|Tiananmen Square 19 Years Later|
by Julian X  /  non-fiction  /  6 Jun 2008
We donít know how many prisoners China still holds from the Tiananmen Square uprisings in 1989 that touched the world. The New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates 130.
Thatís right: something like 130 people have been held for two decades in China for peacefully protesting.
Those protests were led by students. That means that these prisoners were about 20 when they were arrested. Theyíve spent half their entire lives in prison.
These are Chinese prisons, known internationally for abusing prisoners. You can expect that most of these prisoners have faced some sort of abuse. This means torture, not as a means of top-down interrogation as much as a means of amusement by guards and prison officials. Women in prisons in China face a high probability of rape.
It is not unlikely that there were female students who were arrested for protesting in favor of democracy, at the tender age of 20, who have been raped and tortured occasionally for the last 20 years.
These are the survivors. On June 3 and 4, 1989, the Chinese government sent the military into the Tiananmen Square area to quell the protests. Hundreds and possibly thousands of students were killed Ė murdered in the streets.
The world watched as a brave student stood unarmed in front of a tank, blocking its path. We do not know what happened to that student. He has disappeared into the Chinese bureaucracy. His treatment, as a symbol of Chinaís global humiliation, was probably not good.
Thereís a lot we donít know about what happened in those fateful days and whatís happened since. We donít know how many were killed or how many are still in prison. Transparency is a foreign concept in a government where religious missionaries are imprisoned and tortured. This is the land that claims the independent nation of Taiwan as its own and that has brutalized the Tibetan people and destroyed their millennia-old traditions.
The central Chinese government may not itself have solid information on the Tiananmen Square incident. Consider the fact that the one-child policy, while official state policy, has never been enforced in the provinces Ė it canít be, since the central government has never had strong control in these areas.
In official Chinese history, the student protests of 1989 were anti-government riots. Discussion of the incident in China remains taboo.
Just a few days ago, on the 19th anniversary of the government crackdowns, something like 48,000 protesters gathered in Hong Kong to demand that China free those 130 or so students still being held from those days in 1989. The goal was to encourage China to free those prisoners, offering the carrot that this would make China look better as the Olympics approached.
For the anniversary, entrances to Tiananmen Square itself were sealed off. Officers searched all visitors and their bags for dissident literature. Meanwhile, other officers used hand-held cameras to augment the many stationary ones in the area.
China Since 1989: Capitalism without Democracy
In some ways, Chinaís changed a lot since 1989. Its human rights record hasnít improved, nor has it embraced democracy. But itís put the lie to the Westís assumption that capitalism and democracy go together. Embracing capitalism, China has remained totalitarian.
Now Wal-Mart is doing well in China, though its workers are forced to live in dormitory-like buildings with few rights. Yahoo and other internet companies have capitulated to China to help censor what the Chinese can read online. President Clinton gave China ďmost favored nationĒ trade status. China got the very rich city of Hong Kong back, and many rich residents have since left as the city is filled with Chinaís poor, arriving to seek opportunity in a city allowed a certain degree of autonomy. Chinaís growing richer, its cities replacing traditional bike lanes with more lanes for cars, the use of which is booming. All the while, pictures of Chairman Mao are still everywhere, even in some Chinese communities abroad, as if he didnít kill more people than Hitler.
China is still a land where governmental criticism is met in the strongest way possible. After recent complaints from abroad about imported tainted Chinese toys and food, the Chinese government responded by boldly asserting that any evidence was fabricated.
The nation even managed to secure the 2008 Olympics, though it had to pledge to improve its human rights record. Expect visitors to have a lot more freedoms than locals, merely on the basis that China doesnít want bad press.
As the summer games grow closer, the recriminations have increased. Many have been focused on Tibet. The recent protests on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown are, in this respect, an oddity.
Bush has refused to boycott the games, saying that they are a sporting event and not a political one. I imagine he would have felt differently had they been held in North Korea or Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Chinaís record on human rights, on religious freedom, on prisoner abuse, on teaching propaganda as history, on sweat shops, on exporting poisonous products, on Tibet, and on Tiawan are all elephants in the corner as the games approach.
But then thereís the giant elephant in the corner: the fact that the nation has aborted or killed so many female babies that its male-female ratio is at catastrophic levels. In the face of the one-child policy, and with citizens worried about the cost of raising kids, many families have elected to abort female babies, to determine sex prior to birth, or simply to kill female babies. Male children mean continuity of lineage and have long been prized. This has led to a crisis of ďmissing girls,Ē which some critics incorrectly term a ďgendercide.Ē
There are approximately 120 men to every 100 women in China today, meaning tens of millions of missing women. This has led, in extreme instances, to kidnapping or sale of eligible marrying women. Chinaís responded by subsidizing having girls, removing school fees and the like for female offspring, but the gap between men and women is still increasing.
While itís easy to joke about Chinese men not being able to get girls, nothing destabilizes a nation like having a surplus of dissatisfied young men unable to find sex or wives. Such nations tend either toward revolution or aggressive wars as a means of leveling off the population.
Thatís because, while people can put up with a lot, large quantities of young men generally donít put up with having zero chance at reproduction. And itís angry young men who lead revolutions or fight foreign wars. A surplus of women isnít a major social problem Ė just look at many American college campuses. But a surplus of men is a social disaster in the making Ė one that needs venting, internal or external.
Such a problem is exaggerated by Chinaís population, the largest in the world and long recognized as a problem Ė the reason, in fact, for the nationís one-child policy. A primitive tribe with too many men might raid a village. But an economically rising nation of billions with nuclear weapons?
The Coming War with China?
Itís worth noting, in this context, that China has been building up its military significantly in past years, especially near Taiwain. In fact, its military has been growing at the shocking rate of about 12 percent per year. While this may also be useful in securing resources in a world changing due to global warming, the fact remains that war with China, perhaps spurred over Taiwain, may well mean global thermonuclear war Ė and that the Chinese government has a history of calling the Westís bluff.
But there are a couple, more specific incidents worth noting. In October 2007, a Chinese attack submarine followed one of our aircraft carriers in the Pacific, then surfaced within firing range. It didnít fire; its true payload was a message: fuck with us, including over our long-planned invasion of your ally Taiwan, and we can fuck with you.
In January 2008, China shot down one of its own weather satellites. Again, the message was clear: fuck with us and we can cripple your satellite network Ė not only spy satellites but the network of communications and GPS satellites that lets U.S. technology work.
The Democratic Wind of 1989 in Retrospect
Itís widely recognized that China will come into its own as a real global superpower over the course of this century. In business circles, Chinese has long been the language the learn. As businesses in wealthy countries outsource production to cheaper locations, China continues to reap huge economic benefits. The U.S. budget deficit with China stands at $230 billion. In other words, weíre funding Chinaís military build-up.
Who could have imagined, almost 20 years ago, as China was busy slaughtering students in Tiananmen Square, that China wasnít on the verge of a democratic revolution but rather becoming something unprecedented: a global economic powerhouse, while preserving its totalitarian tendencies. While Americans enjoy their cheap plastic toys and T-shirts, and while the world enjoys the Olympic games, China funnels the associated money into a military build-up and continues to assert its right to Taiwan.
1989 wasnít just the year of Tiananmen: it was also the year the wall came down in Berlin. The Cold War was ending and even China seemed destined to give way to democracy.
20 years later, the U.S. is bogged down in a war in Iraq, losing ground in the War on Terror, and has lost its role as global leader. And, instead of the Cold War that bankrupted Russia, weíre busy aggressively subsidizing China.
We donít know whatís to come, but we can hope that the Chinese Olympics of 2008 arenít remembered like the 1936 Berlin games.
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