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Deng’s Children: Chinese ‘Youth’ and the 1989 Movement

  • Fabio Lanza
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)

Abstract

In 2011, while writing on the category of ‘youth’ in twentieth-century China, I found a measure of inspiration in media representations of the Arab Spring.1 Western media presented the ousting of Mubarak and similar dictators as the work of technologically inclined young kids (they tweet! they are on Facebook!) rather than as the result of a complicated mixture of Islamist organizations, economic inequality, and political dispossession. Understood in such terms these events appeared much less threatening to Western ears. After all, if these were democratic, secular and West-friendly young people -analysts and editorialists seemed to imply — then they could and should be supported without ambiguity. ‘Americans need feel no ambiguity’ was precisely what the New York Times editorial board had told its readers on 6 May 1989 apropos of the student demonstrations that had shaken Beijing since mid-April. These young students, ‘China’s future’ — the editorial argued — were protesting for things that were as vaguely defined as they were immediately understandable to US readers: economic prosperity and democratic reforms.2 Unlike their elders, these young people were ‘like us’.

Keywords

York Time Chinese Communist Party Cultural Revolution Newspaper Advertisement Student Movement 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    F. Lanza (2012) ‘Springtime and Morning Suns: “Youth” as a Political Category in Twentieth-Century China’, Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 5 (1), 31–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    For a history of modern student movements in China see J. Wasserstrom (1991) Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China: The View from Shanghai (Stanford: Stanford University Press).Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    R.I. Jobs (2007) Riding the New Wave: Youth and the Rejuvenation of Trance after the Second World War (Stanford: Stanford University Press), p. 46.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    For an analysis ol political and intellectual change in the first decade ol the Deng era, see M. Goldman (1994) Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China: Political Reform in the Deng Xiaoping Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    C. Calhoun (1994) Neither Gods Nor Emperors: Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China (Berkeley: University ol California Press), p. 9.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Lee Feigon (1990) China Rising: The Meaning of Tiananmen (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee), p. 110.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Xu Luo (2002) Searching for Life’s Meaning: Changes and Tensions in the Worldviews of Chinese Youth in the 1980s (Ann Arbor: The University ol Michigan Press), p. 127.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    The Gate of Heavenly Peace (1995), Dir. Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    K. Hartford (1992) ‘Summer 1988-Spring 1989 The Ferment Before the “Turmoil”’ in S. Odgen et al. (eds) China’s Search for Democracy: The Student and the Mass Movement of 1989 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe), p. 21.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    On the 1986 protests see J. Kwong (1998) ‘The 1986 Student Demonstrations in China: A Democratic Movement?’ Asian Survey, 28 (9), pp. 970–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 23.
    R. Bernstein, ‘To Be Young and in China: A Colloquy’, New York Times, 7 October 1989. A similar equally depoliticizing explanation has been provided for May 1968. See R. Wolin (2010) The Wind from the East. Trench Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  12. For a much more complex analysis of the relationship between sexual liberation and politics, see D. Herzog (2007) Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
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  15. 34.
    Advertisement by Hong Kong Women, 24 May in The Chinese Democracy Information Center (ed.) (1990) Newspaper Advertisements on the Democratic Movements of China ‘89 (Hong Kong: Federation of Hong Kong Citizens Supporting the Democratic Movement), p. 114.Google Scholar
  16. 48.
    J. W. Esherick and J. N. Wasserstrom (1994) ‘Acting Out Democracy: Political Theater in Modern China’ in J. Wasserstrom and E. J. Perry (eds) Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China, 2nd edn (Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press), p. 36.Google Scholar
  17. 65.
    Advertisement by Lu Weicheng (22 May 1989) in Newspaper Advertisements on the Democratic Movements of China ‘89, p. 33. Also p. 68.Google Scholar
  18. 71.
    Ad by Lu Weicheng (22 May 1989), Newspaper Advertisements on the Democratic Movements of China ‘89, p. 33; ‘History Will Remember This Day’, collective report of People’s Daily reporters (17 May 1989) in Han Minzhu (ed.) Cries for Democracy, p. 229.Google Scholar
  19. 72.
    ‘Thank You Letter’ by the entire student body ol Beijing Normal University (28 May 1989) in Zhongguo minyun yuanziliao jingxuan II, p. 66. ‘Save the Children’ is a reference to the most famous short story in twentieth-century Chinese literature, Lu Xun’s ‘A Madman’s Diary’ (1918).Google Scholar
  20. 73.
    Lu Ping (ed.) (1990) A Moment of Truth: Workers’ Participation in China’s 1989 Democracy Movement and the Emergence of Independent Unions (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Trade Union Education Centre), p. 5.Google Scholar
  21. 97.
    Alison Landsberg provides a very interesting insight into the issue ol our relationship with the past by introducing the idea ol ‘prosthetic memory’. This new form ol public cultural memory, she argues, ‘emerges at the interlace between a person and a historical narrative about the past, at an experiential site such as a movie theatre or a museum’. The Hong Kong commemoration ol 4 June could be constituted as such a site. Through these experiences, Landsberg writes, ‘the person does not simply apprehend a historical narrative but takes on a more personal, deeply felt memory ol a past event through which he or she did not live. The resulting prosthetic memory has the ability to shape that person’s subjectivity and politics’. A. Landsberg (2004) Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture (New York: Columbia University Press), p. 2.Google Scholar

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© Fabio Lanza 2015

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  • Fabio Lanza

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