1989 Tiananmen Square protests

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Tiananmen Square in 1988

The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, commonly known in mainland China as the June Fourth Incident (Chinese: 六四事件, liùsì shìjiàn), were student-led demonstrations in Beijing (the capital of the People's Republic of China) for the establishment of basic human and press rights and against the Communist-led Chinese government in mid-1989. More broadly, it refers to the popular national movement inspired by the Beijing protests during that period, sometimes called the '89 Democracy Movement (Chinese: 八九民运, bājiǔ mínyùn). The protests were forcibly suppressed after Chinese Premier Li Peng declared martial law. In what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the demonstrators trying to block the military's advance towards Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths was internally estimated by the Chinese government to be near or above 10,000.


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  • 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.
  • The illegal organization "Beijing Students Autonomous Federation" instigated and organized the counter-revolutionary rebellion in Beijing. It is now decided to pursue 21 of its head and key members, including Wang Dan. After receiving this order, please immediately arrange investigation work. If found, immediate arrest the targets and inform the Beijing Public Security Bureau.
    • The Beijing Public Security Bureau issued the 21 Most Wanted list with the following description.Template:Sfn
  • Developments in Afghanistan, Angola and Central America in 1988–9 were each regionally highly significant. In combination, these developments contributed greatly to a reduction in international tension. At the same time, they had far less of an impact on global attention than developments in the heartlands of the Communist bloc. These developments revealed two different tendencies. The brutal suppression in 1989 of pressure in China for political liberalisation, notably with the massacre of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in April (but not only there), was central to the maintenance of a Communist bloc in East Asia. The decision to act followed tension within the leadership, with Zhao Ziyang, the General Secretary of the Party, being sympathetic to the protesters, whereas the Premier, Li Peng, wanted to use force against them. Ultimately, Deng Xiaoping backed Li. The People’s Daily referred to the pro-democracy movement as an ‘anti-Party and anti-Socialist upheaval’. It was seen as a challenge to the position and legitimacy of the Party leadership.
  • I remember 1989 vividly, having spent much of that summer in Berlin before the Wall fell. And while largely peaceful revolutions swept through Central and Eastern Europe that year (it was only three years later, in Yugoslavia, that the death of Communism sparked war), there was no such turning point in China, where 1989 also saw the Tiananmen Square massacre. With the benefit of hindsight, the survival of Communism in China was a more significant historical phenomenon than its collapse east of the River Elbe.
    • Niall Ferguson, "We have seen very few years in history that have been truly pivotal. This could be one.", The Mail on Sunday, March 20, 2022.
  • "Everyone was so sick of singing the praises of Brezhnev that it now became a must to chide the leader," Gorbachev recalled. "Being disciplined people, my Politburo colleagues did not show that they were unhappy. Nevertheless, I sensed their bad mood. How could it be otherwise when it was already clear to everybody that the days of Party dictatorship were over?" However true that might be in Hungary, Poland, and the Soviet Union, it was not the case in China. There Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms had brought pressures for political change, a course he was not prepared to take. When former general secretary Hu Yaobang, whom Deng had deposed for having advocated openness, suddenly died in mid-April, student protesters began a series of demonstrations that filled Tiananmen Square, in central Beijing. Gorbachev, on his first trip to China, arrived in the midst of these. "Our hosts," he observed, "were extremely concerned about the situation," and with good reason, for the dissidents cheered the Kremlin leader. "In the Soviet Union they have Gorbachev," one banner read. "In China, we have whom?" Shortly after his departure, the students unveiled a plaster "Goddess of Democracy," modeled on the Statue of Liberty, directly across from Mao's portrait over the entrance to the Forbidden City and just in front of his mausoleum. Whatever Mao might have thought of this, it was too much for Deng, and on the night of June 3-4, 1989, he ordered a brutal crackdown. How many people died as the army took back the square and the streets surrounding it is still not clear, but the toll was several times greater than that for the entire year of revolutionary upheavals in Europe. Nor is there a consensus, even now, as to how the Chinese Communist Party retained power when its European counterparts were losing power: perhaps it was the willingness to use force; perhaps the fear of chaos if the party was overthrown; perhaps the fact that Deng's version of capitalism in the guise of communism had genuinely improved the lives of the Chinese people, however stunted their opportunities for political expression might be. What was clear was that Gorbachev's example had shaken Deng's authority. Whether Deng's example would now shake Gorbachev's authority remained to be seen.

See also