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Tiananmen redux

The hard truth about the expanded neoliberal world order

Johan Lagerkvist

This book contends that the massacre of civilians in Beijing on June Fourth 1989 was a pivotal rupture in both Chinese and world history. If not for that day, China’s socioeconomic, political and cultural landscape would not have undergone the kind of dramatic transformation that has made China rich but unequal, open but hyper-nationalist, moralistic but immoral and unhappy. Through the lens of global history the book revisits the drama of Tiananmen and demonstrates how it unfolded, ended, and ultimately how that ending – in a consensus of forgetting – came to shape the world of the 21 st century. It offers a theorization on the inclusion of China into global capitalism and argues that the planetary project of neoliberalism has been prolonged by China’s market reforms. This has resulted in an ongoing convergence of economic and authoritarian political practices that transcend otherwise contrasting political systems. With China’s growing global influence, the late leader Deng Xiaoping’s statement that «development is a hard truth» increasingly conveys the logic of our contemporary world.

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Part II The Hard Truth of Silence and Market Momentum

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159 Chapter 3: Global Amnesia and June Fourth Silence descended on Beijing and kept its hold on the city over the next few days. But the calm was deceptive. Anxiety thrummed in the heat of the summer air that was now rolling in. Scattered gunfire could still be heard at irregular intervals. Every now and then, a military vehicle burst into flame. The pillars of smoke rising from the fires made the city centre resemble a burnt out industrial estate. It was very unsafe to move about in the streets. Continued unrest across China Against this backdrop, a single man, who in the English-speaking world has become known as the Tank Man, suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Carrying a white plastic bag in one hand, he stood in front of a convoy of tanks. The image of this scene became a symbol of the entire popular prodemocracy movement of 1989.237 It is a legendary video clip that only a fraction of the Chinese population has ever seen – capturing the modern history of their own country. At first there is no sound, then the rumbling of the approaching tanks and finally the screams and shouted warnings of onlookers. What kind of courage was required to see this unique protest through? What was going through his mind as he stepped in front a line of tanks, alone on a boulevard ironically named Avenue of Eternal Peace? It was clearly a protest against the crushing of the students’, workers’ and local residents’...

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