Tiananmen 25 Years On: The Square has become Squareson 3 June 2014
By Shao Jiang
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the bloody massacre of 4th June. In the run-up to the anniversary, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) regime carried out an intensified crackdown. In a partial list documented by human rights organizations, we find journalists, lawyers, workers, farmers, petitioners, migrants, soldiers, and even a monk. The list reveals the fear of the regime, but more importantly, it tells us why the regime is more and more scared and where the new political momentum in the PRC comes from.
The Tiananmen protest was more or less a centralized movement initiated and dominated by students. Although there were demonstrations in all provinces across the country, the main momentum came from Tiananmen Square. Twenty-five years later, different social groups including workers, farmers, migrants and different nationalities stand up for their rights everywhere. Every three minutes there is a protest with over 200 people. For the regime’s machinery of stability preservation, this has changed: the Tiananmen square is becoming squares, and the roads leading to the squares can be as accessible as the keypad of a computer or a smartphone. The social groups marching at the front of the new revolution are far closer to the earth. Digital activism is beginning. This scares the CCP leaders, because it has become crystal clear that those on top are the minority; parasites sucking the blood of the people.
Before the CCP came to power, it praised the democracy and human rights, especially representative democracy in the US. Democracy and human rights were used to mobilise people, especially young people, who helped the party come to power. After 1949, democracy turned into New Democracy under Mao’s Democratic Dictatorship and human rights, regarded as a capitalist ideology, became taboo. After the crackdown in 1989, the CCP has re-interpreted human rights in order to reduce international pressure and control the discourse inside society. Its White Paper on human rights is distinct from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties. China has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the 16 years after it first signed it and the CCP will not give any clear timetable for its ratification. The regime will not give up its monopoly on power to deprive the people’s collect rights and individual rights, especially civil rights and political rights.
Before the Beijing Massacre, many people followed the CCP’s version of events following disasters such as the ‘Great famine’ and the Cultural Revolution – blaming natural disasters or individual leaders' mistakes. By contrast, dissidents including writers and scholars provided an alternative version, claiming that the CCP leaders were responsible and that the CCP's power monopoly contributed to these disasters. However, many people did not take this seriously. Only after the Beijing Massacre did people come to rethink this alternative version of events and to explore fundamental questions.
It forced people to consider questions such as: What are China's political institutions? What is the CCP, away from the regime propaganda? Who does People's Liberation Army (PLA) belong to? Can ‘people’ be represented by a special group before they have granted it power to do so? Who has the right and power to make decisions? How can we change China's totalitarian institutions to democracy? And finally, how can we establish institutions to protect all the rights for all people?
After the 1989 crackdown, civil resistance provided the action and thinking on the questions mentioned above. The government's crackdown failed to extinguish the blaze which the people fighting for freedom and human rights had begun. The Tiananmen Mothers have called for an independent investigation, accountability and compensation for 25 years. The underground church and opposition parties, underground trade unions initiated by migrants and other modes of civil resistance widened these networks.
Charter 08 was an important political milestone to promote democracy and human rights. The New Citizen Movement and the Southern Street Movement pushed the National People Congress to ratify the ICCPR, called for government officials to publicly disclose their properties and, fought for equality of education. These civil activities directly remind us of the legacy of the 1989 Movement. Cao Shunli, using good knowledge of the legal avenues for disadvantaged groups on new resistance spaces, has fought against repression, discrimination and injustice.
After the 1989 Massacre, the CCP officials and its interest groups began to siphon off state resources for their personal benefit. In addition, ordinary people began to pay for the cost of China’s development without human rights and democracy, suffering land grabs, violent eviction and serious food insecurity while rampant government corruption become even more serious than before. Many people became disillusioned with China’s economic development model，which seems only to bring more rights violations and environmental damage. More people than ever before are campaigning to end all forms of arbitrary detention by which the Chinese regime represses freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and they are struggling to abolish the household registration system which has imposed hierarchy and inequality. More people are promoting the rights and dignity of people with disabilities and children' rights, fighting for women's rights and protecting the environment. Solidarity with social groups and nationalities are forming and the revolution to end the CCP autocracy is approaching.
Shao Jiang is an activist, political exile and independent researcher. He spent time as a prisoner of conscience in China following his involvement as a student organiser in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations 1986-1989.
Image: Arian Zwegers CC BY