Too early to hail China Model as a success

Too early to hail China Model as a success
Tiananmen Square then and now: (Left) In June 1989, soldiers with automatic rifles stood on guard every 10m. (Right) A vast change has happened 25 years later, with visitors walking freely in the same spot.

When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ordered troops to crush the student demonstration at Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, many thought that a regime that opened fire on its own people would not survive for long.

Seasoned political scientist Yan Jiaqi, well-known writer Liu Binyan and student leader Wang Dan all shared this view, which gained ground with the subsequent fall of the former Soviet-bloc countries.

I argued then that China would not follow in Eastern Europe's footsteps. This was because the reform and open-door policy introduced by the CCP since 1978 had eased to a very great extent the pressures that could lead to a regime collapse.

On the economic front, crippling shortages had turned to abundance in a matter of years. In 1981, for instance, all daily necessities, from food to cloth to soap and oil, were rationed, and each family had to get a booklet for different kinds of coupons.

But by 1985, production of consumer goods was high enough that rationing was no longer necessary. On the political front, the death of paramount leader Mao Zedong in 1976 marked the end of an era of incessant political purges. The formal repudiation of the Cultural Revolution in 1978 put an end to this political pressure.

In short, the life of an average Chinese national in 1986 was much better than what it was in 1976, or for that matter, better than any time since 1949, when the CCP took power.

The combined effects of these political, economic and social changes in the preceding years helped the CCP greatly in surviving the Tiananmen crisis.

Another reason for the CCP's survival can perhaps be termed "mass Stockholm syndrome". The syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. People suffering from this syndrome may even mistake a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.

Thus, instead of demanding justice when state oppression was relaxed, many people who were previously victimised by the CCP thanked the party for "giving them a new lease on life".

China and the CCP did not merely survive the Tiananmen crisis, of course. The party went on to engineer a spectacular growth period for China that defied all economic and political predictions.

Many now call this the "China Model", a strange mix of economic liberalism and political authoritarianism.

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