The biggest protests since Tian’anmen

Protests against the Chinese government’s anti-COVID policies are the most widespread since those of the Tian’anmen massacres in 1989.

For the moment, these demonstrations are far from having the same magnitude as in 1989.

But as then, the protesters’ initial demands evolve into criticism of the regime in place.

In 1989, the first demands concerned the improvement of the poor living conditions of the students. They quickly turned into a general criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and a pro-democracy movement.

Recent protesters are already beginning to demand the resignation of Xi Jinping and the establishment of democracy.

These demonstrations are, however, different from those of 1989 in several respects.

Spontaneous demonstrations

The current protests are spontaneous. Those of 1989 were organized for a long time. In 1989, the students told journalists that their movement was “spontaneous”. It was in fact an agreed political term, to express that the movement came from the people, as opposed to an “organized” movement which would automatically have been qualified as counter-revolutionary.

Today, discontent affects a vast majority of Chinese. In 1989, only the inhabitants of large cities were mobilized. China’s population in 1989 was predominantly rural.

The Chinese population of 1989 was less educated than that of today, therefore more easily manipulated.

In 1989, the government had only the police and the army to put down a rebellion. Today, the government can use a specially trained police force to confront a disgruntled population: armed police forces.

In 1989, journalists from around the world camped out in Beijing to cover the protests. In 2022, foreign journalists in China are rare.

In 1989, all major cities were paralyzed except Shanghai. The government administrations refused to obey and the authorities had difficulty finding the leaders of the protest movement.

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Nowadays, cities are criss-crossed with cameras, public administrations continue to function and the slightest dissidents are almost immediately arrested.

Not liked

But the biggest difference is elsewhere. In 1989, most Chinese people respected and even loved their great leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping. Such is not the case for Xi Jinping, who is feared but little respected and certainly not loved.

The delusional policies of containment and the fight against COVID-19 come directly from Xi. The refusal to allow effective vaccines against the disease to enter China is the result of his stubbornness.

The widespread dissatisfaction with Xi no doubt resonates deep within the Chinese Communist Party. Or exactly ? Hard to say, as the organization is so secret.

Certainly the protests are weakening Xi’s power. They reawakened the old fear of overthrowing the Chinese Communist Party. This fear of losing power is stronger than the terror that Xi inspires.

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