The Chinese democracy movement, abbreviated as Minyun. Refers to a series of loosely organized political movements in the People’s Republic of China against the continued one-party rule by the Communist Party of China. One such movement began during the Beijing Spring in November 1978 and was taken up again in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
The origin of the Chinese movement started in 1978, when the brief liberalization known as Beijing Spring occurred after the Cultural Revolution. The founding document of the movement is considered to be The Fifth Modernization manifesto by Wei Jingsheng, who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for authoring the document. In it, Wei argued that political liberalization and the empowerment of the laboring masses was essential for modernization, that the Communist Party was controlled by reactionaries and that the people must struggle to overthrow the reactionaries via a long and possibly bloody fight.
Throughout the 1980s, these ideas increased in popularity among college-educated Chinese. In response to growing corruption, economic dislocation and the sense that reforms in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were leaving China behind, the Tiananmen Square protests erupted in 1989. These protests were put down by government troops on June 4, 1989. In response, a number of pro-democracy organizations were formed by overseas Chinese student activists, and there was considerable sympathy for the movement among Westerners, who formed the China Support Network (CSN).
While the CSN was initially a go-to organization for U.S. mainstream news media (MSM) to cite, CSN and MSM parted company in a dispute over the casualty count from the June 4 massacre. MSM originally reported 3,000 dead. On June 22, 1989, Agence France-Presse referred to “the Chinese army’s assault on the demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, an operation in which U.S. intelligence sources estimated 3,000 people were killed.” That casualty count, originally reported as above, was subsequently changed by the news media. CAN reported that it was in the interest of China’s propaganda minister to reduce the casualty count by an order of magnitude, resulting in later reports that “hundreds” were killed at Tiananmen Square. In November, 1989, CSN editor James W. Hawkins MD wrote, “It appears as if Mr. Yuan Mu [Chinese State Council spokesman] has gotten his way and when we read reports on the AP wire we are told exactly what Mr. Mu [sic] wants us to read.”
The rift between CSN and MSM plays into the history of the movement. In January, 2005, upon the death of ousted Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, CSN raised its estimate to 3,001 dead in the Tiananmen crackdown. CSN proceeded to be critical of the MSM, and MSM proceeded to minimize, downplay, ignore or underreport movement news and China’s human rights abuse.
This could be in part the result of the Chinese government tightening its control over its people’s freedom of speech, thus giving the appearance of disinterest, or as a result of the overall economic and social reforms China has undertaken in recent years. The difficulties that the Soviet Union had in converting to democracy and capitalism were used to validate the PRC’s official position that slow gradual reform was a wise policy.
Censorship in Mainland China is very strict, including in the Internet. The new generation finds it difficult to obtain, or are unaware of, the truth regarding several important historical events which occurred before they were born.
A generation gap began to appear between older and younger students when people born after the Cultural Revolution began entering college campuses. These students perceived the older activists as more pro-American than pro-democracy, and thus they are far more supportive of the Communist Party. The younger students also tend to be more nationalistic. Internal disputes within the movement over issues such as China’s most-favored nation status in U.S. trade law crippled the movement, as did the perception by many within China that overseas dissidents such as Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng were simply out of touch with the growing economic prosperity and decreasing political control within China.
Many pro-democracy supporters noted that China has successfully overcome many of the challenges to democracy in China faced during the transition from a communist to a capitalist economy, so there is no longer a need for prolonged political repression. They claim that pro-democracy forces would not necessarily stall economic growth after the transition, as the Communist Party states, and more importantly that the presence of democracy would help to check wasteful corruption and might achieve a more even distribution of wealth.
Many believe that the Communist Party of China has no intention whatsoever of ever relinquishing power even if all their economic goals are ever achieved