Tiananmen Square: a view from the bridge

Twenty years and the best part of a couple of weeks ago I was praising the Chinese government to the skies. There was a prolonged demonstration in Tiananmen Square which coincided with a visit from Gorbachev and the government was patiently sitting it out.

“You see,” I enthused to friends with the four students shot dead at Kent State University in Ohio by President Nixon’s tin soldiers sharp in my memory, “if this was America they’d have sent in the National Guard”. Instead, they were allowing the dissenters to make their point peacefully. It was as if Chinese communism had come of age and the new generation of leaders, remembering their debt and responsibility to the masses, had their welfare uppermost in their minds.

My father had promised us that the People’s Liberation Army would never be turned on its own. The protest would probably peter out with some arrests to save face but also some positive steps taken to ensure grievances were addressed.

Then June 4th happened and ripped a hole in the universe.

You can’t look at the photo above and not be awestruck by the guy’s bravery and the potent symbolism he created. Neither should we forget the courage of the General heading the first incursion into the Square who refused to open fire, especially as his own daughter and her student friends were there. Or the ordinary people who gave sanctuary and medical assistance to unarmed protesters being mown down by a fully tooled-up army.

Andy at Socialist Unity has written an excellent piece that deals with the complexities of the situation at the time. This was certainly no straight forward Manichean good versus evil struggle that the western media would have us believe. The protest was comprised of a range of dissenting forces, from those who demanded an accelerated rush to capitalism and the further erosion of workers’ rights that we’ve seen taking place ever since, to demands with which I am much more sympathetic — for a end to corruption and an increase in genuine democracy.

There were concerns that:

… economic liberalism would clash with the economic and social interests of the working class, (and to a much lesser degree the peasantry) who benefitted from the full employment, price regulation and social benefits of the “iron rice bowl” … adventurist price reforms that deregulated the cost of basic necessities, at the same time as getting workers to sign agreements that cut their wages, and factories were laying off workers. So the economic reforms were experienced as a direct attack on the working class.

Anyone taking comfort that the protest sought a return to Western-style capitalism should remember this:

Left intellectual Wang Hui argues that the working class majority in these protests were not “pro-democracy” but anti-capitalist. They wanted an end to the price reforms, an end to growing inequality and the conspicuous wealth of the new entrepreneurs, they wanted to defend the social safety net of the Iron rice-bowl, and they wanted to defend full employment. … Paradoxically therefore the June 4th Movement expressed polar opposites of political objectives, and the working class were demanding the cessation of the process that the students were arguing should accelerate.

It is somewhat nauseating to see Western media making propaganda capital out of these events when their own side has done so well out of the Iraq war and other adventures with very little comment. You wanted capitalism back in China? Well done. You got your wish and now 6,000 billionaires have been made in the country that once looked like it might create a fair and equitable society based on need, not greed.

Perhaps the best commentator on this hypocrisy is Ron Paul.
” I wonder how the US government would respond if China demanded that the United Nations conduct a full and independent investigation into the treatment of detainees at the US-operated Guantanamo facility? … It is hard to exercise credible moral authority in the world when our motto toward foreign governments seems to be ‘do as we say, not as we do.'”

Thanks to Splintered Sunrise for the Ron Paul link

See also this article by Liang Guosheng in Green Left Weekly (1996)

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

26 thoughts on “Tiananmen Square: a view from the bridge”

  1. There have been some disgraceful posts on this thread. A good discussion was disrupted by Mick Hall, whose anger and abuse were based on a serious distortion of Madam Miaow's points.

    She has consistently made clear, on the internet and radio shows alike, that 1. she opposes Western hypocrisy on China but 2. this is from a position that's also highly critical of those who rule the People's Republic of China and who profit from Chinese workers.

    Mick Hall, for his own reasons, will not accept that there's any such position, and so presents MM as a stooge of the Chinese government. The abuse and lies required to shore up his line here are sickening.

    Then Modernity feeds off the same distortions, complete with red-herring complaints about Tibet, while at the same time abusing MM for daring even to mention a play about Israel laying seige to and bombing the population of Gaza. What a hypocrite!

    Deleting comments on a blog is not akin to censorship by the state. Mick and Modernity have plenty of opportunities to pour out their abuse and distortions. Let them go and do it elsewhere. If they repeat such behaviour here, I'll be happy to read that their comments have been deleted. They should both be ashamed of themselves.

  2. I'm removing your last tirade accusing me of being of the far right, Mod. Please don't come back until you can engage in comradely discussion and stop acting like a self-appointed inquisitor.

  3. Mod, I don't know what psychodrama you think you are playing out here but would you you please take this elsewhere? I notice you haven't graced Andy's thread on Tiananmen Square with your presence.

  4. don't you even remember your own comments?

    "any more abuse from you will be deleted. "


    I have no truck with such nonsense, you can be as strongly worded as you like on my blog, I only delete fascists, spammers and holocaust deniers.

    Whereas you can't even engage with these simple issues.

    PS: You really need to re-think things, pushing Seven Jewish Children is an all time low. I have explained elsewhere WHY it is racist but if you can't see it, well….remember Atzmon and the SWP??? wanna make the same mistake?

  5. LOL! Why did I know you were going to self-aggrandisingly turn a reminder about respect into a "censorship" issue.

    Calm down, dear, it's only the internet.

  6. I don't mind, delete whatever you want, censorship is common amongst those that can't argue their points politically.

    and when you've reach a point that you can't, as a highly educated person, engage with the plight of the Tibetans then it is time to think why?

    Forget all of the vacant BS about the dalai lama, deal with Tibetans shot, locked up and murdered by the Beijing dictatorship?

  7. Well! Hell hath no fury like a little man in need of attention.

    Thanks for your comradely engagement, Mod. We've been over Tibet and you know where I stand.

    I've also stated where I stand on the issue of proper democracy in China, not just on my blog but publicly on the radio. For the hard of comprehension, here it is again in a nutshell: any society that can create 6,000 billionaires off the backs of its workers can't call itself socialist; they should never have shot up their civilians; China needs proper democracy (not the western bastardisation that leads to the reverse) if it isn't to become a basket-case.

    As to your petulant demands, rolling over and being your bitch is not the service I provide on this blog. I suggest you try gimpsrus.com

    While I welcome genuine debate where we all learn by having our preconceptions challenged, any more abuse from you will be deleted.

  8. No what I see is, a duck, a dive.

    Whenever I have brought up the issue of Tibet it is ignored, swept under the carpet or some irrelevance brought into the matter.

    What I can see is critical facilities which are applied to other nations, are not applied to the Beijing dictatorship.

    Strangely enough I understand that, if someone wants to say openly they are partisan, fine but be candid.

    Less games, less ducking and diving.

    Will you even trouble to attempt to answer those questions?

    Politicos have got a great flaire for ducking and diving the issues, you see that a lot with the SWP, etc but I had hoped you'd at least make an effort, and not end up like them.

    The CP made a virtue of apologising for the USSR, finding any excuse, bringing up any deflection, fudging the issue, etc and you know what? It didn't convince anyone.

    You are better than that. Go on answer those questions.

  9. Mod, if you can't see the point being made when I write " …. for a end to corruption and an increase in genuine democracy " or that the PLA should never have fired on its own people, then I really can't help you.

  10. Well, the issues concerning China aren't mind-bogglingly complex, let's simplify the matter

    1. Is China run by a dictatorship ? yes or no

    2. Does the Chinese ruling class use similar techniques as found in the West? yes or no

    3. Does the Chinese ruling class implement immensely repressive measures? yes or no

    4. Is there anything remotely progressive about the Chinese ruling class? yes or no

    5. Should socialists support the Beijing dictatorship's occupation of Tibet? yes or no

    6. Doesn't the Beijing dictatorship enforce their rule by military means in Tibet? yes or no

    7. Does the Beijing dictatorship arbitrarily lock people up and murder them? yes or no

    8. Hasn't the Beijing dictatorship had a conscious policy of extracting raw materials from Tibet and settling the region? yes or no

    9. Should Tibetans, not a Beijing appointee, run Tibet? yes or no?

    These are all elementary questions and they should be given consideration, unless of course the assorted socialists here wish to find excuses for the Beijing dictatorship.

    Personally, I would have thought that the past lessons of making excuses for the Soviet bloc might have been learnt by now.

  11. "Sure it was, but what difference should that make, are we saying because there were anti socialist element involved in the protest, the stalinist scum had every right to kill the protesting youngsters in TS. "

    Mick and Mod, that's a totally perverse reading of what I've written as you both know.

    Go back and read again and honestly assess whether you think this is what's being said.

    Leftists should not check in their brains at the door when engaging in debate.

  12. Mick Hall's right, given the long political history, the amount of available information and a degree of consistency then it is very strange to see excuses made for the dictatorship in Beijing.

    And if anyone thinks that there's NOT a dictatorship in Beijing then they should say so clearly, and why.

  13. I should have added that China executes more of its own people than almost any other nation, it is on a par with the USA when it comes to capital punishment. Some socialism, after 50 years in power the only way it can deal with crime is by topping people, still as in the USA, the majority of those legally murdered are only poor workers and peasants. What do some of you care with your leader worship.

  14. “The protest was comprised of a range of dissenting forces.”

    Sure it was, but what difference should that make, are we saying because there were anti socialist element involved in the protest, the stalinist scum had every right to kill the protesting youngsters in TS.

    The same with Solidarity, it was an independent trade union not a political party, just like the TUs we have in the UK, some members are right wing, some left and other cry fuck the lot of the politicos.

    After all we know about Stalinism, for some people to still side with such filth is not only sad and disgraceful, but it explains perfectly why we on the left meet in a phone box.

    The Chinese government have been in power since the late 1940s, yet the only way they could deal with youngsters legitimately protesting was to mow them down. In the process they proved to millions of the youth and workers of China that there government were not, and are still not fit to run a great nation. They also blackened the name of socialism in millions of Chinese peoples eyes

    To say I'm enraged would be an understatement, knock, knock, the government you are making excuses for treats millions of its workers like serfs, whilst living high on the hog themselves. It operates the most foul neo liberal economic system.

    Today China is the most dictatorial state capitalist State, the CCP is nothing more than the means for the party apparatchik to enrich themselves. What a bunch of spineless shits some of you are by defending such scum.

    Yes the political situation in China is complex as the country itself is, but if any socialist cannot understand that for any government to murder its own young people, when they did not have the means to defend themselves and when all they were doing is what we in the West take for granted, then they are no comrades of mine, nor are they socialists in my eyes.

    When the Met police behaved recently in the most disgraceful way and cracked heads, etc, during the G 20 demos, we were correctly outraged, yet after the stalinist government in China murders its citizens when they are protesting, I have to read a load of bullocks about excusing them. Pathetic.

  15. interesting view,

    but why the nonsense from Ron Paul, he's a barking mad right wing libertarian, supported by the xenophobic far right in the US and some assorted neo-nazis?

  16. Hi deej, thanks for popping in.

    Renegade, I just never believed that was was on offer from Solidarnosc was true democracy. It seemed to be herding the Polish people back into capitalist exploitation by holding out promises of an economic free-for-all in which a few might prosper, out of the frying pan of iron-curtain repression and into the fire.

    Two images strike me with that situation: Pinocchio finding the heavenly boys' town which turns out to be turning them into donkeys, and the Eloi being bred for food for the Morloks in The Time Machine.

    And that's on both sides. Right now I think that all systems are treating their people as fodder We are all Soylent Green.

  17. I don't for one moment hold up Ron Paul as a shining example of sweetness, light and humanity, DJPOK, but it's interesting to see what those inside the belly of the beast are saying.

    Just read your Firewall post, Ray. It's a shame they keep shooting themselves in the foot like this, the two old ladies given permission to protest during the Beijing Olympics and then arrested in the full international media spotlight being but one example. With so much dirty pool going on at the height of the cold war, I understand why they'd be defensive, but now? Still? I wish they'd give up trying to get the internet genie back in the bottle and let a thousand flowers bloom.

    On the subject of state education in Mongolia, you could be describing education here in the West. Good teachers in the UK struggle to do their job well and educate their students despite the system.

    BTW, what an amazing gig to get. I'd love to have done that trip.

  18. Thanks for that Madam M. – and thanks for pointing me in the direction of the Socialist Unity post on that other thread.

    One last thing, though – Ron Paul is a known wrong 'un, even if he has a point where the quote of his that you close with is concerned.

  19. Your analysis and presentation of ideas from other sources is excellent. I wish you'd cited, even if briefly, the government's blocking of news media and social networking sources. Just as you took "a view from the bridge," I took mine by "Scanning the Great Firewall of China" at http://www.sonofthecucumberking.com. Hope you'll take a look at it by way of our comparing notes. I'll be returning often to take a look at what you have to say. Brava!

  20. The decision is still out on Tiananmen Square. Now that China is being industrialized, along with it comes the creation of a working class.

    I don't regret supporting Solidarnosc or movements that are similar. We should compete with neoconservatives on issues of democracy.

    Magenta: Support Mugabe or Zimbabwean workers? Our movement should be the movement for democracy and socialism.

  21. I know a lot of the East German dissidents were really serious socialists, and were horrified at the way the country went after Berlin. I suspect there were those elements there in China too.

    But it's better to see a more nuanced view coming out. I was interested that, in this recent report on corruption and abuse of power in Tibet, some of the most powerful criticisms were coming from Tibetan members of the Communist Party. Seemingly and despite everything, there are still people who want to change the country for the better and along socialist lines. Those are probably the people who could plot a better future, if they get the breaks.

  22. I don't recall it being just Trotskyists who said this, Magenta, but I do remember being surprised that so many on the Left promoted Walesa when the whole thing looked like anti-socialism/communism dressed up as some sort of liberation. Which it evidently wasn't.

    Similarly, left support was given to elements in the Tiananmen Square protest who effectively wanted a return to the bad ol' days of unbridled capitalism. I'm pleased to see a more thoughtful analysis emerging now.

  23. I remember Trotskyists assuring me that Solidarnosc in Poland were really socialists, in spite of the pious Catholicism, pretty overt anti-Communism (misattributed as merely "anti-Stalinism") and endorsements from those lovers of trade unions Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
    Wonder what became of that Gdansk shipyard? Oh, I remember. Privatised. With the approval of the workers' champion and unconscious socialist Walesa.

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