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Daily History

April 21 1989 Tiananmen Square Protest Begins In China

On April 21st 1989, about 100,000 students gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate Hu Yaobang, and voice their discontent with China’s authoritative communist government. Hu, the deposed, reform-minded leader of the Chinese Communist Party, had died six days earlier.

The next day, an official memorial service for Hu Yaobang was held in Tiananmen’s Great Hall of the People, and student representatives carried a petition to the steps of the Great Hall, demanding to meet with Premier Li Peng. The Chinese government refused such a meeting, leading to a general boycott of Chinese universities across the country and widespread calls for democratic reforms.

When Hu Yaobang suddenly died to a heart attack on April 15th 1989, students reacted strongly. Hu’s death provided the initial impetus for students to gather in large numbers. In university campuses, many posters appeared eulogising Hu, calling for a reversal of Hu’s legacy. Within days, most posters focused on bigger political issues, such as freedom of the press, democracy, and corruption.

Small spontaneous gatherings to mourn Hu began on April 15th around Monument to the People’s Heroes at Tiananmen Square. On the same day, many students at Peking University (PKU) and Tsinghua University erected shrines, and joined the gathering in Tiananmen Square in a piecemeal fashion.

On April 20th, most students had been persuaded to leave Xinhua Gate. To disperse about 200 students that remained, police employed batons; minor clashes were reported. Many students felt they were abused by the Police, and rumours about police brutality spread quickly. The Xinhua Gate incident angered students on campus, where those who were not hitherto politically active decided to join the protests. Also on this date, a group of workers calling themselves the “Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation” issued two handbills challenging the central leadership. This led to the first huge crowd assembling on April 21st.

Ignoring government warnings of violent suppression of any mass demonstration, students from more than 40 universities began a march to Tiananmen on April 27th. The students were joined by workers, intellectuals, and civil servants, and by mid-May more than a million people filled the square, the site of communist leader’s Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. On May 20th, the government formally declared martial law in Beijing, and troops and tanks were called in to disperse the dissidents. However, large numbers of students and citizens blocked the army’s advance, and by May 23rd government forces had pulled back to the outskirts of Beijing.

On June 3rd, with negotiations to end the protests stalled and calls for democratic reforms escalating, the troops received orders from the Chinese government to reclaim Tiananmen at all costs. By the end of the next day, Chinese troops had forcibly cleared Tiananmen Square and Beijing’s streets, killing hundreds of demonstrators and arresting thousands of protesters and other suspected dissidents. In the weeks after the government crackdown, an unknown number of dissidents were executed, and communist hard-liners took firm control of the country.

The international community was outraged at the incident, and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries sent China’s economy into decline. However, by late 1990, international trade had resumed, thanks in part to China’s release of several hundred imprisoned dissidents.

About Craig Hill

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5 thoughts on “April 21 1989 Tiananmen Square Protest Begins In China

  1. Sad – so sad … and that’s why I don’t have too much over for the China anymore. China and the human rights … don’t walk hand in hand. Some say that so many as 1000 young people could have been killed. Students … the future of their country.

    Posted by viveka | April 21, 2012, 06:54
    • I’m so ashamed as a Chinese! one country , one party, I hate this ! What a great thought in 1989, a good thought for everybody in China,But Communist said it’s bad ,not good for themselves.We just like slaves in China ,Party take charge every , the Press,the troops,even the network,the banks squeeze us ,Chinese work a whole life ,for a little house ,but currency inflation ,the goverment exploit people’s poor wealth quietly,and build more power troops . SAVE US !

      Posted by Alex | April 23, 2012, 03:06
      • Alex, was in China 1978-79, just after Mao’s death and I thought China had a pretty good thing going at that time – where there in August-78 and it was still the old uniforms – came back in end of March-79 and so much had already changed; a little more cars, clothing and girls used make up. It was nice and I have always wanted to go back, but the more and more I read about China today – the more I despise it – how they treat their people. Saw some documentary couple of years ago about how people were treated when the Olympic Games where under preparation and I would never put my money into a country that treat their citizen so cruel. Never went to Greece under the military junta and I never went to Spain under Franco. I will never go to Thailand – where it’s government aloud kids are sold to the sex industry. Alex, I really feel for you in China. Thanks for your replay.

        Posted by viveka | April 23, 2012, 19:10
  2. Reblogged this on China Daily Mail.

    Posted by Craig Hill | April 21, 2012, 08:38
  3. Reblogged this on China Daily Mail.

    Posted by China Daily Mail | June 24, 2012, 21:32

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