Tiananmen Square protests of 1989

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Tiananmen Square protests of 1989

The Unknown Rebel - This famous photo, taken on 5 June 1989 by photographer Jeff Widener, depicts an unknown student attempting to halt the PLA's advancing tanks.
Chinese:
Literal meaning: June Fourth Incident
alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese:
Simplified Chinese:
Literal meaning: Tiananmen Incident

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 culminating in the Tiananmen Square Massacre - referred to in China as the June Fourth Incident to avoid confusion with two other Tiananmen Square protests - were a series of demonstrations led by labor activists, students, and intellectuals in the People's Republic of China (PRC) between April 15 and June 4, 1989. While the protests lacked a unified cause or leadership, participants were generally against the authoritarianism and economic policies of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and voiced calls for democratic reform within the structure of the government. The demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but large-scale protests also occurred in cities throughout China, including Shanghai, which stayed peaceful throughout the protests. In Beijing, the resulting military crackdown on the protesters by the PRC government left many civilians dead or injured. The reported tolls ranged from 200–300 (PRC government figures), to 300–800 ( The New York Times), and to 2,000–3,000 (Chinese student associations and Chinese Red Cross).

Following the violence, the government conducted widespread arrests to suppress 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 PRC press. Members of the Party who had publicly sympathized with the protesters were purged, with several high-ranking members placed under house arrest, such as General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. The violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square protest caused widespread international condemnation of the PRC government.

Naming of incident

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In the Chinese language, the incident is most commonly known as the June Fourth Movement ( simplified Chinese: 六四运动; traditional Chinese: 六四運動), the June Fourth Incident (Chinese: 六四事件), or colloquially, simply Six-four (June 4th) (Chinese: 六四). 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. Other names which have been used in the Chinese language include June Fourth Massacre (Chinese: 六四屠城; pinyin: Liù-Sì Túchéng or Chinese: 六四屠杀; pinyin: Liù-Sì Túshā). The government of the People's Republic of China has referred to the event as the Political Turmoil between Spring and Summer of 1989 (Chinese: 春夏之交的政治風波).

Background

2004.">Tiananmen Square as seen from the Tiananmen gate in 2004.
Tiananmen Square as seen from the Tiananmen gate in 2004.

Since 1978, Deng Xiaoping had led a series of economic and political reforms which had led to the gradual implementation of a market economy and some political liberalization that relaxed the system set up by Mao Zedong.

Some students and intellectuals believed that the reforms had not gone far enough and that China needed to reform its political system. They were also concerned about the social and political controls that the Communist Party of China still had. This group had also seen the political liberalization that had been undertaken in the name of glasnost by Mikhail Gorbachev, so they had been hoping for comparable reform.

The Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 were in large measure sparked by the death of former Secretary General Hu Yaobang. Hu Yaobang's resignation from the position of Secretary General of the CPC had been announced on January 16, 1987. 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 Xiaoping and others, after the pro-democracy student protests of 1986–1987 . Included in his resignation was also a "humiliating self-criticism", which he was forced to issue by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Hu Yaobang's sudden death, due to heart attack, on April 15, 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" and bringing 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

Protest goals

An anonymous drawing posted in a pedestrian walkway underneath Chang An Avenue caricatures Deng Xiaoping (simplified Chinese: 邓小平; traditional Chinese: 鄧小平) (seated behind the lectern) as an old Chinese emperor.
An anonymous drawing posted in a pedestrian walkway underneath Chang An Avenue caricatures Deng Xiaoping ( simplified Chinese: 邓小平; traditional Chinese: 鄧小平) (seated behind the lectern) as an old Chinese emperor.

Protests started out on a small scale, on April 16 and April 17, in the form of mourning for Hu Yaobang and demands that the party revise their official view of him. On April 18, 10,000 students staged a sit-in on Tian'anmen square, in front of the Great Hall of the People. On the same evening, a few thousand students gathered in front of Zhongnanhai, the residence of the government, demanding to see government leaders. They were dispersed by security.

The protests 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 support (although one national newspaper, the Science and Technology Daily ( simplified Chinese: 科技日报; traditional Chinese: 科技日報), published, in its issue dated April 19, an account of the April 18 sit-in).

On the night of April 21, 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. On April 22, they requested, in vain, to meet premier Li Peng, widely regarded to be Hu's political rival. On the same day, protests happened in Xi'an and Changsha.

From April 21 to April 23, students from Beijing called for a strike at universities, which included teachers and students boycotting classes. The government, which was well aware of the political storm caused by the now-legitimized 1976 Tiananmen Incident, was alarmed. On April 26, following an internal speech made by Deng Xiaoping, the CPC's official newspaper People's Daily issued a front-page editorial titled Uphold the flag to clearly oppose any turmoil, attempting to rally the public behind the government, and accused "extremely small segments of opportunists" of plotting civil unrest. The statement enraged the students, and on April 27 about 50,000 students assembled on the streets of Beijing, disregarding the warning of a crackdown made by authorities, and demanded that the government revoke the statement.

In Beijing, a majority of students from the city's numerous colleges and universities participated with support of their instructors and other intellectuals. The students rejected official Communist Party-controlled student associations and set up their own autonomous associations. The students viewed themselves as Chinese patriots, as the heirs of the May Fourth Movement for "science and democracy" of 1919. 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 its origins as a memorial to Hu Yaobang, who was seen by the students as an advocate of democracy, the students' activity 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, the de facto paramount Chinese leader. Partially successful attempts were made to reach out and network with students in other cities and with workers.

Although the initial protests were made by students and intellectuals who believed that the Deng Xiaoping reforms had not gone far enough and China needed to reform its political systems, they soon attracted the support of urban workers who believed that the reforms had gone too far. This occurred because the leaders of the protests focused on the issue of corruption, which united both groups, and because the students were able to invoke Chinese archetypes of the selfless intellectual who spoke truth to power.

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 growing inflation and corruption. In Beijing, they were supported by a large number of people. Similar numbers were found in major cities throughout mainland China such as Urumqi, Shanghai and Chongqing; and later in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Chinese communities in North America and Europe.

Protests escalate

On May 4, approximately 100,000 students and workers marched in Beijing making demands for free media reform and a formal dialogue between the authorities and student-elected representatives. The government rejected the proposed dialogue, only agreeing to talk to members of appointed student organizations. On May 13, two days prior to the highly-publicized state visit by the reform-minded Soviet leader 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.

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. The students even showed a surprising gesture of respect to the government by helping police arrest three men from Hunan Province, including Yu Dongyue, who had thrown ink on the large portrait of Mao that hangs from Tiananmen, just north of the square.

The students ultimately decided that in order to sustain their movement and impede any loss of momentum a hunger strike would need to be enacted. The students' decision to undertake the hunger strike was a defining moment in their movement. The hunger strike began in May 1989 and grew to include "more than one thousand persons" (Liu 1994, 315). 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" (Calhoun 1994, 113).

On May 19 at 4:50 am, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang ( simplified Chinese: 赵紫阳; traditional Chinese: 趙紫陽) went to the Square and made a speech urging the students to end the hunger strike. Part of his speech was to become a famous quote, when he said, referring to the older generation of people in China, "We are already old, it doesn't matter to us any more." In contrast, the students were young and he urged them to stay healthy and not to sacrifice themselves so easily. Zhao's visit to the Square was his last public appearance.

Partially successful attempts were made to negotiate with the PRC government, who were located nearby in Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party headquarters and leadership compound. Because of the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev, foreign media were present in mainland 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 May 30, a statue of the Goddess of Democracy 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 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 a crackdown. 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. 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; Yang Shangkun ( simplified Chinese: 杨尚昆) was President of the People's Republic of China, which, although a symbolic position under the 1982 Constitution, was legally the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. 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.

Nationwide and outside mainland China

At the beginning of the movement, the Chinese news media had a rare opportunity to broadcast the news freely and truly. 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. 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 ( simplified Chinese: 江泽民; traditional Chinese: 江澤民), then-Municipal Party Secretary, addressed the student protesters in a bandage and expressed his understanding, as he was a former student agitator before 1949. 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 April 19, the editors of the World Economic Herald, a magazine close to reformists, decided to publish, in their April 24 #439 issue, a commemorative section on Hu. Inside was an article by Yan Jiaqi, which commented favourably on the Beijing student protests on April 18 and called for a reassessment of Hu's purge in 1987. On April 21, a party official of Shanghai asked the editor in chief, Qin Benli, to change some passages. Qin Benli refused, so Chen 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 . On April 26, the "People's Daily" published its editorial condemning the student protest. Jiang followed this cue and suspended Qin Benli. His quick rise to power following the 1989 protests has been attributed to his decisive handling of these two events.

In Hong Kong, on May 27, 1989, over 300,000 people gathered at Happy Valley Racecourse for a gathering called "Democratic songs dedicated for China." Many famous Hong Kong and Taiwanese 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, such as those of the USA, Japan, etc., also issued warnings advising their own citizens not to go to the PRC.

Government crackdown on the protests

Although the government declared martial law on May 20, the military's entry into Beijing was blocked by throngs of protesters, and the army was eventually ordered to withdraw. 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 military force 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. The military also lacked unity on the issue, and purportedly did not indicate immediate support for a crackdown, leaving the central leadership scrambling to search for individual divisions willing to comply with their orders.

Soldiers and tanks from the 27th and 28th Armies of the People's Liberation Army were sent to take control of the city. The 27th Army was led by a commander related to Yang Shangkun. In a press conference, US President George H. W. Bush announced sanctions on the People's Republic of China, following calls to action from members of Congress such as US Senator Jesse Helms. The President suggested that intelligence he had received indicated some disunity in China's military ranks, and even the possibility of clashes within the military during those days. Intelligence reports also indicated that 27th and 28th units were brought in from outside provinces because the local PLA were considered to be sympathetic to the protest and to the people of the city. Reporters described elements of the 27th as having been most responsible for civilian deaths. After their attack on the square, the 27th reportedly 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. The locally-stationed 38th Army, on the other hand, was reportedly sympathetic to the uprising. They were supplied no ammunition, and were said to be torching their own vehicles as they abandoned them to join the protests.

Entry of the troops into the city was actively opposed by many citizens of Beijing. Protesters burned public buses and used them as roadblocks to stop the military's progress. The battle continued on the streets surrounding the Square, with protesters repeatedly advancing toward the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and constructing barricades with vehicles, while the PLA attempted to clear the streets using tear gas, rifles, 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 of the government's action, crowding various boulevards or congregating by burnt out and smoking barricades. Meanwhile, the PLA systematically established checkpoints around the city, chasing after protesters and blocking off the university district.

Within the Square itself, there was 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.

The assault on the square began at 10:30 p.m. on June 3, as armored personnel carriers (APCs) and armed troops with fixed bayonets approached from various positions. These APCs rolled on up the roads, firing ahead and off to the sides, perhaps killing or wounding their own soldiers in the process. BBC reporter Kate Adie spoke of "indiscriminate fire" within the square. 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 beset by soldiers and 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?" By 5:40 a.m. the following morning, June 4, the Square had been cleared.

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 June 5 as the column approached an intersection on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, the footage depicted the unarmed man standing in the centre 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. He reportedly said, "Why are you here? You have caused nothing but misery." After returning to his position blocking the tanks, the man was pulled aside by onlookers who perhaps feared he would be shot or run over. 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 veracity 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 June 9 after being taken into custody. The last official statement from the PRC government about the tank man came from Jiang Zemin in a 1990 interview with Barbara Walters. When asked about the whereabouts of the tank man, Jiang responded that the young man was "I think never killed".

After the crackdown in Beijing on June 4, protests continued in 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 arm bands as well. However, the government soon regained control. Although no large-scale loss of life was reported in ending the protests in other cities, a political purge followed in which officials responsible for organizing or condoning the protests were removed, and protest leaders jailed.

Number of deaths

The number of dead and wounded remains unclear because of the large discrepancies between the different estimates. The Chinese government released a casualty count of 241, but did not release a list of the deceased.

According to Nicholas D. Kristof "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 a dozen soldiers and policemen were killed, along with 400 to 800 civilians." One reason the number may never be known is suspicion that Chinese troops may have quickly removed and disposed of bodies.

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. Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and State Council claimed that "hundreds of PLA soldiers died and more were injured." Yuan Mu, the spokesman of the State Council, said that a total of about 300 people died, most of them soldiers, along with a number of people he described as "ruffians." According to Chen Xitong, Beijing mayor, 200 civilians and several dozen soldiers died. Other sources stated that 3,000 civilians and 6,000 soldiers were injured. 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."

However, foreign journalists who witnessed the incident have claimed that at least 3,000 people died. Some lists of casualties were created from underground sources with numbers as high as 5,000.

Ambassador James Lilley's account of the massacre notes that 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.

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. And students are reported to have been fired on after they left the Square, especially in the area near the Beijing concert hall.

Statistics and estimates generated from different groups of sources would indicate:

  • 4,000 to 6,000 civilians killed - Edward Timperlake.
  • 2,600 had officially died by the morning of June 4 (later denied) - the Chinese Red Cross. An unnamed Chinese Red Cross official estimated that, in total, 5,000 people were killed and 30,000 injured.
  • 1,000 deaths - Amnesty International
  • 7,000 deaths (6,000 civilians and 1,000 soldiers) - NATO intelligence.
  • 10,000 deaths in total - Soviet Bloc estimates.
  • in excess of 3,700 killed, excluding disappearance or secret deaths and those denied of medical treatment - PLA defector citing a document circulating among officers.
  • 186 named individuals confirmed dead as at the end of June 2006 - Professor Ding Zilin.

According to the Chinese government, the "official figure is 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded".

Declassified NSA document mentioned casualty estimate of 180-500.

Aftermath

Arrests and purges

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 national Taiwan television. Chai Ling escaped to France, and then to the United States. In a recent public speech given at the University of Michigan, Wang Dan commented on the current status of former student leaders: Chai Ling started a hi-tech company in the U.S. and was permitted to come back to China and do business, while Li Lu became an investment banker in Wall Street and started a company. As for himself, Wang Dan said his plan was to find an academic job in the U.S. after receiving his PhD from Harvard University, although he was eager to return to China if permitted.

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 were quickly put down, with those responsible being purged.

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. Even Wang Dan, the student leader who topped the most wanted list, spent only seven years in prison. Nevertheless, many of the students and university staff implicated were permanently politically stigmatized, some never to be employed again.

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, the other member of the PSC 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 an airplane 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.

The event elevated Jiang Zemin - then Mayor 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.

Two news anchors who reported this event on June 4 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 editor were arrested, with Wu Xuecan, who organised the publication of an unauthorised Extra edition, sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

Impact on domestic political trends

The Tiananmen square protests dampened the growing concept of political liberalization in communist countries that was popular in the late 1980s; as a result, many democratic reforms that were proposed during the 1980s were swept under the carpet. Although there has been an increase in personal freedom since then, discussions on structural changes to the PRC government and the role of the Communist Party of China remain largely taboo.

Despite early expectations in the West that PRC government would soon collapse and be replaced by the Chinese democracy movement, by the early 21st century the Communist Party of China remained in firm control of the People's Republic of China, 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 not honour its commitments under one country, two systems in the impending handover in 1997. One consequence of this was that the new governor Chris Patten attempted 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 General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, all of whom were intended to be different people, in order to prevent the excesses of Mao-style dictatorship. However, after Yang Shangkun used his reserve powers as head of state to mobilize the military, the Presidency again became a position imbued with real power. Subsequently, the President became the same person as the General Secretary of the CPC, 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. After the Tiananmen Square protests, riot police in Chinese cities were equipped with non-lethal equipment for riot control.

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

Economic impact

In the immediate aftermath of the protests, some within the Communist Party 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 collapse of the Soviet Union and Deng Xiaoping's trip to the south. The continuance of economic reform led to economic growth in the 1990s, 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 an aide to Zhao Ziyang and accompanied him to meet the demonstrators. Today there are economic "sectors" in which business can thrive and this has opened up economic freedom and access to goods.

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. 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 U.S., 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 Americans and Chinese activists in response to Tiananmen Square.

Issues concerning the Tiananmen protests today

Forbidden topic in mainland China

Unlike the Cultural Revolution, about which people can still easily find information through government approved books, Internet sites, etc., this topic completely disappeared from any media (including books, magazines, newspapers and internet web sites) inside mainland China. It is a forbidden topic by the Chinese government. The Chinese government also reportedly brainwashed its citizens at the time into forgetting the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests .

The official media in mainland China views the crackdown as a necessary reaction to ensure stability. It is common for Chinese youth to be entirely unaware of the Tiananmen protests. Every year there is a large rally in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, where people remember the victims and demand that the CPC's official view be changed. In 2008, this vigil was reported for the first time in the mainstream Chinese press, but was attributed to be in support of the victims of the recent earthquake in south-east China, and no mention of Tiananmen Square was made.

Petition letters over the incident have emerged from time to time, notably from Dr. Jiang Yanyong and Tiananmen Mothers, an organization founded by a mother of one of the victims killed in 1989 where the families seek vindication, compensation for their lost sons, and the right to receive donations, particularly from abroad. Tiananmen Square is tightly patrolled on the anniversary of June 4 to prevent any commemoration on the Square.

After the PRC Central Government reshuffle in 2004, several cabinet members mentioned Tiananmen. In October 2004, during President Hu Jintao's visit to France, he reiterated that "the government took determined action to calm the political storm of 1989, and enabled China to enjoy a stable development." He insisted that the government's view on the incident would not change.

In March 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao said in a press conference that during the 1990s there was a severe political storm in the PRC, amid the breakdown of the Soviet Union and radical changes in Eastern Europe. He stated that the Communist Central Committee successfully stabilized the open-door policy and protected the "Career of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics."

History deleted inside mainland China

Currently, due to strong Chinese government censorship including Internet censorship, the news media is forbidden to report anything related to the protests. The event has been almost completely absent from Chinese media, including the Internet. No one is allowed to make any websites related to the protests. 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.

In January 2006, Google agreed to censor their mainland China site, Google.cn, to remove information about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as other topics such as Tibetan independence, the banned spiritual practice Falun Gong and the political status of Taiwan. When people search for those censored topics, it will list the following at the bottom of the page in Chinese, "According to the local laws, regulations and policies, part of the searching result is not shown." 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.

In 2006, the American PBS program "Frontline" broadcast a segment filmed at Peking University, many of whose students participated in the 1989 protests. Four 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 May 15, 2007, the leader of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, Ma Lik, 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" due to 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." His remarks were met with wide condemnation.

On June 4, 2007, the anniversary of the massacre, an ad reading, "Paying tribute to the strong-(willed) mothers of June 4 victims" was published in the Chengdu Evening News newspaper. The matter is currently being investigated by the Chinese government, and three editors have since been fired from the paper. The clerk who approved the ad had reportedly never heard of the June 4 crackdown and had been told that the date was a reference to a mining disaster.

EU-US arms embargo

The European Union and United States embargo on weapons 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 December 7 and 9, 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.

Political will also changed in countries that had previously been more in favour of lifting the embargo. Schröder lost the 2005 German federal election to Angela Merkel, who became chancellor on November 22, 2005 - Merkel made her position clear that she was strongly against lifting the ban. Jacques Chirac declared he would not stand again as a candidate for the French Presidency in 2007. His successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, is also in favour of lifting the embargo like Chirac. That is, the French government has changed, but not the French foreign policy.

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 April 28, 2005, on the Annual Report on Human Rights in the World 2004 and the EU's policy on the matter,
  • The resolution of October 23, 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 July 7, 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.

Compensation

Although the Chinese government never officially acknowledged wrongdoing when it came to the incident, in April 2006 a payment was made to the family 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 June 6, 1989, two days after the Chinese Army dispersed the Tiananmen protestors. The woman was reportedly paid 70,000 yuan (approximately $8,700 USD), which is quite a significant amount in China. 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.

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