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Chinese democracy movement

The Chinese democracy movement was and is a loosely organized movement in the People's Republic of China against the Communist Party of China. The movement began during Beijing Spring in 1978 and was important in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. In the 1990s, the movement underwent a sharp decline both within China and overseas, and is currently fragmented and not considered by most analysts to be a serious threat to power to the government.

The origin of the movement can be seen with the brief liberalization known as Beijing Spring which occurred after the Cultural Revolution. The founding document of the movement can be considered to be the Manifesto, the Fifth Modernization authored by Wei Jingsheng, who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for authoring the document. In the document, Wei argued that the holding of power by the laboring masses was essential for modernization, that the Communist Party was controlled by reactionaries, and that the people must struggle to overthrow the reactionaries via a long and possibly bloody fight.

Throughout the 1980s, these ideas increased in popularity among college educated Chinese. In response to the growing corruption, the economic dislocation, and the sense that reforms in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were leaving China behind, the Tiananmen Square protests erupted in 1989. These protests were put down by government troops on June 4, 1989. In response, a number of pro-democracy organizations were formed by overseas Chinese students, and there was considerable Western sympathy for the movement.

In the 1990s, the Democracy movement underwent a sharp decline, both within China. Part of this decline was due to repressive measures taken by the Chinese government against the movement, but there were a number of other reasons. The difficulties that the Soviet Union had in converting to democracy and capitalism convinced many that slow gradual reform was a wise policy. In addition, there began to be a generation gap among students as persons born after the Cultural Revolution began entering college campuses. These students were far less distrustful of the Communist Party and tended to be more nationalistic. Internecine disputes within the movement over such issues as most-favored nation status for China crippled the movement, as did the perception by many within China that overseas dissidents such as Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng were simply out of touch with the growing economic prosperity and decreasing political control within China.

With regard to political dissent engendered by the movement, the government has taken a three pronged approach. First, dissidents who are widely known in the West such as Wei Jingsheng, Fang Lizhi, and Wang Dan are deported. Although Chinese criminal law does not contain any provisions for exiling citizens, these deportations are conducted by giving the dissident a severe jail sentence and the granting of medical parole. Second, the less well-known leaders of a dissident movement are identified and given severe jail sentences. Generally, the government targets a relative small number of organizers which are crucial in coordinating a movement and are charged with endangering state security or revealing official secrets. Thirdly, the government attempts to address the grievances of possible supporters of the movement. This is intended to isolate the leadership of the movement, and prevent disconnected protests which cannot threaten the Communist hold on power from combining into a general organized protest that can.

Ideologically, the government's first reaction to the democracy movement was a rather unconvincing effort to focus on the personal behavior of individual dissidents and argue that they were tools of foreign powers. In the mid-1990s, the government began using more effective arguments which were influenced by Chinese Neo-Conservatism and Western authors such as Edmund Burke. The main argument was that China's main priority was economic growth, and economic growth required political stability. The Democracy movement was flawed because it promoted radicalism and revolution which put the gains that China had made into jeopardy. In contrast to Wei's argument that democracy was essential to economic growth, the government argued that economic growth must come before political liberalization.

While the Democracy movement attracts considerable western sympathy, most Chinese do not consider it a viable alternative to the current government, and most protest activity now is expressed in single-issue demonstrations, which are tolerated to a degree by the government, and in religious outlets such as Falun Gong. Some of the ideas of the movement have been incorporated in the Chinese liberal faction who tend to agree with neoconservatives that stability is important, but argue that political liberalization is essential to maintain stability. In contrast to Democracy movement activists, most members of the liberal faction do not overtly call for the overthrow of the Communist Party nor do they deny the possibility of reform from within the Party. As a result, members of the liberal faction are generally enjoying more official tolerance than persons who identify themselves as members of the democracy movement.

See also: Politics of the People's Republic of China

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