Tunisia and Egypt got through their protests with relatively few casualties. The army wasn’t sent in to crack down or anything like that. Maybe they military weren’t willing to go in and shoot people or maybe those dictators weren’t willing to have that blood on their hands. Whatever the reason, widespread massacre of civilians didn’t take place (or at least wasn’t reported).
Now in Libya and Bahrain, it seems like things are different, especially in Libya. Check out this BBC article about Libya: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12512536
Now China is currently in a pretty different situation so it is extremely unlikely that unrest would spread over to the People’s Republic. But the protests in the Arab countries today do share some similarities with the Tiananmen protests.
First of all, there is the underlying economic issues that tend to be the main cause of most protests. High unemployment for educated youth and inequality between those in the government and the ordinary citizens are two main similarities. Then there’s that talk about political reform and what-not, but those are usually over-hyped because it sounds better that people are protesting for freedom rather than a TV. People of the less developed world are generally brought to protests for material reasons rather than ideological ones.
Anyway. The mindset of the Chinese government and military back in ’89 had more in common with that of Libya than Egypt. The willingness to go to extreme violence and the united will of the government with the military usually means civil disobedience turns into a lot of dead people. In those situations, peaceful protests don’t really have much of a role.
But today, it is difficult to see how the Chinese government would respond to similar types of protests. Sure, the military and paramilitary forces in China would most likely be willing to crack down on their own people, but is the Chinese government willing to send them in? Some would say yes and provide examples of how the Chinese government dealt with the Xinjiang and Tibet unrest. However, those protests were made by minority groups. Violence used against a minority group is easier than violence against the majority because there aren’t that many of them. But if Han Chinese were to rise up again in large numbers rather than Manchurian or the Yue, would the Chinese government be willing to pull another 6.4?
EDIT: Bah… The Economist said the same thing I did except better and a day earlier… http://www.economist.com/node/18178177