THIRTY YEARS ago, as 1989 approached, political storm-clouds were gathering over China. Bitter divisions had emerged within the leadership over how far and how fast to pursue economic reform. Inspired by the Soviet Union’s liberalising leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, some people in China were daring to suggest that their own country should loosen up, too. The calendar for the coming year included big anniversaries of political events in China’s modern history. Many intellectuals were awaiting those dates with excitement, hoping the occasions would provide them with a pretext to air their grievances about the party’s record in power.
The run-up to 2019 is far less febrile. But once again, anniversaries loom. The Communist Party is nervous.