Tiananmen Square protests of 1989

Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
Tiananmen Square as seen from the Tiananmen Gate in 2004.

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese[1] (in part to avoid confusion with two prior Tiananmen Square protests), were a series of demonstrations in and near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in the People's Republic of China (PRC) beginning on 15 April 1989. The protests are also known as the Tiananmen Massacre, but journalistic use of the term has waned in recent years.[2] This is because, according to James Miles, the BBC reporter who originally covered the protests, the violence did not actually happen in Tiananmen, but outside the square in the city of Beijing.[3] The term also gives a misleading impression that demonstrations only happened in Beijing, when in fact they occurred in many large cities throughout mainland China.[4]

The protests were sparked by mass mourning over the death of former CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a Party official who had been purged for his support of political liberalization.[5] By the eve of Hu's funeral, 100,000 people gathered at Tiananmen Square.[6] Beijing students began the demonstrations to encourage continued economic reform and liberalization,[7] and evolved into a mass movement for political reform.[7] From Tiananmen Square they later expanded to the surrounding streets. Non-violent protests also occurred in cities throughout China, including Shanghai and Wuhan. Looting and rioting occurred in various locations throughout China, including Xi'an and Changsha.[8]

The movement used mainly non-violent methods and can be considered a case of civil resistance.[9] Led mainly by students and intellectuals, the protests occurred in the year that was to see the collapse of a number of communist governments in eastern Europe.

The movement lasted seven weeks after Hu's death on 15 April. Premier Li Peng, a hardline conservative, declared martial law on 20 May, but no military action took place until 4 June, when the tanks and troops of the People's Liberation Army moved into the streets of Beijing, using live fire while proceeding to Tiananmen Square to clear the area of protestors. The exact number of civilian deaths is not known, and the majority of estimates range from several hundred to thousands.[10] There was widespread international condemnation of the government's use of force against the protesters.[7]

No objective evidence exists to support earlier reports of mass deaths in Tiananmen Square itself,[11] and most or all of the killings took place three miles west of the Square.[12] Following 4 June, the government conducted widespread arrests of protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, banned the foreign press from the country and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the domestic press. The Communist Party initiated a large-scale campaign to purge officials deemed sympathetic to the protests.[13] Several senior officials, most notably Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, were placed under house arrest.

Naming of incident

Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
Chinese 六四事件
Literal meaning Six Four Incident
Name referred to by the PRC Government
Chinese 1989年春夏之交的政治风波
Second alternative Chinese name
Chinese 八九民運

In the Chinese language, the incident is most commonly known as the "六四事件" (pinyin: Liù-Sì Shìjiàn; literally "Six Four Incident", commonly translated to the "June Fourth Incident").[1] Sometimes people call it "六四运动" (pinyin: Liù-Sì Yùndòng; literally "Six Four Movement", commonly "June Fourth Movement"). Colloquially, a simply "六四" (pinyin: Liù-Sì; literally "Six Four", commonly "June Fourth") is used. The nomenclature of the former is consistent with the customary names of the other two great protest actions that occurred in Tiananmen Square: the May Fourth Movement of 1919, and the April Fifth Movement of 1976. '4 June' refers to the day on which the People's Liberation Army cleared Tiananmen Square of protesters, although the order to proceed into Tiananmen as well as its actual operation began on the evening of 3 June. Other names which have been used in the Chinese language include "六四屠杀" (pinyin: Liù-Sì Túshā, June Fourth Massacre) and "六四镇压" (pinyin: Liù-Sì Zhènyā, June Fourth Crackdown). The government of the People's Republic of China has referred to the event as the "1989年春夏之交的政治风波"[14][dead link] (Political Turmoil between Spring and Summer of 1989).[15]

Other names, such as the "八九民运" (Chinese: 八九民運; pinyin: Bā-Jiǔ Mínyùn, 89 Pro-democracy Movement) are also used to describe the event broadly in its entirety. Alternative names such as May 35th, VIIV(Roman number for 6 and 4) and "八平方" (Eight Squared) are used on the internet in mainland China to bypass internet censorship.[16]

In English, the terms Tiananmen Square Protests or Tiananmen Square Crackdown are often used to describe 4 June events. Tiananmen Square Massacre is also commonly used by the media, but journalistic use has waned in recent years.[2] This is because, according to James Miles, the BBC reporter who originally covered the protests, the violence did not actually happen in Tiananmen, but outside the square in the city of Beijing.[3] The term also gives a misleading impression that demonstrations only happened in Beijing, when in fact they occurred in many large cities throughout mainland China.[4]


At the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Congress of the Communist Party in 1978, the Communist Party of China (CPC) initiated a series of economic and political reforms, which led to the gradual implementation of a market economy and some political liberalization that relaxed the system set up by Mao Zedong. The Chinese economic reforms were led by Zhao Ziyang,[17] the Party's General Secretary, and they were generally successful in the early years, particularly in the rural regions.[18] However, since political reforms were neglected, corruption and nepotism pervaded the shift toward a free-market economy. The dual-track system, which was “the most characteristic feature of China's initial departure from the planned economy”[19] created the “coexistence of two coordination mechanisms (state and market).”[20]

Deng Xiaoping was Chinese Paramount Leader from 1978 to 1992.

The state-mandated pricing system, in place since the 1950s, had long kept prices stable at low levels that had, it is argued, reduced incentives to increase production. The partial reforms created a two-tier system where some prices were forced to be at low levels while others were allowed to fluctuate. In a market with chronic shortages, this allowed people with powerful connections to buy goods at low prices and sell at market prices.[21] Also, money supply had expanded too fast. At least a third of factories were unprofitable, depending on loans and subsidies. The government tightened money supply in 1988, leaving much of the economy without loans.[21]

Following the 1988 Beidaihe meeting, word leaked that Zhao Ziyang would listen to those members of the CPC, including Deng Xiaoping, who were urging chuangjiageguan (to get the price right in one shot) by deciding to “establish a market-regulated price system in China within five years.”[22] Economists recommended faster reforms, for example, renowned economist Milton Friedman gave a speech and met officials in China, recommending them to free the rest of the economy, asserting that a market economy would benefit people and it should be made free from corruption, bribes, special influence, and political mechanisms.[23][24] Leaked news that there would be a relaxing of controls triggered waves of panic cash withdrawals, buying and hoarding all over China. Some even bought rooms full of matches.[22] The decision to rescind the price reforms occurred in less than two weeks, “but its impact continued to reverberate for a long time...[and] [a]s a consequence, inflation soared.”[22] In the late 1980s, inflation was the most pronounced issue facing the Chinese economy, which was at 7.3% in 1987, but jumped to 18.5% in 1988.[22] Compounding this was the loss of job security (the iron rice bowl), which led to a “crisis of layoffs and unemployment.”[25]

Intellectuals and students were especially disaffected by the reform process, as they were originally envisioned to play a leading role in the “springtime of the sciences.”[26] Due to the initial stress on educated people to guide development, the number of universities expanded (400 universities in 1977 to 1,975 in 1988), as did student enrollment (625,319 in 1977 to 2,065,923 in 1988).[27] However, the Four Modernizations were “gradually dropped”, as central planning gave way to a market-economy development strategy being adopted.[28] The reform process would now emphasize the role of the market, agriculture, light industry, the service sector, private initiatives, and foreign investment.[28] This shift in orientation was not received well by the burgeoning student population, who found it difficult to find job placements as “the recently prospering industrial sectors, that, is rural collective industries and private businesses, did not really need and could not attract university graduates.”[29] Undergraduate students in the social sciences and the humanities, 18.3% of all Beijing undergraduates in 1988, were especially hard hit because their training did not give them an advantage in the new market economy.[27] This problem, growing since the mid-1980s, was exacerbated by a reform to the job assignment system in 1988, creating the two-way selection system. This allowed private companies to veto the job placements, instead of accepting students the universities matched them with. The two-way system is referred to by Dingxin Zhao as the “backdoor selection” system, because it was pervaded by nepotism and favoritism, as “employers only took students who had acquaintances in their unit regardless of the students' academic performance.”[30] Popular slogans espoused by intellectuals and students during the mid-1980 included, “those who hold scalpels earn less than those who hold eel knives” and, “those who produce missiles earn less than those who sell tea eggs.”[31] Facing a dismal job market, due to the economic reforms, and limited chances of going abroad after the mid-1980s, Chinese intellectuals and students had a greater vested interest in Chinese domestic and political issues. Small-scale study groups began appearing on Beijing university campuses, the most famous being Wang Dan's Democracy Salon and Liu Gang's Caodi Salon (the salon on the lawn).[32] These were attended by students, members of the intellectual elite; even the American ambassador and his wife participated in one meeting.[22] Discussions covered a wide range of issues about politics, which “trained many student activists” who were the “major organizational base for the coming student movement.”[22] The “worsening economic situation of intellectuals and students, and of the country as a whole” led to “student protests repeatedly breaking out in universities after 1986”[33] (see 1986–1987 Student Protests, and April–June 1988 protests).

Wang Hui, a professor in Beijing, says that, “these changes (the economic reforms) were the catalyst for the 1989 social mobilization.”[34] Wu Xiuquan, member of the Standing Committee of the Central Advisory Commission, echoed this sentiment at the Secretariat of the Fourth Plenum of the Thirteenth CCP Central Committee on 19 June 1989, two weeks after the repression of the protest, when he said, "China has its own unique national situation and patterns of development; copying others mechanically will lead us straight to disaster. What's more, economics and politics go by different rules. Why did Zhao's shock-therapy price reforms fail last year? Because they were too much; the people panicked."[35]

Barry Naughton states that “economic causes were an important part of the social crisis leading up to the Tiananmen debacle”[18] and he asserts that the reforms during the 1980s were overwhelmingly successful.[36] The social crisis leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests were created by deteriorating cyclical economic conditions.[37] Naughton is in agreement with the “reform without losers” view of China's economic reforms, and only because anti-reform elements in the Party failed to roll back the reforms and market forces were allowed to correct the economy, did urban inflation decrease.[18]

In a general sense, students and intellectuals demanded economic liberalization, political democracy, media freedom, freedom of speech and association, rule of law, and to have the legitimacy of the movement recognized.[38][39] More specific demands opposed official corruption and speculation, opposition to the "Crown Prince Party" (elites with special privileges), and called for price stability, social security, and the democratic means to supervise the reform process, and the reorganization of social benefits.[34] Transitioning from a socialist ideology that espoused equality to a new market oriented ideology, the reforms, "Created a crisis of state legitimacy from two different directions: on the one hand, people could rely on the nature of state economic policy to criticize the legitimacy of the state ideology and its method of rule, while on the other they could use the ideology of socialism to take issue with the legitimacy of the new state economic policy."[34] Wang Hui encapsulates the protesters' motivation by stating that, "Regardless of whether we are talking about students, intellectuals, or any others who participated in the movement in support of reform (political or economic) and demands for democracy, their hopes for and understanding of reform were extraordinarily diverse. When looked at from a broader or synthetic perspective, however, the reforms that the greater part of the populace hoped for and their ideals for democracy and rule by law were for the purposes of guaranteeing social justice and the democratization of economic life through the restructuring of politics and the legal system."[40]

Zhao Ziyang was the CPC General Secretary from 1987 to 1989, responsible for many liberalizing reforms that some say led to the Tiananmen protests.

In the summer of 1986 astrophysics professor Fang Lizhi, who had returned from Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, United States, began a personal tour around universities in China, giving speeches about subjects such as liberty, human rights, and separation of powers. He became immensely popular and his recorded speeches were passed from dormitory to dormitory, from campus to campus.[41] Deng Xiaoping took notice and warned that Fang Lizhi was "admiring the Western multi-party system and attempting to undermine the Communist Party leadership; admiring the capitalist economy and attempting to undermine the socialist system; admiring the decadent western lifestyle and attempting to undermine the spiritual health of the Chinese people".[41] In December 1986, student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, staged protests against the slow pace of reform. Inspired by Fang Lizhi, who gave speeches criticizing Deng's "go slow policies", students took to protest. The students were also disenchanted with the amount of control the government exerted, citing compulsory calisthenics and not being allowed to dance at rock concerts. Students called for campus elections, the chance to study abroad, and greater availability of western pop culture.

Hu Yaobang, a protégé of Deng and a leading advocate of reform, was blamed for the protests and his resignation from the position of Secretary General of the CPC was announced on 16 January 1987. Included in his resignation was also a "humiliating self-criticism", which the Central Committee of the Communist Party forced him to issue. The Party-led "Anti Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign", further denounced Hu. His forthright calls for "rapid reform" and his almost open contempt of "Maoist excesses" had made him a suitable scapegoat in the eyes of Deng and others, after the pro-democracy student protests of 1986–1987.[42] Because he was publicly sympathetic to reform, Hu Yaobang became a popular figure among the Chinese students.

The death of Hu Yaobang provided the initial impetus for the Tiananmen Square protests[43] Hu's sudden death, due to heart attack, on 15 April 1989, provided a perfect opportunity for the students to gather once again, not only to mourn the deceased Secretary General, but also to have their voices heard in "demanding a reversal of the verdict against him". The students hoped to bring renewed attention to the important issues of the 1986–1987 pro-democracy protests, and possibly also to those of the Democracy Wall protests in 1978–1979.[44]

Protest development

Student Leaders
Name Origin and Affiliation
Chai Ling Shandong; Beijing Normal University
Wu'erkaixi Xinjiang; Beijing Normal University
Wang Dan Beijing; Peking University
Feng Congde Sichuan; Peking University
Shen Tong Beijing; Peking University
Wang Youcai Zhejiang; Peking University
Li Lu Hebei; Nanjing University
Zhou Yongjun China University of Political Science and Law

Small voluntary civilian gatherings started on 15 April around Monument to the People's Heroes in the middle of the Tiananmen Square in the form of mourning for Hu Yaobang. On the same day, many students at Peking University and Tsinghua University expressed their sorrow and mourning for Hu Yaobang by posting eulogies inside the campus and erecting shrines, and joined the civilian mourning in Tiananmen Square in a piecemeal fashion. Organized student gatherings started outside of Beijing on a small scale in Xi'an and Shanghai on 16 April.

Several people at the China University of Political Science and Law had made a large wreath to commemorate Hu Yaobang. Its laying-party was on 17 April and the people did not know how many people would join them. They started walking to Tiananmen Square at one o'clock and were surprised by the number of people who joined them.[41] At five o'clock, 500 students from the university reached the eastern gate of the Great Hall of the People, part of Tiananmen Square, and commenced mourning activities for Hu Yaobang. The gathering in front of the Great Hall was soon deemed obstructive to the normal operation of the building, so police intervened and attempted to disperse the students by persuasion. The gathering featured speakers from various backgrounds giving public orations commemorating Hu Yaobang while expressing their concerns of social problems.

Starting on the night of 17 April, three thousand students from Peking University marched from the campus towards Tiananmen Square, and soon nearly a thousand students from Tsinghua University joined the ranks. Upon arrival, they soon joined forces with students and civilians who were in the Square earlier. As its size grew, the gathering gradually evolved into a protest, as students began to draft a list of pleas and suggestions ("List of Seven Demands") for the government:

(1) affirm as correct Hu Yaobang's views on democracy and freedom;
(2) admit that the campaigns against spiritual pollution and bourgeois liberalization had been wrong;
(3) publish information on the income of state leaders and their family members;
(4) end the ban on privately run newspapers and permit freedom of speech;
(5) increase funding for education and raise intellectuals' pay;
(6) end restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing; and
(7) hold democratic elections to replace government officials who made bad policy decisions.

In addition, they demanded that the government-controlled media print and broadcast their demands and that the government respond to them publicly.[45]

On the morning of 18 April, the students remained in the square. Some gathered around the Monument to the People's Heroes singing patriotic songs and listening to impromptu speeches by student organizers. Another group of students sat in front of the Great Hall of the People, the office of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress; they demanded to see members of the Standing Committee and show them the List of Seven Demands. Meanwhile, a few thousand students gathered in front of the Zhongnanhai building complex, the residence of the government, demanding to see government leaders and get answers to their earlier demands. Students tried to muscle their way through the gate by pushing, but security and police, locking arms, formed a cordon that eventually deterred students' attempts to enter through the gate. Students then staged a sit-in. Some government officials did unofficially meet with student representatives, but without an official response, frustrations continued to mount.

On 20 April, police finally dispersed the students in front of Zhongnanhai by force, employing batons, and minor clashes were reported. The protests in Tiananmen Square gained momentum after news of the confrontation between students and police spread; the belief by students that the Chinese media was distorting the nature of their activities also led to increased public support.[citation needed] Also on this date, a group of workers calling themselves the “Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation” issued two handbills in response to the police action at Zhongnanhai.[46]

On the night of 21 April, the day before Hu's funeral, some 100,000 students marched on Tiananmen Square, gathering there before the square could be closed off for the funeral. From 21 to 23 April, students from Beijing called for a strike at universities, which included teachers and students boycotting classes. The government became alarmed and was now well aware of the political storm caused by the now-legitimized 1976 Tiananmen Incident.

On 22 April, near dusk, serious rioting broke out in Changsha and Xi'an. In Xi'an, arson from rioters destroyed cars and houses, and looting occurred in shops near the city's Xihua Gate. In Changsha, 38 stores were ransacked by looters. Over 350 people were arrested in both cities. In Wuhan, university students organized protests against the provincial government. Under the direction of General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, the Politburo Standing Committee met several times to discuss on-going events. Zhao stressed three points: discourage students from further protests and ask them to go back to class, use all measures necessary to combat rioting, and open forms of dialogue with students at different levels of government. Premier Li Peng called upon Zhao to condemn protestors and recognize the need to take more serious action. Zhao was dismissive of Li. Despite calls for him to remain in Beijing, Zhao left for a state visit to North Korea on 23 April.[47]

Turning Point: 26 April Editorial

Zhao's departure to North Korea left Li Peng as the acting authority of the party in Beijing. On 24 April, Li Peng and the PSC met with Beijing Party Secretary Li Ximing and mayor Chen Xitong. Beijing municipal officials wanted a quick resolution to the crisis, and presented the protests as a conspiracy to overthrow China's political system and major party leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. In the absence of Zhao, the PSC agreed that some kind of firm action against protesters was due.[47] On the evening of 25 April, Li Peng and Yang Shangkun met with Deng Xiaoping in Deng's residence. Deng endorsed a hardline stance against the protests. This meeting firmly established the first cohesive official government policy on the protests, and highlighted Deng's position of authority on large matters. Li Peng subsequently ordered Deng's internal speech to be drafted as a communique and issued to all mid to high-level officials in the Communist Party in an effort to mobilize the party apparatus against protesters.

On 26 April, echoing the party communique, the party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, issued a front-page editorial titled "It is necessary to take a clear-cut stand against disturbances," attempting to rally the public behind the government, and accused "extremely small segments of opportunists" of plotting to overthrow the Communist Party and China's "socialist system of government".[48] The statement enraged student protesters, who interpreted its contents as a direct indictment on the protests. The editorial proved to be a major sticking point for the remainder of the protests. On 27 April about 50,000 students assembled on the streets of Beijing, disregarding the warning of military action made by authorities, and demanded that the government retract the statement. At the same time, student leaders also toned down anti-Communist slogans, choosing to present a message of "anti-corruption, anti-cronyism" but "pro-party".

In Beijing, a majority of students from the city's numerous colleges and universities participated with support of their instructors and other intellectuals. Posters and leaflets were posted at the Triangle at Beijing University and at the Monument to the People's Heroes and informed the students of what was happening throughout the course of the movement. The students rejected official Communist Party-controlled student associations and set up autonomous associations in their stead. The students viewed themselves as patriots and heirs of the 1919 May Fourth Movement for "science and democracy". The protests also evoked memories of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1976, which had eventually led to the ousting of the Gang of Four. From their origins as a memorial to Hu Yaobang, who was seen by the students as an advocate of democracy, the students' activities gradually developed over the course of their demonstration from protests against corruption into demands for freedom of the press and an end to, or the reform of, the rule of the PRC by the Communist Party of China and Deng Xiaoping.

While the protests lacked a unified cause or leadership, participants were generally against authoritarianism and voiced calls for democratic reform[7] within the structure of the government. Unlike the Tiananmen protests of 1987, which consisted mainly of students and intellectuals, the protests in 1989 commanded widespread support from the urban workers who were alarmed by the new economic reforms, growing inflation, and corruption. In Beijing, they were supported by a large number of people. Similar numbers were found in major cities throughout China, including Urumqi, Shanghai, and Chongqing; and later in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Chinese communities in North America and Europe.

Protests escalate

Party and Government Leaders
Name Position(s) in 1989
Deng Xiaoping Paramount Leader, Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Chen Yun Chairman of the CPC Central Advisory Commission
Zhao Ziyang General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
First Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Li Peng Premier of the State Council
Qiao Shi Secretary of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection
Secretary of the CPC Political and Legislative Affairs Committee
Hu Qili Secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party
Yao Yilin Vice Premier of the State Council
Yang Shangkun President of the People's Republic of China
Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Wan Li Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
Li Xiannian Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference
Wang Zhen Vice President of the People's Republic of China
Bo Yibo Vice-Chairman of the CPC Central Advisory Commission
Xi Zhongxun Vice-Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee
Jiang Zemin Communist Party Shanghai Municipal Secretary
Zhu Rongji Mayor of Shanghai
Hu Jintao Communist Party Tibet Regional Secretary
Wen Jiabao Director of the General Office of the Communist Party
Bold text indicates membership in the CPC Politburo Standing Committee

On 4 May, approximately 100,000 students and workers marched in Beijing, making demands for free media and a formal dialogue between the authorities and student-elected representatives. A declaration demanded the government to accelerate political reform.[7]

The government rejected the proposed dialogue, only agreeing to talk to members of appointed student organizations. On 13 May, two days prior to the highly-publicized state visit by the reform-minded General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, huge groups of students occupied Tiananmen Square and started a hunger strike, insisting the government withdraw the accusation made in the People's Daily editorial and begin talks with the designated student representatives. Hundreds of students went on hunger strikes and were supported by hundreds of thousands of protesting students and part of the population of Beijing, for one week.

A bronze replica of the "Goddess of Democracy", a statue hastily created by Tiananmen protesters from the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Protests and strikes began at colleges in other cities, with many students traveling to Beijing to join the demonstration. Generally, the demonstration at Tiananmen Square was well-ordered, with daily marches of students from various Beijing-area colleges displaying their solidarity with the boycott of college classes and with the developing demands of the protest. The students sang The Internationale, the world socialist anthem, on their way to, and within, the square.[49] The students even showed a surprising gesture of respect to the government by helping police arrest three men from Hunan Province, including Yu Zhijian, Yu Dongyue, and Lu Decheng, who had thrown ink on the large portrait of Mao that hangs over the gates of the Forbidden City, just north of the square.[50][51] The three young men were later sentenced to prison for, respectively, life, 20 years, and 16 years.[52] Two of the men were freed after 10 years, and Yu Dongyue was released after nearly 17 years.

Hunger strikes

To avoid losing momentum, the students decided to hold a hunger strike, which began in May 1989, and which grew to include "more than one thousand persons".[53] The hunger strike brought widespread support for the students and "the ordinary people of Beijing rallied to protect the hunger strikers...because the act of refusing sustenance and courting government reprisals convinced onlookers that the students were not just seeking personal gains but (were) sacrificing themselves for the Chinese people as a whole".[54]

The hunger strike gained significant support nationally for the students and alarmed top Communist Party leadership. The national press, still relatively free to cover ongoing events without propagating the party line, aired talks between Premier Li Peng and student leaders on the evening of 18 May. During the talks, Wu'er Kaixi, Wang Dan, and other protest leaders openly accused the government for being too slow to react and rebuked Li Peng personally, charging that Li did not have "sincerity to conduct real discussions". The discussion did not yield much results, but gained student leaders prominent airtime on national television.[55] Li Peng and other leaders maintained that the government was only trying to "maintain order", and alluded to the students actions as "patriotic".

Students, we came too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary. The reason that I came here is not to ask you to forgive us. All I want to say is that students are getting very weak, it is the 7th day since you went on hunger strike, you can't continue like this. [...] You are still young, there are still many days yet to come, you must live healthy, and see the day when China accomplishes the four modernizations. You are not like us, we are already old, it doesn't matter to us any more.

– Zhao Ziyang at Tiananmen Square. 19 May 1989.

As the hunger strike escalated, numerous political and civil organizations around the country voiced their concern for the students, many empathizing with their positions. The Chinese Red Cross issued a special notice and sent in a large number of personnel to provide medical services to the hunger strikers on the Square.

On 19 May, shortly after the Standing Committee had decided to call in the military, Zhao Ziyang went to Tiananmen personally in an attempt to neutralize the situation. Zhao was aware that his political career was likely finished. Li Peng, hearing that Zhao was making the trip, accompanied Zhao to the Square, but quickly became agitated and left. Wen Jiabao, who would become Premier himself in 2003, joined Zhao after he arrived. At 4:50 am Zhao made a speech on the Square urging the students to end the hunger strike.[56] He told the students that they were still young and urged them to stay healthy and not to sacrifice themselves so easily. Zhao's emotional speech was applauded by some students on the Square; it would be his last public appearance.

Partially successful attempts were made to negotiate with the government in a location near in Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party headquarters and leadership compound. Because of the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev, foreign media were present in China in large numbers. Their coverage of the protests was extensive and generally favorable towards the protesters, but pessimistic that they would attain their goals. Toward the end of the demonstration, on 30 May, a Goddess of Democracy statue was erected in the Square and came to symbolize the protest to television viewers worldwide.

The Standing Committee of the Politburo, along with the party elders (retired but still-influential former officials of the government and Party), were at first hopeful that the demonstrations would be short-lived or that cosmetic reforms and investigations would satisfy the protesters. They wished to avoid violence if possible, and relied at first on their far-reaching Party apparatus in attempts to persuade the students to abandon the protest and return to their studies. One barrier to effective action was that the leadership itself supported many of the demands of the students, especially the concern with corruption. However, one large problem was that the protests contained many people with varying agendas, and hence it was unclear with whom the government could negotiate, and what the exact demands of the protesters were. The confusion and indecision among the protesters was also mirrored by confusion and indecision within the government. The official media mirrored this indecision as headlines in the People's Daily alternated between sympathy with the demonstrators and denouncing them.

Among the top leadership, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was strongly in favour of a soft approach to the demonstrations, while Li Peng was seen to argue in favour of military action. Ultimately the decision to forcefully intervene on the demonstrations was made by a group of Party elders, who saw abandonment of single-party rule as a return of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.[57] Although most of these people had no official position, they were able to control the military. Deng Xiaoping was chairman of the Central Military Commission and was able to declare martial law through the State Council; Yang Shangkun was President of the People's Republic of China (a symbolic position under the 1982 Constitution) and the Vice-Chairman of Central Military Commission. The Party elders believed that lengthy demonstrations were a threat to the stability of the country. The demonstrators were seen as tools of advocates of "bourgeois liberalism" who were pulling the strings behind the scenes, as well as tools of elements within the party who wished to further their personal ambitions.[58]

Nationwide and outside mainland China

At the beginning of the movement, the Chinese news media had a rare opportunity to broadcast the news without heavy government censorship. Most of the news media were free to write and report however they wanted, due to lack of control from the central and local governments. The news was spread quickly across the land. According to Chinese news media's report, students and workers in over 400 cities, including cities in Inner Mongolia, also organized and started to protest.[59] People also traveled to the capital to join the protest in the Square.

University students in Shanghai also took to the streets to commemorate the death of Hu Yaobang and protest against certain policies of the government. In many cases, these were supported by the universities' Party committees. Jiang Zemin, then-Municipal Party Secretary, addressed the student protesters in a bandage and 'expressed his understanding', as he was a former student agitator before 1949. But at the same time, he moved swiftly to send in police forces to control the streets and to purge Communist Party leaders who had supported the students.

On 19 April, the editors of the World Economic Herald, a magazine close to reformists, decided to publish, in their 24 April No.439 issue, a commemorative section on Hu. Inside was an article by Yan Jiaqi, which commented favourably on the Beijing student protests of 18 April, and which called for a reassessment of Hu's purge in 1987. On 21 April, a party official of Shanghai asked the editor in chief, Qin Benli, to change some passages. Qin Benli refused, so the official turned to Jiang Zemin, who demanded that the article be censored. By that time, a first batch of copies of the paper had already been delivered. The remaining copies were published with a blank page.[60] On 26 April, the "People's Daily" published its editorial condemning the student protest. Jiang followed this cue and suspended Qin Benli.

In Hong Kong, on 27 May 1989, over 300,000 people gathered at Happy Valley Racecourse for a gathering called "Democratic songs dedicated for China." Many Hong Kong celebrities sang songs and expressed their support for the students in Beijing. The following day, a procession of 1.5 million people, one fourth of Hong Kong's population, led by Martin Lee, Szeto Wah and other organization leaders, paraded through Hong Kong Island. Across the world, especially where Chinese lived, people gathered and protested. Many governments, including those of the USA and Japan, issued warnings advising their own citizens not to go to the PRC.

Military action

20 May – 1 June

Premier Li Peng, who declared martial law and backed military action.

The Chinese government declared martial law on 20 May, and deployed People's Liberation Army forces in three to four major vehicle convoys to Beijing. Their entry into the city was blocked at its suburbs by throngs of protesters. Tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded military vehicles, preventing them from either advancing or retreating. Protesters frequently lectured soldiers on the reasons for their actions and appealed to them to join their cause and provided them with food and water. On 24 May, the army was ordered to withdraw. All government forces retreated to bases outside the city.[61][62] In his autobiography, Zhao Ziyang claimed that there was no formal vote by the Politburo Standing Committee to declare martial law, implying that Party elders effectively took control of the government by fiat.[63]

Meanwhile, the demonstrations continued. The hunger strike was approaching the end of the third week, and the government resolved to end the matter before deaths occurred. After deliberation among Communist party leaders, the use of the military to resolve the crisis was ordered, and a deep divide in the politburo resulted. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was ousted from political leadership as a result of his support for the demonstrators.

1–2 June

For the Communist Party of China (CPC), the days leading up to 4 June were crucial in their decision making. The CPC agreed that it was necessary to end the “turmoil,” and that the students occupying the Square should return to their campuses. However, the CPC was struggling with the idea that if it was to put an end to the movement within the next few days, it was likely that force would be necessary to remove the students. In order to carry out the clearing of the Square, the members of the Politburo needed to be in agreement that using martial law to restore order was the only option. On 1 June Li Peng issued a report titled “On the True Nature of the Turmoil”, which was circulated to every member of the Politburo.[64] The report aimed to persuade the Politburo of the necessity and legality of clearing Tiananmen Square by referring to the protestors as terrorists and counterrevolutionaries.[65] The report stated that turmoil was continuing to grow as the students did not have plans to leave the Square, since they were receiving more support.[66]

Further justification for martial law came in the form of a report submitted by the State Security Ministry to Party Central, which emphasized the infiltration of bourgeois liberalism into China and the negative effect that the West – particularly the United States of America – was having on the students.[67] The State Security Ministry expressed its belief that American forces had openly intervened in the student movement in hopes of overthrowing the Communist Party.[68] The report created a sense of urgency within in the CPC, and provided justification for military action.[67] In conjunction with the plan to clear the Square by force, the Politburo received word from the martial law troops headquarters stating that the troops were ready to help stabilize the capital, and that they understood the necessity and legality of martial law to overcome the turmoil.[69]

On 2 June, the student movement saw an increase in action and protest, solidifying the CPC’s decision that it was time to act. Protests broke out as newspapers published articles that called for the students to leave Tiananmen Square and end the movement. Many of the students in the Square were not willing to leave and were outraged by the articles. The students were angered by the People’s Daily article published on 1 June written by Peking University professors which asked the students to leave the Square and return to their studies on campus.[70] They were also outraged by Beijing Daily’s 1 June article “Tiananmen, I Cry for You”, written by a fellow student who had become disillusioned with the movement, as he thought it was chaotic and disorganized.[70] In response to the articles, thousands of students lined the streets of Beijing to protest against leaving the Square.[71]

On 2 June, three intellectuals, Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo, Gao Xin, and a Taiwanese singer Hou Dejian declared a second hunger strike because they wanted to revive the pro-democracy movement.[72] After weeks of occupying the Square, the students were tired, and dissent between different student groups was growing.[73] In their declaration speech, the hunger strikers openly criticized the government’s suppression of the movement to remind the students that their cause was worth fighting for, and pushed them to continue their occupation of the Square.[74] Consequently, the CPC became more determined to quickly put an end to the student movement, as a second hunger strike seemed to be proof that turmoil was increasing.

During a meeting on 2 June, the CPC formally moved to clear the Square by force. Records from this meeting indicate that the Party Elders, (Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, Peng Zhen, Yang Shangkun, and Wang Zhen) agreed with the Politburo committee (Li Peng, Qiao Shi, and Yao Yilin) that the Square needed to be cleared as quickly as possible.[75] They also agreed that the Square needed to be cleared as peacefully as possible, but if protesters did not cooperate, the troops were authorized to use force to complete the job.[71] In preparation for clearing the Square, martial law troops moved into Beijing. On the morning of 2 June, newspapers reported that troops were positioned in ten key spots within the city.[73] Around midnight of 2 June an order went out to the remaining martial law troops to move to designated areas in Beijing.[71] After finalizing the decision to clear the Square, the CPC intended to act quickly. On the evening of 2 June, there were reports that a police Jeep ran into four civilians, killing three, and injuring the other.[76] This incident sparked fear that the army and the police were trying to advance into Tiananmen Square. Student leaders issued emergency orders for the students to set up roadblocks at major intersections to prevent the advance of the large numbers of armed troops that were attempting to infiltrate the Square.[76] In the early hours of 3 June, the first reports of violence on both sides were reported.[77][78]

3–5 June

Soldiers and tanks from the 27th and 38th Armies of the People's Liberation Army were sent to take control of Beijing and clear Tiananmen Square. The 27th Army was led by a commander related to Yang Shangkun. Intelligence reports also indicated that 27th and 38th units were brought in from outside provinces because the PLA troops were considered to be sympathetic to the protest and to the people of the city.[79] Reports described the 27th as having been most responsible for civilian deaths and suggested that elements of the 27th established defensive positions in Beijing – not of the sort designed to counter a civilian uprising, but as if to defend against attacks by other military units.[80][81] There were rumours at the time that high-ranking officials sympathised with the pro-democracy protesters and reports of defiance among other troops. According to the revised edition of Political Struggles in China's Reform Era, Major General Xu Qinxian, commander of the 38th Army, shocked the top leadership when he refused a verbal order from General Li Laizhu to send the 38th in to clear the square; Xu had insisted on a written order. Xu was immediately removed from command and was later jailed for five years and expelled from the Communist Party.[82]

As word spread that hundreds of thousands of troops were approaching from all four corners of the city, residents of Beijing flooded the streets to block them, as they had done two weeks earlier. People set up barricades at every major intersection. At about 10:30 pm, near the Muxidi apartment buildings (home to high-level Party officials and their families), protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police and army vehicles. Many vehicles were set on fire in the streets all around Tiananmen, some with their occupants still inside them. There were reports of soldiers being burned alive in their armoured personnel carriers while others were beaten to death. Soldiers responded by opening fire on protesters with live ammunition, causing casualties among demonstrators. Soldiers also raked apartment buildings in the area with gunfire, and some people inside their apartments or watching the scene from their balconies were shot.[61][83]

The battle raged in the streets surrounding the Square, with protesters repeatedly advancing toward the PLA and constructing barricades with vehicles, while the PLA attempted to clear the streets using tear gas, gunfire, and tanks. Many injured citizens were saved by rickshaw drivers who ventured into the no-man's-land between the soldiers and crowds and carried the wounded off to hospitals. After the attack on the square, live television coverage showed many people wearing black armbands in protest against the government, crowding various boulevards or congregating by burnt out and smoking barricades. In a couple of cases, soldiers were pulled from tanks, beaten and killed by protesters.[84]

Meanwhile, the PLA systematically established checkpoints around the city, chasing after protesters and blocking off the university district.

Earlier, within the Square itself, there had been a debate between those who wished to withdraw peacefully, including Han Dongfang, and those who wished to stand within the square, such as Chai Ling.[citation needed]

At about 1:00 am, the army finally reached Tiananmen Square and waited for orders from the government. The soldiers had been told not to open fire, but they had also been told that they must clear the square by 6:00 am – with no exceptions or delays. They made a final offer of amnesty if the few thousand remaining students would leave. About 4:00 am, student leaders put the matter to a vote: Leave the square, or stay and face the consequences.[84]

Armored personnel carriers (APCs) rolled up the roads, firing ahead and off to the sides. BBC reporter Kate Adie spoke of "indiscriminate fire" within the square. Eyewitness reporter Charlie Cole also saw Chinese soldiers firing Type 56 rifles into the crowd near an APC which had just been torched. During the night, protester sustained heavy casualties.[85]

Students who sought refuge in buses were pulled out by groups of soldiers and beaten with heavy sticks. Even students attempting to leave the square were beaten. Leaders of the protest inside the square, where some had attempted to erect flimsy barricades ahead of the APCs, were said to have "implored" the students not to use weapons (such as Molotov cocktails) against the oncoming soldiers. Meanwhile, many students apparently were shouting, "Why are you killing us?" Around 4 or 5 am the following morning, 4 June, tanks smashed into the square, crushing vehicles and people with their treads, according to Cole.[85] By 5:40 am 4 June, the Square had been cleared.[86] James Miles, who was the BBC's Beijing correspondent at the time, stated:

I and others conveyed the wrong impression. There was no massacre on Tiananmen Square... Protesters who were still in the square when the army reached it were allowed to leave after negotiations with martial law troops (Only a handful of journalists were on hand to witness this moment [...]). [...] There was no Tiananmen Square massacre, but there was a Beijing massacre.

Richard Roth of CBS reported that he and a colleague were on the south portico of the Great Hall of the People (which forms one of the borders of the Square) led by Richard Roth. In the words of eyewitness CBS news correspondent Richard Roth:[87]

Derek Williams and I were driven in a pair of army jeeps right through the square, almost along its full length, and into the Forbidden City. Dawn was just breaking. There were hundreds of troops in the square ... But we saw no bodies, injured people, ambulances or medical personnel—in short, nothing to even suggest, let alone prove, that a "massacre" had recently occurred in that place... some have found it uncomfortable that all this conforms with what the Chinese government has always claimed, perhaps with a bit of sophistry: that there was no "massacre in Tiananmen Square." But there's no question many people were killed by the army that night around Tiananmen Square, and on the way to it – mostly in the western part of Beijing. Maybe, for some, comfort can be taken in the fact that the government denies that, too.

On the morning of 5 June, protesters parents of casualties, workers and infuriated civilians tried to enter the blockaded square but were shot at by the soldiers. The soldiers shot them in the back when they were running away. These actions were repeated several times.[61][88]

"Tank Man"

The suppression of the protest was immortalized in Western media by the famous video footage and photographs of a lone man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks which were attempting to drive out of Tiananmen Square. Taken on 5 June as the column approached an intersection on the Chang'an Avenue, the footage depicted the unarmed man standing in the center of the street, halting the tanks' progress. As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the "Tank Man" moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people.[89]

Eyewitnesses disagree about the identity of the group who pulled him aside. Jan Wong is convinced the group were concerned citizens helping him away, while Charlie Cole believes that "Tank Man" was probably executed after being taken from the tank by secret police, since the Chinese government could never produce him to hush the outcry from many countries.[85] Time Magazine dubbed him The Unknown Rebel and later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. British tabloid the Sunday Express reported that the man was 19-year-old student Wang Weilin; however, the validity of this claim is dubious.

What happened to the "Tank Man" following the demonstration is not known. In a speech to the President's Club in 1999, Bruce Herschensohn—former deputy special assistant to President Richard Nixon—reported that he was executed 14 days later. In Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, Jan Wong writes that the man is still alive and hiding in mainland China. In Forbidden City, Canadian children's author William Bell, claims the man was named Wang Ai-min and was killed on 9 June after being taken into custody. The last official statement from the PRC government about the "Tank Man" came from CPC General Secretary Jiang Zemin in a 1990 interview; when asked about the whereabouts of the "Tank Man", Jiang responded: "I think never killed."[90]

After order was restored in Beijing on 4 June, protests continued throughout much of mainland China for several days. There were large protests in Hong Kong, where people again wore black in protest. There were protests in Guangzhou, and large-scale protests in Shanghai with a general strike. There were also protests in other countries, many adopting the use of black armbands as well. However, the government soon regained control. A political purge followed in which officials responsible for organizing or condoning the protests were removed, and protest leaders jailed. According to Amnesty International at least 300 people were killed in Chengdu on 5 June. Troops in Chengdu used concussion grenades, truncheons, knives and electric cattle prods against civilians. Hospitals were ordered to not accept students and on the second night the ambulance service was stopped by police.[91]

Number of deaths

The number of dead and wounded remains unclear because of the large discrepancies between the different estimates. Some of the early estimates were based on reports of a figure of 2,600 from the Chinese Red Cross. The official Chinese government figure is 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded.[92]

According to an analysis by Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times, "The true number of deaths will probably never be known, and it is possible that thousands of people were killed without leaving evidence behind. But based on the evidence that is now available, it seems plausible that about fifty soldiers and policemen were killed, along with 400 to 800 civilians."[93] An intelligence report received by the Soviet politburo estimated that 3,000 protesters were killed, according to a document found in the Soviet archive.[94]

The Chinese government has maintained that there were no deaths within the square itself, although videos taken there at the time recorded the sound of gunshots. State Council claimed that the basic statistics were: "Five thousand PLA soldiers and officers wounded, and more than two thousand local people (counting students, city people, and protesters together) also wounded." Chinese commentators have pointed out that this obvious imbalance in casualties questions the military competence of the PLA. They also said no one died on Tiananmen Square itself.[95] Yuan Mu, the spokesman of the State Council, said that about 300 soldiers and civilians died, including 23 students from universities in Beijing, along with a number of people he described as "ruffians".[citation needed] According to Chen Xitong, Beijing mayor, 200 civilians and several dozen soldiers died.[96][97] Other sources stated that 3,000 civilians and 6,000 soldiers were injured.[98] In May 2007, CPPCC member from Hong Kong, Chang Ka-mun said 300 to 600 people were killed in Tiananmen Square. He echoed that "there were armed thugs who weren't students."[99]

According to The Washington Post first Beijing bureau chief, Jay Mathews: "A few people may have been killed by random shooting on streets near the square, but all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully. Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under different circumstances."[100] US ambassador James Lilley's account of the massacre notes that US State Department diplomats witnessed Chinese troops opening fire on unarmed people and based on visits to hospitals around Beijing a minimum of hundreds had been killed.[101]

A strict focus on the number of deaths within Tiananmen Square itself does not give an accurate picture of the carnage and overall death count, since Chinese civilians were fired on in the streets surrounding Tiananmen Square. In addition, students are reported to have been fired on after they left the Square, especially in the area near the Beijing concert hall.[102]

Estimates of deaths from different sources, in descending order:

  • 10,000 dead (including civilians and soldiers) – Soviet Union.[103]
  • 7,000 deaths – NATO intelligence.[103]
  • 4,000 to 6,000 civilians killed, but no one really knows – Edward Timperlake.[104]
  • Over 3,700 killed, excluding disappearance or secret deaths and those denied medical treatment – PLA defector citing a document circulating among officers.[104]
  • 2,600 had officially died by the morning of 4 June (later denied) – the Chinese Red Cross.[97] An unnamed Chinese Red Cross official estimated that, in total, 5,000 people were killed and 30,000[clarification needed] injured.[105]
  • Closer to 1,000 deaths, according to Amnesty International and some of the protest participants, as reported in a Time article.[97] Other statements by Amnesty have characterized the number of deaths as hundreds.[106]
  • 300 to 1,000 according to a Western diplomat that compiled estimates.[93]
  • 400 to 800 plausible according to the New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof. He developed this estimate using information from hospital staff and doctors, and from "a medical official with links to most hospitals".[93]
  • 180–500 casualties, according to a declassified NSA document which referred to early casualty estimates.[107]
  • 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded, according to the Chinese government.[92]
  • 186 named individuals confirmed dead at the end of June 2006 – Professor Ding Zilin of the Tiananmen Mothers. The Tiananmen Mothers' list includes some people whose deaths were not directly at the hands of the army, such as a person who committed suicide after the incident on 4 June.[108]


Internal media reporting

The English section of China Radio International (CRI) accurately reported the events on 4 June to the rest of the world.[109] The CRI broadcast “several thousand people, mostly innocent citizens” had been killed by “heavily armed soldiers”.[109] The CRI urged listeners to protest the government’s action.[109]


On 5 June, students marched very quickly on the streets and stopped traffic using roadblocks.[109] Factory workers skipped work and railway traffic was also blocked.[109] Public transport was also suspended early in the morning. According to British Broadcasting Corporation “ten thousand staff members and workers could not get to work on time”.[110]

The next day, The Shanghai Municipal Government sent out 6,500 people to remove the roadblocks.[111] According to reports, “At 8:45 pm the number 161 train from Beijing ran over nine people who had gathered at the spectacle of a blocked locomotive. Five of them died. By 10 pm more than thirty thousand people had gathered at the scene, interrupting rail traffic and creating a disturbance. Protesters beat up the train engineer, set fire to railcars, and prevented fire trucks from entering the site”.[109]

On 7 June,“At Tongji University, East China Normal University, and Shanghai Polytechnic University, students stormed school auditoriums and classroom buildings, where they erected biers” (meaning a coffin along with its stand).[112] More and more students erected roadblocks and interrupted traffic, and approximately 3,000 students left campus.

On the evening of 7 June, Shanghai Mayor Zhu Rongji gave a televised speech, in which he stated “As mayor, I solemnly declare that neither the Party Committee nor the Municipal Government has considered calling in the army. We have never envisaged military control or martial law; we seek only to stabilize Shanghai, to steady the situation, to insist on production, and to ensure normal life”.[113]


On 5 and 6 June, students marched, set up roadblocks, and stopped workers from entering factories.[114] By 8 June, provincial authorities said that the city had stabilized and called for “restraint of rioters and avoidance of face-to-face confrontation or any escalation of conflict”.[113]


On 5 June, approximately 20,000 students from the University of DongJin marched to Tiananmen Square.[115] Some also blocked the “Yangtze River Railway bridge for eight hours, and another four thousand massed in the square in front of the railway station”.[115] The next day, students continued demonstrating in the streets and stopped traffic. About one thousand students “staged a sit-in on the railroad tracks”.[116] Rail traffic on the Beijing-Guangzhou and Wuhan-Dalian lines was interrupted. The students also urged workers from major enterprises to go on strike.[116]

On the early morning of 7 June students used buses to block traffic; “They held a memorial at Dadongmen and roadblocks were erected at intersections”.[117] A small group of students stopped a freight train and “poured gasoline over the freight cars but were stopped in the nick of time by arriving police”.[117] The situation in the city was tense and residents “withdrew cash and began panic buying”.[117]


On 5, 6 and 7 June , students marched, made speeches, blocked traffic and tried to stop workers from working. On 7 June, “Around 7 am more than four hundred students from four colleges including Hehai University, blocked the Yangtze River bridge with four buses, allowing only mail trucks and ice deliveries to pass”.[118] In the early evening traffic was still blocked.[118] Students from schools including Nanjing University set up “roadblocks at the Zhongyangmen Railway Bridge; not a single train could pass through from 8:40 am until 4 pm, when the students were finally persuaded to evacuate”.[118] Traffic resumed by the end of the day.[118]

On 8 June, students from Nanjing University and Hehai University “retook an overpass one kilometer from the Nanjing Railway Station, halting traffic”.[119] Students also staged “a sit-in at the south end of the highway section of the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge and at the Zhongyangmen section of the Beijing Shanghai rail line”.[119] The Jiangsu Provincial Party informed the students that the situation was way out of control, and stated that Public Security would punish the people responsible.[119]

Deng Xiaoping’s appearance on 9 June

On 9 June, Deng Xiaoping appeared in public for the first time since the protests began. He started the meeting by recognizing the “martyrs” (PLA soldiers who had died). In the meeting Deng stated that the goal of the movement was to overthrow the Party and the state. “Their goal is to establish a totally Western-dependent bourgeois republic,” Deng said of the protesters. Deng argued that protesters had complained about corruption to cover their real motive, which was to replace the socialist system.[120] He said that "the entire imperialist Western world plans to make all socialist countries discard the socialist road and then bring them under the monopoly of international capital and onto the capitalist road".[121]

International reaction

A memorial in the Polish city of Wrocław depicting a destroyed bicycle and a tank track is a symbol of the Tiananmen Square protests

The events at Tiananmen were the first of their type shown in detail on Western television.[122] The Chinese government's response was denounced, particularly by Western governments and media.[123] Criticism came from both Western and Eastern Europe, North America, Australia and some east Asian and Latin American countries. Notably, many Asian countries remained silent throughout the protests; the government of India responded to the massacre by ordering the state television to pare down the coverage to the barest minimum, so as not to jeopardize a thawing in relations with China, and to offer political empathy for the events.[124] North Korea, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany, among others, supported the Chinese government and denounced the protests.[123] Overseas Chinese students demonstrated in many cities in Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia.[125]


Arrests and persecution of student leaders

Wu Guoguang, former aide to Zhao Ziyang was quoted as saying that the account of 38th Army commander Maj. Gen. Xu's revealed for the first time that the Central Military Commission issued verbal orders fearing written records of the crackdown would go down in history; he said this suggested they knew the action was unlawful.[82] Chinese authorities summarily tried and executed many of the workers they arrested in Beijing. In contrast, the students – many of whom came from relatively affluent backgrounds and were well-connected – received much lighter sentences. Wang Dan, the student leader who topped the most wanted list, spent seven years in prison. Many of the students and university staff implicated were permanently politically stigmatized, some never to be employed again. Some dissidents were able to escape to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other Western nations under Operation Yellowbird that was organized from Hong Kong, a British territory at the time.[126]

Smaller protest actions continued in other cities for a few days. Some university staff and students who had witnessed the killings in Beijing organised or spurred commemorative events upon their return to school. At Shanghai's prestigious Jiaotong University, for example, the party secretary organised a public commemoration event, with engineering students producing a large metal wreath. However, these commemorations were quickly put down, with those responsible being put to death by firing squad.

During and after the demonstration, the authorities attempted to arrest and prosecute the student leaders of the Chinese democracy movement, notably Wang Dan, Chai Ling, Zhao Changqing and Wuer Kaixi. Wang Dan was arrested, convicted and sent to prison, then allowed to emigrate to the United States on the grounds of medical parole. As a lesser figure in the demonstrations, Zhao was released after six months in prison. However, he was once again incarcerated for continuing to petition for political reform in China. Wuer Kaixi escaped to Taiwan. He is married and holds a job as a political commentator on Taiwanese national radio.[127] Chai Ling escaped to France, and then to the United States. In a public speech given at the University of Michigan in November 2007,[128] Wang Dan commented on the current status of former student leaders: Chai Ling started a hi-tech company in the US, while Li Lu became an investment banker in Wall Street and started a company. Wang Dan said his plan was to find an academic job in the US after receiving his PhD from Harvard University. Chai Ling has since started an organization devoted to helping women in China and to fighting China's One Child Policy. The organization is called All Girls Allowed (at: allgirlsallowed.org.)

Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao were arrested in late 1989 for their involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Chinese authorities alleged they were the “black hands” behind the movement. Both Chen and Wang rejected the allegations made against them. They were put on trial in 1990 and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

High-level political changes

Jiang Zemin succeeded Zhao Ziyang to become CPC General Secretary in 1989.

To purge sympathizers of Tiananmen demonstrators, the Communist Party initiated a one and half year long program similar to Anti-Rightist Movement. It aimed to deal "strictly with those inside the party with serious tendencies toward bourgeois liberalization". Four million people were reportedly investigated for their role in the protests. Furthermore, more than 30,000 communist officers were deployed to assess political reliability of more than one million government officials.[129] The authorities arrested tens if not hundreds of thousands people across the country. Some were seized at broad daylight while they walked on streets, others were captured at night. Many were jailed or sent to labor camps. They were often denied access to see their families and often put in cells so crowded that not everyone had space to sleep. Dissidents shared cells with murderers and rapists, and torture was not uncommon.[130]

The Party leadership expelled Zhao Ziyang from the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (PSC), because he opposed martial law, and Zhao remained under house arrest until his death. Hu Qili, a PSC member who opposed the martial law but abstained from voting, was also removed from the committee. He was, however, able to retain his party membership, and after "changing his opinion", was reassigned as deputy minister of Machine-Building and Electronics Industry. Another reform-minded Chinese leader, Wan Li, was also put under house arrest immediately after he stepped out of his plane at Beijing Capital International Airport upon returning from his shortened trip abroad, with the official excuse of "health reasons." When Wan Li was released from his house arrest after he finally "changed his opinion" he, like Qiao Shi, was transferred to a different position with equal rank but mostly ceremonial role. Several Chinese ambassadors abroad claimed political asylum.[131][132]

The event elevated Jiang Zemin – then Party Secretary of Shanghai – to become the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. Jiang's decisive actions in Shanghai, in closing down reform-leaning publications and preventing deadly violence, won him support from party elders in Beijing. Members of the government prepared a white paper explaining the government's viewpoint on the protests. An anonymous source within the PRC government smuggled the document out of China, and Public Affairs published it in January 2001 as the Tiananmen Papers. The papers include a quote by Communist Party elder Wang Zhen which alludes to the government's response to the demonstrations.

Media and discourse

State media mostly gave reports sympathetic to the students in the immediate aftermath. As a result, those responsible were all later removed. Two news anchors who reported this event on 4 June in the daily 1900 hours (7:00 pm) news report on China Central Television were fired because they showed their sad emotions. Wu Xiaoyong, the son of a Communist Party of China Central Committee member, and former PRC foreign minister and vice premier Wu Xueqian were removed from the English Program Department of Chinese Radio International. Editors and other staff at the People's Daily (the newspaper of the Communist Party of China), including its director Qian Liren and Editor-in-Chief Tan Wenrui, were also removed from their posts because of reports in the paper which were sympathetic towards the students. Several editors were arrested, with Wu Xuecan, who organised the publication of an unauthorised Extra edition, sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

Journalist Rob Gifford said that much of the political freedoms and debate that occurred post-Mao and pre-Tiananmen ended after Tiananmen. For instance, some of the authors of the film River Elegy (He Shang) were arrested, and some of the authors fled mainland China. Gifford concluded that "China the concept, China the empire, China the construct of two thousand years of imperial thinking" has forbidden and may always forbid "independent thinking" as that would lead to the questioning of China's political system. Gifford added that people born after 1970 had "near-complete depoliticization" while older intellectuals no longer focus on political change and instead focus on economic reform.[133]


International image

The Tiananmen Square protests damaged the reputation of the PRC internationally, particularly in the West. Western media had been invited to cover the Sino-Soviet summit in May and were thus in an excellent position to cover some of the military action live through networks such as the BBC and CNN. Protesters seized this opportunity, creating signs and banners designed for international television audiences. Coverage was further facilitated by the sharp conflicts within the Chinese government about how to handle the protests. Thus, broadcasting was not immediately stopped.

All international networks were eventually ordered to terminate broadcasts from the city during the military action, with the government shutting down the satellite transmissions. Broadcasters attempted to defy these orders by reporting via telephone. Footage was quickly smuggled out of the country, including the image of "the unknown rebel." The only network which was able to record some images during the night was Televisión Española of Spain (TVE).[134][135]

CBS correspondent Richard Roth and his cameraman were imprisoned during the military action. Roth was taken into custody while in the midst of filing a report from the Square via mobile phone. In a frantic voice, he could be heard repeatedly yelling what sounded like "Oh, no! Oh, no!" before the phone was disconnected. He was later released, suffering a slight injury to his face in a scuffle with Chinese authorities attempting to confiscate his phone. Roth later explained he had actually been telling police, "I'll go! I'll go!"

Images of the protests would strongly shape Western views and policy toward the PRC throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century. There was considerable sympathy for the student protests among Chinese students in the West. Almost immediately, both the United States and the European Union announced an official arms embargo, and China's image as a reforming country and a valuable ally against the Soviet Union was replaced by that of a repressive authoritarian regime. The Tiananmen protests were frequently invoked to argue against trade liberalization with mainland China and by the United States' Blue Team as evidence that the PRC government was an aggressive threat to world peace.

Meanwhile, the state-controlled media was ordered to focus on any dead soldiers, not the hundreds of dead citizens. The media screened images often on television of the soldiers.[136] Among overseas Chinese students, the Tiananmen Square protests triggered the formation of Internet news services such as the China News Digest and the NGO China Support Network. In the aftermath of Tiananmen, organizations such as the China Alliance for Democracy and the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars were formed, although these organizations would have limited political impact beyond the mid-1990s.

Domestic political trends

Despite early expectations in the West that PRC government would soon collapse and be replaced by the democratic governance, the Communist Party of China maintained its grip on power, and the student movement which started at Tiananmen was in complete disarray.

In Hong Kong, the Tiananmen square protests led to fears that the PRC would renege on its commitments under one country, two systems following the impending handover in 1997, leading the new governor Chris Patten to attempt to expand the franchise for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong which led to friction with the PRC. There have been large candlelight vigils attended by tens of thousands in Hong Kong every year since 1989 and these vigils have continued following the transfer of power to the PRC in 1997.

The protests also marked a shift in the political conventions which governed politics in the People's Republic. Prior to the protests, under the 1982 Constitution, the President was a largely symbolic role. By convention, power was distributed between the positions of President, Premier, and the CPC General Secretary, all of whom were intended to be different people to prevent the excesses of Mao-style dictatorship. However, after President Yang Shangkun used his reserve powers as Vice-chairman of Central Military Commission to mobilize the military, the Presidency again became a position imbued with real power. Subsequently, the President became the same person as the Party General Secretary, and wielded paramount power.

In 1989, neither the Chinese military nor the Beijing police had adequate anti-riot gear, such as rubber bullets and tear gas commonly used in Western nations to break up riots.[137] After the Tiananmen Square protests, riot police in Chinese cities were equipped with non-lethal equipment for riot control.

Economic impact

There was a significant impact on the Chinese economy after the incident. Foreign loans to China were suspended by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and governments;[138] tourism revenue decreased from US$2.2 billion to US$1.8 billion; foreign direct investment commitments were cancelled and there was a rise in defense spending from 8.6% in 1986, to 15.5% in 1990, reversing a previous 10 year decline.[139] The Chinese Premier Li Peng visited the United Nations Security Council on 31 January 1992, and argued that the economic and arms embargoes on China were a violation of national sovereignty.[140]

In the immediate aftermath of the protests, some within the Chinese government attempted to curtail free market reforms that had been undertaken as part of Chinese economic reform and reinstitute administrative economic controls. However, these efforts met with stiff resistance from provincial governors and broke down completely in the early 1990s as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Deng Xiaoping's trip to the south. The continuance of economic reform led to economic growth in the 1990s,[citation needed] which allowed the government to regain much of the support that it had lost in 1989. In addition, none of the current PRC leadership played any active role in the decision to move against the demonstrators, and one major leadership figure Premier Wen Jiabao was Director of the Central Party Office and accompanied Zhao Ziyang to meet the demonstrators.

The protest leaders at Tiananmen were unable to produce a coherent movement or ideology that would last past the mid-1990s. Many of the student leaders came from relatively "well-off" sectors of society and were seen as out of touch with common people. A number of them were socialists[citation needed]. Many of the organizations which were started in the aftermath of Tiananmen soon fell apart due to personal infighting. Several overseas democracy activists were supportive of limiting trade with mainland China, which significantly decreased their popularity both within China and among the overseas Chinese community. A number of NGOs based in the US, which aim to bring democratic reform to China and relentlessly protest human rights violations that occur in China, remain. One of the oldest and most prominent of them, the China Support Network (CSN), was founded in 1989 by a group of concerned US and Chinese activists in response to Tiananmen Square.

Continuing issues

WikiLeaks Tiananmen cables

On 4 June 2011 WikiLeaks published 5 cables sent to Washington by the US embassy in Beijing. The State Department had already declassified parts of the cables in the late 1990s.[141][142][142]

Forbidden topic in mainland China

The Communist Party of China (CPC) does not allow discussion of the Tiananmen Square protests as it is considered taboo.[143] The CPC has taken measures to block or censor information. Textbooks reportedly have little, if any, information related to the protests.[144] Access to media and internet resources on the subject are restricted or blocked by censors.[145]

The CPC’s official stance towards the incident is that its actions were necessary in order to control a 'political disturbance'[146] and helped to ensure stability and economic success.[147] President Hu Jintao reiterated this stance during a visit to France in 2004, stating that "the government took determined action to calm the political storm of 1989, and enabled China to enjoy a stable development." President Hu stated that the government would not change its view on the protests.[148] An overview of the political decisions by the CPC leadership during the protests is available through a collection of documents compiled in a book titled the Tiananmen Papers. However, the authenticity of these documents is contested by the CPC.[149]

The public memory of the Tiananmen Square protests has been suppressed by the CPC since 1989. Print media containing reference to the protests must be consistent with the government’s version of events.[146] As of 2009, internet users in China who search for '4 June' on search engines have the results censored. If a user attempts to access an English language version of the Google search engine in China, they are redirected to the Chinese version where the results of '4 June' are not related to the massacre.[150] The Chinese-language versions of Wikipedia and YouTube are not censored, however, access to these websites are blocked in China.[144][150] Presently, many Chinese citizens are reluctant to speak about the protests due to the possibility of repercussions such as jail time.[151] However, some individuals do publicly speak out such as Ding Zilin, and organizations like Tiananmen Mothers. In 2007, several Chengdu Wanbao newspaper staff were fired after failing to recognize an advertisement that had paid tribute to the mothers of victims of the massacre.[150] The clerk that was in charge of approving advertisements allegedly did not recognize the meaning of the advertisement because she was too young.[152]

Leading up to and during the 20th anniversary of the massacre on 4 June 2009, the CPC increased security around the square. Members of the Public Security Bureau and the People’s Armed Police were present during the 20th anniversary at the square in uniform along with several hundred plain clothes officers.[153] Tourists were allowed into the square during the anniversary but were subject to having their bags searched. Journalists however, were denied entry into the square.[153] Journalists were prevented from reporting on protest related issues through the media and internet. Journalists who attempted to film at the square or interview dissidents were briefly detained.[154] They were also barred from filming the raising of the Chinese flag.[155] Also leading up to the 20th anniversary the CPC began to censor internet websites and social networking services such as Twitter, Flickr and Hotmail.[145][156] It has also been reported that issues of The Financial Times and The Economist containing articles about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre had the pages ripped out.[145] Staff at a Chinese TV station were suspended from their jobs because they allowed footage of the Tank Man and a Hong Kong candlelight vigil for the 20th anniversary of the protests be broadcast in the mainland.[157] Hong Kong is the only Chinese territory where people are permitted to demonstrate about the massacre.[156]

Dissidents in Beijing were told to leave the city or were forced to stay inside their homes.[156] Others were temporarily relocated to other areas of the country.[154][156] They were told not to speak to media, write articles, give interviews or organize demonstrations about the anniversary and have been closely monitored by authorities.[146] Foreign journalists are also monitored in order to prevent contact with dissidents.[150] Dissidents who fled the country after 1989 were denied entry into Hong Kong and Macau for the 20th anniversary.[155][156][158][159]

Over the years some Chinese citizens have called for a reassessment of the protests and compensation from the government to victims’ families. One group in particular, Tiananmen Mothers, seeks compensation, vindication for victims and the right to receive donations from within the mainland and abroad.[147] Zhang Shijun, a former soldier who was involved in the military crackdown, had published an open letter to President Hu Jintao seeking to have the government reevaluate its position on the protests. He was subsequently arrested and taken from his home.[160]

Censored books, films and TV shows in mainland China

  • Political Struggles in China's Reform Era by Yang Jisheng, for featuring secret interviews with Zhao Ziyang and rejecting the Chinese government's position on the protests.[161]
  • In 2006, the novel Forbidden City, by William Bell, a fictionalised version of the protests, was banned.[citation needed]
  • Summer Palace was banned in 2006, ostensibly because it was screened without permission, but likely also because of its mention of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.[162]
  • Collection of June Fourth Poems, a collection of poems about the protests.[163]
  • Writings or interviews with Zhao Ziyang or Bao Tong are banned.[164][165] As such, Conversations with Zhao Ziyang in House Arrest by Zong Fengmin was not published due to government pressure.[166] However, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang was published in May 2009 after tapes were smuggled out of China.
  • International media programs mentioning the event or anniversaries are blacked out in broadcasts, such as CNN available in Chinese hotels and homes for foreigners.[167]

History deleted inside mainland China

Following the protests, officials banned controversial films and books, and shut down a large number of newspapers. Within one year, 12 percent of all newspapers, 8 percent of publishing companies, 13 percent of social science periodicals and more than 150 films were banned or shut down. In addition to this, the government also announced it had seized 32 million contraband books and 2.4 million video and audio cassettes.[168]

Currently, due to strong Chinese government censorship including Internet censorship, the news media are forbidden to report anything related to the protests. Websites related to the protest are blocked on the mainland.[169] A search for Tiananmen Square protest information on the Internet in mainland China largely returns no results, apart from the government-mandated version of the events and the official view, which are mostly found on Websites of People's Daily and other heavily-controlled media.[170]

In January 2006, Google agreed to censor their mainland China site, Google.cn, to remove information about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and Taiwan independence.[171] When people searched for those topics, it listed on the page in Chinese, "According to local laws and regulations and policies, some search results are not displayed." Google withdrew its cooperation with this censorship in January 2010.[172] The uncensored Wikipedia articles on the 1989 protests, both in English and Chinese Wikipedia, have been attributed as a cause of the blocking of Wikipedia by the government in mainland China. The ban of Wikipedia in mainland China was subsequently lifted (except for visual media such as photographs), but the link to this incident in Chinese Wikipedia remains dead.

In 2006, the American PBS program "Frontline" broadcast a segment filmed at Peking University, many of whose students participated in the 1989 protests. Four present-day students were shown a picture of the Tank Man, but none of them could identify what was happening in the photo. Some responded that it was a military parade, or an artwork.

On 15 May 2007, Ma Lik, the leader of the main loyalist political party in Hong Kong, provoked much criticism when he said that "there was not a massacre" during the protests, as there was "no intentional and indiscriminate shooting." He said Hong Kong was "not mature enough" for democracy for believing foreigners' rash claims that a massacre took place. He said that Hong Kong showed through its lack of patriotism and national identity that it would thus "not be ready for democracy until 2022."[173] His remarks were met with wide condemnation from the public.[174] He later acknowledged he might have been "rash and frivolous" with his comments but insisted that it was not a massacre.[174]

On 4 June 2007, the anniversary of the massacre, a notice reading, "Paying tribute to the strongwilled mothers of 64" was published in the Chengdu Evening News newspaper.[175] The matter was investigated by the Chinese government, and three editors were fired from the paper.[176][177] The clerk who approved the ad had reportedly never heard of 4 June military action and had been told that the date was a reference to a mining disaster.[178]

In late April 2009, Internet access to English-language media on the events at Tiananmen, including video, news reports and Wikipedia, was uncensored in mainland China for the first time. Articles were still mostly censored on the Chinese version of Google, though some videos were viewable.[179] Additionally, filming in Tiananmen Square on the 20th anniversary of the 1989 protests was discouraged by plainclothes police officers wielding umbrellas and stepping in front of the cameras of journalists near the square.[180][181]

EU-US arms embargo

The European Union and United States embargo on armament sales to the PRC, put in place as a result of the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, still remains in place. The PRC has been calling for a lifting of the ban for many years and has had a varying amount of support from members of the Council of the European Union. In early 2004, France spearheaded a movement within the EU to lift the ban. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder publicly added his voice to that of former French President Jacques Chirac to have the embargo lifted.

The arms embargo was discussed at a PRC-EU summit in the Netherlands between 7 and 9 December 2004. In the run-up to the summit, the PRC had attempted to increase pressure on the EU Council to lift the ban by warning that the ban could hurt PRC-EU relations. PRC Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui had called the ban "outdated", and he told reporters, "If the ban is maintained, bilateral relations will definitely be affected." In the end, the EU Council did not lift the ban. EU spokeswoman Françoise le Bail said there were still concerns about the PRC's commitment to human rights. But at the time, the EU did state a commitment to work towards lifting the ban.

The PRC continued to press for the embargo to be lifted, and some member states began to drop their opposition. Jacques Chirac pledged to have the ban lifted by mid-2005. However, the Anti-Secession Law of the People's Republic of China passing in March 2005 increased cross-strait tensions, damaging attempts to lift the ban, and several EU Council members changed their minds. Members of the U.S. Congress had also proposed restrictions on the transfer of military technology to the EU if they lifted the ban. Thus the EU Council failed to reach a consensus, and although France and Germany pushed to have the embargo lifted, the embargo was maintained.

Britain took charge of the EU Presidency in July 2005, making the lifting of the embargo all but impossible for the duration of that period. Britain had always had some reservations on lifting the ban and wished to put it to the side, rather than sour EU-US relations further. Other issues such as the failure of the European Constitution and the ensuing disagreement over the European Budget and Common Agricultural Policy superseded the matter of the embargo in importance. Britain wanted to use its presidency to push for wholesale reform of the EU, so the lifting of the ban became even more unlikely. The election of José Manuel Barroso as European Commission President also made a lifting of the ban more difficult. At a meeting with Chinese leaders in mid-July 2005, he said that China's poor record on human rights would slow any changes to the EU's ban on arms sales to China.[182]

Political will also changed in countries that had previously been more in favor of lifting the embargo. On 22 November 2005, Schröder, who supported lifting, lost the 2005 German federal election to Angela Merkel, who was strongly against lifting the ban; Outgoing French President Jacques Chirac was succeeded by Nicolas Sarkozy. As both were in favour of lifting the embargo, the French foreign policy on this matter remained unchanged.

In addition, the European Parliament has consistently opposed the lifting of the arms embargo to the PRC. Though its agreement is not necessary for lifting the ban, many argue it reflects the will of the European people better as it is the only directly elected European body–the EU Council is appointed by member states. The European Parliament has repeatedly opposed any lifting of the arms embargo on the PRC:

  • The resolution of 28 April 2005, on the Annual Report on Human Rights in the World 2004 and the EU's policy on the matter,
  • The resolution of 23 October 2003, on the annual report from the Council to the European Parliament on the main aspects and basic choices of CFSP, it insisted on a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue through dialogue across the Taiwan Straits and called on China to withdraw missiles in the coastal provinces adjacent to the Taiwan Straits, and
  • The resolution on relations between the EU, China and Taiwan and security in the Far East of 7 July 2005. The EP has noted several times that the current human rights situation in China, with regards to fundamental civil, cultural and political freedoms does not meet even the international standards recognized by China.

The arms embargo has limited China's options from where it may seek military hardware. Among the sources that were sought included the former Soviet bloc that it had a strained relationship with as a result of the Sino-Soviet split. Other willing suppliers have previously included Israel and South Africa, but American pressure has restricted future co-operation.[183]


Although the Chinese government never officially acknowledged wrongdoing when it came to the incident, in April 2006 a payment was made to the mother of one of the victims, the first publicized case of the government offering redress to a Tiananmen-related victim's family. The payment was termed a "hardship assistance", given to Tang Deying (唐德英) whose son, Zhou Guocong (simplified Chinese: 周国聪; traditional Chinese: 周國聰) died at the age of 15 while in police custody in Chengdu on 6 June 1989, two days after the Chinese Army dispersed the Tiananmen protesters. She was reportedly paid CNY70,000 (approximately $10,250 USD). This has been welcomed by various Chinese activists, but was regarded by some as a measure to maintain social stability and not believed to herald a changing of the Party's official position.[184]

United Nations report

The Committee Against Torture met for its forty-first session from 3–21 November 2008 to consider reports submitted by member states under article 19 of the Convention. The Committee found that China’s response to the 1989 Democracy movement was worrying. The Committee was concerned that despite the multiple requests by relatives of people "killed, arrested or disappeared on or following the 4 June 1989 Beijing suppression," there was a lack of investigations into these matters.[185] It was also concerned with the failure of the Chinese Government to inform families of the fate of relatives involved, and it regretted that those responsible for the use of excessive force have not “faced any sanction, administrative or criminal."[185] The Committee recommended that:

The State party should conduct a full and impartial investigation into the suppression of the Democracy Movement in Beijing in June 1989, provide information on the persons who are still detained from that period, inform the family members of their findings, offer apologies and reparation as appropriate and prosecute those found responsible for excessive use of force, torture and other illtreatment.[185]

In December 2009 the Chinese Government responded to the Committee’s recommendations. It stated that the government had closed the case concerning the “political turmoil in the spring and summer of 1989."[186] It also stated that the “practice of the past 20 years has made it clear that the timely and decisive measures taken by the Chinese Government at the time were necessary and correct."[186] It claimed that the labelling of the “incident as ‘the Democracy Movement’” is a “distortion of the nature of the incident."[186] According to the Chinese Government these observations were “inconsistent with the Committee’s responsibilities."[186]

Cultural references

Execution, a painting inspired by the event, became the most expensive Chinese contemporary art sold in 2007


This event has inspired many references within lyrics and album art – both in political and non-political usages. In May 1989, Hong Kong artists/celebrities (including Andy Lau, Sally Yeh, Roman Tam, Andy Hui, Maria Cordero) gathered to record the song "為自由" ("For Liberty") in support of the Tiananmen protesters.

The second music video for Michael Jackson's song They Don't Care About Us contains a video clip of the Tank Man standing in front of the tanks at the beginning of the song. The British rock band The Cure, during a concert in Rome on 4 June 1989, dedicated their last encore, "Faith," to "everyone that died today in China." In the same year, Joan Baez wrote and recorded her folk anthem "China" to commemorate the democratic revolt. In 1990, on the first anniversary of the massacre, folk singer Phillip Morgan released the single "Blood is on the Square", which discusses the protests and massacre.[187]Leonard Cohen's song "Democracy" from his 1992 album The Future states that democracy is coming "from those nights in Tiananmen Square".

Progressive rock group Marillion wrote a song titled "The King of Sunset Town" that uses imagery from the Tiananmen Square incidents, such as "a puppet king on the Fourth of June" and "before the Twenty-Seventh came". The song was released on their album Seasons End in September 1989. American rock and folk music band The Hooters referred to the event in their hit song "500 Miles" (from the album Zig Zag, recorded 1989), which is an updated version of the 1960s folk song. The third verse begins with words: "A hundred tanks along the square, One man stands and stops them there, Someday soon the tide'll turn and I'll be free"

"Shiny Happy People" by R.E.M. is supposedly an ironic reference to a piece of roughly translated Chinese propaganda regarding the massacre, two years before the song was released.[188]

American thrash metal band Slayer released a song "Blood Red" on their 1990 album titled Seasons in the Abyss, which was inspired by the Tiananmen Square incident. American thrash metal band Testament released the song "Seven Days of May" protesting the Beijing massacre. American metal band System of a Down released a song "Hypnotize" on their 2005 album of the same name mentioning the Tiananmen Square incident in a protest against communism.

Brazilian death metal/groove metal band Sepultura mentions the Tiananmen Square incident (the lyric: "Tanks on the streets") in their song Refuse/Resist from their 1993 album Chaos A.D.. The music video for the song features some clips of the incident (in particular the Tank Man).

American songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter references the event in her song "4 June 1989", released in 2010 on the album The Age of Miracles. In 1992, Roger Waters released Amused to Death, an album which included the song "Watching TV", a rumination on the Western response to the protests in Tiananmen. In 1996, a song called "Tiananmen Man", based on the picture of the Tank Man, appeared on Nevermore's second album The Politics of Ecstasy.


A primetime special hosted by Tom Brokaw honored both the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing and the fall of the Berlin Wall in that momentous year for human rights around the world, 1989.

CNN news anchor Kyra Phillips drew criticism in March 2006 when she compared the 2006 youth protests in France, in which it was later determined that no one was killed, to the Tiananmen Square protests, saying "Sort of brings back memories of Tiananmen Square, when you saw these activists in front of tanks."[189] CNN's Chris Burns told French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy that her comments were "regrettable" and would receive some disciplinary actions.[190]

In April 2006, the PBS series Frontline produced an episode titled The Tank Man, which examined his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests and the change that has overtaken the PRC economically and politically since.

On 3 June 2009 the BBC aired the documentary Kate Adie returns to Tiananmen, in which reporter Kate Adie revisits China and recalls the events she witnessed in 1989.[191]


The movie Rapid Fire, starring Brandon Lee, depicts images of the Tiananmen Square killings. In the movie, Brandon Lee's character is the son of a US government employee who died in the Tiananmen Square massacre. Summer Palace (2006) by Chinese director Lou Ye contains re-enacted scenes from Beijing streets during the days of the protests in Tiananmen Square. The movie was banned from public viewing.

See also


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Further reading

  • Binyan, Liu; Ruan Ming and Xu Gang (1989). Tell the World: What happened in China and Why. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0394583709. OCLC 20392647. 
  • Black, George; Robin Munro (1993). Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China's Democracy Movement. New York: John Wiley. ISBN 978-0471579779. OCLC 27186722 243766880 27186722. 
  • Calhoun, Craig C; Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Elizabeth Perry (Editors) (1994). "Science, Democracy, and the Politics of Identity". Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China. Westview Press. pp. 140–7. ISBN 978-0813320427. OCLC 30623957. 
  • Cunningham, Philip J. (2010). Tiananmen Moon: Inside the Chinese Student Uprising of 1989. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. ISBN 978-0742566736. 
  • Wong, Jan (1997). Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now (Trade paperback, 416 pages ed.). Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385482325. OCLC 37690446. 

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