Week 13’s focus saw the transition to a much more familiar topic in today’s dialogue, that unfortunately being human rights issues. It was a disappointing contrast to the diplomatic and relatively tolerant image of Deng Xiaoping I was left with last week. Naturally, the highly infamous Tiananmen Square protests were the at the center of this topic. Following years of successful marketization, and the beginning of some political reforms, many in China began to desire even greater reform, especially students in the cities. Demonstrations beginning in 1989 to honor Hu Yaobang’s following his death escalated over the months into full fledged protests, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The CCP ultimately chose to crackdown on these protests violently, sending PLA tanks and infantry to march on the protestors, and sometimes, firing into the public indiscriminately. These protests and the reactionary response of the CCP rightly drew widespread condemnation internationally, and to this day remains a turning point in public opinion on China in the West.
It was during these protests that the famed footage of the Tank Man, seen in the photo above, was captured. The photos depict a Chinese civilian, casually dressed and carrying what appear to be groceries, standing before a line of tanks. They attempt to go around him, and the operators eventually begin arguing with him, but he refuses to back down, and they remarkably refrain from simply plowing past him as was well within their capabilities. The image captured of the standoff has become an iconic symbol of nonviolent resistance. Also in 1989 was the awarding of the Nobel Peace Price to the Dalai Lama, drawing further spotlight onto the human rights situation in Tibet, where government induced migration threatened to make them into a minority in their own country, and where Tibetans fought a near constant struggle to retain their cultural identity. Unfortunately, despite the widespread notoriety and backlash surrounding these events, it seems that very little progress has been made since.
In 1994, President Clinton affirmed China’s status as “Most Favorable Nation”, a status the granted generous trade privileges to the chosen nation. His justification was that this would “avoid isolating China”, and if I’m understanding his reasoning correctly, that this connection would encourage them to improve their human rights record on their own. Some might say he is clearly avoiding the issue and only focusing on American trade interests, while others might think he genuinely believed this to be the best option. I think it’s likely that a bit of both is true. Either way, this approach did not have the desired effect in the end. China’s human rights record has not improved much, and they have only grown stronger and less swayable by international pressure since then, as the recent crackdowns in Hong Kong, the continued occupation of Tibet, and of course the plight of the Uighers can attest to.
“Dalai Lama and “Ahimsa: for Tibet: The Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, December 10, 1989” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.
“Deng Xiaoping’s Explanation fo the crackdown, June 9, 1989” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.
“President Clinton Reevaluates Human Rights as element of China Policy, May 27, 1994” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.