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With the thirty-fourth anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre having just passed, it is worth pointing out how that atrocity set the stage for increasing government tyranny across the globe today. The Chinese slaughter of innocents should always be seen as the other side of the coin to the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Iron Curtain.
In Europe, where dedicated freedom fighters spent decades creating a “parallel polis” providing both an escape from and organized resistance to totalitarian regimes, the fall of communism naturally followed the rise of public movements for liberty. In China, where cries for freedom were crushed with tanks and despair for the lost, the one-party communist State’s power grew. When the United States and other Western countries chose to ignore China’s crimes against humanity in a Faustian exchange for Western companies’ lucrative opportunity to replace their own domestic workforces with Chinese slave labor under the communists’ control, the West proved that it was more than willing to sell out both moral conviction and political principle for a quick buck.
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The Chinese communists learned that Western governments are ultimately corrupt “paper tigers” that pretend to stand for human freedom but instead prostitute their ideals for material greed. Aspiring tyrants around the world learned that it is better to crush popular opposition movements with gruesome violence than to permit calls for individual liberty and free speech to grow into outright rebellions powerful enough to redirect the course of history.
Western politicians celebrate the fall of the Soviet Union and occasionally grumble about Chinese human rights abuses, but make no mistake: the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the Tiananmen Square Massacre remain cautionary tales to those enamored of power. In their minds, they hear only Machiavelli’s warning that, if one must choose, it is far “safer to be feared than loved.” The COVID police state that still lingers, the “climate change” police state lying up ahead, the abandonment of free speech protections as collateral damage in an imaginary war against “hate,” the World Health Organization’s push for global government through permanent “emergency” — none of these totalitarian monstrosities would exist today had the West stood courageously for human freedom against State-engineered barbarity.
That it did not and instead spent the next three decades empowering China economically, militarily, and reputationally will always be a stain on Western history. And because Western governments have largely ignored China’s decades of genocide, torture, and enslavement, Western citizens must now live under governments dangerously indifferent to the preservation of human freedom here at home.
Imagine if the United States had acted more resolutely against the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Imagine if the dead bodies of students strewn across an area paradoxically named for “heavenly peace” had become an enduring international symbol of the personal sacrifice humans will make to be free and an enduring indictment against State tyranny. Imagine if the words “Remember Tiananmen Square” had become a common condemnation of all government overreach. What would the world look like today?
Would Chinese aggression against Tibetan separatists have been so effective? Would the Chinese Communist Party still be waging campaigns of persecution, enslavement, and murder against Christians, Confucianists, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and Uyghur Muslims? Would the once vibrant and relatively free territory of Hong Kong now be under the communists’ merciless thumb? Would the people of Taiwan today be under constant threat from Chinese invasion? Would Japan still find it necessary to refortify its island nation, strengthen its military deterrence, and re-engage nuclear China on the open seas?
Would Western companies still be using Chinese slave labor to produce the world’s consumer goods? Would Western citizens still be sending their wealth to a ruthless one-party State that embraces imperialism, communism, and slavery? Would corporate news media today report on the Chinese government’s forced organ transplants, forced abortions, drug- and sex-trafficking, regimen of torture, and recurring genocides? Would Hollywood still be censoring its own movies so as not to offend an oppressive regime that regularly does evil things? Would the federal government have dared to demonize public school parents, persecute Trump-supporters, and imprison J6 election protesters for their beliefs?
Would freedom-minded Chinese be living fruitful lives today instead of suffering summary executions? Would mourning families at least be permitted to collect murdered loved ones for funerary rites, instead of further suffering from the knowledge that the bodies of their sons, daughters, parents, and spouses have been picked over by organ-harvesters and crudely disposed of? Would life and freedom have greater worth to the Chinese people today had the West stood for life and freedom when the world was watching?
If only the U.S. were as committed to real popular uprisings demanding freedom abroad as it is to staged “color revolutions” meant to disrupt and divide geopolitical foes. If respect for individual liberty and unwavering defense of human rights were known as America’s indisputable calling card, then its reputation would command respect beyond its military reach. Perhaps so many nations from the Global South would not be working to fashion alliances with Russia, China, and Iran today had U.S. commitment to its stated principles not been found wanting. What good is a nation’s word, after all, if that word can be compromised with coin?
Western indifference to Tiananmen Square has metastasized into indifference to freedom at home. National governments that have ignored why Chinese protesters lost their lives have essentially joined forces with the Chinese Communist Party in covering up history. They have done so out of a base economic interest in using Chinese slave labor for the manufacturing of finished products that can then be sold back to their own citizens for healthy corporate profits. Yet they have also ignored the Tiananmen Square Massacre because it stands as a testament to the human resolve to be free.
When there is a Cold War adversary such as the Soviet Union to be fought, Western politicians wax poetic about freedom because it provides a rallying cry that will convince common people to sacrifice their blood. Without a foreign enemy to despise, however, freedom becomes an ideal that keeps the power of domestic governments in check. Western governments do not want checks on their power, so they do not want citizens relishing their freedom. They do not want ordinary Westerners reminded that freedom is worth any sacrifice. They do not want to honor those who have been willing to pay that price.
If Western governments spoke of Chinese tyranny, then they would have to acknowledge its similarity to COVID tyranny. If Western governments spoke of Chinese censorship, then they would have to acknowledge their own expansive campaigns to regulate freedom of thought. If Western governments spoke of China’s persecution of religious minorities, then they would have to acknowledge their own anti-Jewish and anti-Christian woke orthodoxies. If Western governments spoke of China’s coercive surveillance State, then they would have to acknowledge their own. If Western governments spoke of heroic Chinese students who desperately sought individual liberty, then they would have to acknowledge that human freedom is worth any cost.
Western governments do not speak vigorously about China’s slaughter thirty-four years ago because to do so undermines their own authority. If government were rightly understood as an inherent threat to popular sovereignty, then the reemergence of totalitarianism in the West today would not survive.
Ultimately, what we have now is a “ruling class” that quietly embraces China’s Tiananmen Square mentality and a growing popular movement invigorated with the same revolutionary spirit that brought down the Berlin Wall. We have a “ruling class” eager to replicate the Chinese system and a Western middle class eager to bring the West’s technocratic prison walls down before they are entirely constructed. Two visions clash for control of history.