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In 1978, stimulated by the opening of China to the West and also by the "reversal of verdicts" against the 1976 Tiananmen protesters (These demonstrations against the gang of four had been condemned as counter-revolutionary at the time but were now declared a revolutionary act), thousands of Chinese began to put their thoughts into words, their words onto paper and their paper onto walls to be read by passers by. The most famous focus of these displays became a stretch of blank wall just to the west of the former forbidden city in Beijing, part of which was now a museum and park and part the cluster of residences for China's most senior National leaders. Because of the frankness of some of these posters and the message that some measure of democratic freedom should be introduced in China, this Beijing area became known as Democracy Wall.
The background to the Democracy Wall movement was the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four Period and the April Fifth movement, which opposed the Gang. Many of the views expressed during the Democracy Wall movement regarding the corruption of the party and its lack of legitimacy as a representative of the people are directly related to the main concerns of the Cultural Revolution Rebels and indeed many of the same people, both workers and former students were involved.
The Democracy Wall Movement was a movement for what its participants regarded as real democracy. This was not generally the Western Parliamentary variety but was
Described by Wei Jingsheng as the holding of power by the labouring masses themselves. True Democracy for him was the right of the people to choose their own representatives who will work according to their will and in their interests. Furthermore the people must always have the power to replace their representatives so that these representatives cannot go on deceiving others in the name of the people.
Primarily the movement demanded that the Chinese people be allowed to exercise the rights which had long existed on paper, including the right s of free speech and freedom of assembly, freedom of organisation and freedom of publication. Again the concern with legal guarantees for these rights echoes the post-Cultural Revolution, early 1970s demand for "socialist Legality" expressed by Li Yizhe, "the legal protection of the people from arbitrary arrest or political persecution.
The views of the Democracy wall Movement led them to oppose the remaining followers of the Gang of Four. In this the movement was useful to Deng Xiaoping and he actually seems to have encouraged it while it suited him. When questioned about democracy wall by overseas visitors he reaffirmed more than once that the Chinese people had every right to express their views and that the CCP was not in the least concerned with the criticism in the posters. However he changed his view later on.
During 1979, the movement progressed from using wall-posters to publishing unofficial journals. Again this was a national development and was not merely confined to Beijing. Most Chinese cities had at least one journal and the bigger cities had as many as half a dozen, including campus publications by students. Some journals were purely literary others were mainly political, concentrating on politics, current affairs and social issues such as poor living standards and youth unemployment. The problem of democratic management in industry was widely discussed, not surprisingly since many of the editors of these journals were themselves workers. Proposals for self-management by workers without party interference found considerable support amongst journal writers. Many journals focused on human rights, but this soon proved to be a touchy subject. Human rights activists were criticised for slavishly following the Americans, and were told that western-style human rights were inferior to China's existing socialist system and had nothing to offer the country.
Posters and journals began to explicitly criticise Mao, with many arguing that the Gang of Four could never have gained power and held on to it for so long without Mao's backing. Although attacks on the Gang of Four were welcomed by Deng Xiaoping any wholesale discrediting of Mao was not, since it called into question the legitimacy of the whole Chinese revolution and was likely to alienate the army among whom respect for Mao was still very high.
The official crackdown against Democracy Wall began as early as the spring of 1979 although the movement survived another two years after that, if in increasingly difficult circumstances. As mentioned earlier Deng had at first found the movement useful because it attacked his enemies and because it could be shown to the outside world as evidence of the existence of freedom of speech liberalisation an important point as diplomatic relations with Carter's America were being normalised. But once Deng had consolidated
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Terminology mentioned in this research paper
Names talked about in this research material
Deng, Wei Jingsheng, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Mao, Fang Lizhi, Li Yizhe, Carter, Hu, Meisner,
Organizations included in this paper
Democracy Wall Movement, National People, China Democracy Party, government, army, the communist party, Congress, People's Republic,
Locations included in this research material
China, Beijing, Poland, Shanghai, Vietnam, Hefei,
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Keywords included in this research paper
democracy wall, democracy wall movement, Deng Xiaoping, china, democracy movements, human rights, Hu Yaobang, Chinese people, Beijing, living standards, journals, gang, April Fifth movement, Zhao Ziyang, Wei Jingsheng, organisation, industrial unrest, China Democracy Party, Cultural Revolution, student, official, intellectuals, political reform, Tiananmen Square, communist party, economic reforms, socialist democracy, student democracy, activists, reform movement, liberal democracy, striking workers, democratic movement, military intervention, political persecution, free trade unions, Beijing zoo, mass movement, Chinese revolution, main, Working People, socialist legality, Fang Lizhi, arbitrary arrest, Party leader, forbidden city, Wang Ruowang, posters, military secrets, old guard,