Modern China's Original Sin
Tiananmen Square's Legacy of Repression
The Tiananmen Papers
China: Erratic State, Frustrated Society
Long Time Coming
The Prospects for Democracy in China
The Life of the Party
The Post-Democratic Future Begins in China
Democratize or Die
Why China's Communists Face Reform or Revolution
How China Is Ruled
Why It's Getting Harder for Beijing to Govern
Chinese Dissidence From Tiananmen to Today
How the People's Grievances Have Grown
The Geography of Chinese Power
How Far Can Beijing Reach on Land and at Sea?
The Game Changer
Coping With China's Foreign Policy Revolution
How China Sees America
The Sum of Beijing’s Fears
Beijing's Brand Ambassador
A Conversation With Cui Tiankai
The Inevitable Superpower
Why China’s Dominance Is a Sure Thing
The Middling Kingdom
The Hype and the Reality of China’s Rise
The Risky Strategy Behind China's Construction Economy
Austerity With Chinese Characteristics
Why China's Belt-Tightening Has More To Do With Confucius Than Keynes
Where Have All the Workers Gone?
China's Labor Shortage and the End of the Panda Boom
After the Plenum
Why China Must Reshape the State
The Great Leap Backward?
On May 3, 2014, about a dozen rights activists met in a private apartment in Beijing, where they held a seminar marking the 25th anniversary of the protests and crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Since that night, most of the activists have disappeared. At least one of them, Pu Zhiqiang, a human rights lawyer, has been formally detained (the prelude to a criminal charge) for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
In a way, none of this is surprising. China is an authoritarian regime. Whoever challenges it takes a risk. But what is surprising is that this small group of activists had held the same kind of meeting for several years without getting into trouble. The fact that they weren’t as lucky this year is one sign among many that repression in China has not only not eased in recent years but is getting worse.
But why? As the rights activists argued, it all goes back to June 4, 1989. The regime’s attack on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square was an inflection point, one at which it could have chosen liberalization or repression. Zhao Ziyang, who was the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), favored dialogue with the students. He argued that they were patriotic, that they shared the regime’s goal of opposing corruption, and that if the leadership told the students that it accepted their demands the students would peacefully leave the square. Li Peng, the prime minister, countered that if the CCP legitimized opposition voices by negotiating with them, the party’s political rule, based on a monopoly of power, would crumble. In the end, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping sided with Li.
Having picked the path of repression in 1989, the regime has had to steadily step it up. Here, too, the May 3 meeting is emblematic. The participants were calling for the regime to acknowledge that the student demonstrations were not dongluan, “a turmoil” -- the official term for the demonstrations, which implies that they were a violent rebellion. They also requested
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