Squaring up the past

The 1989 democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square had a significant impact in shaping Western views China. Of particular significance was the iconic image of “Tank Man,” the unknown rebel who became immortalized in the West as a symbol of civil resistance. China’s image at the time, of a country undergoing modernizing reforms and an ally against the Soviet Union, was replaced by that of a repressive and bloody authoritarian regime. The protests were frequently invoked to argue against trade liberalization as evidence that China was a threat to world peace and US interests. That was 23 years ago. Today China has become a leading economic force on the planet and its citizens enjoy more freedom and opportunity than ever. Can this terrible event have marked the fork in the road of Chinese modernization?