China in the American Imagination

China in the American Imagination

The Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989, set off extraordinarily deep reverberations within American public opinion and led to strange movements within American politics. Tom Brokaw recalls that while he was doing a story on Los Angeles street gangs, the Crips wanted to ask him about what was going on in Tiananmen Square. After the massacre, Pat Buchanan (“Now we must choose—between the people of China and their now naked enemy, the Stalinist regime of Deng Xiaoping”) made statements very similar to those of intellectuals who had been associated with the left-wing Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars (“We urge you not to forget the brave martyrs of Tiananmen . . . or to give succor to the perpetrators of the massacre”). And both right and left (joined temporarily by presidential candidate Bill Clinton) voiced anger over the efforts of the Bush administration to enter into dialogue with the “butchers of Beijing”—and criticized the business leaders who were all too eager to resume commercial relations with China. Like a seismic blast that produces anomalous data, the Tiananmen Square massacre revealed previously unnoticed cultural and social fissures under the surface of American public life.

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Lima