How Did the United States Approach the Tiananmen Square Crackdown?
In this educational video, learn how idealism and realism shaped U.S. foreign policy following the Chinese government’s massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Teaching Resources—Approaches to Foreign Policy: Introduction (including lesson plan with slides)
Higher Education Discussion Guide
What was the Tiananmen Square massacre?
In 1989, the Chinese government cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
U.S. foreign policy: realism vs. idealism
Following the massacre, U.S. policymakers debated how best to respond. The United States could pursue an idealist foreign policy and punish the Chinese government for its clear human rights violations. Alternatively, it could adopt a realist foreign policy and remain relatively quiet to preserve its strategic relationship with the Chinese government. While weighing the potential consequences of each response, the United States also knew it had to act in a timely manner.
Ultimately, the United States combined elements of both approaches in its response.