Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, June 10, 2005

Lots of discussion about Tiananmen tonight at the English Corner. Not surprising, since this week is the anniversary of that momentous occasion. Everyone wanted to know what I thought. I sometimes surprise people here, because I believe there was fault on both sides. The biggest mistake the students made, was that they announced a date by which they would leave the Square, but they didn't follow through. They were then questioned about when they would leave, and their response was vague. Once they renegged on their own announced schedule, they seemed confused and uncertain. This put them in a vulnerable position, and basically forced the government to remove them.

The government made two basic mistakes. First of all, the put Li Peng in charge of negotiating with the students. Li Peng was, in my opinion, the worst possible choice for this assignment. His approach was confrontational, and tended, I believe, to radicalize the students. The second mistake was the manner in which the government chose to remove the students (and they did need to remove the students). Every country deals with student activism. Tear gas, water canons, rubber bullets, if need be...but live ammunition? This was far too heavy handed.

But in the end, the students lost the battle, but won the war. In terms of life style, many of the things they were demanding have become pretty much a part of life in China today. Yet, China is still a controlled society. If you are of the conviction that freedom is only possible in a democratic system, then you would conclude that China does not have freedom. The reality is, that while China does not have democracy, the people of China have enjoyed a greater measure of freedom in recent years. To the extent that Tiananmen is, at least in part, responsible for this freedom, the students can be said to be the victors.

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