The Importance of Solving the Tiananmen Issue

Posted on Jun 3, 2012

by YANG Jianli and HAN Lianchao

Recently, ChinaeWeekly, (an Initiatives for China online publication), Beijing Spring, andChina In Perspective jointly launched an essay contest on “How to Solve the Tiananmen Problem.”  The contest will run through August 15th and award recipients will be announced on September 1st.  The essay contest is currently welcoming your submissions and ideas!

Deferring from its predecessors, the focus of the most recent Tiananmen anniversary is not further discovery of historical material on the tragedy of “June 4th;” rather, it is an attempt to explore solutions to the issue of Tiananmen.  To the Chinese government, the Tiananmen democracy protests and subsequent massacre of civilians by army troops has always been a sensitive topic, long banned from public discussion.  The lack of widespread and systematic discussion of this issue, however, does not prevent the flow of information.  Among the private conversations of Chinese citizens, discussions regarding reform always broach on the issue of Tiananmen and its ramifications.

In the 23 years since the Tiananmen massacre, there had been much analysis and reflection.  Although there are many views and divergent points, few will deny that this incident is a tragedy in the modernization of China.  The fact that former officials such as Li Peng and Chen Xi –Tong, who were widely considered among those mainly responsible for the violent crackdown, recently published their memoires trying to rid themselves of association makes it clear that all wish to distance themselves from this evil.  The blood sacrifice of thousands of civilians and students has made June 4th a point of inflection in the history of modern China.  At this juncture where the progression of prior reform was broken, China began treading into a political climax and onto the path of complex economic development.

After June 4th, the Chinese government did not convert to total conservatism under Deng Xiaoping.  Chinese citizens were afforded some degree of economic and social freedom with the implementation of a limited open door policy; global economic development increased its potential, and the Chinese Communist Party secured some flexibility and political space.

However, today’s China no longer operates as during the days of Deng’s open policy.  What has been termed the plight of “Reform Deepwater Zone” is really the result of evading and avoiding the Tiananmen issue.  Democratization, anti-corruption, the rule of law, and freedom – these are social demands highlighted by the pro-democracy movement of 1989.  These demands were suppressed just as the demands for rectification of the Tiananmen issue were suppressed.  Suppression has led to 23 years of a lame and unsuitable reform, a political system and market economy estranged and increasingly out of touch. The most advantageous entry point by which to understand China’s political problems is via June 4th.

Of course, the issue of June 4th will eventually be resolved; possibly after the democratization of China.  The issue of June 4th would then be redefined by the policy of pacifying history.  Or, the issue of June 4th can be resolved by moving in tandem with the Chinese government’s policies, whereby any new discussion of June 4th, or even other seemingly small cultural issues, can mark a milestone of Chinese political reform.  In any case, some 23 years ago, those concerned with Chinese politics had already seen clearly the relationship between substantive political reform and reform.

I hope the issue of June 4th will extricate itself from China’s political agenda.  The Tiananmen Mothers are getting on in age.  It is a flaw in humanity that we cannot offer them belated condolences.  It is also unhelpful to the reconciliatory spirit of society.  This form of collective healing and reconciliation is especially necessary to bring change in China’s society.

The code to interpreting China’s contemporary political history is embedded in June 4th; a key directing the government to civilization.  If China does not enter into future reform via June 4th, there is risk of raising differences in its society.  June 4th also bears the potential to recover its civic ambitions and sense of responsibility. Today’s China is a backlog of unresolved issues due to its atheist economic, political, cultural and ethnic policies.  In order to restore normality and confidence to its citizens’ perspective, judgment, and ability to act, it is necessary to look bravely back on June 4th, face up to June 4th, and openly discuss the issue of June 4th.  Certainly this is the political and societal reform standard with the smallest cost and yet the greatest of returns.