March 22, 2019

Event Coverage Highlight

Tiananmen: Does It Reveal China’s Future?

The OPC will present a program dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on Thursday, May 9 at Club Quarters. It’s an opportunity for China hands to once again get together.

Entitled “Tiananmen Thirty Years Later: A Portent of China’s Totalitarian Future?”, the program will present a series of panel discussions to discuss what happened on June 4, 1989 but also discuss the direction that President Xi Jinping is taking China today and into the future.

Attending will be Wu’er Kaixi, an ethnic Uighur who was at Tiananmen; Fang Zheng, who lost both legs after a tank rolled over him and is now president of the Chinese Democratic Education Committee; and Rose Tang, who survived by crawling over a tank to escape the square and is currently an activist. They will be joined by Western journalists who covered the events as well as American academic experts.

The organizing committee for the event consists of Minky Worden, Pete Engardio, Carroll Bogert and myself. We are developing the event in cooperation with Orville Schell and Susan Jakes at the Center for U.S.-China Studies at the Asia Society as well as Jerome Cohen at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University. We also are exploring possible participation from Columbia University.

The committee wants to document what happened at Tiananmen but we are not interested in just a walk down memory lane. We also want the panelists to talk about how the Chinese government has pursued Tiananmen survivors around the world for the past three decades, hacking into their phones and sending spies into their midst. That squares with President Xi’s efforts to recentralize all power in China in the hands of the Communist Party and exploit new technologies to eliminate all forms of dissent, such as massive camera networks supported by facial recognition software and Artificial Intelligence; the development of a social credit rating system; enhanced monitoring of the Internet and all forms of social media; and the detention of segments of its population in what the government calls “retraining facilities.” About 1 million Uighurs in western China are reportedly locked up in these camps, whose real intent appears to be breaking their faith in Islam.

The party’s leadership decided in 1989 that it could not tolerate dissent from students or workers and that the pro-democracy movement had to be crushed. Leaders ever since have wrestled with the question of how much of a “civil society” should be allowed to develop. President Xi, who has declined to identify a successor and thus could rule for life, seems to adhere to the hard line and is determined to prevent any segment of his 1.4 billion population from ever mounting a challenge to the party’s rule. He has also wiped out lawyers for dissidents, cracked down on foreign non-governmental organizations and jailed thousands of party members in an effort to impose new discipline and new loyalty to himself. In sum, he may be creating the most technologically sophisticated totalitarian state in human history.

We’re planning a number of panel discussions and plenty of time for fellowship and networking. This is the first reunion of China Hands since the one we organized in late 2014.

Anyone who was either at Tiananmen or who has covered China (or is interested in today’s China) is welcome to attend. There will be an as-yet undetermined fee for food and drink. The OPC’s board has generously agreed to defray some of the event’s expenses. Watch the OPC website for further details.