Summary on Chapter 26 – Testing the Limits

Key Points from Textbook Spence Pg. 639 – 665:

Democracy’s Chorus

Excitement over new entrepreneurial arrangements had people forgetting about the huge amount of young people who were sent to communes to work by reasons such as the Cultural Revolution. These individuals were not permitted to go home. Finally, these people had enough and on April 1985 several of them went to Peking, the capital, and protested, asking for their right to return to their old homes. This was the start of several protests that would be held in China in 1985, including protests held by student and youth groups.

It was becoming obvious to the government that Chinese students, others involved in academia, as well as the general youth population, were becoming aggravated with the governments economy, as well as how they were treating the people as there were no actions done to open up the system to genuine mass participation. Though they claim to have communist ideologies, students found that they were not practicing in communist ways. Though the government did what they could to minimize media coverage, once people started publicly voicing their opinions through protests and other actions to grab the attention of the government such as art, interviews, mailing out manifestos, and poetry, not only did the government recognize how the people were feeling, but other Chinese citizens from other areas in China saw how other citizens were being treated, sometimes making them feel less alone. Though these demonstrations were forbidden and had potential punishments of a great magnitude, thousands of people still shared their opinions.

Citizens wanted democracy in their country and were willing to do whatever they needed to receive it. Some individuals who had more power than the common student in the CCP, such as professor Fang Lizhi, writer Liu Binyan, and secretary-general of the CCP Hu Yaobang, took their positions of power, and stood up for the students. Doing this however, resulted in them being pushed out of the party. Many students who also had a very loud voice in these protests were also singled out by the government and were punished by being put into jail.

 Broadening the Base

Changes of who was in power suggested potential for Deng Xiaoping preparing for changes in the country. It also suggested that Deng was stuck in his ideological ways and would expose his friends who had a good amount of power if necessary. On November 1, Deng announced that he would be resigning from the Central Committee. Taking his place would be Zhao Ziyang. Deng still remained to be China’s pre-eminent leader serving as the chairman of the Military Affairs Commission, giving him control over the PLA.

Presented before the seventh congress by Li Peng was the push for people to have the freedom to buy and sell their own land. This was seen as an attempt to work on and improve China’s economy as the economy was doing quite poorly. Li also suggested that the housing market in general should also be increased to help with Chinas economy as decent housing was a symbol of power and status. These actions plus many others were all in attempt to fix China’s economic inflation.

Social Strains

By 1989, there was an insatiable demand for consumer goods, housing, and capital construction due to the amount of Chinese income. This caused living standards to decrease, individuals to be fired from their jobs, and panic in Chinese citizens making them buy as many goods as they could afford so they could hoard made them unable to pay peasants properly.

Labor workers were also hurt by the current economy, placed into tough working conditions, received lower pay, and were laid off. Labor workers then decided to strike. The amount of individuals who were unemployed was growing, causing a huge amount of stress on the citizens, and adding to the poor economy. Numbers of the unemployed were as high as over 1.8 million in Shanghai and over 1.1 million in both Peking and Canton.

The Breaking Point

In 1989 China, several anniversaries would be celebrated including the May 4th movement, the PRC birthday, and the anniversary of diplomatic relations with the US. Because of all of these benchmarks, high status individuals took it upon themselves to reach out to Deng and asked him to release individuals who were imprisoned due to their political views and protests.

With the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15th, 1989, students took it upon themselves to recognize that they now had to speak up and act in order to move forward with economic and demographic reforms. Many of the students who were protesting for these changes as well as for justice of Hu, understood how to work against political powers as they were well educated individuals. Students held sit-ins in Chinas capital as a way to peacefully protest. On the day of Hu’s funeral, demonstrations were forbidden, but the intelligent students were able to beat the system but holding more peaceful demonstrations prior to when the police arrived to their stations.

Though nothing up to this point had been done in the eyes of the students to help the economy and democracy, the students truly believed that Zhao Ziyang would help them over time. As a conspiracy theory, foreign journals reported that Zhao had ill intentions and was tricking students into thinking what they were. This was an attempt to use propaganda and manipulation to sway the students away from what they were thinking. Rather than the students believing this, they were angered and the strikes and protests only grew in numbers. On May 17th the number of protestors in Tiananmen Square was over 1 million. On May 20th, Marital Law was passed, putting a ban on the student protesting.

On June 3rd, the army came into Tiananmen Square with huge tanks. They fired gunshots into the large crowds of people, killing numerous protestors. The tanks ran over and destroyed the barricades and the liberty statue that was created by art students. The survivors of this lived in a period of great fear and chaos as they did not expect this to happen. With the chaos was the resignation of Zhao Ziyang. Foreign governments were unsure of how to respond to this shocking massacre of Chinas own people, but they did give Fang Lizhi and his wife sanctuary upon request. Deng spoke about the incident; however he did not mention anything about why the students were holding protests. Deng did, however, explain at the end of his speech that he understood the need for economic growth in China. He made it apparent to the people of China that he did not see this incident as anything of great significance, even though thousands of his own people died in the June 3rd

Video of the Tiananmen Square Protests

Notes from Class Discussion:

Primary Source Presentation 26.4

  • Several protests were occurring during this time supplemented by protests already occurring in Tiananmen Square and the feeling that the country could not control as well as new ideas of Socialism from the Soviet Union Leaders
  • May 20th 1989 Marital Law declared – this primary source is about how they declared Martial Law in China
  • Lots of chaos from demonstrations that were hurting public security, these protests were hurting people and were not helping at all. Government said students showed up because they were being tricked by a small group of people who were simply using the students – these people were tricking the students into protesting
  • They wanted to “rescue and treat students”
  • They said the talked to student representatives to work with them
  • “demagogic phrases”
  • students were in line with the party goals and really wanted to emphasize that they were friends of the students, protests would NOT solve problems though… protests were not helping create a better china.
  • Government said protests are unnecessary because the student’s voices and opinions would be heard even without the protests
  • “We will only accept what we believe to be reasonable”
  • Teachers and public security personnel were praised for doing well amongst all of the turmoil
  • MARITAL LAW: students must stop, protesting must not persist, no one can give students support, everyone needs to try harder to maintain a regular life style amongst the turmoil, leadership of country needs to be respected, we want to keep socialism BUT we still need to be in power (compromise of some sort with the students)
  • Government controlled students by twisting the truth, propaganda, gas lighting, and convincing the students that they actually have it wrong – as in the government is really the good people and everyone else has it wrong
  • Ending point June 4th

Primary Source Presentation on interview of student Chi Ling who was in Tiananmen Square during protest

  • Self-reflection/ diary document where student is explaining that these may be her last words
  • Psychology student from Beijing University
  • In her diary she explains that she feels powerless compared to the government. She is just 1 person and what can she do?
  • She asked officer what her punishment would be for protesting – he said it would be 17 years in prison, she did not see it worth it as she would be 40 years old when she got out
  • She tells her husband she wants to leave China,
  • If China is to be unified, how could the military and police be so cruel to those who want more freedom
  • Students may not want democracy as a whole, but rather they are protesting political freedoms that they wanted
  • “The square is our last stand, if we lose it, China would once again turn into a dark age”
  • “My name is on the blacklist; I don’t want to die”
  • This woman felt as though this was her last chance to stand up against the government
  • 1980’s was the last time Chinese people COULD rise up and do something, and unfortunately it was only students who were doing anything
  • TANK MAN was symbolic of the end of this freedom movement
  • Was the Tiananmen square protest the last time people could protest for democracy?
    • People still have the ability to protest but it is more challenging to get away with considering modern technology. You still see protests, it’s just challenging
    • Sure, people can protest, but what will really change? It is seemingly just useless
    • It’s not that they can’t protests, it’s just a “point of no return” because technology allows government to regulate everything the people do, letting them see emails, mail, web searches, so those who would lead protests may be taken away and hidden before protests could even begin
  • Did the US possibly have any want to lead rebels to protest? Did the US want to do anything to help?
    • Yes, but the issue is that US has already interfered with other communist nations, so this was not worth the risk of losing a lot of soldiers
    • Yes, they were taking action against China’s trade resources, but in terms of this exact issue, US was hoping to starve out China
    • Definitive shift away from pro-military, now everything was more internally done such as sabotage
    • Look into the future at Primary Source Document 27.3 regarding Clinton discusses the way that the US was thinking about this
    • KEY: follow the money! US had lots of invested money in China and they did not want to just throw this all away


  • Discussion of Spies
    • Many people have been disappearing lately
    • “Why doesn’t China open its boarders completely?”
      • Economic reasons, when millions of people leave
      • By opening boarders allows the option for those who disapprove of the way of the government in causing conflicts
      • Government does not want others to interfere
    • We constantly see a pattern of things improving for some but not others. Student activists stand up due to incongruences
      • News Article: students were trying to put theory of communism into practice but the government did not want it. They wanted complete control even though true communism would be shared control between all
      • It is not about the ideology; it is about the practice of communism that China did not follow properly
      • Students who were interviewed before disappearing were replicating May 4th 1919 movement and were trying to go back to origins of CCP forming
      • Students were so devout to what they were taught to be devout to – it is what their education was founded on
      • People need to have a say in the future of the country YET student’s voices were not being heard – causing the protests
    • May 4th, 1919 parallels
      • This chapter has a lot of parallels with this protest
      • 4-5 April 1976, students went to have a memorial for Zhou Enlai but the government removed all of the memorial items, upsetting students
      • 1989 Hu Yao Bang was a moderate force with an open personality. When he passed away, students wanted to have a memorial to support him, but the government did not respond in the way students felt was appropriate
    • International press takes notice of student protests because Gorbachev (Leader of communist party of USSR) was visiting
    • Several anniversaries are coming up in 2019 including May 4th 1919, June 4th 1989, PRC founding in 1949
      • This will be a BIG year
      • Communist party is “pretty good at thinking ahead”
    • The student protests came from (June 4th 1989) …
      • Economic liberalization policies, there was an extreme amount of wealth that was going through top business men but nowhere else (inflation and inequality), economy is doing well BUT it is not doing well for everyone which is an issue for communist ideology
        • If the economy is doing well during time of election, the people would likely reelect that who is in power (economy place BIG role in people seeing that change is needed) BUT china does not have elections, so if people have issues with the economy, you protest
      • Democracy wall – spread of communication of democratic ideas in China (time period of 1986)
    • Though we interpret this protest of 1980’s as a way for the students to be aware of political and democratic freedoms as well as issues that matter, in reality it was about common people getting involved in how poorly the economy was (as long as economy is doing fine, people remain quiet but here the economy was full of inflation and inequality)
    • 1989 might have been the moment China went off the edge, but it wasn’t! Now in 2018 China is still standing tall.
    • Regardless of economy, and political powers, there is a historical trend of conflict between world powers. Authoritarian nations do have a breaking point, and in the 21st century there is likely to be the next big conflict
      • Those who live through anytime period go through times of uncertainty, even in 1636 when the Qing Dynasty had their rise
    • There was a constant sense of solidarity as nurses were looking over those who were hunger striking and police officers holding banners in support of the student’s
    • People outside of the square were appealing on human morality, those who did not want protests would turn on their own people and say things like “Take this baby, do you want this baby to die? Because that is what you’re doing”
    • Though we think of Tank Man, we cannot forget that even the ordinary citizens were doing their bit on this too
    • May 1989, the giant sculpture went up created by students from the art school to represent the US Statue of Liberty
    • No one expected that tanks would actually role in and massacre people
      • Tank Man as a symbol

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