China and Tiananmen 25 Years On: Does Authoritarianism Pay?

For many in China, the events of June 1989 were a turning point: Any hopes that China would pursue economic and political reforms in tandem were dashed. Over the years, the Chinese government has done its best to block any public conversation of the 1989 protest; many fear that it has succeeded in creating a sort of collective amnesia, at least among young people, many of whom have little knowledge of what happened in Beijing and across China at that time.

And yet the Tiananmen Square protests retain a strong symbolic power, so much so that in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, the Chinese government detained a number of activists who planned commemorative events. To some, this repression suggests that, despite two decades of record economic growth, the CCP remains nervous about its hold on power, and is anxious to head off not only debates about historical questions like Tiananmen, but also conversations about the future of political reform in China. Whether it can put off such debates indefinitely remains in question.


  • Rowena Xiaoqing He is an author and lecturer on Chinese history at Harvard University. Her most recent book, Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China, was published in April 2014.
  • Xiaorong Li was the founding executive director of Human Rights in China in 1989 and has since helped establish a coalition of Chinese and international human rights NGOs assisting human rights defenders inside China. Li is the author of Ethics, Human Rights and Culture.
  • Aryeh Neier (moderator) is president emeritus of the Open Society Foundations.
  • Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York. He is the author of 15 books, 10 of them about China.
Date: June 11, 2014
Time: 12:152:00 p.m.