to the centre of Beijing likely to fire on Chinese youngsters has become an iconic image of a common citizen protesting Government excess. Unfortunately, the ‘Tank Man’ was unable to stop the Chinese Army from senselessly killing its own 20-year-old soldiers firing at 20-year-old students. We will never know the scale of brutality — China has never revealed the actual death toll and if it were not for hundreds of dissidents escaping to the West, this story might have been buried forever. The demonstrators in the Tiananmen Square were screaming for democracy, communism had collapsed across Eastern Europe and for the young students, it was their turn. The authorities did not get the message about democracy but Chinese leaders realised that without economic progress and more wealth in the hands of the citizens, protests would erupt again. In a way, China’s economic miracle was built on the foundation of the dead bodies of the Tiananmen Square protesters. But what a story of economic growth: China today stands alone in challenging Americas global hegemony with its Belt and Road Initiative, it has a modern-day East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that Imperial Japan envisaged before World War II, but on a grander scale.
China has substituted democracy for development, its rapid industrial and manufacturing prowess has become the strongest case against democracy, leading many Indians to also believe that democracy is a hurdle to development. We should not let this narrative succeed. As India has proven, democracy can be a force for good in this, the world’s largest multiethnic nation. Democracy gives a voice to the subaltern, and they can roar. China might have grown dramatically but that growth has not been completely even — some have benefited more than others and many have been left behind. The protesters in the Tiananmen Square were not what the Communist Party of India Marxist shamefully called counter-revolutionaries, they were demanding a voice. But China changed as a result and moved away from communism just as much as Eastern Europe did. The protesters did achieve something, not democracy but a changed China. It is up to today’s leaders in China whether they see themselves as a force for good or not.
Writer & Courtesy: Pioneer