Suddenly the other day, on the 3 of June 2009, in a bizarre flash of memory I went back two decades ago, June 3 1989. As is well known, hundreds of students in Beijing had begun a protest a few months ago with wide-ranging critiques of the regime – more democracy, end to corruption and workers rights. They were joined by workers, office goers, Beijing residents, local party officials, just about everyone else. Soon the protests had spread all over China, there were demonstrations everywhere. A Chinese friend of mine was in Tiananmen Square, the main centre of the protests. He later told me – “we were all giddy, everyone traveled free in trains to Beijing, people helped us with food and water on the streets, we sang the Internationale and all the old revolutionary songs, suddenly they felt real not false…” All went to Beijing.
For many on the left in India, China occupies a peculiar, proximate place. The events of 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia, when Soviet tanks crushed uprisings, did not cause the storms they did in the European left. But China was different – it was in Asia, a large peasant society with an old civilization, and the site of one of the great revolutionary transformations that had begun in the nineteenth century. China had to be different. When the Naxalite militants scribbled ‘China’s path is our path’ or ‘Listen to Radio Beijing’ on the walls of Calcutta in 1969, they were probably out of their mind, but only just.
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