The Reading Room

Tiananmen Square: The Making of a Protest, a diplomat looks back

Vijay Gokhale

Published: 2021

Vijay Gokhale is a former Foreign Secretary of India, who served as India’s Ambassador to China and retired in January 2020. This book is his reflection of the events leading up to the student protests in the summer of 1989 popularly known as the Tiananmen Square Protests. There is surprisingly written about this tumultuous period, in part due to strong PR from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

As Vijay Gokhale was posted as a junior officer in Indian embassy in China at the time of protest, his analysis of the incident is substantiated by a wide range of information such as declassified US government documents, The Tiananmen Papers, and other Chinese publications.

The author gives a glimpse of the structure of CCP as an organisation and its political structure. He points out the internal power struggle within CCP as the main reason for the protests. In the initial part of the book, he describes the main personalities involved – Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Ziyang, Li Peng, Hu Yaobang, among others. The book details their rise in the party to make one understand the reasons behind the internal politics. The struggle was largely between the reformist Zhou Ziyang and hardliner Li Peng.

Beyond the protests, the book elucidates how the CCP thinks – something relevant for today. Its key motivation is to maintain its superiority in China and to suppress any opposition. This drives all the major decisions on economic and foreign policy front. Gokhale mentions that the CCP was shocked at the demise of Soviet Union and undertook studies to figure out why. It concluded that Russia’s decision to allow openness (Glasnost) was the primary reason for demise and CCP vowed that they will not allow any similar means to dilute their dictatorship.

The book gives a very good analysis of the country’s broader history leading to the main incident – like founder Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward in 1958 towards forced collectivisation and industrialisation resulting in the world’s largest famine and the death of millions. Similarly, The Cultural Revolution in 1966 also led to unrest. There were leaders who were not in sync with Mao’s views, but none could oppose him because of loyalty to the party versus the broader country and Mao’s vindictive actions on quelling any opposition with brute force. This backdrop is important as this was repeated during 1989 protests when the CCP authorised People’s Liberation Army to suppress opposition. One can say that China is a large and diverse country which is the chattel of one party wielding the world’s largest army. As such, the loyalty of its people is towards the party rather than the country.

Since the event happened under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, there is a lot of focus on what he thought of China’s plan to supremacy globally and his four pillars of modernisation namely – agriculture, industry, science, and defence. One of the other projects of Deng was to reform the political system in China – basically taking out corruption among the party members. However, Deng was also very careful of the fact that his reforms shouldn’t result in dilution of party’s power over the country. “For Deng, the Communist Party was always first, last and everything, and all else was subordinate to this principle.

Gokhale also suggests a lack of understanding of Western diplomats and press in identifying the real reason behind the protests. The protests started by students were largely for basic freedoms; better job opportunities and elimination of rights to party cadres’ children – this would be quite rational in democratic countries. However, such demands which could challenge the might of CCP were looked upon as revolutionary in China. This was given a lot of weight by Western media, which was always looking upon some stories on an otherwise closed country like China. Their lack of understanding of the situation fanned it to look like a struggle for pure democracy, which wasn’t the case.

Initially, these protests were handled through negotiations and articles in the state media, as this was coinciding with Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit in the middle of May, another important project for Deng (to normalise Sino-Soviet relations). Once this was completed successfully, the CCP opted for military action and martial law was imposed in Beijing. The author mentions there is no accurate information as to what really happened on Tiananmen Square in the night of 3-4 June and how protestors were removed, and all the barricades taken out. There were reports of some firing, but there no clear count of casualties.

The author also opines that USA valued its economic interests more than the values it preaches. And in this regard, Deng Xiaoping proved to be right – post the event, he directed leadership to commit further on reforms and invest in SEZ (special economic zones). Regarding the domestic situation, Deng Xiaoping believed the underlying reasons for protests were economic not political. Therefore the solution for social instability stability was development – something that the CCP was best placed to deliver. For this, he made certain changes to political reforms so that the absolute rule of CCP in China could be preserved.

In the ending chapters, the author talks about the life of key players after the incident. Also, he speaks about student leaders and intellectuals who moved to USA and have since been forgotten by Chinese population. Since then, there has not been any such incident perhaps due to the growth in prosperity instigated by Xiaoping and a tighter stranglehold by the CCP.

This book provides a very interesting perspective on the philosophy and mind-set of the leadership of the world’s second largest economy. It gives a very good insight into its political system and society.

Saurabh Chugh
September 2021

The information contained above and in other entries in the Ocean Dial Book Review Series is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only, and should not be relied upon in making, or refraining from making, any investment decisions. No information provided herein should or can be taken to constitute any form of advice or recommendation as to the merits of any investment decision. You should take independent advice from a suitably qualified investment adviser before making any investment decisions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How to Decide

Annie Duke

Published: 2020, Penguin Random House LLC

“How to Decide” by Annie Duke is a book that teaches readers how to make better decisions. The book provides a framework for making decisions that take into account the uncertainty and complexity of real-world situations. It also includes practical advice on how to avoid common decision-making pitfalls and how to think more clearly about the choices we face.

Read more

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management

Roger Lowenstein

Published: 2011, Random House Trade Paperback Edition

As the title suggests, this book encapsulates the entire journey of Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM). LTCM was a highly leveraged hedge fund, founded by John Meriwether, which collapsed in 1998 and had to be rescued by a consortium of 14 banks orchestrated by Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Roger Lowenstein has not just detailed LTCM’s life, but also captured very beautifully the nature and inner workings of its founders and the key team.

Read more

Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail

Ray Dalio

Published: 2021, Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster

Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order examines history’s most turbulent economic and political periods to reveal why the times ahead will likely be radically different from those we’ve experienced in our lifetimes and to offer practical advice on how to navigate them.

Read more



This website is provided by Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited, whose Registered Office is at 13/14 Buckingham Street, London WC2N 6DF and Registered Number 05583807. Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (“the FCA”), with registered number 447424.

The information contained herein does not constitute a distribution, an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in any jurisdiction in which such distribution or offer is not authorised. In particular, the information herein is not for distribution and does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of any offer to buy any securities in the United States of America or to or for the benefit of any U.S. Person as such term is defined under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended.

No investments or services mentioned on this website are directed at U.S. Persons who are not Professional Clients or Eligible Counterparties as defined by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Handbook or Qualified Purchasers as defined under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The information contained herein does not constitute a distribution, an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in any jurisdiction in which such distribution or offer is not authorised.


ODAM does not manage money for retail clients. Eligible investors only may access ODAM’s expertise through the funds or investment companies for which it acts as investment manager.

This website is not directed at you if Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited (“ODAM”) is prohibited by any law of any jurisdiction from making the information on this site available to you, and is not intended for any use which would be contrary to local law or regulation. This website and its contents are not intended to sell services or products over the Internet, rather for Internet viewer convenience and information purposes.

Information displayed in this website contains material that may be interpreted by the relevant authorities in the country from where you are viewing the website as investment advertising or an offer to purchase securities. Accordingly the information on this website is only intended to be viewed by the persons who fall outside the scope of any law that seeks to regulate investment advertising in the country of your residence or in the country in which the website is being viewed. Users of this website are therefore assumed to have the knowledge and experience in business and financial matters to enable them to evaluate the merits of, and risks of, investing in the investment funds referred to in this website. Persons of any other description should not enter this website nor rely on any of the information contained therein. If you are uncertain about your position under the laws of the country in which the website is being viewed then you should seek clarification by obtaining legal advice from a lawyer practising in the country of your residence or in the country in which the website is being viewed before completing this question.

Risk warnings

Investments may fall as well as rise and investors may lose a substantial portion or even all of their investment. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance.

Investments denominated in foreign currencies can result in the risk of loss from currency movements as well as movements in the value, price or income derived from the investments themselves.

Investment in emerging markets involves risks which may not be typically associated with investing in more developed markets. Investment in small- and mid-cap stocks may also involve a higher degree of risk as these markets tend to be more volatile than their larger capitalisation counterparts.


To the extent permitted by relevant law and regulation, ODAM expressly disclaims any and all liability which may derive from this website or any other information provided by ODAM in connection with this website, and any errors therein or omissions therefrom. The description of the investment management services and processes provided by ODAM in this website is written in general terms. The services and investment funds referred to in this website should not be regarded as an offer nor solicitation for such services or investment funds in any jurisdiction where such offer or solicitation is unlawful. The terms and conditions applicable to individual investors investing in investment funds managed by ODAM are set out in each relevant fund’s offering document. This website contains information designed only to provide background material for determining whether or not to consider investment. This website should be read in conjunction with the relevant offering document for each fund. All potential investors must carefully read the offering document which will contain significant additional information needed to evaluate investment in the fund and important disclosures regarding risks, fees and expenses. The offering document is the sole document upon which potential investors should rely. Recipients in any doubt about the content of this website should seek advice from an independent professional adviser.

This website is based upon information that is considered to be reliable but ODAM does not represent or warrant that it is accurate or complete, nor should it be relied upon as such. Views and opinions expressed within this website including comments on sectors or individual stocks or companies are those of ODAM and its Mumbai based affiliated company Ocean Dial Asset Management India Private Limited (a company incorporated in the Republic of India) as at the date of publication. Subsequent events may cause these views to change. The investment policies and procedures described are guidelines and not rules. Occasional deviation from the parameters given may result.

Use of links
The ODAM website may contain links to websites operated by other parties. ODAM does not control the content or accuracy of information on such websites and does not in any way confirm or endorse the material placed on such sites. The links are provided for your reference only.

The copyright and all other rights in all of the material on this website are owned by the company listed on the web page or the material is included with the permission of the rights owner. You may review and copy material on this website for your own private or domestic use only. All other copying or use is prohibited.

Governing law
You agree that in the event of any dispute of any nature that may arise between you and ODAM, these terms and conditions shall be governed by and construed exclusively in accordance with the law of England and Wales and you agree to be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.

Privacy policy
Any personal information that you supply ODAM via the website and other means will be held in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation – please see our privacy notice for more details . If you would like to be removed from our database at any point, please email your request to

Use of cookies
For the purposes of gathering data to measure traffic and patterns of usage on our website, we need to use your IP-address. In addition, for example, we use cookies to ascertain as to whether you have agreed to our disclaimer.
A cookie is a small file held on your PC. If you do not want to accept cookies, you will need to alter the setting on your internet browser. We will not use your IP-address or any cookie to identify you personally.