June 13, 2019

On June 3rd, MERICS and the Federal Agency of Civic Education (bpb) jointly organized a panel discussion on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Leading experts from Germany and the US discussed the legacy of June 4th and its consequences for China’s domestic development and civic engagement. The debate was moderated by Kristin Shi-KupferDirector of the Research Area on Public Policy and Society at MERICS.

Perry Link, Emeritus professor for East Asian Studies at Princeton University co-editor of “The Tiananmen Papers,” lived in Beijing at the time of the protests. For Link, the crackdown on protesters on June 4th marks a turning point in Chinese history: “The Communist leaders, seeing that their socialist ideology was now useless, looked elsewhere to bolster their regime and found that unbridled money-making, a narrow kind of nationalism, and meticulous repression of wayward thought were the answers. This toxic mixture has brought the nation to the brink of an abyss.”  

Felix Lee, longtime China correspondent for the German newspapers taz and Zeit-Online, says: “Prosperity in exchange for political freedom – this formula works worse and worse 30 years after Tiananmen. China could soon be facing a watershed again.” 

Professor Sandra Heep, an expert on China’s economy at Bremen University of Applied Sciences, argues that “China achieved immense economic success in the last thirty years. However, economic risks are rising with today’s political repression.” The panelists agreed that social movements are unlikely in China’s near future. “But there is always a possibility that something unpredictable happens,” says  Daniel Leese, Professor of Modern Chinese History and Politics at the University of Freiburg.

You can listen to an edited version of the debate in our latest MERICS Experts Podcast.