Mainland Chinese call it liusi, a quiet way of acknowledging the events that occurred in Beijing on June 4, 1989. liusi literally translates as "six four," in reference to the fourth day of the sixth month of the year. In the West, we call it the Tiananmen Square Massacre--in which "massacre" denotes the savage crushing of innocent human life, in this case, by tanks, bullets and an authoritarian fist. This semantic difference reflects the difference in cultures opposed to one another linguistically and otherwise.
Back then, China was easily painted in black and white. The student movement paralleled democracy and freedom. Tanks and bloodshed symbolized authoritarianism and dictatorship. Today's China is starkly different, and with each passing liusi, China offers new meanings for its observers.
The first of these observations: This year's anniversary passed over its twelfth year with little fanfare in western media and even scarcer ceremony under the University of Calgary's Goddess of Democracy statue. A billboard appeared downtown asking Calgarians to remember the massacre, but representatives from the Chinese consulate in Calgary appeared to shrug off accusations despite the board's spitting-distance proximity to their office.
Instead, news headlines now refer to China's new economic wealth, and its potential capacity to outgrow the US economy in a matter of 50 years. When Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s, a number of reforms followed of which economic liberalization was an implicit goal. That goal, now more than ever, guides the coverage of China. Human rights abuses still spark controversy, yet the Chinese government appears firm in its actions. Twelve years later, Tiananmen Square no longer raises the ire it once did--not from media, nor from politicians.
A second observation: Everybody now understands that China discarded economic communism 25 years ago, when Mao Zedong's 27-year reign over the People's Republic of China ended with his death. Today, China is economically capitalist, politically authoritarian and nominally socialist. With economic freedom will come political freedom and civil rights say the politicians. Instead, the Chinese government maintains its stranglehold over the political reigns of its country and disperses police authority as it pleases. As it stands, the structure of the Chinese Communist Party is intimately tied with all functions of the state and is accountable to no one. In other words, a national election as we know it in Canada will never occur in China. Liberalization of another kind is a possibility, but we in the West must stop looking for ourselves or our institutions in China.
A final observation: China's bid for the Olympic games seems impervious to attacks from human rights groups worldwide. The bid presses on, and the fact that people are allowing the possibility that Beijing may win means little things like human rights abuses won't stop the economic miracle that is China. China is the world's new economic darling, an edge that none of the other four cities possesses.
The twelfth anniversary has come and gone and in future years there will be little to slow the Chinese economy except some foul screw up by the Chinese government. Although the government is smarter for its mistakes, few are left to spread the dollars from the emerging economic powerhouse over the graves of those who died in Tiananmen Square.