According to Zhao, there were at least three factors that contributed to the student protests. First, during the late 1980s, students and Beijing residents started to evaluate the state by its economic and moral performance. However, the top state elites still maintained their communist ideology. This contrast of understanding of state legitimation led to the conflict between the regime and general public (loc.271). Another key factor is that there were highly concentrated campuses being set up in the same district. This made for a perfect environment in which students from 67 universities could build close-knit networks and act collectively. This environment also facilitated interuniversity competition for activism. Finally, the effectiveness of state control on students was declining at the time. Given the above factors, when the Chinese economy was in a crisis and living standards of intellectuals worsened and students were having difficulty finding ideal jobs after school, crisis discourse became easy to spread on campus and mobilize the aggrieved population (loc.308-316).
Who were the primary organizers of the protests? How well organized were they?
On April 17 1989, 600 young teachers and students from the University of Political Science and Law organized the first protests. Then students in Beijing University followed. This demonstration was initially without an actual plan, and the demands of the protests emerged on the half way through the demonstration. Two days later, the student movement organization emerged. Zhao points out that even though there were several organizations and self-appointed student ladders mobilizing the protests, no one could control the direction of the movement. On the other hand, although the organized job structure was very random and messy, student leaders effectively used rumors to mobilized more students and successfully brought the movement to the next, more militant stage (loc.1806).
How would you apply Lichbach’s argument about repression and protest to the Tiananmen case? How did the regime’s approach to repression evolve over time? Was repression initially consistent?
Lichbach provides a Ration Actor model to explain how opposition groups (the tactics of contenders) and regimes (repressive tactics of government) interact. He argues that the regime is the key factor that influences opposition activity because it alters the costs of an opponent’s tactics (289). He also argues that whether an increase in the regime’s repression increases or decreases the opposition group’s total dissident activities depends upon the government’s accommodative policy to the group (293). In the Tiananmen case, the regimes’ indefinite concession and threat policies caused a different reaction from students. The students’ reaction was also changing rapidly and could remain consistent. After Hu Yaobang’s funeral, the regime was initially determined to take firm measures to calm the student turmoil as soon as possible.
However, the official newspaper People’s Daily’s editorial announced this threat of repression, triggering a large-scale demonstration. New protests caused the regime to shrink back. Its approach toward repression was also moderated by Zhao Ziyang. Top state elites stepped back and waited to see if Zhao’s concession could bring about an end to the movement (loc.2763). According to Lichbach’s RA model, opponents hence altered their tactics— regime concessions encouraged students to drive toward the next radical move as they underestimated the costs (loc.2904). After the protests upgraded to hunger strikes, the regime went back to their original plan of repression.
What factors contributed to the regime’s ultimate decision to crack down?
There is no doubt that the hunger strike was the turning point of the student protests, and the key factor which ultimately led regime’s military repression. Hunger strikes fundamentally challenged the regime’s ideology and morality. Moreover, it turned the movement into a zero-sum game (loc. 2822). At the time, Zhao Ziyang was the only top leader who still held the illusion that concessions could convince the students to stop hunger striking and withdraw from Tiananmen Square. Although until May 15, the Chinese government still tried to negotiate with the students, even the student leaders who initiated the hunger strike could not stop it. Also, among the expansion of the scale of the movement, those student leaders already lost control of the movement and the movement radicalized itself (loc.2341-2381)— which resulted in a deadlock between students and the regime.
The student occupation of Tiananmen Square caused many activities surrounding the Gorbachev trip to be canceled or rescheduled. That helped convince most of the top state elites to decide that the regime should take action. Those top state elites, include military leaders, who experienced the revolution before 1949 believed that military repression was the only way to solve this crisis (loc.2905).