Through the 1990s and 2000s, I often wondered whether the student-led democratic protests that culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 would prove to be a blip in China’s progress or a turning point. The argument for seeing them as a blip was that China’s direction had already been set – its opening to the world and embrace of market forces already put in place – and that what it needed (and got) was the stability necessary for those economic changes to be worked through. The argument for seeing them as a turning point was that it seemed for a time as though China might have taken another direction, away from single-party rule towards becoming a more liberal society – perhaps a multiparty democracy, certainly a more pluralist place.
From the point of view of the Communist Party, the blip theory was (and is) the correct one: after a brief period of uncertainty, it resumed full control, allowing China to become the economic and political power it is today. Since then, the party has spent a lot of energy ensuring that such an event could never happen again, strengthening its ability to monitor, direct and control all parts of Chinese society, especially its media and education system.
Now Hong Kong, following the collapse of its own months-long pro-democracy protests, is having that system imposed on it. Its media is being squeezed; in particular, its public broadcaster is in the process of being converted into a pro-government voice. School curriculums are being reworked to promote Chinese nationalism and