China Beat Archive



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June 21, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright June 21, 2009. Used by permission.


With so many references to Tiananmen showing up in the news, we wanted to take a quick break from our time away to recommend a couple of the best uses of 1989 analogies (if we weren’t on hiatus, we’d also look at some of the worst, and there have been some pretty bad ones). One powerful rumination on the relevance of China’s 1989 for thinking about Iran’s 2009 is by Andrew Leonard of the “How the World Works” blog at

He begins as follows:

“In the spring of 1989, the fax machine was China’s Twitter — the miracle technology connecting Chinese democracy activists with each other and the outside world. In Berkeley, Calif., the apartment of one Chinese expat student who owned a fax became a 24/7 information clearinghouse. Documents produced by students camping out on the square would emerge magically from the machine in all their subversive glory”…

Make the jump to read all of his “Tiananmen’s Bloody Lessons for Tehran,” which went up on Friday and has provoked some interesting comments.

Also noteworthy, from early in the Iran crisis, was a post by Sam Crane at his “Useless Tree” site called “Tehran and Tiananmen.”

Posted on June 16, it begins:

“Watching the extraordinary political events unfold in Iran, I am reminded of the massive protests that swept across China twenty years ago. Here are a couple of comparative ideas:

1) Protests of this sort start out spontaneously, in response to some unexpected political event (election fraud in Iran, Hu Yaobang’s death in China). But they create a self-reinforcing momentum, driven by the regime’s response to popular mobilization. In China, an editorial, reportedly written under the supervision of Deng Xiaoping, was published on April 26th that harshly (in PRC political terms) criticized the student demonstrators. This sparked the massive march of April 27th, which propelled the movement forward.