The Tiananmen Square protests left a lasting stain on Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP). The Collective Action to have rights such as the freedom of speech and press imposed ultimately failed and lead to further restrictions and a severe death toll. The Hong Kong protests in recent months have been reminiscent of the events in Tiananmen Square nearly 20 years previously, only this time collective action succeeded. Similarly, this essay will examine the impact of collective action during the civil rights movement in the USA, specifically the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and how this led the way to the ultimate success of the civil rights movement, and now the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. There are many factors as to why these failed and succeeded, however, the pressure of public and international scrutiny is arguably the key factor.
In 1989, China saw the adoption of a market economy and some freedoms; however the government still controlled the media which led to the student protests. There was some sympathy from within the CCP however the students continued to protest. This subsequently led to the implementation of martial law and the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4th, 1989. The death toll is still disputed with figures ranging from the hundreds to thousands. The movement was stopped and ultimately the protests did not achieve what they sought to remedy. The factors that lead to the end of the protests are deeply rooted in how the CCP consolidated their power, and this was clear from the start. The Chinese Communist Party still had the control and support of both the military and the police so that the protest was ultimately squashed. Although the massacre remains a stain on the CCP and caused seismic rifts within the party; continued mass censorship of the protest is evident, where it has become whitewashed from schoolbooks, the press were banned from reporting on the subject, and the only commemoration is held in Hong Kong, which is now, 31 years later, the centre of the latest clash between the CCP and its citizens. Despite international scrutiny, rifts in the CCP and a significant death toll, the Chinese authorities have still not been held accountable for a massacre of peaceful protesters. However, this comes as no surprise: one of the many factors on which authoritarian regimes are built upon is fear. Not only fear among its citizens, but the fear that it exerts internationally, limiting the impact of international action against the regime. It was fear that empowered the CCP, and subsequently gave them a mandate of control which they used in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The CCP’s disregard for international scrutiny further added to why these protests failed, although more recently China has had to have regard to international opinion and now simply maintains a denial of the massacre.
The Hong Kong Protests, although not completely resolved, have proven a win for democracy and collective action. Although considered part of China, Hong Kong remains autonomous under a “One China, two systems” agreement. Recent tensions have been caused by the CCP’s call for those convicted in Hong Kong courts to be repatriated to mainland China, which call has been viewed as an attempt by Xi Jinping to reverse the autonomy agreement outlined after independence from Britain. After a violent response from the “Pro China” government, the protests further escalated, ultimately securing a win for a Pro-Democracy Government in recent November elections. The protesters have four demands that they wish to have met; these include the protests not to be called a riot, and for investigations into police brutality to be conducted. However, it is the fifth demand that was met by authorities that can justify this collective action as successful: the reversal of the bill. Both protesters and members of press have been seriously injured by State authorities in Hong Kong, which has similar undertones to that of the Tiananmen Square protests thirty years previously. However, despite the brutish attempts by the police to stop the protests, more and more citizens of Hong Kong have taken to the streets, seeking for the remaining four demands to be met. Arguably the control and influence the CCP has in China but also across the globe considerably increased since 1989, yet collective action succeeded in Hong Kong, and not in Beijing. The success lies with the protesters, and their powerful actions, as well as international support so much so that China threatened a response to president Trump’s support for the Pro-democracy protestors. In addition to this, according to Amnesty International reports, peaceful protesters have been targeted by police. The peaceful nature of the protest in the face of violence, while an important factor, was not as important to its success as the power of international and public scrutiny, which China cares about now more so than 30 years ago. The peaceful protests with the backing of the USA and UK alike have secured a success for the protesters. This sentiment was an echo of Martin Luther King Junior (MLK) across the Pacific 50 years previously.
One of the most recognizable collective action movements was the Civil Rights movement, which arguably started with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in a “White Only” section on the segregated public transport. The boycott was called for by a local pastor Martin Luther King, who went on to be the face of the Civil Rights movement. Most of the African Americans lived in poverty and heavily relied on the use of public transport. The boycott was only supposed to last one day however continued for a further year, so much so that in 1956, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) lead by MLK took a federal lawsuit to the Supreme Court where segregation was declared unconstitutional. This collective action went on to inspire many other communities in the South to fight segregation peacefully and proved the success of collective action. Ultimately the factors that allowed the MBB to succeed were the peaceful and legal means by which the action ensued and, importantly, the endorsement of the legal establishment. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NACCP) and MIA followed the democratic systems in place in a peaceful way and this displayed the reasonability of the those being segregated against. Consequently, the civil rights movement gained traction from home and abroad, and attracted international and public scrutiny, which ultimately pushed the government to adhere to what MLK was saying.
It is too early to tell the definitive results of the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by members of the Minneapolis Police Department. However, the collective action has seen some positive results including the Minneapolis Council unanimously voting to dismantle the police department and replace it with a community led system. Additionally, all four police officers were charged with murder, as well as many other police officers across the country being charged with racially motivated crimes, who haven’t already been charged. Both wins for the protestors. In addition to this President Donald Trump has signed an order to reform police practices nationwide, however, many believe that he hasn’t gone far enough to end the systematic racism in Police Departments, and across the USA. Similar to the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, people across the world stand in solidarity with those protesting in the US, with many political leaders condemning the actions of police brutality, and the lack of inaction within the Whitehouse.
The Tiananmen Square protests had a significant impact in China and attracted severe international scrutiny. However, despite this, the CCP’s disregard for International scrutiny, lead to the failure of the protests. The Hong Kong protests have been almost reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square protests and, although still on going, there has been major success for the pro-democracy protestors. In this instance, the peaceful and determined protests have proven successful in the face of violence. Similarly, the civil rights movement in the USA, specifically the Montgomery Bus Boycott, has further proven that peaceful means of retaliation have been successful. Further to this the Montgomery Bus Boycott laid the first paving stone to the ultimate success of the civil rights movement and the successes of the Black Lives Matter protests in the USA, and across the globe. The common factor which lead to the failure or success of these collective actions, is how Governments responded not only to the protesters but also their response to International Scrutiny.