Twenty Years Later
This is the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. As the Co-Director of IU-Indy’s China Summer Program, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in China over the last seven years. I am not a China expert, but I do know more about legal reform there than the average bear. So I thought I would try to provide some perspective on where things stand.
It is fair to say that individual freedom has increased for the average citizen so long as they are: (1) Han Chinese; (2) not that religious; (3) not interested in joining the Falun Gong or any other civil organization that rivals the Communist Party; and (4) not a lawyer bringing cases against state action.
That list does leave a lot of people in the cold, but for everyone else economic growth and the increasing thicket of law is providing more breathing space. The first point is well known but the second is not. The growth of administrative law and private law in China is just as remarkable as the growth of its GDP. Arbitrary action by the police or by grasping officials is still a problem, but not as much as it was in the 1970s when China had no law and no lawyers. Hu Jintao, the current President, is nowhere near as powerful as Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping were. This is clearly not democracy, but the standardization of the Communist Party’s succession and the emphasis on formal offices as the source of influence stands in stark contrast to the informal “Eight Immortals” (retired party leaders) who ordered the tanks into the Square in 1989 and banished their opponents.
The progress towards democracy in China is slow, but it is real. Someday this blog might even be free of censorship in Beijing.