On May 4, 1989, approximately 100,000 students and workers marched through Beijing demanding democratic reforms in the government and the removal of the Chinese Communist Party leader, Deng Xiaoping. On May 20, the government declared martial law, and on June 3 and 4, troops were sent into Tiananmen Square, a historic site in the capital city, to stop the protests. The People’s Liberation Army, as the Chinese army is called, crushed the demonstrations, killing hundreds and injuring thousands more. Following the violence, the government arrested, imprisoned, and executed many suspected dissidents.
In the West, the violence at Tiananmen Square was reported as the “Tiananmen Square Massacre.” Images of soldiers in tanks pursuing students with protest signs left little doubt in Americans’ minds about the lack of democracy in China.
While most American observers have condemned the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, some suggest that the government’s crackdowns on dissent are necessary. Author Robert D. Kaplan argues, “Were China to have suddenly become a parliamentary democracy in 1989 at the time of the Tiananmen Square uprising, the average Chinese citizen would likely be worse off today.” By maintaining political stability, Kaplan argues, Chinese leaders were able to encourage economic growth, which will, in his view, eventually pave the way for democratic reforms in China.
In contrast to Kaplan’s rather optimistic view of Tiananmen, notable groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International continue to document the arrests, tortures, and executions that occur routinely in China. In their view, the international community should condemn China’s poor record on human rights and use economic sanctions or other pressures to encourage China to become more democratic.
Henry S. Rowen is a professor of public policy and management at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. In the following viewpoint, he maintains that the People’s Republic of China is on its way to becoming a democracy. Rowen predicts that China will follow the examples of Taiwan and South Korea, which became more democratic as their economies improved. The government is allowing local elections to be held in villages, he notes, and is also beginning to institute fair laws regarding business transactions and the treatment of criminals. Rowen concludes that China is becoming freer each year, and will continue to do so as long as it becomes more prosperous.
As you read, consider the following questions:
1. When does the author predict that China will become a democracy?
2. What reforms has the Chinese government instituted regarding criminals, according to Rowen?
3. In the author’s view, what is the “worldwide—and Asian—norm” regarding the relationship between economic prosperity and political freedom?
When will China become a democracy? The answer is, around 2015.
There are two reasons for this forecast: One is positive changes there; the other is the effect of economic growth on freedoms throughout the world.
Freedom House [a nonprofit organization that promotes democracy and human rights] gives China a political freedom rating of zero: It is a one-party state, there are many “counterrevolutionaries” in prison, people are detained without trial, and there were more than two thousand summary executions in 1994. Nevertheless, China has come far since the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution [two of Communist leader Mao Zedong’s efforts to economically and socially transform China], notably in three important areas.
Three Signs of Progress
Grassroots Democracy. The dissolution of the communes left no local governments and thus led to village elections. By the early 1990s, 90 percent of village committees had been elected.
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