How Tiananmen Crackdown Shaped China’s Iron-Fisted Approach to Dissent
Originally published by The Wall Street Journal on June 3, 2014
Chinese security forces stood under a portrait of Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square on Monday. See photos of the protests from 1989. Getty Images
A quarter-century after Chinese leaders sent the military to crush student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, one activist’s short career shows how the events of 1989 inform the Chinese authorities’ iron-fisted approach to dissent. As Josh Chin reports:
After Chinese police rounded up the leaders of the civic group he participated in, Zhang Kun said he would be proud to join them in jail. He soon got his wish.
In March, he was released after two months in detention—during which he says he endured lengthy interrogations by police and physical mistreatment by other detainees. Once out, he posted a note on a messaging app telling friends he was stepping back from his previous activism. “I hope everyone can understand,” he wrote.
In taking down Mr. Zhang, police applied a well-honed, layered strategy to nip opposition in the bud. His moves were carefully tracked online and in real life. He was apprehended just before the Chinese New Year, when it was less likely to attract attention, and then quietly released into a life of isolation.
“These are strategies that have been used over and over again,” says Maya Wang, Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Tiananmen also started small. The government has to be on the lookout for sparks…They’ve been working on this for 25 years.” (Read the full story at WSJ.com.)
The government tactics are ones that are on full display this week, as China’s leadership leaves little to chance ahead of this week’s 25th anniversary of the bloody quashing of the Tiananmen Square protests, having embarked on a widespread clampdown on dissent that has targeted lawyers, rights activists and journalists, among others. As Brian Spegele and Josh Chin also report:
Rights groups say dozens have been detained, questioned or put under house arrest to try to make sure no commemorations are held. The group Chinese Human Rights Defenders puts the number at 50 “detained, disappeared or summoned.”
The capital’s already tight security has been bolstered ahead of the June 3-4 anniversary, and following terrorist violence in other parts of the country.
“They’re grabbing people everywhere,” said Liu Shihui, a rights lawyer who was detained for more than 10 days by authorities in Shanghai and sent back to his hometown in Inner Mongolia last month. Mr. Liu said this was the biggest roundup of activists in China since the sweeping crackdown launched to prevent any spillover from the Arab Spring democracy demonstrations in the Middle East in 2011.