Sometimes, a simple gesture breaks through the jaded shell of our cynical world and touches a nerve. So it was, I think, with the lone Chinese protester who bravely faced down a column of tanks in Tienanmen Square, 23 years ago.
Unfortunately, not every such gesture produces immediate results. Today is the anniversary of the Chinese government crackdown on the pro-democracy protesters at Tienanmen Square — a crackdown that reportedly resulted in hundreds of Chinese civilian deaths — and the Chinese government commemorated the occasion with a mini-crackdown of sorts. Some activists were arrested, others were placed under increased surveillance, and searches on social media sites that could produce information about the Tienanmen Square protests were restricted.
These actions demonstrate that, whatever China is right now, it is not a free and open society where citizens are able to do and think and speak as they please. To that extent, the Tienanmen Square protests failed. But people remember, and memory can be a powerful force. The recollection of the hopeless courage of those protesters, coupled with the increased interaction with other nations that is the result of China’s increasingly capitalist economy, may yet gradually move China away from totalitarianism and toward democracy and freedom.
As an ancient Chinese saying goes: “The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient.”