Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lessons from Tiananmen Square: The importance of strategy and planning

In the spring of 1989, Chinese students and workers occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square and began the largest nonviolent political protest in China's history. At the height of the movement, over one million people marched in the streets of Beijing. The movement ended with the government's crackdown and the Beijing massacre of June 4. Below is the documentary, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, that captures the days of protest leading up to the crackdown and the massacre.

Gene Sharp in the documentary How to Start a Revolution described what he witnessed during his visit to China in the summer of 1989:
I’d gone to Beijing after the Tiananmen Square protests were well underway. That whole event, which it should be remembered, was not just in Beijing, but reportedly in 350 other cities
of China, similar protests were going on, but they were not planned. They were not prepared. There was no strategic decision. There was no advanced decision how long you stay in the square and when you leave. What became very clear to me in retrospect was that the students in the square were operating with great commitment and bravery, but they really didn’t know what the hell they were doing. The students had no plan. They were improvising all the way through, and later on we know that many of those Chinese people who were out on the streets, in another day, were shot and killed. The attitude that you simply improvise and improvisation will bring you greater success is nonsense. Exactly the opposite – that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re likely to get into big trouble.
Both How to Start a Revolution and The Gate of Heavenly Peace are important documentaries that strategic nonviolent activists should watch. Especially as events unfold in Turkey both remain extremely relevant.

The Gate of Heavenly Peace - Tiananmen Square Protests (Part 1 of 2)

The Gate of Heavenly Peace - Tiananmen Square Protests (Part 2 of 2)

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