The difference between these two paths to Communist reform inspired several questions from the students, who wanted to understand how the political reforms ended so peacefully in Poland but with such violence in China.
I turned this discussion back to the students by challenging them to propose reasons for different choices made by the governments in these two countries.
In the end, I find the stamps a powerful tool for uncovering the complexity of the events of 1989.
Read one way, it reveals Polish ideas about their own victory against Communism as a great success story.
In the aftermath of the events of 1989, the newly-elected government in Poland, led by Solidarity, issued a set of commemorative stamps to highlight some of the important struggles in the recent past.
One set of these stamps memorializes the events of Tiananmen Square.
I had to ask explicitly why the stamps were marked “Tiananmen Square” (noticeably in English) on a stamp that also had in Polish.
Furthermore, it was important to note that the important Roundtable Talks in Poland occurred before the events of Tiananmen Square.
When I reached the topic of the student protests in the spring of 1989, I used several photos of Tiananmen, including the ones referenced in the Solidarity stamps that I would later show them.
For Solidarity itself, I took a similar long view, beginning with the rise of the labor union in the 1970s, the economic shortages and declaration of martial law in the early 1980s, and then culminating with the peaceful “Roundtable Talks” in February 1989.