The 30th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests tomorrow provides a moment of introspection for China and its interlocutors. To many foreigners, the crackdown on student and other protesters in 1989 appeared to demonstrate the Chinese state's inability to handle dissent as a normal part of the evolution of society. To Beijing, however, the demonstrations were a counter-revolutionary plot designed to subvert the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and thus betray the achievements of the 1949 revolution. Thirty years later, these opposed views must be judged against how China has fared, to give Tiananmen its proper place in the continuum of Chinese history.
China has come very far economically since the crackdown. Even as it took a conservative turn politically in the aftermath of the incident, prizing stability above all else, it implemented economic reforms that turned it into an economic powerhouse. While the Tiananmen crackdown is a blot on China's 40 years of reform and opening up, the country has gone on to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and improved the lives of its people hugely. Chinese today enjoy education, housing, healthcare, public transport, and the opportunity to move up the socio-economic ladder. These material advancements have earned the government the people's support. To think otherwise would be to underestimate China's resilience.