Reading over an earlier version of the article that leads today’s newsletter, a colleague posed a question that hadn’t occurred to me: “Will younger readers know what you mean by ‘Tiananmen Square’?” The term had been inserted by me as shorthand for the demonstrations and bloody crackdown of 1989.

It is a fair question – those events took place more than 30 years ago. Yet, they are in the minds of many this week for two reasons: the death of Jiang Zemin, the Chinese leader brought in after the massacre, and the lockdown protests that have shook China in recent days.

Teresa Wright, who has written extensively on unrest in China, explains that protests aren’t actually that rare in the country. But whereas most demonstrations in China are localized and about specific issues, the current protests share the broader liberalization aims of 1989.

“Indeed in some ways, the protesters of 2022 are being more pointed in their political demands,” she writes, noting that those on the streets have called on President Xi Jinping to step down and demanded the end of one-party rule. “Demonstrators in 1989 refrained from such system-threatening rhetoric,” Wright adds.

Meanwhile, Harvard Kennedy School’s Edward Cunningham, explores how Jiang transformed China’s economy in the post-1989 years.

Also today:

Yesterday’s newsletter note misspelled the name of the Oath Keepers militia group.

Matt Williams

Senior Breaking News and International Editor

Protesters march along a street in Beijing on Nov. 28, 2022. Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Protests in China are not rare – but the current unrest is significant

Teresa Wright, California State University, Long Beach

Comparisons have been made to the 1989 demonstrations that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre. An expert on Chinese protests explains why that is half right.

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