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Democracy Movements In China

.. 1989 democracy movement enjoyed great popular support. Student groups received food and other supplies and money. People saw more and more corruption amongst the party elite and were angered by falling wages and living standards despite party promises to the contrary. Meisner paints a picture of China at this time which shows a country in moral chaos.

The government had basically lost control of officials in the southern coastal regions where there was cut-throat competition for scarce raw materials. Officials had access to supplies at low state-regulated prices, and they caused there to be an overproduction of consumer goods, while necessities were in short supply. Basically, the economy was out of control. For example, the government gave out promissory notes instead of cash payment for grain. The Deng era in the history of the People’s Republic began in late 1978 with the new regime broadly supported by intellectuals who rallied around the promise of socialist democracy A decade later the most vocal intellectual partisans of the regime were advocates of a capitalist autocracy. By 1989 neither socialist nor democratic goals had survived Deng Xiaoping’s reform program, at least not in official circles (Meisner, 1996; p.

395). The intellectuals of China did not participate in earlier democratic demonstrations. The reasons for this lack of activity are various. For a long while, they were still seduced by Deng’s program of reforms, and they were told that, as a class, they would play a prominent role in the Four Modernisations. There was also a certain air of snobbishness in that the intellectuals felt that early movements were really led by self-educated workers and not students. By early 1989, this was beginning to wear on the collective conscious and the government began to receive well-publicised letters from famous intellectuals calling for the release of political prisoners.

The intellectual element also began to challenge the government on other fronts. It began to challenge the government’s position as the sole interpreter of Marxist doctrine. Beginning around 1987, dissident political literature could be bought right on the street from book carts along with pornography imported from Hong Kong. According to Meisner, Deng made a serious error when he allowed the standard of living to go down for intellectuals after 1985. Thus, it can be seen that pressures toward some sort of political unrest had been building for quite sometime.

The students knew that the death of a Party leader was one of the rare occasions when the regime would tolerate a symbolic political action and spontaneous gatherings. After the government violence which brought the student democracy movement to a bloody and tragic end, one U.S. magazine, The National Review, criticised the students for not foreseeing that the government would eventually resort to violence. However, it is easy to see how this could happen. On April 27, the students enjoyed a major victory when the government agreed to meet with them and listen to their demands.

On April 28, the government conceded another demand and gave local newspapers permission to cover the political unrest. The student who was the leader of the Federation of Beijing University Students, Wuer Kaixi, debated the Prime Minister, Li Peng, on national television. The government was taking a very conciliatory tone in all of its public statements. Government officials actually allowed themselves to be questioned publicly about the alleged corruption. To the young, and for the most part, inexperienced students it looked as if the impossible was happening the government teetered on the brink it looked as if it would capitulate. A second meeting was set up between the student activist and government officials on April 30. Zhao Ziyang had been on a diplomatic trip to Korea during this time.

He returned to China just as the government really started to get desperate and instituted marshal law. The government essentially was frozen after the institution of marshal law for two weeks while Ziyang and Deng confronted each other over what to do next. Ziyang cautioned against violence, but Deng and other government leaders were absolutely certain that by threatening the authority of the Communist party if they did not act boldly the entire country would be thrown into chaos. The wholesale massacre of the student demonstrators started around 6 p.m. on the evening of June 3, 1989. The decision to use violence against the Chinese people was not made rashly, or within the context of some violent emotional response.

Meisner writes, rather, it was a coldly deliberate decision that Deng and his old comrades were determined to carry out..They thus ignored one opportunity after another to peacefully resolve the crisis because they were intent on terrorising the population, they wanted to punish the people for their transgressions (p. 466). The actual events began with very large demonstrations. On April 26 the People’s daily editorial condemned the demonstrations. The demonstrators demanded it be repudiated. Martial law was declared immediately after Gorbachev’s visit ended in the early hours of May 19.

The demonstrators took steps to forestall military intervention by setting up barricades and by talking to soldiers and explaining that they were not counter-revolutionaries but a patriotic democratic movement supported by the whole of the urban citizenry. Thus the first few attempts at military intervention were rebuffed by the sheer extent of public support for the demonstrations. But decisive military action was perhaps inevitable despite apparent disagreement among the party leadership over how to deal with the movement and rumours that some sections of the army did not want to be involved in the suppression. The final military intervention began on the night of June 3rd. The earlier conscripts were replaced with more experienced troops whose loyalty was assured. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled in, smashing through the barricades.

Demonstrators fought back and the massacre continued throughout the night and there were armed mopping up operation for days after in Beijing, shots still being heard ten days after the square was cleared. Outrage at the massacre gave renewed impetus to demonstrations in other cities. In Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’an and many other cities, there were strikes in the days following the massacre and main streets and bridges and railway lines were barricaded. But the suppression continued throughout June and July. Different tactics were used in handling students and workers. Students were given the chance to repent their errors whilst workers organisations and individuals were much more likely to be condemned as criminal hooligans and incarcerated or executed.

(Fear of solidarity) The Future of Democracy in China There is still discontent: inflation is rising rapidly Asian financial crisis etc. Since Tiananmen there has not been any mass movement against the communist party. However the party has moved against Underground democracy workers groups which have been banned and their members arrested for example in March 1994 League for Protection of Working People in China The party has now gone so far away from socialism and towards the Market that it is now hard for the party to bring out the old argument that Socialism provides better security and benefits than do the rights and freedoms they would enjoy under a Western-style liberal democracy e.g. League for Protection of Working People in China argued that workers need to be able to strike and form independent unions to protect themselves in the new market-socialist China Saturday clampdown on Sino-Overseas publications (censorship) Monday Zechen & Wenjiang face trial (China Democracy Party) CCP still in control Jiang Zemin, China’s current leader, has currently dismissed human rights concerns as something which an emerging China doesn’t have time for right now. Only quite recently, standing beneath a massive portrait of Deng Xiaoping, has the Chinese leader tried to put any distance between himself and the events in Tiananmen Square Democracy Movements in China Democracy Wall In 1978, stimulated by the opening of China to the West and also by the reversal of verdicts against the 1976 Tiananmen protesters (These demonstrations against the gang of four had been condemned as counter-revolutionary at the time but were now declared a revolutionary act), thousands of Chinese began to put their thoughts into words, their words onto paper and their paper onto walls to be read by passers by.

The most famous focus of these displays became a stretch of blank wall just to the west of the former forbidden city in Beijing, part of which was now a museum and park and part the cluster of residences for China’s most senior National leaders. Because of the frankness of some of these posters and the message that some measure of democratic freedom should be introduced in China, this Beijing area became known as Democracy Wall. The background to the Democracy Wall movement was the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four Period and the April Fifth movement, which opposed the Gang. Many of the views expressed during the Democracy Wall movement regarding the corruption of the party and its lack of legitimacy as a representative of the people are directly related to the main concerns of the Cultural Revolution Rebels and indeed many of the same people, both workers and former students were involved. The Democracy Wall Movement was a movement for what its participants regarded as real democracy.

This was not generally the Western Parliamentary variety but was Described by Wei Jingsheng as the holding of power by the labouring masses themselves. True Democracy for him was the right of the people to choose their own representatives who will work according to their will and in their interests. Furthermore the people must always have the power to replace their representatives so that these representatives cannot go on deceiving others in the name of the people. Primarily the movement demanded that the Chinese people be allowed to exercise the rights which had long existed on paper, including the right s of free speech and freedom of assembly, freedom of organisation and freedom of publication. Again the concern with legal guarantees for these rights echoes the post-Cultural Revolution, early 1970s demand for socialist Legality expressed by Li Yizhe, the legal protection of the people from arbitrary arrest or political persecution.

The views of the Democracy wall Movement led them to oppose the remaining followers of the Gang of Four. In this the movement was useful to Deng Xiaoping and he actually seems to have encouraged it while it suited him. When questioned about democracy wall by overseas visitors he reaffirmed more than once that the Chinese people had every right to express their views and that the CCP was not in the least concerned with the criticism in the posters. However he changed his view later on. During 1979, the movement progressed from using wall-posters to publishing unofficial journals. Again this was a national development and was not merely confined to Beijing.

Most Chinese cities had at least one journal and the bigger cities had as many as half a dozen, including campus publications by students. Some journals were purely literary others were mainly political, concentrating on politics, current affairs and social issues such as poor living standards and youth unemployment. The problem of democratic management in industry was widely discussed, not surprisingly since many of the editors of these journals were themselves workers. Proposals for self-management by workers without party interference found considerable support amongst journal writers. Many journals focused on human rights, but this soon proved to be a touchy subject. Human rights activists were criticised for slavishly following the Americans, and were told that western-style human rights were inferior to China’s existing socialist system and had nothing to offer the country.

Posters and journals began to explicitly criticise Mao, with many arguing that the Gang of Four could never have gained power and held on to it for so long without Mao’s backing. Although attacks on the Gang of Four were welcomed by Deng Xiaoping any wholesale discrediting of Mao was not, since it called into question the legitimacy of the whole Chinese revolution and was likely to alienate the army among whom respect for Mao was still very high. The official crackdown against Democracy Wall began as early as the spring of 1979 although the movement survived another two years after that, if in increasingly difficult circumstances. As mentioned earlier Deng had at first found the movement useful because it attacked his enemies and because it could be shown to the outside world as evidence of the existence of freedom of speech liberalisation an important point as diplomatic relations with Carter’s America were being normalised. But once Deng had consolidated power he had no further use for the movement and indeed it threatened his own rule as criticism of the corrupt and elitist party mounted along with complaints over living standards and industrial unrest. These complaints also applied to him and his supporters.

So Deng began suppressing the movement with the arrest of many prominent activists. Wei Jingsheng was arrested at the end of March 1979 and sentenced to fifteen years for a variety of offences ranging from being late to work at Beijing zoo to selling military secrets to Vietnam. Given his outspoken criticism of Deng Xiaoping (for using the time-honoured methods of fascist dictators) the length of his sentence was hardly surprising. Various Democracy Wall publications and organisations tried to register with the authorities (because under the constitution they had every right to exist provided they were legally registered.) But they were refused registration on a variety of pretexts and were banned in the early 1980s. Mainly for self protection, to ensure the continued existence of the movement, moves began in 1980 to form a national organisation of publishers of independent journals and a national federation was eventually formed by those still at liberty in September 1980 This move to national organisation was perceived by the party leadership as a great threat, and this development helped to precipitate the final suppression of the movement.

Another development had a similar effect. From late 1980 onwards, the Democracy Wall Movement was accompanied by outbreaks of industrial unrest as well, including strikes in some areas. Some striking workers demande Political Science.