Kevin Carrico: Remembering Tiananmen Square

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the violent military suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Cornell anthropology grad student Kevin Carrico (kjc83 [at] has shared with us a commentary in recognition of this day. From American Anthropological Association blog:

With the dramatic takeoff of China’s economy in recent years, these two sets of numbers are not unrelated. The latter figures are to erase the looming specter of the former: 6/4. China since Tiananmen has become a nation of numbers over people.

An increasingly common rationalization of state violence in June of 1989 incorporates these events into a narrative of national development, asserting that “drastic steps” were necessary to protect “national ” and maintain momentum for economic growth. Dehumanizing protesters, it is alleged that their continued presence on the streets of Beijing would have brought chaos to the nation and stalled economic development, thus calling for the adaptation of “resolute measures”; by stepping in and “resolving” the issue, the government was not acting in its own interests, but rather working for the interests of the broader populace, not unlike an exterminator ridding a home’s foundation of termites.

The people’s purported interests, according to official discourse in the reform era, are limited solely to economic growth, to be followed by more economic growth. The transcendent position of Maoism, once capable of justifying anything, is now occupied by GDP-ism, similarly capable of justifying anything. Appropriating the concept of human rights for its own suppression, official publications since the 1990s cite the rights to “stability” and economic development as the fundamental rights of citizens, purportedly in accordance with China’s national conditions and traditions. Discussions of further rights are recast as a Western conspiracy designed to sow chaos and slow China’s rise. The hyper-politicized ideal citizen of the Maoist era, devoid of “bourgeois” economic considerations, now becomes the economically-driven ideal citizen of the present, units of GDP growth, devoid of any contaminating “bourgeois liberal” political considerations.

Behind these official abstractions, however, the much-heralded nation is inevitably composed of people. And no matter how much they may be lost in the fog of economic forecasts or self-congratulatory official pronouncements, these people continue to live, day by day, with their own personal experiences and emotions.

June 4, 2009 11:50 PM
Posted By: