How China Was Lost
The question “Who lost China?” has been asked since 1949. That year, the government of the Republic of China, the ally that had tied down most of the Japanese Army during the Second World War, fled to Taiwan, and the People’s Republic replaced it.
Republican China was not only a vital wartime ally, but a land of flourishing art, science and literature, as Professor Frank Dikotter notes in his book, The Age of Openness. Its defeat by Mao was a great tragedy for mankind.
Twenty-five years ago this month, China was lost a second time.
The world in May 1989 was full of hope. The Warsaw Pact captive nations were breaking away from the Soviet Empire and embracing the freedom that Reagan and John Paul II had told them was their right. American resolve through the Cold War had kept alive. Inside the Soviet Empire, those bosses who held a chokehold on the subject nations like Ukraine were finding that their state religion of Marxist-Leninism, under the rhetorical attack of Reagan, lost even the pretense of respect. The Evil Empire would dissolve into a garden of new nations, each an obstacle to future evil empires.
On the other side of the world, the people of China were walking down the same path. On May 17, 1989, one million subjects of the empire Mao created marched in the streets of Beijing demanding freedom. Three days later, the overlords of that empire declared martial law. Then, on May 29, 1989, Chinese students built from paper a statute of the Goddess of Liberty, a copy of our own Statute of Liberty. The whole world watched.
What was happening in Beijing was the natural impetus away from statist slavery and toward individual liberty that Reagan had pushed hard. He sought to liberate people from government, and his campaign studiously focused on people and not politicians. Joined by giants like Pope John Paul II and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Reagan largely ignored the cant between the groups that ran nations, and he spoke to the minds and hearts of ordinary people.
Though we could not have guessed it at the time, the rising at Tiananmen Square was the Tea Party of the Chinese people. It represented the last clear rebellion in modern history of the governed against their statist bosses. The Berlin Wall would soon fall, but that was preordained by the fall of communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Though the subjects of the Iranian regime rose up early in Obama’s dismal reign, this was more an uprising against the impoverishment of Tehran and not, per se, for liberty.
Tiananmen Square also showcased how American leadership changed when Reagan left the White House. George H. Bush was a technocrat who boasted impressive credentials inside the establishment, including a term as American representative to China. Bush did not oppose liberty for the Chinese, but he tried to work with Chinese political bosses, not the enslaved people of China.
No American leader since Reagan has ever tried to talk directly to the Chinese people. No one points out that China has one legal political party, that it suppressed the free exercise of Christianity, or that its currency bears the portrait of Mao Tse-Tung, the greatest mass murderer in history. Instead, American presidents have tried to work with unsavory sorts whose only interest is self-interest and whose moral code is the jungle. China was lost twenty-five years ago because American leaders rejected their nation’s historic role as the beacon of freedom to those unfree.
We are paying for the 1989 loss of China today. Instead of China being an ally against terrorism like Japan and India, China supports terrorists who hate us. Instead of providing the world with another example of how free economies enrich people, we face in Beijing yet another regime that is overtly collectivist and, compared to other modern nations, poor. Worst, a whole generation of Chinese have grown up since Tiananmen Square cynical and bitter, abandoned by us to the tender mercies of an unpleasant regime.
China was lost because our leaders since Reagan speak and act as if the aspiration of men to be free does not matter, or ought not to matter, when it comes to how political leaders lead. They are utterly wrong: speaking clearly and always for the liberty of people and against the lusts of politicians is the soul of American greatness, and its answer to the problems of mankind.