Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Tiananman Square Protests Weren't Liberal

. Thursday, June 6, 2013

One of my favorite blogs is Echoes, subtitle "Dispatches from Economic History", at Bloomberg. There isn't a unifying theme other than contextualizing current events by looking to past episodes. The authors are experts on each topic -- i.e. there aren't just one or several folks writing every day -- and I almost always learn something from the post.

For example, that the Tiananman Square protests weren't exactly liberal. The author of the piece is a sociologist as Kansas State who has studied Chinese development since 1949, and he says that the protesters were "radical reactionaries". This atypical conjunction means that they were anti-authoritarian but also anti-capitalism.

The story goes like so. The early reforms economic reforms in China benefited rural farmers and initially urban consumers as well, but after awhile industrialization efforts and a plateau in farm production increased price inflation. At the same time corruption increased. This hit urbanites particularly hard. They demanded more political access, but mostly so that they could reverse economic reforms. Thus, they urbanites were "radical reactionaries". I guess that means the rural farmers were "conservative revolutionaries".

Deng refused to yield, but had the protests been successful China might've ended up with the opposite of what they've had over the past generation: political reform without economic reform. Ironically this would have hurt urban dwellers in the long run, since the economic reforms Deng undertook eventually benefited them the most.

Anyway, it's certainly not the textbook version of the story. But elements of this still resonate, as this Dissent article about the contemporary anti-reform movement in China illustrates.


The Tiananman Square Protests Weren't Liberal
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