Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It was 20-years ago today

The Chinese authorities have started arresting people they think might try to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and massacre. So it's worth noting that in my third year of teaching comparative politics, big events were set in motion just as we were finishing the course. And big events kept happening until the end of the school year.

I spent about 400 hours that summer putting together a HyperCard program about the people and events of April, May, and June 1989. It was published by the HyperMedia Clearning House at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Unfortunately, there's no way to see the material anymore: those little plastic-coated floppy disks are obsolete and I doubt there's a computer outside a museum that can run HyperCard anymore. Besides, the material hasn't been updated since 1991.

All that is an introduction to Jeremiah Jenne's entry on his blog, Jottings from the Granite Studio. (Jenne's an American historian teaching and researching in China.) His note is about the death that sparked the initial demonstrations in China 20 years ago.

The Historical Record for April 15, 2009: The Death of Hu Yaobang

"Today marks 20 years since the death of Hu Yaobang, former General Secretary of the CCP and one of Deng Xiaoping’s key allies in inaugurating the Reform and Opening Era... He was persecuted and purged during the Cultural Revolution only to be rehabilitated and named as Deng’s hand-picked choice to bump Mao’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, off the political stage...

"Hu was stripped of his position as General Secretary in January, 1987, replaced on an interim basis by Zhao Ziyang. In hindsight, and from the perspective of Deng Xiaoping, this was a bit like deciding that Britney was too medicated to drive, and asking Brit’s good friend Lindsay Lohan to take the keys and make sure everyone gets home safe. But I digress…

"The outpouring of public sympathy for Hu caught the CCP leadership a little off guard...

"On April 22, the official day of mourning for Hu Yaobang, a group of students slipped past the cordons and took up positions inside Tiananmen Square. They knelt before the Great Hall of the People, beseeching the leadership to come out and hear their concerns. By the end of the month, others had joined them, and student-led strikes and demonstrations erupted at campuses throughout the country...

"I suspect, however, that within the next few years as key figures who were either involved with the suppression of the demonstrations, or rose to power in the aftermath, take their journey to meet Marx, there may well be a new verdict on the incident. But I don’t think it will happen soon, and we’re more likely to see Mrs. Hu Jintao doing body shots at the Playboy Mansion with Russell Crowe and the guys from Three Six Mafia than any softening of the Party’s grip on historical memory in this troublesome year of anniversaries..."

See: The Tiananmen Incident: A Story in Pictures at The Epoch Times

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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