People from China will often ask me, “Why are Westerners like you so obsessed with what happened in Beijing in 1989?”

I’ve never had a succinct answer to this question — until now. Next time, I’ll say, “I may be obsessed with 1989, but China’s top leaders are even more obsessed with it.” The events of that time still reverberate in Beijing’s response to the protests racking Hong Kong now.

What scared the government most in 1989 was not students gathering in Tiananmen Square.

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