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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 III Authoritarian Convergence and Moral Costs


263 Chapter 5: Capitalist Convergence and Rising Inequality For a long time, foreign China observers maintained that the introduction of a market economy would make the People’s Republic more similar to the West – a more open society with a more diverse and free public discourse, characterised by increased tolerance toward minorities and foreigners, and eventually even democratic rule.413 Despite the presence of a growing middleclass with frequent personal contact with the rest of the world, however, there has been no discernible sea change to date. The Chinese Communist Party still firmly maintains that China’s political sys- tem is not only unique but superior to Western democracies and therefore fundamentally incompatible with constitutionalism.414 To put it plainly: the Chinese people are not ready to shoulder the challenging democratic task of debating opponents in public; that could only lead to incompre- hensible disaster. The massacre near Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the political program that was introduced in its wake are the two most important reasons why China’s political reforms have thus far been limited to increasing ad- ministrative efficiency, while staying well clear of increased democrat- ic participation. The massacre has now been erased from China’s public memory, whittled down to a few brief, doctored lines in university course compendia and reduced to little more than an overlooked parenthesis in the rest of the world. And yet, the massacre was as influential in shaping our world as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks on New York’s World...

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