Democracy means ‘leadership by the people’ in the sense that they get the opportunity to choose their leaders and hold them accountable for the implementation of the laid down policies, as well as their conduct in the offices they hold. These leaders have to be elected in a competitive, free and fair elections that must involve competing parties and on equal competing ground.
Normally, democracy does not come easy. Even for the most developed democracies, the struggle was not easy. This is because the people who hold power at the time of agitation for democracy do not like the idea of this political system for the simple reason that it is likely to change the status quo. Therefore, they try to stop the people’s fight for democracy. Sometimes the collision between such leaders and their people can become quite uncomfortable and even confrontational.
In China, the struggle for democracy has not been any different. The pioneer of China’s democracy, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, believed that democracy was absolutely necessary and inevitable. He once said, “This world trend is vast and mighty. To follow its suit shall prosper, whereas to oppose it shall perish.” He went ahead to lead a revolution that ousted the Qing Dynasty and the last emperor of China, which effectively led to the birth of the Republic of China (ROC). Unfortunately, his dream of a fully democratic China did not come to reality.
In essence, Sun had introduced a long struggle for democracy. Pockets of sloppily organised political movements started coming up to protest against the Communist Party’s one party rule. One of these movements came up in the Beijing Spring of 1978. But the one which remains the most outstanding event in the Chinese struggle for democracy is the Tiananmen Square protests, also referred to as June Fourth Incident, that took place in the country’s capital, Beijing in 1989.
The Tiananmen Square protests were staged by students who occupied the Square and went on hunger strike to mourn the death of one of the most active liberal reformers, Hu Yaobang. He had lost a power struggle and had consequently been deposed by anti-reformists. Students gathered at the Square where they also expressed their dissatisfaction with the high rates of inflation, lack of jobs, denial of freedom of press, corruption and lack of accountability on the part of the Communist Party elite, among other grievances.
After occupying the Tiananmen Square for a whole seven weeks, the ruling party could not take it any longer and military troops were mobilized to go and disperse the students. It was not going to be so easy, though. People tried the best way they could to block the military from reaching the Square, never mind the fact that the military were fully armed with assault rifles and other deadly weapons. The bloodshed that resulted from this confrontation was totally unprecedented and left a big indelible, mark in the history of Beijing, a city that was well known for such protests. This became Tiananmen Square Massacre, also called the June 4 Massacre.
I personally strongly feel the confrontation was unwarranted because the Chinese people were protesting against a political system they felt was not serving their interest the way they would have wanted. In agitating for democracy, they were voicing their desire for change, and that should be a right, not a privilege. After all, the students were peaceful and were not disrupting any activities or government function.
But the biggest injustice to the Chinese people is the government’s prohibition of any discussions or remembrance of this historic event in the fight for the country’s democracy. Foreign journalists were expelled while strict monitoring of local press was enforced. The figures of those who died in the massacre remain scanty because of this ban on documentation but they are estimated to be hundreds of thousands. To deny people the right to know this part of their country’s history is, to say the least, unacceptable.
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