How the Tiananmen Square Massacre Changed China Forever

Time
Date: June 4, 2019
By: Laignee Barron

The Goddess of Democracy smiled on China for exactly five days. The papier-mâché likeness of the Statue of Liberty appeared in Tiananmen Square as protests convulsed Beijing and other cities seeking to unshackle the world’s most populous country from endemic corruption.

Their calls for political reform were answered in the early hours of June 4, 1989, with a bloody

People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers leap over a barrier on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing June 4, 1989. Catherine Henriette—AFP/Getty Images

military crackdown that crushed the movement and toppled its symbols. The massacre at Tiananmen killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of the students and laborers who joined massive gatherings lasting more than a month. The movement, favoring democracy and reformist policies that caused rifts within the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, had spread to hundreds of cities before the government resolved to disperse it with brute force. Military tanks rolled into Beijing, where soldiers opened fire with assault rifles on the unarmed demonstrators who tried to stop their advance.

And yet in the West, a certainty remained that China would eventually resurrect the dream of democracy that was deferred that night. Thirty years later, many are still waiting for the Middle Kingdom to liberalize, though the CCP’s grip on power has arguably never been tighter. To survive the upheaval, its leadership rewrote their social contract; the post-Maoist effort of “reform and opening up,” whereby China established its own brand of market-economy socialism, was ultimately accelerated but at the expense of political freedoms. By some measures the trade-off was tremendously successful. At the time of the Tiananmen rallies, China’s GDP per capita compared unfavorably to Gambia’s; by 2030, if not before, many indicators predict China’s economy will eclipse the U.S.   
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