25 Years Ago

On May 22, China’s jd.com, sometimes called China’s Amazon, began trading on the NASDAQ making it worth an estimated $28 billion dollars.

On May 6 of this year, the Chinese e-tail behemoth Alibaba Group filed its intention to go public in the United States in what is being called “one of the biggest IPO’s in history, analyst estimates for the company’s post-IPO value range from $136 billion to $245 billion.”

25 years ago, the thought of a Chinese company being publicly traded on an American exchange seemed unfathomable.

25 years ago, China was our sworn enemy, they were democracy’s sworn enemy. The Chinese people were communists, commies, reds, they were heretics for chrissakes!

25 years ago, on June 4, 1989, the Chinese government opened fire on Tiananmen Square during peaceful protests.

Hu Yaobang
Hu Yaobang

The initial impetus for students coming together was the death of General Party Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Yaobang…Hu was considered by many to be a reformer, and many of the policies that he enacted while in office had the effect of making the government more transparent and removing some governmental control from the economy.

Reports on the number of people slaughtered vary from source to source. Anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand. There will never be an accurate number because the Chinese government doesn’t acknowledge the massacre and goes to extreme efforts to scrub it from its history.

At the time, the world expressed outrage and condemned the Chinese governments aggressive response to a peaceful protest, but didn’t really do much. Then President George H.W. Bush did nothing more than issue a  “measured response“, which had about as much effect on China as scolding a cat for bad behavior.

China has always served as one of the two primary political, military and ideological enemies to the United States (Russia being the other). In fact, both countries serve as antagonists in the “Red Dawn” movies. Russia in the original and China in the re-make.

As this sad anniversary creeps up on us, I shudder to think that there is an entire generation who probably has no idea about Tiananmen Square and probably thinks of China as…well, I am not sure how they think of it.

If they think of China at all, it’s probably only reading “Made in China” on the clothes they wear or the devices they communicate with.

Over the course of the past 25 years, China has indeed loosened some restrictions, along with (or perhaps because of) the rising influence of multinational organizations. Back in 1989, a less restrictive China was a dream. However, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1988 and the growing political fissure in Russia, the dream was inching closer and closer to becoming a reality.

I suspect, but could never prove, the wheels of corporatism were behind President Bush’s, and the world’s, “measured response“. Could it be that corporations issued a directive to politicians saying “It’s OK to publicly rebuke, but do not condemn.“?

You see, multinational organizations had already begun laying the groundwork and they knew a day would come when China would open up its arms, and legs, to welcome some form of capitalism.

Or what we in the West sell as “free market capitalism”.

Aerial Tiananmen Square
Aerial Tiananmen Square

Many of the students who protested against Hu’s political sequester in 1987, and subsequent death, in Tiananmen Square in 1989 are now in positions of power and influence. Either as part of the Communist party apparatus or as entrepreneurs in the booming economy.

Nonetheless, anyway you look at it, China is second only to the United States in GDP. Even to an economic neophyte, such as myself, it certainly appears as though one of Hu’s tenants “removing some of the government control on the economy” has been taking shape over the past 25 years.

As the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches on June 4th, it will be curious to see how much press is actually given to that, and what it actually stood for, versus how much is given to jd.com and the pending Alibaba Group’s public offering (as of this writing they have not chosen a specific exchange).

It’s also worth noting that the underwriters of these two public offerings are the usual Wall Street suspects (Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup…Jesus, who wasn’t an underwriter). Cumulatively, these “experts” will receive hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in fees for their “services”.

It will come as no surprise that, as far as Wall Street is concerned, the value of money supersedes the value of life and of democracy (the very thing “they” say is critical to “free market capitalism”).

Now I don’t pretend to understand how two Chinese companies, that operate primarily in China, are allowed to trade on a United States exchange. But then again, I’m not an economist and don’t work on Wall Street.

Surely, the professionals on Wall Street know what they’re doing and I should just shut my yapper. Right?

Despite China’s explosive financial wealth and growing influence in the United States, and elsewhere, we should not forget that 25 years ago, on June 4th 1989, the military opened fire on a peaceful protest of its unarmed citizens.

While it is true that the People’s Republic of China has loosened some controls, they are still one of the most repressive and reprehensible regimes in the world:

  • Yahoo! China provided reporter Shi Tao’s personal emails and IP addresses to the Chinese government. He was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison for releasing an internal Communist Party document to an overseas Chinese democracy site.
  • ITV News reporter John Ray was arrested while covering a ‘Free Tibet’ protest.
  • Online searches for the term ‘Tiananmen Square’ are still censored by Chinese authorities.
  • The current Chinese hukou system (caste system) is one of the most strictly enforced apartheid structures in modern world history.
  • Urban dwellers enjoy a range of social, economic and cultural benefits while peasants, the majority of the Chinese population, are treated as second-class citizens.
  • Beijing is classified among the most air-polluted cities by the World Health Organization (WHO) the concentration of dangerous particulate matter in the air rose to 505 mg/m3 in February 2014. The WHO recommends a safe level of under 25 mg/m3
  • Human rights groups say brutality and degradation are common in Chinese arbitrary detention centers which utilize re-education through labor methods.
  • The PRC holds the opinion that many negatives about democratic society are a direct result of an excess of individual freedom, saying that too much freedom is dangerous.
  • etc., etc., etc.

So as the American 1% prepare to line their pockets, yet again on the backs of others, and create more Chinese multimillionaires, and a few billionaires, let us, the 99% (or conscious) not forget the many individuals who literally gave their lives on June 4th, 1989 for moments just like this.

Let’s not forget that it was their blood that ran through Tiananmen Square. Let’s not forget that the majority of Chinese, through a repressive caste system, are suffering simply trying to exist. Let’s not forget that China, for all its advances, is still pretty shitty overall.

It is my hope that some good will come from both the jd.com and the Alibaba Group public offerings. How will that good manifest itself? My dream is that some of the financial capital raised will be used to purchase more political power and, over time, lessen some of the far too many Chinese human rights violations and ultimately bring more social capital to the entire country.

But then, I suppose, I am a bit of a dreamer.

One of the most iconic images from the 20th century, the video of the infamous “tank man“.