Dirlik June 4

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International Journal of China Studies

Vol. 5, No. 2, June/August 2014, pp. 295-329
__________________________________________________________
June Fourth at 25:
Forget Tiananmen, You Don’t Want to Hurt the
Chinese People’s Feelings – and Miss Out on the
Business of the New “New China”!+

Arif Dirlik*

Independent Scholar, Eugene, OR, USA
Formerly University of Oregon/Duke University

Abstract

Twenty-five years ago, in the early hours of June 4, the people’s government in Beijing turned its guns on the people of the city who had risen in protests that spring to express their frustration with Party despotism and corruption. The refusal to this day to acknowledge the crime is matched by continued criminalization of those who still live under the shadow of Tiananmen, and with courage continue to pursue the goals it had put on the political agenda – some from within the country, others from exile. The Tiananmen democracy movement brought to a head the contradictions of “reform and opening” that had acquired increasing sharpness during the decade of the 1980s. The successful turn to global capitalism in the aftermath of the suppression has been at least as important as the censorship of memories in the “forgetting” of Tiananmen among the PRC population. In historical perspective, Tiananmen appears as one of a series of popular uprisings around the globe that have accompanied the globalization of neo-liberal capitalism. The discussion throughout stresses foreign complicity – including that of foreign China scholars and educational institutions – in covering up this open sore on so-called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

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296

Arif Dirlik

Keywords: Tiananmen, democracy movement, “reform and opening”, “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, global capitalism, China fever, Confucius Institutes
JEL classification: A14, H12, P16, Z13

I vividly recall the shrill voice of the announcer commenting on the scrawny youth standing in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989: “If our tanks press forward,” he asked, “would that pathetic low life really be able to halt their progress?” I was 15 at the time. “That’s right!” I thought. “The soldiers were being truly merciful.”1

Twenty-five years ago, in the early hours of June 4, the people’s government in Beijing turned its guns on the people of the city who had risen in protests that spring to express their frustration with Party despotism and corruption. Students from Beijing universities held centre stage in their occupation of Tiananmen Square. But people from all walks of life had risen, including workers who quickly organized themselves into autonomous workers’ associations. As a friend from Beijing Normal College (now Capital Normal University) told the author later that summer, “we were all there.” It was the “city-people” (shimin ) who bore the brunt of the government violence as they fought back to stop the troops from reaching the students in the square. The movement in Beijing triggered demonstrations in cities around the PRC, bringing out into the streets thousands of people of all walks of life, making the movement national.

To this day, it is not clear how many lost their lives – estimates range from the official hundreds to unofficial thousands. The numbers game is not likely to be resolved. The numbers are important so that the victims, named or nameless, may be preserved in historical memory, and the grief of parents and relatives assuaged. They are not crucial to assessing the criminality of the suppression. Even at the lower end, they stand witness to the hypocrisy of a state that would slaughter its own people in the name of defending them. 2 The refusal to this day to International Journal of China Studies 5(2) ♦ 2014

Forget Tiananmen

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acknowledge the crime is matched by continued criminalization of those who still live under the shadow of Tiananmen, and with courage continue to pursue the...
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