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Thirty years ago, the world watched in horror as Chinese troops cracked down brutally on peaceful protests by students who sought to give the Chinese people more say over their daily lives.

In the three decades since then, the Chinese economy has grown spectacularly, lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty and creating a strong middle class. But the technology that helped Chinese people to connect to one another in unprecedented ways also enabled Orwellian surveillance and propaganda operations that have helped cement the Chinese Communist Party's autocratic grip on power.

As a result, China's pro-democracy movement seems to be sustained mainly by activists who've fled to safer shores. It's telling that while we in the West can still see the "Tank Man" photos, watch the video and read about the incident, the Chinese government is trying to erase them from its people's memory.

But then, tanks are so 20th century. Today, the fist of Chinese oppression is best symbolized by the "re-education" camps in Xinjiang province.

We certainly hope that China's growing prosperity and integration into global commerce will prove inimical to its authoritarian impulses. But the years since the Tiananmen Square protests have shown us that progress toward liberty and democracy is not inevitable. In China, the government sells "stability" as the guarantor of the economic growth that the public craves, when it's real aim is to keep the forces of change at bay.

Editorial on 06/11/2019

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