By: Ann Kerns
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: October 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: November 2010
Evidence of human settlement in China dates from 5,000 B.C. China, an ancient and much revered culture, “is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world.” The country was ruled by emperors whose primary base was centered in Beijing until the early part of the twentieth century when the Kuomintang (National Party, or KMT) put an end to the monarchy in 1912. In 1921 the Chinese Communist Party CCP formed, declaring that “social and economic classes are abolished and all people are regarded as equals.” These two political factions joined forces during WWII, but at its end they soon were at odds with one another again. In 1949, on the wake of political unrest, the CCP defeated the KMT, who fled to Taiwan. Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The single party system of Communism had begun.
Zhou Enlai was the first premier of the People’s Republic of China. Mao, who would soon begin the first of many reform campaigns, “believed that Communism could defeat the foreign interference and internal corruption that had plagued China.” Many of his initial reforms met with criticism or disaster and in the mid-1960s his Cultural Revolution had begun, a revolution that “had all but destroyed the Communist Party.” In an effort to assert control over the Party and country, thousands perished as did many of China’s valuable cultural artifacts. Within two years of Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping became the leader of the CCP, however “Most Chinese people remained committed to Socialism and Communism. But they wondered when Deng’s reforms would start to show real, long-lasting effects.”
Change throughout the 1980s was slow and there was an “air of discontent” on campuses as “students began to object to Communist control tactics.” They, like everyone else were concerned about their freedom and their future and “wanted more control of their own lives.” Upon the death of Hu Yaobang, youth sympathizer and general secretary of the CCP, the students of Beijing mobilized to pay their respects and present a list of demands to the government. It was April, 1989 and student protests began in earnest. Mikail Gorbechev was coming to China on an official government visit. What would happen if he saw a dissident movement in Tiananmen Square? Would this further damage relations with the country? How would they stop the student uprising? Could they?
The condensation of political and cultural Chinese history was quite well done, a task that is quite daunting. The entire effect of this overview funnels directly into the protests at Tiananmen leaving the reader with a good idea of why this conflict erupted and an understanding of the stance both sides took on the matter. There has been much debate on the casualties resulting from the conflict, but this book treads lightly on the matter citing Chinese figures mentioned on 6/4. In the back matter, the source notes thoroughly document the material, a fact that students and teachers will appreciate if reports are to be undertaken. Numerous photographs and sidebar materials add a great deal to the text. For example, one two-page sidebar focuses on the life of Mao Zedong with a brief biographical sketch. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a timeline, biographical sketches of important Tiananmen student protesters, and additional recommended book and website resources.
Quill says: This is an impressive overview of the infamous civil rights protests at Tiananmen Square.