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Did Tien An Men Square Matter?

Two decades ago today, half way around the world, a bunch of students staged a demonstration in favor of the American way of life by rallying around a crude replica of the Statue of Liberty. The locale was Tien An Men (Heavenly Peace Gate) Square in Beijing, China.

China had already begun its march to prosperity and (world) power, the successs of which is more evident today than twenty years ago. but the students wanted more: the third ingredient of the American dream, freedom and democracy, together with human rights.

This could not be tolerated by the goverment of China, an emerging Great Power. Imagine if a group of American youths had rallied next to the Washington Monument in the 1930s in favor of Hitler's Swastika, or Stalin's Hammer and Sickle. That would probably be enough to perturb most Americans.

The Chinese goverment sealed off the area with troops, then fired into the crowd of demonstrators, although there was one dramatic scene with a student (briefly) holding up column of tanks. Some students were killed on the spot, but many were tracked down, arrested, and punished later. Under the Chinese doctrine of "collective guilt," even families of the arrested or dead were made to suffer.

Even today, Chinese police patrolled the Square in Beijing to prevent a commemoration. But in freer Hong Kong, such gatherings did take place.

None of this has stopped the Chinese economic progress. The Chinese themselves would prefer to believe that what happened at Tian An Men Square two decades ago doesn't matter today. But the U.S. does have one advantage over China. Tian An Men is a reminder that more Chinese prefer the American way than Americans prefer theirs.

Disclosure: Long Chinese ancestors