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Tiananmen talk still taboo -

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Tiananmen talk still taboo

The World Today - Thursday, 4 June , 2009 12:30:00

Reporter: Peter Cave

PETER CAVE: Professor David Kelly lives in Beijing. He works for the Chinese Research Centre at
UTS. He first went to Beijing to study in 1975. He's been there on and off for the last three

I asked him what happened to bring those hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets 20
years ago.

DAVID KELLY: Well it wasn't a simple matter of democratic change as we understand it. There was a
great mixture of motives, some of which were naive and some of which simply wanted the party to
clean up its corrupt upper layers. The fully fledged Westminster style democracy was probably the
last thing on their minds and they haven't moved very far towards that.

Some of the writing that comes out today or in this period is saying that the society has failed to
mature. And the maturity needed to work towards real democratic institutions has really be stymied
by the controls on information and by what the party then spent a lot of time doing which was
boosting patriotic education and shifting people's feelings towards a sense of grievance with the
outside world so they stopped worrying about those corrupt officials and worried more about those
bad foreigners and what they were doing.

PETER CAVE: Do the young people in Beijing, the ones that you teach and mix with, know what
happened 20 years ago?

DAVID KELLY: I would say a majority do not know clearly. They instinctively keep their noses out of
trouble. Everyone knows that this is trouble. If you ask questions you'll be in trouble.

Other people quickly find out because the key information can be explained in a few words. You
know, there was a killing of people. And we know from the internet, activity on the internet has
been huge in recent days and people talk about it in roundabout ways. A poem appears talking about
tanks. The word "June 4th" and etc is not mentioned.

So there is a subculture that knows all about it but a majority culture that's happy not to know
about it.

PETER CAVE: Is it fair to say that the majority especially of the well-to-do, the elite and the
educated have accepted economic change and the fruits of that and are quite happy to let democratic
change sit there?

DAVID KELLY: Even more than that Peter, which is true, a large number of the beneficiaries of the
reforms think that the handling, the suppression was good for China.

We know anecdotally that at the time people within the party who are referred to as the
"princelings" - these are children of the high, powerful, political elite - actually were saying,
well let's kill 20,000 to buy 20 years of stability. At least this was openly rumoured, I should
say. It may have just been rumours launched for a political reason.

Nonetheless this was the flavour of the time. Even if you're not so diabolical or so Machiavellian,
a lot of people say that well, if Deng Xiaoping had not acted in that way we would not have China's
economic miracle and China's peaceful rise.

PETER CAVE: Are there still within the top echelons of the party those who carry the torch of those
reformers 20 years ago?

DAVID KELLY: Oh that's undoubtedly the case. It's very, very clear there is a substantial political
subculture who carry a torch for Zhao Ziyang, the former secretary general of the Communist Party,
and Hu Yaobang before him. These were the two people who genuinely supported the idea of changing
the political system; maybe not, again, towards Westminster democracy or American-style democracy
but certainly towards giving the lower orders of society a genuine buy-in to the economy and to
political decision making.

PETER CAVE: Do you think another Tiananmen Square could happen?

DAVID KELLY: The precise mixture that led to Tiananmen is not going to be repeated. On the one hand
you had a bottling up of expectations over many years and the frustration of these expectations.
And you also had this very closed information world which led to a very naive generation existing.

People aren't so naive now. You've had the enormous impact of the internet. In some ways this
spreads a lot of ideas quickly but it also allows a lot of emotion to be drained off that was
previously bottled up.

Nonetheless we're seeing a lot of frustration in society and we see constant references in the
Chinese Government media to what are called "mass incidents".

Mass incidents are occurring constantly. These are gatherings of large numbers of people and they
happen over all kinds of matters. They could be for example the misbehaviour of a party official in
a bar somewhere; or the fact that someone appeared on television wearing an expensive watch and
smoking cigarettes which everyone knows are extremely expensive. There was a case of this. The
internet went wild with this. Blogs, the bloggers in Chinese, wouldn't let this go and that
official had to be dismissed.

So there are now ways in which dissatisfaction is registered and some of the angst is, some of the
steam is released if you like. But it's been on an upward trend and some other new form of activity
will take place. But I'm afraid the Tiananmen situation was almost a laboratory experiment. You
won't get that repeated very easily.

PETER CAVE: Professor David Kelly of the China Research Centre at the University of Technology,
Sydney, on the line from Beijing.