A strength of this book is its depiction of student leaders weighing their options. Were it not for the actions of a few, these bittersweet events might have ended in May, 1989, when the government had successfully waited out a student boycott. At that point, six students proclaimed a hunger strike that was joined by thousands who galvanized the nation to demand democracy.
These accounts reveal why some activists chose to be crushed by tanks rather than retreat. They knew the failure to democratize China would bring totalitarian repression. The abortive revolution was a victory in that it exposed the populace to an indigenous Chinese democratic movement. It was a failure in that the massacre was followed by a totalitarian night that shows no sign of abating.
The great weakness of this generally excellent book is that it treats the Chinese revolution as if it had occurred in a vacuum apart from the West that helped inspire it. Furthermore, the book touts democracy as a valued symbol, while failing to encourage democratic debate among Western consumers who will be buying the book.
Whatever one thinks of President George Bush’s policy of maintaining close ties with the ruling Chinese Communist Party, this policy is mentioned nowhere in essays that purport to discuss prospects for future reform in China. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping is quoted, however, in words that came to be prophetic. Shortly before the massacre, Deng said, “We should not be afraid ... of international reaction .... I told [George] Bush that if China permitted demonstrations, with so many people, it would be far too chaotic.”