Summary: In this retrospective look at the Tiananmen Square protests, "CBS News correspondent Richard Roth provides a firsthand account of the massacre of pro-Democracy students in China's Tiananmen Square, 20 years after the tragedy." In 1989, Chinese students (illegally) assembled in, and occupied, Tiananmen Square to fight for political freedoms and government accountability. In the end, the Chinese government opened fire on protestors, and the estimated deaths vary from several hundred to thousands. To this day, China has banned any public discussion or remembrance of the event so many Chinese citizens still lack knowledge of the protest (which is known as the "June 4th Incident" in China). Beyond recounting this important historical event, the video illustrates several concepts in social movement theory. For example, political opportunity refers to the capacity for movements to pursue their interests publicly and be able to manipulate the system. While political systems vary in their openness to change, the degree to which opportunity exists is always a matter of debate and subject to interpretation by movement actors. In this case, student protestors marched to, and occupied Tiananmen Square (occupation is an example of a social movement tactic), but overestimated the system openness. The window for political opportunity was largely closed and the government used violence to oust the protestors. Such repression, or the forms of control (e.g. violent force) used to suppress social movements, is one of the many variables that shape the "structure of political opportunity" in social movements. As part of this repression, not only was protest outlawed, but the means to develop and communicate collective grievances continues to be suppressed (e.g. through limits on assembly and Internet usage). The short video is also a reminder of the often taken-for-granted role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in social movements. The news reporter's usage of a cell phone (which was very rare in 1989) was important for documenting and spreading knowledge of the event, which was impeded when the Chinese government cut satellite transmissions as the situation unfolded. While this example is from the mainstream media and not the protestors themselves, it echoes the important role of cell phones, the Internet, and social media in the Battle for Seattle, Arab Spring, and other contemporary protests.
Submitted By: Paul Dean