Foreign Policy

Lessons from Tiananmen Square for American Protesters

June 17, 2020

China’s continuing crackdown in Hong Kong offers a sharp contrast to an open society in which contrarian speech is protected. While Beijing pushed for measures to prevent protests, vigils, and other speech around the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Americans across the country started raising their voices to speak out against long entrenched injustices. Charles Koch Institute Director of Free Expression Sarah Ruger spoke to this essential component of progress in a recent commentary in Real Clear World.

If we are “to separate the wheat from the chaff, discrediting the bad ideas and popularizing the ones that improve the world … skeptical scrutiny and openness to new ideas are what we need right now,” she writes.

In too many places, freedom of expression is tenuous.

“Beijing is hardly the only government on Earth responding to dissent with censorship. It has plenty of company exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to impose draconian restrictions on speech and assembly,” Ruger writes. “Even though it makes disease outbreaks worse, authoritarian countries — and some not so authoritarian — are silencing journalists, health officials, and human rights groups under the guise of addressing misinformation in the name of public health.”

Ruger makes the case that “top-down restrictions on the free flow of information can’t crush an idea any more than they can kill a virus,” and that such restrictions are harmful, whether responding to a public health crisis or longstanding racial injustices.

As Americans sort through our responses to the crisis that followed in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, we would be well-served to bear in mind that “in Hong Kong, in Beijing, across America, and around the world, well-functioning intellectual machinery is essential for the health of each and every one of us.”

Read Ruger’s full commentary here.