Turkey and China: Taksim, Tiananmen and the circling squares

Student protesters faced police officers in Tiananmen Square in April 1989 while grieving for Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader and liberal whose death set off the protests

Student protesters faced police officers in Tiananmen Square in April 1989 while grieving for Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader and liberal whose death set off the protests

New Hampshire’s state motto advises the people to “Live Free or Die” (生活或死亡). So this is a good place to read and ponder the news on Istanbul’s ongoing conflict in Taksim Square.

At the same time, we can see the BBC news reports on official Chinese protests claiming US “prejudice” in an oddly timed back-and-forth exchange about a State Department release in 2012, calling for accountability and transparency about its own square, Tiananmen (1989).

Tiananmen, which is denied by China, has uncounted deaths, and is a subject not to be publicly discussed to this day. That’s Chinese government policy.

Social media is stepping up as an important actor in the Istanbul conflict and distributing tactical, crowd-sourced information for the thousands of protesters and global supporters. Official Turkish media (TV) is reportedly ignoring the violence.

Predictably, this has fed a broadening of the protest objectives (which started with public outrage at a civic plan to convert a cherished city park into a large development/tourist attraction). This has led to a broad-based call for a relaxing of a recent surge in authoritarian policies by Turkey’s national government under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and its increasingly strict Islamist tendencies.

Citizens can see a way to vent unmediated opinions in a way that governments (that seem stuck in top-down command modes of behaviours) are unable to deal with or control without deploying tear gas, water hoses or even deadly force.

In the case of Turkey today, we are seeing an evolutionary stage in a process that was almost unheard of before Tunisia and Egypt exploded in riots and revolution in January 2011 and that quickly spread to Libya and Yemen. The Arab Spring is not over, it was beginning of a new genre of citizen protest as was the Boston Tea Party protest that happened here in 1773 New England and helped spark the American Revolution and finished English imperial rule in its erstwhile 13 colonies.
In the shadow of the Arab Spring and social networking’s decisive role empowering citizen participation in national policy, an up-to-the-minute analysis of the Taksim Square event in terms of the explosion of bottom-up activism is called for. A particularly good one less than 48 hours old is found at the Monkey Cage by New York University Ph.D. students Pablo Barbera and Megan Metzger.

A Breakout Role for Twitter? Extensive Use of Social Media in the Absence of Traditional Media by Turks in Turkish in Taksim Square Protests

Tweets with “#” (hashmarks) #direngeziparkı, #occupygezi, #geziparki, and #BugünTelevizyonlarıKapat (discussions and updates for a national boycott of Turkish TV and its blind eye on protest news) are (this analysis shows) being sent in Turkish language.

In terms of the Arab Spring events of 2012, where most tweets were from international posters and often in English or other non-Arabic languages, this localised networking storm is a huge and important development in citizen organising.

As far as the Chinese annoyance at the US call for full accountability for repression and the cover-up around Tiananmen Square, the CCP is rightly concerned for its own primacy. The US’s odd choice of timing could well be a strategic provocation of the ruling party’s highly defensive policies towards online citizen critique and widespread use of social networking that works against the party line by Chinese people.

After all, who holds a 24-year reunion or anniversary? In educated/academic Western society elites, remembrances are normally held in five-year cycles, such as those being held at universities and colleges throughout the US, such as where I was invited to join a Harvard graduate friend for his particular class reunion. As I write, many Chinese graduates and families were seen taking photos and sending tweets on their iPhones.

Are we to assume State Department personnel (many Ivy League graduates), don’t know this? In my book, this is a significant, if subtle factor in the release of the US statement.

On Friday, the US state department said the 24th anniversary of the “violent suppression of demonstrations in Tiananmen Square” prompted it to remember this “tragic loss of innocent lives.”
“We renew our call for the Chinese government to end harassment of those who participated in the protests and fully account for those killed, detained or missing,” the statement added (BBC).

Then, in a dinner conversation Friday in Cambridge, I was speaking to a friend who is intimately involved in business and the academic/art world in China and travels there and even lectures on Chinese history and art. He told me that the diverse younger generations he spoke with there are seething under the control of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), its massive bureaucracies and desperate media suppression cadres.

Economically, chaos is threatening the stability of the world’s most populous nation. For a deeper analysis of why many assumptions, both western and internal, may lead to another square being added to the global calculus, without critical reform and prompt modernization, I suggest reading Timothy Beardson’s “Stumbling Giant: the threats to China’s future.” In this, he explores China’s vast internal difficulties handicapping the next step in development, perhaps fatally.

The scale and number of these seem to indicate that China faces almost insurmountable challenges to further peaceful economic and civil progress. It shows how these stresses work with the nation’s fraught psyche to produce a problematic and unproductive belligerence, perhaps strategically manipulating the population’s attention away from the local sector, to support the ruling party.

Are we at a tipping point for many nation-states? Where a miscalculation by a regime can ignite instantaneous citizen protest and upwelling of grievances and an unwelcome global spotlight? It may be so. While this can lead to violence and chaos, ultimately, we may look back upon this era as a time of great global awakening and empowerment of individual freedom and social integrity.

Russ Imrie, Wilmot, New Hampshire
SupTweet (Russ Imrie) is a Native American IT migration contractor living in the Washington DC suburbs. A Webmaster for almost three decades with day jobs including high-tech aerospace manufacturing in Silicon Valley and sustainable energy. Twitter @tweedyBard.

Categories: Human Rights & Social Issues

Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 replies


  1. Chinese evade censors, as HK journalists stopped at Tiananmen | China Daily Mail
  2. My posts at China Daily Mail | Suptweet's Blog
  3. China’s 21 “Most Wanted” following Tiananmen Square Massacre | China Daily Mail
  4. China’s CCP tightens grip on power after Egyptian crisis | China Daily Mail

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: