Jiang Zemin, who came to power after the June 4th event, used the enticement of corruption to solve the problem of maintaining the loyalty of Chinese officials. He also faced another major problem. After the Tiananmen Massacre, how could the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regain the legitimacy of its rule before the Chinese people?
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December of 1991 and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc around the same time made the situation even worse. Communism around the world seemed to have been sentenced to death.
Jiang found a solution for the CCP: focusing on economic development. That focus would help in two ways. First, people would be distracted in their quest for money and would stop thinking about other things. Second, the CCP could use economic success to justify its rule and its legitimacy. China made an irresistible offer to Western investors. In exchange for investing in China, they would get ample resources; stability; low-cost labor; no environmental standards; no liability for employee’s welfare; and no concern for their health, their well-being, or any treatment antithetical to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Foreign investment flooded in, which led to the “miraculous” economic growth in China. China became the “World’s Factory” and, more recently, even claimed to have the world’s second largest GDP.
The Party’s propaganda machine was busy stirring up patriotism and telling the Chinese people that it was the Party that brought prosperity to China and it was the Party that led people down the path to getting rich. The magic words of “getting rich” floated through the air in China.
However, there was a condition that Jiang and the CCP attached to the people’s newfound economic prosperity. Citizens could not talk about the Tiananmen Massacre and eventually would forget it. Moreover, no citizen could challenge the CCP on any political issue.
In Jiang Zemin’s words, the people had to “stay quiet while making big money (闷声发大财).”
In a Western country, where universal values are respected and people can criticize the government’s mistakes and demand change, pursuing wealth is not a bad thing.
But this was China. Things were all done “with Chinese characteristics.” Those outside of China know what this mean. Human rights with Chinese characteristics means no human rights. Religion with Chinese characteristics means the Party becomes the arbiter of right and wrong. Traditional Chinese culture and values – out. Western universal values – rejected.
“Getting rich” became a dangerous thing. Without a spiritual or moral foundation, the people aspired to acquire more wealth and money and would do anything to get it.
As a result, officials’ corruption became endemic; fake medicine and poisonous food circulated in the markets; prostitution, gambling, the mafia, drugs, and other serious social problems became the norm in China.
The Party muffled the voices of those who took a stand for democracy or social justice. When the CCP persecuted Falun Gong, the people were silent. When more than 140 Tibetans self-immolated or when the Uyghurs took to the street to protest ethnic suppression, the people were silent. When, in the Wenchuan earthquake, thousands or more children died because the poorly constructed school buildings collapsed after officials stole construction funds, people were silent. When the local government demolished their neighbors’ homes, people still remained silent.
The few who took a stand, such as Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng, were kept in house arrest, tortured, or silenced in other ways. In any case, their number is far too small. The majority of the 1.4 billion Chinese people kept silent!
Jiang helped the CCP to stabilize the foundation of its rule, but he created a bigger problem for China: China has lost its soul.
People are gradually realizing this problem and starting to question whether money is everything. As China’s economic train is slowing down, people are shifting their focus to other things, including political affairs, social justice, and the future of their own souls.
Jiang’s “June 4th pain soothing” palliative is losing its effect on the Chinese people.