Will Democracy Ever Happen in China?

N. S. Venkataraman

Twenty-seven years ago, Chinese military tanks rolled into the Tiananmen Square in Beijing to crush pro-democracy protests in China.  Thousands of unarmed activists and civilians were killed. While the world was shocked at this ruthless and merciless act, the communist leadership in China remained unconcerned about world opinion and did not care what the world thought regarding its actions.

Spirit of Democracy Remains Undeterred

While the Tiananmen Square Uprising started in April 1989 and the Chinese troops were sent out to suppress pro-democracy activism on 4th June 1989, there is evidence even today that the spirit of pro-democracy in China has not waned.  On its anniversary last month, the Chinese police had to detain several activists, while many others including the ‘Tiananmen Mothers’ – an association of parents who lost their children during the attack on the Tiananmen Square – were placed under heavy surveillance in the days prior to the commemorative event.

The Chinese voluntary group Weiquan Movement reported that six human rights activists including the 32-year old poet and freelance writer, Liang Taiping were detained by the police following a private memorial meeting they held of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In Hong Kong too, people gathered at the Victoria Park to pay homage to the victims of the Tiananmen Square.  The event was organized by Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.

The Communist leaders in China, well aware of the people’s thirst for democracy and free speech and fearing trouble, keep vigil at the Tiananmen Square even decades after the crackdown.  The Chinese Government is doing all it can to suppress the democratic spirit of the citizens.

Can the Suppression Continue?

Will the Government of China be able to keep the democratic aspirations of the people silenced and for how long?  With the opening up of the Chinese economy and the entry of several international organisations into China for setting up industries and commercial establishments, spread of information technology and increasing overseas travel of its citizens, the people of China learn of the freedoms enjoyed by millions of those who reside in countries which follow the democratic form of governance.

“The big news here isn’t about the Chinese economy; it’s about China’s leaders.  Forget everything you’ve heard about their brilliance and foresightedness.  Judging by their current flailing, they have no clue what they’re doing.” – Paul R. Krugman, nytimes.com, July 31, 2015.  Courtesy : Tibetan Review, January-June 2016.

Though many democracies face problems, particularly those in Asia and Africa, people in these countries have tasted freedom which is being denied to the Chinese.

Russia, once an iron curtain country with communist leadership similar to what continues to prevail in China, yielded to the pressure of public opinion and accepted the democratic form of governance.  Several East European countries followed.  Even in Cuba, a communist country, people are experiencing the fruits of freedom and Cuba is steadily moving towards a democratic governance structure.

In fact, the Chinese leadership’s claim that the communist form of governance reflects the basic philosophy of communism has been considerably diluted with free enterprise having an increased participation in the economic renaissance in China.

Vested interests suppress freedom

The communist leaders in charge of the government at the central and province level in China keep a stranglehold over the government machinery and prevent large scale people’s participation in governance.  What’s happening today in China is that a well-knit coterie of people with self-interest in holding on to power controls and governs the country in the name of communist philosophy.  They know that if democratic governance is allowed, they cannot win a fair election where millions of ordinary Chinese will exercise their franchise.

The Dalai Lama’s Role 

The Dalai Lama’s image as a victim of China’s aggression represents a notion that so long as the Dalai Lama does not get his rightful place in Tibet, the concept of liberty in the world would remain unrealized.  The peace-loving and compassionate Dalai Lama – in the eyes of the Chinese leadership – may be strengthening the thought of liberty amongst the Chinese citizens by his very presence.  Is the Chinese leadership afraid of the Dalai Lama – a man who carries no arms, has no army, but only the moral strength that a victim of violence and force will possess?

“They want to lead us.  But those who don’t believe in God cannot lead us.” – Father Dong Baolu, breitbart.com, April 25, 2016.  Courtesy : Tibetan Review, January-June 2016.

Obviously, China wants to erase any memory about Tibet everywhere in the world, and therefore, when anyone recognizes the importance of the Dalai Lama, China objects and threatens.  Recently, China conveyed its displeasure to the US when President Obama was to meet the Dalai Lama last month which resulted in Obama meeting him in the Map Room of the White House instead of the Oval Office (where all dignitaries and heads of the state are met)!  At present, Tibet is firmly under the control of China with no likelihood of Dalai Lama re-entering Tibet in the near future.

Democracy will happen  

In spite of all this, the Chinese leadership knows that it is sitting on a volcano of demand for freedom which can erupt any time.  The memory of the Tiananmen Square has not faded.  There are pockets of protest in China, however feeble, demanding freedom and democracy.  This affirms that the communist leaders in China will have to give way to popular government sooner or later, perhaps sooner than later.


Mr. N. S. Venkataraman is Trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai.  E-mail: nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com 

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