American ideas in the Chinese Student Movement

In this class we have broken down the issues of democracy as the pertain to the American lifestyle. From Kemis and Rand to Shklar to Madison, all the topics have drawn on American History. The exportation of American Democracy to the world has caused the same ideas to pop up in other countries. In my class Political Science 339 about China Under Communism, we spent a long time talking about the reform of the 1980s and the Student Movement that grew out of it in 1989.


The idea to have a large movement relates to the issue that we just recently talked about: what to do with an injustice. The Chinese students definitely sided with Thoreau and took action, Lincoln’s idea of still following the laws of the government and work for change was not on their radar.

Tianamen Square - June 2, 1989

Lincoln does talk about preserving the Union, so this type of revolution or uprising may have been ok for him. Just like the issue of slavery, it may be the exception to what he would say, but as it is written, he would not have cared for a mass uprising like this.

Much like John Brown’s attack on the federal armory, the uprising ended in a large failure because the government stepped in to take action.

Democracy and Standing:

When the students met, they said that they wanted Democracy to take place in China. However, just like we debated in out class, there was a debate between the students of Tiananmen Square on what they really wanted in their reformed China.

Voting in China was of course one of the demands that were asked for by the students. Like Shklar would compare, they were slaves to the will of the Communist Party. Students wanted a say in their government that they had not had for the last forty year, especially under Mao.Policies that ended in great disaster, like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, were allowed to happen because the party ignored outside influence and went through with poorly planned policy.

Earning was also one of the demands that the students held important during the movement. As intellectuals the students had very little chance to make money. The Communist Party has began some economic reform but intellectuals still could not make much money. There was supposedly a saying that intellectuals could make more money if they stopped what they were doing and joined the women who sold their hand made goods on the side of the road instead. When some of the leaders of the students met with the Chinese Government they were asked what was democracy. One of the students responded that democracy was being able to buy Nike Shoes and take his girlfriend out on a date. To him, making money was important and once they had democracy, earning was right around the corner.

I found it interesting that Shklar’s ideas on what an American citizen is really matched what the Chinese students were fighting for in their new China.

Our class worried about American ideas in America, however, as Democracy was spread throughout the world those same ideas were leading to the new forms of government. Based on the topics that we discussed in this class, the things being fought for by the Chinese were very American in theory.

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