30 Years On: The Echoes of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

What has China learned, and what can we learn?

by Morrison Lakey

“Why didn’t I cry out?”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s desperate lamentation in the early pages of his opus The Gulag Archipelago may never be answered. Why didn’t those arrested, ushered through the streets by Organs of the Soviet Union disguised as inconspicuous men, cry out? Surely, if enough people had taken to doing such things, the catastrophes that were to come would have been averted there and then.

One possible answer for this suggested that the Soviet populace had become so pathologized in its oppression that the mentality of “keep your eyes to the ground and your mouth shut” became the way that the society operated – people oppressing themselves first and foremost, merely egged on by the communist state. This, perhaps, might be the most appropriate answer to Solzhenitsyn’s question.

However, a following question then arises: what would have happened if people did call out? What then? Would the tyrants lean back in their chairs, arms folded and utter a sigh of defeat? Would the machine of oppression have been halted there and then?

On this day in 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests reached their zenith. The protesters, mainly students and a few academics, had been protesting communist China’s controlled economy and suppression of dissent, only for the Chinese state to respond to them by opening fire. Anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand people were killed in the massacre, the wide discrepancy of deaths (rather characteristic of communist regime death tolls) a result of the Chinese government’s active and hostile suppression of casualty figures.

There are a number of things that can be learned from the events that unfolded during the Tiananmen protests. The most important of these is the oft-repeated “communism doesn’t work,” a maxim that should be widely regarded as self-evident, but, for reasons beyond my understanding, bears repeating, even in the modern day.

We should absolutely be aware of the existential threat that revolutionary and hateful ideologies such as communism pose to the democratic systems that underpin western society. We should be acutely aware of the symptoms of communism in a society – symptoms such as Marxist or socialist politicians, excess seizure and redistribution of wealth or personal property by the state, and the suppression of anti-governmental dissent.

Conversely, we should also make sure we don’t swing too hard in the other direction. As much as Pinochet and “get the chopper” are hilarious jokes to make, it is important that we as a society keep sentiments such as those confined to the realm of satire. By unironically calling for the restriction of communists’ rights, we simply fall to their level.

Communism thrives on two things – government suppression, and revolutionary sentiments. The latter takes place before the former in any communist dictatorship. The revolution, conceived on anti-government sentiments, gives way to active suppression of dissent and free speech. To advocate for the restriction of the civil liberties of communists will achieve nothing apart from a state of politically motivated suppression – a tyrannical machine that will simply be there for communist revolutionaries to wrest control of if they ever were to overthrow the state.

And how easy a task that would be if the current state became tyrannical – fighting back against oppressive tyrants is part of a communist revolutionary’s modus operandi! The infamous Nietzsche quote comes to mind – whoever fights authoritarians should see to it that in the process he does not become an authoritarian. A system built on lies is nothing more than a house of cards: subjected to the realm of public discourse, it will collapse, given enough time.

History presents a treasure trove of lessons for the modern society to learn and heed, and it is often the case that history is more effective at teaching us what not to do, rather than what to do. The dark and catastrophic events that plague human history are generally more memorable than the good – we remember the Nazis, Pearl Harbor, and Japan’s Unit 731, but these catastrophes supersede, for instance, the various advances in technology and medical science made during the exact same century. It appears to be fundamental human nature to remember the bad over the good, and in turn that prevents the wiser of us from going down the same road and making the same mistakes again.

So now, 30 years on, has China’s government woken up to themselves? Have they looked back on the massacre, and the catastrophes prior, with shame and regret? Do they flagellate themselves as we in the west do for our history of enslaving native people?

Unfortunately, no. They do not. In fact, ever since then, they have ramped up the authoritarianism to a degree that is only distinguishable from Maoist communism in kill count. China in its modern state, for lack of a better phrase, is a shithole country, and for reasons other than just their authoritarianism, on which this article focuses. There is simply no other way to put it. China has failed to learn its lesson. The government, the Communist Party of China, consists almost solely of ideological sycophants who hold onto the poisonous dream of one day making the same deadly mistake as Chairman Mao.

To the communists that may be going against their grain and reading this article, Tiananmen Square is what happens when people fight for freedom under communism. Your ideology is reprehensible, archaic and murderous. To support it is to have the same moral culpability as a neo-Nazi, as your ideology sanctioned genocide of the same degree as the Nazis, and yet you participate in the same manner of historical revisionism (“the Holocaust/Holodomor never happened!”).

As it stands, China has failed to learn its lesson from Tiananmen Square. Its populace is complacent, and its government is tyrannical. They imprison people in labour camps, detain and “re-educate” Muslims, and have imposed the social credit system – a system so Orwellian that it makes the Party in 1984 seem tame. Each of these things deserve their own article.

If the most populous country on the planet actively engaging in suppression and censorship in the modern day doesn’t at the very least give you pause, you’re not listening hard enough. 30 years on from the Tiananmen Square massacre, China has failed unforgivably at learning from its past mistakes. Fortunately for the free world, we have the ability to observe China’s actions, and to understand that they are not to be replicated in any other place where liberty is considered desirable. For as long as they continue down this road, China should be heeded as a warning of what not to do.

I can only hope that in another 30 years, China will have finally learned its lesson, and that its repressed populace will be granted the freedoms which they are afforded.

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