Leave China Alone

Will the Clintons ever go away? Every time I turn around, it seems, the leering and not very endearing face of either Bill or Hil is looming somewhere overhead, like a great jack-o’-lantern on Halloween. The persistence of dynastic politicians is one particularly unattractive aspect of being an empire – the Bush and Kennedy families also come to mind, of course.

In the case of the Clintons, it’s apparent that the Obama administration is keeping its enemies close, appointing Bill as a special envoy to Haiti – the scene of one of his more spectacular foreign policy disasters – and Hil, of course, was prevailed upon (against her initial instincts, we now learn) to take over the helm at the State Department. About Bill, the less said the better: suffice to say that a more dishonest and manipulative American political figure hasn’t been seen since Richard Nixon and the Checkers speech. As a testament to Hillary’s diplomatic skills, or lack thereof, we have her latest outrage against reason and common sense in remarks made on the occasion of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident:

"A China that has made enormous progress economically, and that is emerging to take its rightful place in global leadership, should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal."

There is only one proper response to this: Look who’s talking!

Before an American secretary of state gets up on her hind legs and lectures the rest of the world about "the darker events of its past," complaining about the lack of "a public accounting of those killed, detained, or missing," let’s look at the record: in 1993, then-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the murder of 76 people in Waco, Texas, on grounds that didn’t sound all that credible at the time, and, in retrospect, turn out to have been entirely dubious and self-serving. Can it really be that the U.S. government – yes, the same people who ordered this and this – is hectoring China for unlawful detention?

As a great philosopher once said, oh, puh-leeeeeeeze!

No one disputes the fact that the suppression of the Tiananmen Square revolt was a brutal act, one that belied the Chinese government’s claim to enjoy popular support in the face of what it characterized as a "counterrevolutionary" gathering. Yet what, exactly, was being suppressed? This is where the Western-spun narrative veers markedly away from reality.

To begin with, what was the uprising about? What demands were the students – and most of them were indeed students, rather than ordinary workers and peasants – intent on pursuing to the end? The initial protests were over reductions in student subsidies. As an economizing measure, the government decided to drastically cut student allowances, while China’s generous foreign scholarship program, which enabled many students from Africa to study in Chinese universities, was continued, in spite of the cutbacks.

This outraged the fiercely nationalistic Chinese students, who, in the winter of 1988, used it as an excuse to rampage through the living quarters of African students, injuring 13. What began as a lynching miraculously turned into a "human rights" protest, as 3,000 demonstrators showed up in Nanjing, where slogans such as "Kill the black devils!" mingled with demands for "political reform."

From Nanjing, where the movement originated, anti-African demonstrations spread to other cities, notably Shanghai and Beijing. A major motivation behind the demonstrations was apparently the success African students had with Chinese women. That the anti-African riots were the prelude to the Tiananmen protests, the spark that started a roaring fire in the center of Beijing, was evidenced in the slogans and banners raised by the students in the square, such as "”No Offend Chinese Women” [sic].

Imagine if such sentiments were displayed at an American university! The miscreants would be rounded up, charged with "hate crimes," and summarily shipped home with their tails between their legs. Western reporters didn’t see fit to report on this aspect of the "democratic" uprising in Tiananmen Square.

Perhaps they didn’t notice: people see what they want to see, especially Western journalists bent on pursuing a ready-made – and easily believable – narrative, one that (just coincidentally, of course) fit in rather nicely with the U.S. government’s stance. They saw the "goddess of democracy," but they failed to see the portraits of Chairman Mao, the worst despot and mass murderer since Stalin, reverently carried by many of the marchers.

According to the narrative spun by the Western news media and simultaneously promulgated by U.S. officials, the Tiananmen Square incident was provoked by the lack of "democracy" in China and was a surge in favor of Western-style liberal humanism in the face of Red Chinese "totalitarianism." Clean, easy, black-and-white, good guys vs. bad guys: Cut! And that’s a wrap!

The reality, however, was quite different, and the inability of Western reporters to see this is not hard to fathom. After all, what did they know? Only what they saw, or, rather, what they chose to see. The context in which these events occurred was invisible to them.

For years, China had been pursuing the "four modernizations," as the regime dubbed its goals, and evolving away from the fanatical egalitarianism championed by Mao and his Red Guards during the so-called Cultural Revolution. The economic system was being thoroughly reformed, and China was moving toward leader Deng Xiaoping’s concept of "socialism with Chinese characteristics," i.e., mercantile "communism," in which the entrepreneurial instincts of the Chinese people were given such free rein that old Deng took it upon himself to coin a slogan that seems more Ayn Randian than Marxian: "To get rich is glorious!"

Gathered together in Tiananmen Square were all those elements who were dissatisfied with the Chinese status quo and who had some special cause – reductions in student subsidies, the lack of free speech, "preferential" treatment for foreigners, the suppression of cults such as Falun Gong, the increasingly pro-market orientation of the Chinese Communist Party (which had recently voted to allow big businessmen to become members), the absence of democratic elections, Africans hitting on "their" women, etc., etc. Western reporters edited out those grievances that didn’t fit their narrative, and television coverage focused on the most dramatic visual in sight, the statue of the "goddess of liberty" that arose in the square.

The rest, as they say, is history – except that it isn’t.

As Western commentators, including the American secretary of state, weigh in on the occasion of this anniversary, none have so far mentioned the initial reaction of the Chinese government. To hear them tell it, the students gathered in Tiananmen and the regime promptly marched in, crushed the rebels, and forbade forever more any discussion of what occurred.

This is complete nonsense. To begin with, the reaction from the government was initially support for the students, as indicated in the state-controlled news media, which ran front-page stories praising them as heroes and patriots – and this went on for weeks.

Imagine if an unruly crowd of students, the unemployed, and various sorts of malcontents – numbering in the tens of thousands – occupied, say, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and refused to budge. Further, try to picture the universally acknowledged leader of this mass calling on the crowd to deliberately provoke the authorities into intervening so that blood is spilled. This is precisely what happened at Tiananmen Square. Here is the movement’s leader, one Chai Lin, on the prospect of violence as the culmination of the Tiananmen protest:

"Some fellow students asked me what our plans are, what our demands will be in future. This made me feel sick at heart; I started out to tell them that what we were waiting for was actually the spilling of blood, for only when the government descends to the depths of depravity and decides to deal with us by slaughtering us, only when rivers of blood flow in the Square, will the eyes of our country’s people truly be opened."

Although other student leaders, such as Wu’er Kaxi, argued that the demonstrators should evacuate the square and live to fight another day, most of the protesters – weakened by a prolonged hunger strike and unable to think clearly – went with their self-styled "commander in chief," Chai Lin, who was ready – nay, eager – to die and take her followers with her. They stayed, even as word spread that the troops were on the way.

The prolongation of the protest gave Chinese hard-liners the excuse they needed to enforce a crackdown. As one grizzled old army general and veteran of the Long March put it:

"Those goddamn bastards! Who do they think they are, trampling on sacred ground like Tiananmen so long?! They’re really asking for it! We should send the troops right now to grab those counter-revolutionaries, Comrade Xiaoping! What’s the People’s Liberation Army for, anyway? What are the martial law troops for? They’re not supposed to just sit around and eat!"

As Communist regimes across Eastern Europe fell, one by one, in spontaneous uprisings of long-suppressed anger, the same currents were roiling the Chinese political landscape, and the regime was determined that they would not share the fate of Stalin’s heirs. On the other hand, however – and without having any illusions about the motives and methods of China’s rulers – to characterize the Tiananmen Square incident as a protest demanding Western-style democracy is very far from the reality.

In the context of Chinese history, and the long struggle between liberalizers and orthodox Maoists in the Chinese Communist Party, the students represented an intensely nationalistic surge, not anything we would recognize as liberalism. Far from supporting the economic reforms put in place by the leadership – which amounted to liberalization from above – the concrete demands put forward by the protesters favored maintaining the old "iron rice bowl" policies of subsidies and state control of living standards.

It isn’t liberalism but a hard-line nationalism that continues to motivate the occasional student demonstration, such as occurred during the Hainan Island incident, in which a U.S. spy plane was forced down by a Chinese fighter pilot. The same nationalist sentiment that always seems to be boiling just beneath the surface of Chinese society was unleashed during protests after the "accidental" bombing of the Chinese embassy during the Kosovo war.

In both cases, the regime was forced to allow public expressions of protest in the interests of channeling all that negative energy away from the regime itself. In the case of Tiananmen, however, they had no such opportunity, and after repeated attempts at reconciliation with the student protesters on the part of some party leaders, the hard-liners were unleashed.

Having emerged from nearly a decade of turmoil – a ruinous Cultural Revolution that nearly destroyed China’s economy and brought the entire educational system to a grinding halt – China in 1989 was well on its way to a more liberal future, one in which social organizations as well as the economy were following a distinctly non-Marxian, anti-Leninist path. Far from advancing this evolution, the Tiananmen incident placed a huge roadblock in the way, one that our secretary of state would make higher yet with her obnoxiously self-righteous lectures. "Healing" my a**! Lady Clinton knows all too well that this kind of moralizing coming from such a source is likely to have the opposite effect: indeed, the intensely nationalistic students most likely to rise up in a repeat of the Tiananmen revolt would no doubt reject her pious meddling in China’s internal affairs with disdain.

Bill Clinton, you’ll recall, pulled the same nonsense when he visited Beijing and engaged in a "dialogue" with the Chinese on the subject of Tiananmen and "democracy" – and the whole exchange was broadcast over Chinese television. Some "totalitarian" regime! I’d like to see a dialogue between the Clintons and the families of the victims of the Waco massacre. You can bet they wouldn’t let a television camera anywhere near the proceedings.

The Clintons just can’t help themselves, as we all know: it’s always all about them. That’s why they can’t, and won’t, see the Chinese reality that contradicts the Western narrative, and they are far from alone in their myopia.

Of course, our foreign policy is made not by people who know something about the countries they are criticizing, but by grandstanding politicians, so complaining about it seems like an effort in futility – after all, what else can we expect from Hillary Clinton? I would have thought, however, that we had a right to expect a bit more from the Obama administration, which prides itself on its alleged intelligence and "cultural sensitivity" – but I guess that hope went straight out the window the moment he appointed Hillary to head up Foggy Bottom.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].