This month, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the climax of the Tiananmen student protests, Prospect features three very different articles on their legacy and the nature of modern China. In our first piece, author Diane Wei Liang describes how she was herself a student protester in 1989—but how her subsequent experiences of returning to Beijing have convinced her that, while Tiananmen should not be forgotten, “we should also recognise that expecting China to collectively atone for the sins of Tiananmen Square is neither realistic, desirable, nor necessary.”
In our second piece, Ian Buruma—who ten years after the Tiananmen massacre wrote a book, Bad Elements, about the fate of the protesters—revisits them once more, and argues that China’s rulers today have more to fear from the economic crisis than they do from democratic dissidents. Was the democracy movement in vain, he asks; “was I wrong to detected a whiff of decay in the authoritarian one-party state when I traveled in the People’s Republic of China ten years ago?”
Finally, Parag Khanna, author of The Second World, takes us with him on a journey across the new terrain in which modern China is being forged: its western frontier, and the remote, rebellious provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. On a 3,000-mile trek through some of China’s least-visited areas, Khanna discovers a rebellious region rich with natural resources that Beijing is determined to control; and a growing Chinese dominance in central Asia that is set to have massive strategic importance as the 21st century unfolds.