FEAR OF FREEDOM
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- Published 5.06.13
Only a paranoid State tries to dictate what the people should remember and what they must forget. The way China stopped the people from commemorating the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989 reflected the insecurity of the communist regime. Visitors and journalists were barred from entering the cemetery in Beijing where many of the victims of the tragedy are buried. Some of the State’s actions evoked Orwellian images of a totalitarian regime. While the authorities blocked internet access to all references to the tragedy, they also blacked out any icon resembling a candle. The reason apparently was that a lighted candle has long become synonymous with a protest or a commemoration. It is typical of such regimes to delude themselves into thinking that they can control thought and national memory by imposing crude restrictions. Obviously, there are many other ways the Chinese — both in China and elsewhere — remember the tragic day and reflect on what it meant for the country’s future. Many of the protagonists who survived the army crackdown on the protest at Tiananmen Square that day may have been jailed for long years or forced to live in exile. But their dream of a democratic China continues to haunt China’s rulers 24 years on.
The censoring of the commemoration this time says much about China’s new leadership. No one expected the Chinese communist party to change its official position that the protest at Tiananmen Square in 1989 was a “counter-revolutionary” move. But several of today’s party bosses, including Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, were groomed in the liberal political culture that briefly prevailed in Beijing in the 1980s. It now seems certain that these leaders will not be any different from their predecessors when it comes to political reform. It is possible that any champion of such reform will meet the fate of Zhao Ziyang, the pro-reform party chief, who was purged for taking a soft line on the student demonstrators of 1989 and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. But the Chinese charade of an open economy co-existing with a closed political system is increasingly becoming difficult to sustain. The more the regime tries to stifle political and other freedoms, the less legitimacy it will have in the eyes of its people and of the world. Economic power alone cannot earn China the trust of the free world.