Tiananmen: A Lesson on Social Inequality

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the end of the pro-democracy movement in China that was highlighted by students demonstrating on Tiananmen Square for over one month. One of their key complaints was the half-secret official corruption, where children of high ranking party officials went abroad to study or set up firms in China using state’s funds directly or indirectly. With access to such half-secrets, students in Beijing felt being betrayed by their leaders who had for decades enforced an egalitarian socialist system for everyone in China. Since there was no free press to expose such corruption and there was no free election to vote down these leaders, students, who were largely idealistic, could only vent their anger through demonstrations. They believed that democracy – with its free vote and free press – would keep corruption in check and maintain social equality in China.

After 19 years with very little progress in democracy, now, China has witnessed official corruption on every level of its government, from the former party chief of Shanghai – Chen Liangyu – being sentenced on April 11, 2008 for 18 years for accepting $340,000 in bribes, manipulating stock, financial fraud and his role in siphoning one-third of the city’s $1.2 billion pension fund, to countless village heads embezzling villagers’ land and funds and some even commanding fist-night rights of brides. The gap between the rich and the poor in China ranks among the greatest in the world. Such social inequality demands social change.

Social change is needed not only in China, but also in Canada.

In Canada, between 1976 and 2004, the total income gap between the haves and have-nots widened from 5.6% to 19% of the national income. In 1980, recent immigrant men earned 85 cents for every dollar earned by their Canadian-born counterparts. In 2005, this number dropped by 26% to 63 cents. Between 1980 and 2000 in Toronto, the poverty rate for the non-racialized population fell by 28%, but poverty among racialized families rose by 361%. Social inequality brews potential conflicts. Yet Canadians in general don’t seem to have enough interest, resolve or effective measures to address this problem.

The Tiananmen protests in 1989, the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the France riots in 2005, and the many uprisings in villages in China in recent years all point out a necessity for a society: equality. On this anniversary of the June 4th, it is tempting for us living in democratic countries to critique China’s progress on democracy. It will be at least equally beneficial for us to learn a lesson from China, and begin to make concrete, effective progress towards achieving equality in our society.


  1. http://www.thestar.com/article/193410
  2. http://www.canada.com/topics/news/features/census2006/story.html?
  3. http://www.colourofpoverty.ca/

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 at 6:09 pm and is filed under Canadian, Chinese. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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