This month, the world has witnessed the enthusiastic support of the people from all walks of life for the striking students of China. The general public also is disenchanted and angry about the government's handling of the requests of the students and hunger-strikers for elimination of official corruption, for freedom of the press and assembly, and for democratic reforms.
Many people have wished that the huge scale and scope of the demonstrations would bring the regime of Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng to its senses, and that it would keep its promise to address the concerns of the students and to move in the direction of democracy by engaging in political reforms. Harsh reality has shattered the last bit of hope of the people about the nature and the intention of those in power.
The Li Peng government has responded to the people's movement with the incredible pomposity and contempt. The whole world has marveled at the discipline and the organization of the students and the peaceful nature of this mass movement, but the Communist leadership dismissed it as a "social disturbance instigated by a tiny minority of people with ulterior motives" and flatly refused to address the immediate concerns of the students.
When they justifiably refused to accept this verdict, the government showed disdainful apathy to the thousands of hunger-strikers who were willing to die for the cause of democracy. Outraged by this attitude and alarmed by the imminent danger of sacrifice of the young students, the general populace joined the demonstration and petitioned the government to heed the students' demands. The government once again defied the will of the people by declaring martial law and threatening to "use all necessary means to forcefully stop violators," thus the leadership has squarely positioned itself at the opposite side of the people.
The hard-liners of the government have completely lost touch with the Chinese people and have been pitifully unable to comprehend the meaning of the people's movement. In the 40 years of the People's Republic, including the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution, Beijing has never been under martial law. The imposition of martial law on nonviolent demonstrators only reveals the desperation of a totalitarian regime that has lost its credibility with the people. By a blanket news blackout order, the regime foolishly hopes that it can keep the truth from reaching the people of the world. A government that dreads exposure of its own actions is a paper tiger indeed.
Against the opposition of such a large majority of people and even many of China's top leaders, it is doubtful that Li's government will survive for very long. Unlike most communist leaders who had participated in the Long March, in the war against Japan or in the the student movements against earlier regimes, Li does not have any political assets to draw on other than the support of Deng. But Deng himself has lost credibility with the people.
To satisfy the demands of the students and the people, China needs fundamental economic as well as political reforms. Widespread official corruption, the root of popular discontent, is a product bred by a half-reformed, hybrid economic system that lies between the old, Stalin-type command economy and a market economy. Under this "two-track" system, resources are allocated through both the bureaucratic channels of the government and the market. The system provides opportunities to government officials to trade for a profit by reselling in the free market resources obtained from bureaucratic channels. To cure these economic ills, the country must resolutely move forward to a market economy. The economic reforms of China, however, have halted because the leadership is reluctant to engage in the most fundamental of the reforms--privatization of state ownership, which forms the foundation of a market economy.
It is unlikely that China's economic, social and political problems will be resolved if the government continues to rule in secrecy and totalitarianism. The people demand participation in political processes, yet the Communist Party has failed to deliver on its promise of political reforms toward democracy. The country is behind Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union in allowing more freedom of the press and the freedom of dissenting opinions. Absolute power continues to concentrate in the hands of one man, Deng Xiaoping.
Realistically, there does not exist in China an organized political force to replace the leadership of the Communist Party. Nor have the students advocated for its overthrow. For now at least, a multi-party democratic system seems a very remote possibility. Many people have pinned their last hope for a peaceful solution on Zhao Ziyang, who has been a staunch liberal reformer and has been sympathetic to the students. He is the only person in the top leadership who could conceivably work with the students to resolve the crisis and bring about the fundamental reforms that the Chinese people have demanded. If Li Peng consolidates his power, prolonged social chaos, which the country cannot afford, seems inevitable.