1989 was a pivotal year for pro-democracy social movements in both China and Eastern Europe. What were the differing outcomes of each set of movements?
A persistent budget deficit dating back to 1985, surging inflation, especially in food prices (40-50 percent per year, according to Cheng 1990), and pervasive corruption, evident in the privileges bestowed on the children of high-ranking Party members, all contributed to an atmosphere of discontent that the student movement tapped into. Despite becoming closely regulated, the press started focusing on the corruption as a consequence of top-down reform attempts to repair the Party's reputation, sparking still more resentment. Chinese scholars, who have historically been charged with articulating complaints, started sending open letters to the Central Committee and the State Council and publishing papers regarding democracy (Zuo and Benford 1990).
Deng Xiaoping, who had recently criticized Hu Yaobang, split with Zhao Ziyang about the protesters' leniency and took a firm stance toward the Tiananmen Square protests. Deng grew gradually hardened toward students over time, according to smuggled Party records, telling fellow Politburo representatives on May 13, only two days before Soviet President Gorbachev arrived, "We can't be lead around by the nose." This campaign has been going on for way too long, nearly a month” (Nathan 2001: 13).
Despite widespread worry about government corruption, decreasing wages, and increasing regional inequality that bred resentment in the countryside, the revolution never reached out to the peasantry (Zweig 1989). Furthermore, the movement's intentionally decentralized structure, which was in several respects its asset, raised challenges to strategic planning; Zhao (2004) argues that movement representatives or groups were automatically undermined as they made long-term strategic steps that did not seem radical enough at the time. Conflicts emerged between numerous organizations, notably the Tiananmen Square Headquarters and the Universities Unified Autonomous Student Union (referred to as the Union), considering the fact that the two groups' memberships might have overlapped (Sharp and Jenkins 1989).