WITNESS: A night with China's secret police in 1989

Sun May 31, 2009 7:26am EDT
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Andrew Roche is an editor for Reuters based in London. He studied Mandarin in London in 1984-85, then went to Beijing to work for various publications. In 1987 he joined Reuters full-time and traveled widely in China before leaving in 1990. In the years since, he has reported from Afghanistan to the Balkans. In the following story, Andrew recalls his experience after being detained near Tiananmen Square during the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters 20 years ago.

By Andrew Roche

LONDON (Reuters) - "When men speak of the future, the gods laugh," runs an old Chinese proverb.

In the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, China's policy of "reform and opening" seemed to many to be in peril. Conventional wisdom was that it and much of the communist world were retreating into isolation, threatening a new Cold War.

But within months the Berlin Wall fell, and soon the Soviet Union evaporated. And China changed at the speed of light.

A country where phones were rare 20 years ago now has more internet users than any other. City skylines have morphed from grim barracks into glittering skyscrapers and a still officially Marxist society has become one of the most unequal on earth.

After 1989 China produced perhaps the biggest economic boom in history, until it could even lend America enough cash to ruin itself. In June 1989, all that would have seemed mad fantasy.

Then, the pundits had misunderstood what was happening. The democracy or human rights demanded by the 1989 student rebels were out of the question, but economic reform would forge ahead.

China's ruling party would not limp into extinction like Soviet bloc communists. It would let you become a billionaire, but not a dissident. It would not be mocked, and would keep its iron grip on power.   Continued...

<p>Tourists visit Tiananmen Square during the May Day holiday in Beijing May 1, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee</p>