30 years of Unforgettable Tiananmen…

Chris Patten, last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs, writes on the tragedy:

Thirty years ago this month, I was in Beijing as a British development minister for the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank. But what took place at that gathering – including the seating for the first time of a delegation from Taiwan – was overshadowed by what was happening across the city. And what happened in China in 1989 continues to resonate deeply today, not least in Hong Kong.

The big event in Beijing in late May of that year was supposed to be a state visit by the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev; the Chinese leadership was keen to show him how an orderly communist regime ran a great country, in comparison to the dissolution occurring in the Soviet Union under perestroika. But like an enormous unexpected firework display, an almost festive explosion of yearning for freedom greeted both sides.

Prompted by student demonstrations, much of Beijing’s population seemed to turn out in the streets to call for greater liberty and more democratic accountability. The show of people power spread to other cities. It was exuberant and spontaneous. And no one – neither the regime nor the demonstrators – seemed to know what to do next.

As a delegation of development ministers, we met the Communist Party general secretary – the charming, reform-minded Zhao Ziyang. He expressed sympathy with some of the demonstrators’ arguments and grievances, and later went to Tiananmen Square to say much the same to the students. As often happens in mass protest movements, they were divided between those who regarded compromise with the authorities as surrender, and those who believed that choosing freely to return to work or studies would secure them the moral high ground for the future.

We know what happened next. The elderly hardliners in the communist leadership were terrified that they were losing their grip, as indeed they were. They brought in the tanks, and the People’s Liberation Army massacred the people they were supposed to protect. No incident better demonstrates the crucial distinction between the Communist Party of China (CPC) – no longer particularly communist, but increasingly Leninist – and China’s great civilization.

China may have grown but things are increasingly lookingly similar with Xi:

Many of us used to think that China, growing richer and resuming a central role in world affairs, would slowly but inevitably embrace the same aspirations as most other societies: greater accountability, freedom to speak one’s mind, and a rule of law to which all, including the mightiest, were subject.

President Xi Jinping, however, has been trying to bury that idea by reasserting party control over every aspect of government, jailing lawyers and human-rights activists, cracking down on religious groups,  hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in “re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang region, and issuing increasingly bellicose threats against Taiwan. And we have seen the same reversal in Hong Kong.


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