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Tiananmen Square, 1989

1987 Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Movement

Encouraged by successful economic reforms, some enlightened intellectuals again demanded political reform by advocating Western freedom and democratic politics, both in the press and in universities. Hu Yaobang, a reform pioneer and the General Secretary of the CCP at that time, was thought by Deng to be responsible for the failure to put down this movement, and was ousted. The famous writer Liu Binyan, Marxism expert Wang Ruowang, and physicist Fang Lizhi, as well as other intellectuals, were kicked out of the CCP in a nationwide purge. 

1989 June 4th Incident

Taking the opportunity to mourn for the ex-head of the CCP, Hu Yaobang, university students in Beijing, who were extremely unsatisfied with the economic and political status quo, put forward seven demands to the People's National Congress. These included freedom of the press, making public the financial accounts of China's leaders, more funds for education, full explanation of the reasons for Mr. Hu's earlier dismissal and the clearing of his name, reassessment of the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Movement, objective reportage on students' mourning for Hu's death, and the lifting of restrictions on street demonstrations in Beijing. This student movement was determined to be a "riot" by Deng in People's Dailyon April 26. After the students' demands met indifference from the government again and again, they launched the biggest protests and demonstrations since 1949. Thirty to forty million people across the whole country, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and abroad, became involved in this Movement. Correspondingly, the CCP responded unprecedentedly to the "riot" and "turbulence" with live ammunition.

In China even those young people who have only experienced the most recent democracy movement in 1989 know that whatever the CCP says is subject to doubt. You cannot tell whose words to believe and which words mean anything. Almost every one who takes part in mass movements feels hesitation; on the one hand they want to do something for the Movement, but on the other hand, they fear the post-fall reckoning* by the Party. Therefore, appeals had been made to the government from all walks of life not to implement a persecution campaign in response to this Movement. 

  • On May 17th, the moderate Zhao Ziyang, General Secretary of the CCP, a man who was deposed after the crackdown, affirmed the student movement as patriotic and guaranteed against a post-fall reckoning. 
  • On May 18th, the hard-liner Premier Li Peng also guaranteed against a post-fall reckoning in the only conversation he had with the students' representatives after six days of a students' hunger strike. 
  • But on May 19th, the paramount leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, delivered a speech saying:" Who said this is not a riot? Who said we shall not do a post-fall reckoning? Who said we shall not carry out military control?" 
  • Two weeks later, the Changan Boulevard adjacent to the Tiananmen Square was stained with the blood of the people.

In the two years since the Tiananmen crackdown, the government has listed as wanted all those student leaders and so-called "black hands behind the curtain". It has also arrested and sentenced hundreds and thousands of the citizens and students who were involved in the democracy movement. According to a report compiled early this year by the international organizations Human Rights in China and Human Rights Watch (Asia), at least 200 or more June 4th demonstrators still remain in jail. A purge within the Party lasted for two years. Thousands and thousands of student movement participants were rejected from regular job opportunities after they graduated in the following years.

Eight years after the crackdown, it is still dangerous to speak publicly in China about the June 4th incident, described by the government as a "counter-revolutionary riot." Was there a massacre right in Tiananmen Square? How many people died? These questions still remain mysterious to people all over the world. Every time I think of the dozens of bodies of citizens, too horrible to look at, that I saw myself in a hospital near the Square and the burned body of a soldier, with his guts out, that I saw on Changan Boulevard, both on June 5th, I recall a word yelled by the students at the final stage:" Not over yet!" Yes, definitely not over yet.  

Last updated by andjsmit on 08/20/2015