Tiananmen’s Legacy

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The belief that economic growth will lead to political liberalization has long been a pillar of Western policy toward China. So far that hasn’t happened. Two recent essays argue that it can’t due to decisions taken in connection with the June 4, 1989, assault on democracy protesters, the anniversary of which passed last week.

“The Tiananmen massacre did two things,” wrote Hu Ping, a liberal intellectual now based in New York, on the English-language website China Change. The massacre “stunted China’s political reforms, and it put the country’s economic development on a deviant path.” According to Hu, “the Party encouraged the masses to forget about politics and simply make as much money as possible.”

The problem, Bao Tong wrote in a separate article for the New York Times, is that the people in the best position to get rich were those in power. “Party-led economic liberalization was supposed to unchain both workers and business owners, unleash their energies and permit profit-making and profit-sharing.” Instead, after 1989, according to Bao, “Deng Xiaoping transferred national assets, at generous and largely symbolic prices, to party elites. As a result today’s ‘princelings’—the descendants of the party’s founding revolutionary generation—control much of China’s wealth.” Bao, who wrote his Times op-ed in circumvention of his house arrest, was an aide to General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. Both men were removed from power for sympathizing with the democracy movement, and Bao served seven years in jail.

- The remainder of this post may be read for free at Democracy Road, FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork's blog at World Affairs Journal

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