The Goddess of Democracy: Memorialization as a Form of Political Protest

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By: Julie Sagram

Transcript of The Goddess of Democracy: Memorialization as a Form of Political Protest

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    The Goddess of Democracy:

    Memorialization as a Form of Political Protest

    By: Julie Sagram

    In 1991, on the eve of the second anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, a woman

    made of white marble dust was put on display at the campus of the University of British

    Columbia (UBC). Bestowed the title of Goddess of Democracy, she commemorates the many

    lives lost during the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4th, 1989. Her arrival was met with a ceremony

    of three hundred people who wished to witness the erection of this highly symbolic monument,

    which continues to stand today in memory of those who died.1 It is evident through her history,

    however, that this statue is not solely a memorial it also serves as a politicized object designed

    to represent the ongoing protest against the oppression of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

    The Goddess symbolizes the liberal revolutionary ideals that were crushed by the Peoples

    Liberation Army (PLA) on June 4th, while standing in defiance against the government-imposed

    silence, censorship and collective amnesia that characterize the legacy of this event in China. In

    several parts of the world where the memory of the massacre has not been banned but deemed

    necessary, this statue has been replicated as an expression of hope for Chinas democratization.

    This paper seeks to explore the political role and international significance of the Goddess of

    Democracy by unravelling the Goddess' history, examining her international imitations, and

    discussing how her political connotations spill over in both domestic and international spheres.

    1 UBC Goddess of Democracy plaque

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    Historical Background

    The original Goddess of Democracy was created amidst the Tiananmen Square protests: a

    transformative series of pro-democratic protests in 1989 against government corruption and

    social inequality. These protests erupted under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, who came into

    power following Chairman Maos death in 1976 and introduced China to an era of Gaige

    Kaifang (Reforms and Openness).2 China became more exposed to international relations, as

    demonstrated by Dengs 1979 visit to the United States and its improved relations with Japan,

    and became less opposed to Western cultural influence, as indicated by the lifted ban on Western

    literature, art and film.3 The tide of Chinese politics seemed to be turning with a move towards

    liberalization; which after a long period of radical oppression under Mao, gave students and

    young workers hope for a brighter future in China. Under Deng, China was on the path toward

    becoming a global superpower by the 21st century.4 However, despite the promising ideals of the

    reforming CPC, inflation and social inequality undermined economic growth and citizens

    became frustrated with government corruption, nepotism and incompetence.5 A growing portion

    of the population began calling for faster progress on a larger scale, and believed that further

    modernization through democratization was necessary to advance the country.

    States undergoing modernization in hopes of gaining power and wealth often look

    towards the West as a model. Imitating the political structure of Western nations in order to

    achieve their level of prosperity was an idea that emerged in China in the late 1800s, when a

    remedy for the nations relative weakness as a global power was in demand. This notion

    2 Anderson, Donna Rouviere, and Forrest Anderson. Silenced Scream: A Visual History of the 1989 Tiananmen

    Protests. Rouviere Media, 2009. 68. 3 Langley, Andrew. Tiananmen Square: Massacre Crushes China's Democracy Movement. Compass Point Books,

    2009. 27. 4 Ibid. 5 Duiker, William J. Contemporary World History. Cengage Learning, 2014. 258.

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    challenged traditional Chinese political thought based on Confucianism, which prioritizes the

    role of a benevolent ruler tasked with maintaining public order to ensure peace and productivity.

    The principles of democracy, which center around individualism and equality, naturally come

    into conflict with the Confucian values of collectivism and hierarchy however, Confucian

    scholars have proposed a compromise.6 Likewise, the democratic movement in China advocated

    mostly for a form of Chinese democracy one that remained within the broad framework of

    Marxism and Chinese political thought.7 It is difficult, however, to reconcile the disordered

    nature of individual freedom with the traditional Confucian value of harmony, which the CPCs

    policies are based upon.

    Prior to the protests of 1989, Deng Xiaoping had already begun hardening his stance

    against individual freedom in order to maintain stability. The government had instated laws

    against public demonstration in response to the Democracy Wall movement in 1978,8 and

    increased the enforcement of existing laws after the pro-democracy protests of 1986.9 Student

    leaders of these movements were arrested, and several high-ranking party officials were accused

    of bourgeois liberalization.10 Most significantly, General Secretary Hu Yaobang was dismissed

    in January 1987. His purge from government served only to increase political unrest, since he

    was seen as a hero to the democratic movement.11 Eventually, Hus sudden death by heart attack

    in April 1989 provoked a wave of distress and grief that was great enough to cause a gathering at

    6 Schell, Orville. "Liang Qichao: China's First Democrat." In Discos and Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010. 7 "Chinese Democracy." Tiananmen: The Gate of Heavenly Peace. 8 Goldman, Merle. From Comrade to Citizen: The Struggle for Political Rights in China. Harvard University Press,

    2005. 49. 9 Lu, Yonghong. China's Legal Awakening Legal Theory and Criminal Justice in Deng's Era. Hong Kong

    University Press, 1995. 276. 10 Hong, Junhao. The Internationalization of Television in China: The Evolution of Ideology, Society, and Media Since the Reform. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. 102. 11 Langley, Tiananmen Square, 30.

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    Tiananmen Square, initially as a mourning ceremony.12 It quickly grew into a full-scale

    demonstration, due to the increase of anti-government sentiment and added urgency to the

    protesters demands for freedom of speech, an end to corruption, and democratic elections.

    By April 18th, ten thousand protesters were involved; by April 22nd, that number grew to

    one hundred thousand. Less than a month later, an estimated one million people were present in

    Tiananmen Square.13 It was the largest political protest in Communist Chinas history.14 Despite

    its scale, the protests were unable to persuade the political elite to consider possible government

    reforms.15 While some protesters began resorting to hunger strikes, many began to give up their

    fight due to exhaustion. 16 Towards the end of May, there was an atmosphere in the square of lost

    hope for democracy in China. In order to strengthen their resolve, the portrait of Mao at

    Tiananmen Square was confronted with the erection of the Goddess in a face-off that would

    determine whether a peoples fight for democracy could defeat the long-standing elite-controlled

    Communist Party of China.17

    The Political Role of the Goddess of Democracy

    In hopes of bolstering the movement, students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts were

    hired to construct the Goddess of Democracy beginning on May 27th.18 Her form was based on a

    12 Wright, Teresa. "Protest As Participation: China's Local Protest Movements." In Mobilizing Dissent: Local Protest, Global Audience. World Politics Review, 2013. 13 Langley, Tiananmen Square, 32-35. 14 "Timeline: Tiananmen Protests." BBC News. June 2, 2014.

    27404764 15 Schock, Kurt. Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies. University of Minnesota

    Press, 2005. 101. 16 Schell, Orville. Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's

    Leaders. Simon & Schuster, 1995. 128-129. 17 Ibid. 130. 18 Simmie, Scott. "The Goddess of Democracy's Short but Enduring Life Began 25 Years Ago." The Star, May 27,


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    sculpture of a man holding a pole, and her feminine characteristics were strategically added.19

    Protesters believed that the symbolism of a female deity that alluded to Western folklore, the

    Roman Goddess of Liberty,20 would resonate more with international supporters of the

    movement. Her resemblance to the Statue of Liberty is indisputable and was deliberately used to

    appeal to an American audience.21 The torch in particular is a common symbol of enlightenment,

    which lights the way to freedom, showing us the path to Liberty.22

    Although it was primarily an object of self-expression, the Goddess was intended to gain

    more international sympathy, since it had proven to be an excellent source of political pressure

    on the Chinese government.23 It was also able to recruit over one million U.S. dollars worth of

    donations from the United States, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and many other nations i