Tlatelolco vs. Tiananmen

The United States, though it has not always been a democracy, has the

privilege of considering itself a free country. The right to voice one’s opinion and to

vote is not unfamiliar to American citizens because it has been present in most of

the country’s history. Could one ever imagine a time when this basic right was not

given to the people? Many countries, including Mexico and China, had had to fight

for these liberties; they were not just given to the residents. The struggle began once

these two countries were economically prosperous, students began to realize the

power that the government had over them, and they started to protest. The

government knew that they could not let the protests continue if they wanted to

keep their high role. What where the similar circumstances that led the Mexican

government (1968) and the Chinese government (1989) to react violently against

student protesters?

Students and middle class workers in China and Mexico felt that though their

government was not doing enough to give them their freedom, they could take the

matter into their own hands. They were passionate enough to protest against their

limited power to their government. In return, to stop the student demonstrators

who posed a threat, the authority turned to violence. For Mexico, the student

movement started after there was fight between high school students. The brawl got

out of control and, “the students confronted the Mexico City riot police sent there

to end the skirmish. After hours of student resistance, the army was called in to

quench the violence.”(NPR) The army then fired a bazooka in the building

, killing several students. Hours after the incident, “the students decided

to organize and protest against the violence exerted by the riot police. Over the

following months, Mexico City witnessed a series of student protests and rallies

against repression and violence.” (NPR) The students believed that the

government would answer their demands, but in October 2nd 1968, when the

students did not show any sign of abandoning the complex building area known

as Tlatelolco, the army did not hold back. They were sent by president Gustavo

Diaz Ordas, who stated that "No more unrest would be tolerated." The troops

then fired at the crowd; this lasted for about two hours. They felt the need to

shoot at the protestors because allegedly, they had fired at them first, though

reports state that snipers from the army fired at their own soldiers to make them

believe it was the students.

The president at that time felt it was best to suppress the students, not only to

show who was in power, but also because his public image was being damaged.

Diaz “orchestrated the violence and blamed its victims to justify a broad

crackdown on a democracy movement that he considered embarrassing on the

eve of the 1968 Olympics here, says the author, Sergio Aguayo Quezada.” (NYT)

Many people were infuriated at the president’s worry for the Olympics and

Mexico’s public image, instead of worrying about the issues the country was

facing then. The only solution that would work most efficiently was to kill off the

protesters who were in the way of the President’s plan to hold the Olympics.

Though student found that the attention given to them, which was meant for the

Olympics, would shine a light for their cause, it only frustrated the government.

Pablo Gomez, who as a student was jailed after 1968, said “the 1968 student

movement was the beginning of Mexico's fight for democracy, but it was

interrupted by the massacre.” (NYT) Even though the era of Diaz was a time for

economic growth, his authoritarian manner shut down any idea that would not

benefit his ruling party, the PRI.

Though 21 years later, in China with Tiananmen square the situation was not much

different. Many “ college students organized protest in support of increased

democratic participation, an end to corruption, and improved university buildings.”

(China since 1644) Like in Mexico city, these student rallied for one thing, which

then grew into different demands. After the death of Hu Yaobang “who had been

general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party,” (Golson) the event

was seen as a sign. Yaobang was a symbol of political reform since

he was all for modernizing China, though he was later kicked out of the CCP since

leaders thought him too lenient to students who wanted democracy. After “100,000

students held a rally in Tiananmen Square. They demanded the posthumous

restoration of Hu's honor; freedom of speech, assembly and press; increased

funding for education; and the publication of the incomes and financial assets

of CCP leaders.” (Perkins) They were resilient and did not abide to the threats

that the government put forth. Comparing China to Mexico, though the scale

of people who gathered in Tiananmen was much larger, many people showed

their support and did not back down even with armed forces present. Like

Diaz, the Chinese government was worried about the press who had gone to

China to cover the coming of the leader of the U.S.S.R, Mikhail

Gorbachev.(Perkins) Even though students were living in tents at the

square and even erected a statue that was similar to the Statue of

Liberty, on June 3rd 1989, they got their warning. Through a loud speaker there

was a message that told them to “go home, or else suffer serious

consequences.”( Perkins) No one expected what came after. Tanks and

soldier and explosions covered the square; student after student would fall

dead. The CCP claimed that the reason for suppressing the students was

because they took counter-revolutionary methods to overthrow the CCP.

Some parents of students fought back for a while, because of their

children’s involvement, but many parents convinced their children to stop

participating. Many students did, because of fear for their safety and others

opposed the movement because they resented the privilege the University

students had and thought a crackdown was just what they


Whether one thinks the student protesters are a problem or not, one can’t really

say that the problem is solved. The only reason why students in China or Mexico

backed down, was because their life was in danger. Only goes to show that the

government is NOT in power; the only way to control the citizens is with force.

Failing to meet the needs of a nation’s population will bring nothing but despair.

Both for the party in power, who can only terrorize the people so much, and for

the citizens who will need a new government. Thankfully, after the Tiananmen

square massacre, Deng Xiaoping opened his eyes and realized that Communism

was not working for everyone. Though China today still holds their Communist

title, “China’s economy has grown approximately 10 percent per year, rising from

$450 billion in 1989 to about $7 trillion dollars in 2011.” (China since 1644)

though this is not what the students asked for, they are flourishing economically.

This is enough to take their mind of the event, for now. In the future, if another

issue rises and not only the students join, but the whole country, it really could

be the end of the government now. Those in power have paid close attention to

the youth, and kept them ignorant, so as to not repeat the Tiananmen square

massacre again. The students now are not aware that their past generations

fought for democracy; they can’t even recognize Tank man at the most

prestigious school.

Comparing the Tlatelolco massacre and the Tiananmen massacre, it is evident

that violence indeed got the job done. Both of the countries circumstances : having

students learning and protesting, people questioning the government , economic

stability, and public image being at stake are the perfect combination if one wishes

to see the innocent die. Violence might have scared the students, but once a

problem that is big enough for the whole country arises, the government stands no

chance. Even the great Mao would agree with this statement, since he realized the

power of the common folks and what they were capable of. For him, they made him

the dictator of China and overthrew the previous government. If the Chinese really

wanted to, they could disagree with the way the higher powers are governing them,

get rid of the economic zones, and become a modern capitalist/democratic country.

It has happened before, and even now they are the 2nd most powerful economy on

the world. This title was earned in a couple of years, while the United states had

been at the number one spot for a while. One can only imagine how powerful the

Chinese would be if they had turned to capitalism earlier. China has a great number

of people, compared to Mexico, who could achieve anything if they worked together.

The government knew this from the beginning, and though it was wrong, they killed

their students because they were desperate and scared. They knew that the

students would not stop until they got want they want, or simply overthrow them.

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