Skip to main content

pei50_GREGBAKERAFPGettyImages_chineseguardmarchinfrontofmao Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

The Lasting Tragedy of Tiananmen Square

Despite the Communist Party of China's best efforts to whitewash history, the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 3-4, 1989, continues to have a lasting impact on the country's political development. Sadly, after 30 years, the country now has the regime that those responsible for the massacre always wanted.

WASHINGTON, DC – China’s progress toward an open society ended when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) slaughtered at least hundreds, if not thousands, of peaceful demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, 1989. The crackdown left a lasting stain on the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), despite the regime’s unrelenting efforts to whitewash history and suppress collective memory.

Three decades later, the consequences of the CPC’s decision to crush the protest have become even harder to escape. Looking back, it is clear that the tragedy altered the course of Chinese history decisively, foreclosing the possibility of a gradual and peaceful transition to a more liberal and democratic political order.

It is worth remembering that the decade before the Tiananmen massacre was filled with a sense of possibility. China had a choice. It could revert to the more orthodox Stalinist – but not Maoist – model that had prevailed in the 1950s, a path favored by the regime’s conservatives. It could embrace gradual reforms to develop a market economy, the rule of law, and a more open political process, as moderate liberals wanted. Or it could emulate Taiwan and South Korea’s neo-authoritarian model by modernizing the economy under one-party rule, as Deng Xiaoping had long advocated.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.;
  1. bildt69_DELIL SOULEIMANAFP via Getty Images_syriansoldiermissilegun Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

    Time to Bite the Bullet in Syria

    Carl Bildt

    US President Donald Trump's impulsive decision to pull American troops out of northern Syria and allow Turkey to launch a military campaign against the Kurds there has proved utterly disastrous. But a crisis was already inevitable, given the realities on the ground and the absence of a coherent US or Western policy in Syria.


Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions