What the West wants for China is not what China wants for itself.
For Westerners, Thurs., June 4 marks the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
How many died that day is still argued over, ranging from the state estimate of 274 (36 of which they claim were students) to higher, more sickening numbers in the hundreds, perhaps even 1000 or more. Recently, the Globe and Mail published photos showing students who were literally ran over by tanks. The bodies lie amidst a pile of bicycles, clothing, even shoes. The tank treads show a straight, unyielding path, the bodies of seven students in its wake. They were unable to escape because they were surprised, and caught against a pedestrian barrier. Hopefully, they died instantly.
The strongest images embody what westerners believe happened: the crushing of democracy by the authoritarian state. For example, the Goddess of Democracy erected in Tiananmen Square eventually crumbled under the assault. The image of a lone protester, staring down the barrel of a tank's cannon, perfectly illustrates what we want to believe. Democracy should stand in the face of oppression: heroic, proud, the greatest sacrifice lying in martyrdom.
Indeed, it is a principle on which Western society is founded. The power of these images to evoke certain thoughts is inevitable, but memory has that quality of always being recalled in a favorable light-more importantly it is recalled to serve certain purposes. Furthermore, that memory is now 10 years old.
For the Chinese, Thurs., June 4 will mark the 10th anniversary of June 4 (the massacre is referred to only as June 4).
Little will commemorate the event in China, and not only because outward protests are illegal. In fact, the ideals the protesters possessed are no longer deemed realistic in China. The ideal of democracy is now regarded as impossible given the realities of the Chinese political state. The Chinese people believe that June 4, 1989, was a nightmare for China. And in the words Shuibo Wang, director of a 30 minute documentary Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square, "Who wants to remember a nightmare forever?"
Western countries have continually maintained that an open dialogue will result in economic and political reforms. However, China has a knack for adopting things in its own unique way. The result is a liberal economy hybridized with a non-democratic police state. Dissidents are still punished, human rights violations still occur, but something funny happened. Chinese people no longer want Western-style democracy, and the West must recognize this fact. That ideal began its slow death in 1989, and the West can no longer attempt to impose what it thinks is right for the Chinese people.
An earlier story in the Globe reports the views of a few university students on the Beijing campus, the location where the pro-democracy movement gained much of its momentum. Democracy is not important to them, instead they are interested in making a good salary for themselves. The democratic dream has been replaced by a materialistic one, something the West probably did instill in the Chinese people.
Given the recent events, notables including the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia and the resulting stoning of the us embassy in Beijing, the West must come to a new perception of China and what China wishes for itself. This does not mean the actions of the Chinese government are correct, nor does this mean we should disregard the significance of Tiananmen Square. It only means Tiananmen should be remembered for different reasons now, given the circumstances.
I've stood in Tiananmen Square. Like an ever-present ghost, the mausoleum of Chairman Mao is positioned in the southern end of the square. If you face west, KFC and McDonald's are visible; Pizza Hut is just up the street. In the east end there used to be a massive sign with a small clock which counted down the time until Hong Kong rejoined China, its digital clock counting by the second. To the north, Mao's portrait still stares down from the gates of the Forbidden City, more copies of the portrait are probably tucked away nearby. Does this mean further revolution might occur? Perhaps, but for the time being, the 10th anniversary of Tiananmen Square has marked little in the way of substantial political change. Ten years later, we cannot regard democracy in China in the same way protesters at Tiananmen Square did.