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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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Epilogue: Two phone calls


When news of the massacre and the spilling of young Chinese blood on the streets around Tiananmen Square on June Fourth 1989 reached Sweden, a nineteen-year old made two phone calls. The first was to the switchboard of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He asked to speak to someone at the Asia desk. After being put through, a civil serv- ant in the Asia unit picked up the receiver and said: “Hello?” “What are you going to do about the massacre in Beijing?” “What do you mean ‘do’? What do you think we should do?” the civil servant asked. “Well”, the nineteen-year old answered tentatively. “Maybe protest. Make a formal protest to the Chinese government or something.” “That’s how you feel?” the voice said. “I see. But, you know, there’s nothing we can do.” “But there must be something you can do?” “No, nothing.” “Oh, okay”, the caller replied. Feeling sheepish and embarrassed, he hung up. The second call was to the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm. “Hello?” “Yes, hello. I am calling to protest against the killings in Beijing.” “Yes?” “Isn’t it horrible, terrible? These people killed were just students. They were unarmed, right? “Yes, I know.” The female official replied in a voice choked with tears, and then began sobbing. And she didn’t stop. After a while, the young man hung up, surprised and even more embarrassed. 330 I was nineteen years old and had just graduated from high school. Ever since I made these two calls I...

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