'Reform uncertainties' at root of Tiananmen movement

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 June, 2009, 12:00am

State media have made a rare commentary on the Tiananmen Square crackdown - saying the pro-democracy movement was triggered by uncertainties and insecurities brought about by reform.

The article in the English-language edition of the Global Times claimed that after 20 years mainland intellectuals had realised the western democratic model was not suitable and had 'switched to silence'.

The analysis drew the ire of observers and former protesters, who described it as an example of Beijing using intellectuals to defend its actions on June 4, 1989.

The semi-official newspaper, which is managed by the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, quoted 11 intellectuals in an article titled 'The evolution of mainland intellectuals' thought over two decades'. It was the first mainland newspaper commentary on the subject in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the crackdown.

'We were feeling insecure about China's future, and we were expecting the west to help China in economic reform,' the paper quoted Liu Jiangyong , a professor at the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, as saying.

Peking University professor Zhang Yiwu said that because there was diminishing confidence in China's future, intellectuals had chosen western ideas 'at random', the paper reported.

Zhang Liping , a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the incident caused intellectuals to 'switch to silence'.

'Intellectuals no longer discussed 'isms' [about political ideas] publicly, and shifted their focus to academic issues,' the researcher was quoted as saying. 'After 1989, intellectuals became more moderate and rational. People realised China wouldn't change overnight.'

Han Dongfang, who took part in the Tiananmen movement and set up the China Labour Bulletin in Hong Kong, said he agreed on the feeling of uncertainty in the late 1980s. 'But as a government, you should let the people voice their opinions no matter how immature their ideas are ... Uncertainties and immature ideas are not a reason for the Communist Party to shoot dead people with different opinions.'

Mr Han said Beijing had used intellectuals to justify its Tiananmen tactics. 'The crackdown made officials fear they would lose power. The public, including intellectuals, fear another crackdown when they raise differing opinions. We should make it clear that if the Communist Party hadn't fired on its students, the country could still have developed, and it was not the crackdown that boosted economic reform.'

Hong Kong-based political commentator Poon Siu-to said the article had avoided a key fact - that public discussion on political ideas, especially the June 4 incident, was prohibited. 'If the Beijing authority is confident in its position, how come it just released the commentary in the Global Times, which the mainland public can't read?' he asked.

'Indeed, their silence doesn't mean intellectuals have no interest in discussing western models or other political ideas. The conclusion should be made only after the end of one-party rule and the creation of free media.'