Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Was the June 4th Tiananmen Movement "Counter-Revolutionary?"

Was the June 4th Tiananmen Movement "Counter-Revolutionary?"
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 3, 2009

Twenty years ago, on April 17, 1989, the first wave of students gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, to honor the memory of Hu Yaobang. This sparked a conflagration that once ablaze, could no longer be contained. On April 26, the People's Daily published an editorial entitled, "The government must take a clear stand against the turmoil." It characterized the pro-democracy movement as "a counter-revolution launched by a tiny minority of the people."

The April 26 editorial added fuel to the fire. The Tiananmen movement spread to all parts of the country, eventually resulting in "Liu Si," the June 4th Tiananmen Incident. Now fast forward 20 years. The meaning of June 4th remains unresolved.

The April 26 People's Daily editorial does not stand up to scrutiny. It claimed that "a tiny minority of people launched a counter-revolutionary movement leading to turmoil." But the hundreds of millions of people across the nation who participated in the movement were hardly a "tiny minority." Besides, the concept of democratic liberation was orginally part of the Chinese Communist Party's call for "people's revolution." It was hardly "counter-revolutionary." To characterize the turmoil as counter-revolution was arbitrary and unwarranted.

Over the past two decades, the Beijing authorities have attempted to revise this characterization. One seldom sees the incident referred to as "counter-revolutionary turmoil." Such neutral terms as the "Beijing Incident" and "that incident in 1989" have gradually appeared. The new generation of Chinese Communist leaders know perfectly well why the June 4th Incident happened. The government's performance at the time fell considerably short of public expectations. Twenty years later, the authorities have even less reason to denigrate the students' ideas and expectations. They must admit that the students were merely pointing out the defects and shortcomings in the government's "revolution." The students cannot be characterized as a "counter-revolutionary." One might even say that reform and liberalization was the students' heartfelt desire. They merely had higher expectations. Therefore, even according to the letter and spirit of Chinese Communist Party orthodoxy, June 4th was "revolutionary" rather than "counter-revolutionary."

June 4th and May 4th are historically connected. The year June 4th occurred was the 70th anniversary of the May 4th movement. June 4th can be considered an extension of May 4th. It represented thinking about China's democracy reaching down to the grass-roots level. For example, scholars remembered for their participation in the May 4th movement include Hu Shih and Chen Du-hsiu. But those remembered for their participation in the June 4th movement are the real leaders of the student movement. During the May 4th movement, even big name scholars rushed about like headless chickens. It was not difficult for the average student during the June 4th movement, given 70 years of historical trials and tribulations, to surpass the stereotypes of the May 4th movement. If the May 4th movement is considered sacred in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party's democratic movement, then June 4th ought to be as well. The Beijing authorities have no need to characterize the June 4th movement as "counter-revolutionary." Shouldn't they respond to the expectations the Chinese people have about May 4th and June 4th? Shouldn't they attempt to fulfill those expectations?

The public on the Mainland has two views about June 4th. One. The aftermath of June 4th brought two decades of economic development, and enabled the rise of a great nation. Two. The June 4th movement lives. The lessons of June 4th inspired the Chinese Communists to rule wisely and benefit the public. These two views affirm the meaning of June 4th. For Mainland China, June 4th demanded democracy, freedom and liberation. The ruling and opposition parties may differ on the degree and extent to which these proposals have been realized. But they cannot deny its revolutionary nature. They certainly cannot dismiss it as "counter-revolutionary." As future generations see May 4th, so they will see June 4th.

Let's examine the impact of June 4th on cross-Strait relations. The KMT/CCP civil war also occurred during a time of turmoil. It was a desperate effort to "pull chesnuts from the fire," hardly conducive to clarifying one's view of the world. Authoritarian rule by the Nationalist government eventually moved towards democracy. The Communist regime, after a number of catastrophic blunders, finally underwent reform and liberalization. That may not have been true yesterday, but it is today. It is now the generation of Ma Ying-jeou and Hu Jintao. Cross-Strait relations still contains many gaps. But the two sides fully understand what is right but temporarily unachievable, and what is wrong and must never be done.

June 4th did not have a deep impact on cross-Strait relations. But the June 4th vision of democracy is the same on both sides of the Strait. Internally and externally, the Beijing authorities may not be able to meet the standards of democracy, but neither can they repudiate them. This is what we mean by "what is right but temporarily unachievable." As far as "what is wrong and must never be done," this means that the two sides can now look back at May 4th and conduct a major debate on the future of the nation, and must never again allow a civil war.

June 4th disturbed order on the Chinese Mainland. One could call it "turmoil." But the spirit of June 4th was not "counter-revolutionary." Rather, it represented a naive faith in "revolution," and its passionate pursuit by the youth of the nation. Chinese Communist Party leaders may find it difficult to admit this out loud. But they know it in their hearts. China can go in only one direction. That direction was made clear during the May 4th and June 4th movements.

2009.06.03 05:39 am










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