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  • 30 Years After Tiananmen
  • Marc F. Plattner, Editor and Larry Diamond, Editor

As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of the events of 4 June 1989, they remain seared in the memory of democrats in China and around the world. On that day the government of the People's Republic of China violently crushed the prodemocracy protesters who had been occupying Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. More than a thousand civilians were killed in what has come to be called the Tiananmen Massacre, and many of the surviving protesters were arrested and imprisoned.

Many people think of 1989 primarily as the annus mirabilis that witnessed the demise of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Precisely on June 4 in that year, Poland's Solidarity movement defeated the Communists in the first nearly free elections in the Soviet bloc. As it happens, the very first issue of the Journal of Democracy, published in January 1990, featured two sets of articles—one on the triumph in Central and Eastern Europe, and a second on the tragedy in China. Now, three decades later, it is crucial that the memory of that tragedy not be effaced.

There follow five essays that address the complex legacy of Tiananmen. The first is by Wang Dan, a major leader of the student protests who endured years in prison before being exiled to the United States. He explains the protesters' goals and considers what might have resulted had they achieved their demands. He does not shrink from weighing the costs of their failure, but he takes some consolation from seeing the 1989 democracy movement as "the starting point for the formation of China's civil society."

Next, historian Glenn Tiffert explores Chinese leader Xi Jinping's efforts not only to suppress any memory of Tiananmen but also to reshape Chinese history to suit the preferences of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). And as Tiffert notes, China has now begun using new tools of digital censorship that enable the Party continually to revise the historical record. There follow two essays that look at continuing sources of resistance to CCP domination. Bruce Gilley focuses on the "restless youth" who chafe under CCP rule, while Elizabeth Economy highlights the dissident intellectuals and social movements that still press forward within the shrinking space left open to them. Finally, Benny Tai, a leader of Hong Kong's democracy movement, explains how important the 1989 protests and the memory of Tiananmen have been (and remain) in Hong Kong.

None of these authors denies the grimness of today's political situation, with Xi having rolled back most of the progress toward openness and reform that had been attained before and after Tiananmen. But they all affirm that the Chinese people still want freedom—and that they will not forget Tiananmen.

—The Editors [End Page 30]