Friday, June 6, 2014

Tiananmen at 25: The More It Changes, The More It Stays the Same

June 4, 1989. It was a moment that tried to help define modern-day China. On this day, a bunch of student-led demonstrations, known as 六四事件 (Tiananmen Square protests), protesting the anti-democratic government of the People's Republic of China. The students were met with martial force, which resulted in tens of deaths and a multitude of injuries. It received much media coverage and was a moment to make it in the history books. The question I have to ask is whether 六四事件 set China on a course towards respect of human rights or if Tiananmen was merely continuing its shoddy human rights record.

With something as momentous as 六四事件, one would have expected significant reforms in China. When contrasting with something like Poland's recent 25th anniversary of being free from Communist Russia, you have to start wondering just how much progress China has made. Is Poland perfect in its human rights and civil liberties? What country is? But at least I can say to myself that Poland has made significant reforms and is heading in the right direction. In preparation for the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government had enough security around to Tiananmen Square to make sure that any attempts to commemorate the protests were quashed. If this week were a reminder of anything, it is that China is still a police state hellbent on censorship. Even the Internet "protesting" and demonstrations that existed for the 25th anniversary had to be exceptionally clandestine. But it's more than cracking down on an anniversary that was symbolic of the Chinese cry for democratization. It was a wake-up call as to how little has changed since June 4, 1989.

The fact that the  中国共产党 (Chinese Communist Party) still maintains its one party-grip on the political system and electoral process says something right there. The censorship of the Internet is reflective of China having one of the world's most restrictive media environments. With the persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uyghyrs, and the Falun Gong (法轮大法), one can hardly tout religious freedom in China. In spite of the tens of thousands of protests that have taken place in China since 1989, the police does a fine job of suppressing the outcry. And forget anything about a fair trial or due process of the law in China because it only exists if you are high enough in the politburo. The list of egregiousness of human rights and civil liberty violations in China seems immeasurable, which is why I will stop here.

China has made considerable progress in the economic realm. China is hardly a capitalist haven, but the fact that it has liberalized its economy from the clutches of communism has improved the lives of many in China since 1978. However, it's not enough. I am not arguing that economic freedom is unimportant, but rather that progress in human rights needs to be comparable to that in economic progress. Although economic reform is a prerequisite for political reform, if China reminds us of anything, it is that political reform is not an inevitable result of economic liberalization.

Looking at the United States in contradistinction to China, this anniversary has also been a reminder as to how lucky I am to live in a country such as the United States. Much like any other country, the United States is imperfect in the implementation of its policies, although much less so than a place like China. Not only can I express disagreement and constructive criticism about what the government does in this country, but I can do so without worrying that I will end up in prison simply for disagreeing. We have a country that has an overall respect for freedom of religion, association, speech, and press. I hope that it doesn't take China another 25 years to realize that allowing for such freedoms is not a hindrance, but rather an advancement of society.

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