From Tiananmen, a new civil society. Everyone looses with violence
Remembering Tiananmen means first of all, remembering those young people of ’89 who had hope in their government, who were only asking for political reform and really believed that the government would not seek revenge. But the government failed to understand them and it resulted in tragedy: lack of comprehension became hate and hate violent repression.
Twenty years after that protest and the regimes violent response, many things have changed in China. At the time the movement was made up for the most part by intellectuals and students, who demonstrated to ask for political reform. In the aftermath of those months, companies were privatised; there was massive industrialisation and foreign investment. Society has changed and with it social relations.
Now there are over 200 million farmers who live in the city working in humiliating conditions. At the same time, many farmers have lost their land because of requisitions and expropriations. Now, twenty years later, the farmers and workers are leading the protests in every corner of China. With the help of journalists and lawyers, they are the real protagonists of society.
Twenty years ago the student’s demands were idealistic and perhaps even abstract. But today the protagonists of this movement in society are the workers and farmers who have very precise demands: land, wages, pensions, better working conditions, homes, and the freedom to use internet. They only want to defend their rights; they do not have political demands. They are more practical demands but they are always linked to the question of democracy. This social movement that has been formed also inspires the intellectuals as we have seen in Charter 08, signed by 300 Chinese personalities of note. That charter insists on the division of power, and this is a concrete request because the Party and local governments hold all power; there is no independent judiciary in China, no independent press and this feeds into the corruption of local leaders.
Charter 08 demanded the same this that were being demanded 20 years ago, but now it is based on the social movement of these workers and farmers. This is of great importance: this movement has created space in China for civil society, a social democracy, which sooner or later will become the basis for political democracy.
The government’s attitude to this movement is hesitant and not always destructive. It is possible to discuss many things in China today: wages, democracy, injustices. A margin for movement has been created that didn’t exist before: there are even intellectuals who discuss whether democracy can be affirmed as a universal value or whether it is possible to find a “Chinese way” of doing it. Even the suppression of workers is far less frequent than 20 years ago. Once if any workers protested, they were immediately put in prison or eliminated. Now the government even arrives at the point of asking local authorities to dialogue with them.
This because, by now, everyone knows that the farmers and workers protests arise from their dramatic need and not from political aspirations. The injustices they are subjected to are evident and no-one can accuse the workers of being counter-revolutionary or wanting to overthrow the party.
These protests are taking place every day. Twenty years ago strikes and protests were rare. The government, through its control of the media, would say: They are bad, they want to overturn social order…..but now this lie has become useless.
Dialogue and faith to avoid the tragedy
Remembering Tiananmen means remembering the truth and not forgetting. It means trying to understand the reason for that suppression, which made us all – government and people – losers. From this memory we can trace consequences for the future:
1) First freedom of press and dialogue between the government and people is necessary. If this does not happen, the government will never understand what the students and workers really want. Then if the press is under control, there is disinformation. Press control is a barrier between government and society.
2) Secondly, violence must be excluded from dialogue. This is why independent organisations must be legalised. Without these associations, there can be no social or political dialogue and therefore there will be no opportunity for mutual comprehension.
3) Finally, it must be said that there are many people in China who want to talk about Tiananmen. For the first time 19 intellectuals have organised a public meeting to speak about Tiananmen. The meeting was banned, but they dared, and courageously published the texts of their intervention and photos of their meeting. Even the memoirs of Zhao Ziyang, in English and Chinese, help discussion. There is even a top figure from Xinhua who published a 500 page book on the suppression of ’89.
This shows that many Chinese want to speak about this event. If we do not speak bout it then we will not understand the society of today or the history of modern China. And we will not even understand ourselves.
Among those who took part in the Tiananmen movement or who work for human rights, there are some who have slowly discovered a religious faith and often have become Christians. Among these Han Dongfang, Hu Jia, and I. I often question faith. When you are faced with a dictatorial regime, you have even greater need for spiritual strength. Mixed together with this dictatorial regime are a regime of rampant capitalism and the power of money. This is why we need to search for spiritual sources. Christianity gives strength and spiritual power that goes well beyond the desire for success.
When you hope for democracy, for freedom, then you also ask the question: Am I democratic? How can I improve myself? How can I really be of service to others? To find the answers to these questions a transcendent power is needed.
In the end, is the need for a social bond based on common values and this is found in the Christian community.