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Tiananmen's Legacy of State-Sponsored Amnesia

25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square: The Chinese Perspective

Speakers: Louisa Lim, International Correspondent, Beijing, National Public Radio (NPR); Author, The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited
Xiao Qiang, Adjunct Professor, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley; Founder and Editor-in-Chief, China Digital Times
Presider: Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center on U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society
June 2, 2014

Event Description

Louisa Lim of NPR and Xiao Qiang of the University of California, Berkeley, join Asia Society's Orville Schell to discuss the Tiananmen Square protests and their aftermath from the Chinese perspective. The panelists discuss the roots of the protests, the demonstrators' aims, and whether the crackdown by party hardliners was inevitable. They also note that China's economic success in the ensuing years has allowed the party to avoid taking responsibility for its actions at Tiananmen and blunted the momentum for political reform.

Event Highlights

Xiao Qiang on whether the Tiananmen protests had any chance to succeed:

"Students in China were very sheltered, and we were idealistic or enthusiastic. We did not have any clue what the real political structure and politics and how things were really run in China, who rules. So, today, if I look back, there's no way students can win. There's no way Zhao Ziyang can win. Don't even think about it. Of course, Deng Xiaoping would rule. That kind of, yes, conclusion will be—it was decided from the very beginning. But that does not mean China will be—that's the destiny of China forever."

Louisa Lim on how economic growth has reduced pressure on the Chinese government to account for its actions:

"Well, I mean, there is no doubt that people's lives in China have improved since 1989. People are richer. Their lives are freer ... one of the very problematic issues with this, that the government has propagated, is that there could've been no other way, that this is the only way that this could've happened. And the government did what was necessary. And I think all of those years of economic progress has allowed that justification, that kind of retrospective justification to gain more currency in the eyes of many Chinese people. I think it's quite a mainstream opinion now that, you know, what happened in 1989 was regrettable but necessary."

Louisa Lim on the potential for political reform under Xi Jinping:

"Well, at the moment, it seems to be a prospect which is further away than ever before. You know, when he came to power, Xi Jinping even, you know, to the extent that he was even embracing the Maoist legacy, refusing to repudiate anything that had happened within the first 30 years of communist rule, let alone the most recent events. It seems extremely unlikely when you are detaining people for taking selfies with V-signs in front of Tiananmen Square. It doesn't seem as if there's any prospect to reversing the verdict or even beginning to address it."

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Tiananmen's Legacy of State-Sponsored Amnesia

Speakers: Louisa Lim and Xiao Qiang
Presider: Orville Schell

Louisa Lim of NPR and Xiao Qiang of the University of California, Berkeley, join Asia Society's Orville Schell to discuss the Tiananmen...