Chained Giant

June 04, 1991

China is quiet. Authority is not challenged. People keep dissident thoughts to themselves. The experiments in free enterprise continue in a subdued way, but care is taken to curtail dissidents from engaging in it for profit to reinvest politically. Western investment has hardly returned, though Japanese and Taiwanese investment grows. The chill so evident in the north is less pronounced in Guangdong Province, where the industrial boom for the world market based on investment from neighboring Hong Kong continues unabated.

In that sense, the terrible crackdown against democratic yearnings on June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and throughout the parts of the country that were in ferment, succeeded. The cost in lives is unknown. The official count after the army opened fire was some 200 deaths, but people who saw it believe the true toll was in the thousands. Then came the wave of terror, the hunt for demonstrators, the secret executions, the repression that continues. It is no worse, indeed more moderate, than the human rights abuses of Mao Tse-tung. But it subdues the spirit.

Subdue is the word, not destroy. Since the aged leader Deng Xiaoping turned against the anarchic potential of his own reforms, the exuberant China has gone underground. People live again within Communist discipline. But belief is gone. People are waiting. Few expect this spiritual hibernation to continue long after the death of the leader who is now 86.

No doubt the strife and challenge in the Soviet Union convince the ancient Communist mandarins ruling China that they are right to prevent such anarchy. They succeeded in turning back the clock. They proved they could force the genie back into the bottle. For now.

According to Amnesty International the summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and mock trials continue. Yet the regime is sufficiently confident that it rehabilitated three high officials who were purged from party posts for sympathy with demonstrators two years ago. Hu Qili will be deputy minister of machine building and electronics, Rui Xingwen deputy minister of the State Planning Commission and Yan Mingfu deputy minister of civil affairs. Not a word about their mentor, Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party leader promoting change, who remains under virtual house arrest.

Freedom will break out again. The impulse is widely shared. All the more reason for the Untied States to maintain as wide a contact with China as it can. In the long view -- and Chinese invariably take a long view -- the Tiananmen Square crackdown was temporary. It, too, will pass.

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