China’s True Legacy of 1989

How the Tiananmen Square protests led to the new China Model – Klaus Mühlhahn

The Chinese leadership is nervous. With great apprehension over the last few weeks, it has been watching the approach of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, which happened without great incident on Tuesday. The dramatic tightening of political control, and the harassment and detainment of government critics, undoubtedly has its origins in the fears surrounding the June Fourth anniversary.

The intoxicating months of spring 1989 on Tiananmen Square, and the abrupt, brutal crackdown by the Chinese military that followed, remain at the forefront of China’s collective memory, despite substantial attempts to censor and repress. The horrible loss of life and violent suppression of democracy will not soon be forgotten. More than a tragic, historic moment, though, the June Fourth massacre marked the decisive and fundamental shift towards the China we know today: a China that has been pushed towards the embrace of authoritarianism and state capitalism. Over the last 30 years, this model has proved much more successful and resilient that most observers had assumed.


Reform and Opening: China’s Turning Point

Crossing the river by feeling for the stones – Klaus Mühlhahn

On December 13, 1978, at the end of a month-long preparatory conference for the historic Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee, to be held in Beijing from December 18 to December 22, Deng Xiaoping delivered a carefully thought-out, well-calculated speech, which not only dared a risky break with the Maoist past, but ushered in a new era of reform and opening. It is time, Deng stated, that the members of the Chinese Communist Party "emancipate their minds, use their heads, seek the truth in the facts, and look to the future together." He criticized that many Party members clung to "book knowledge" and were accustomed to "hang their flag in the wind." But conservatism and the worship of theories must be overcome in order to make China a "modern and powerful socialist state." Deng also made it clear that pragmatism should never call into question the political leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.