Military Wiki
Tiananmen Square Massacre
Date 15 April 1989 (1989-04-15) – 4 June 1989 (1989-06-04)
(1 month, 2 weeks and 6 days)
Location Beijing
400 cities nationwide
  • Army intervention, protests suppressed
  • Zhao Ziyang purged
  • Jiang Zemin promoted
  • Political reform halted
  • Media control tightened
  • Market reforms delayed
Deaths 241 - 1,000+
Non-fatal injuries 1,000 - 3,000

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese,[1] were student-led popular demonstrations in Beijing which took place in the spring of 1989 and received broad support from city residents, exposing deep splits within China's political leadership. The protests were forcibly suppressed by hardline leaders who ordered the military to enforce martial law in the country's capital.[2][3] The crackdown that initiated on June 3–4 became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the June 4 Massacre as troops with assault rifles and tanks inflicted thousands of casualties on unarmed civilians trying to block the military’s advance on Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, which student demonstrators had occupied for seven weeks. The scale of military mobilization and the resulting bloodshed were unprecedented in the history of Beijing, a city with a rich tradition of popular protests in the 20th century.[4]

The Chinese government condemned the protests as a "counter-revolutionary riot", and has prohibited all forms of discussion or remembrance of the events since.[5][6] Due to the lack of information from China, many aspects of the events remain unknown or unconfirmed. Estimates of the death toll range from several hundred to the thousands.[7]

The protests were triggered in April 1989 by the death of former Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer, who was deposed after losing a power struggle with hardliners over the direction of political and economic reform.[8] University students who marched and gathered in Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu also voiced grievances against inflation, limited career prospects, and corruption of the party elite.[9] They called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the restoration of workers' control over industry.[10][11] At the height of the protests, about a million people assembled in the Square.[12]

The government initially took a conciliatory stance toward the protesters.[13] The student-led hunger strike galvanized support for the demonstrators around the country and the protests spread to 400 cities by mid-May.[14] Ultimately, China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and other party elders resolved to use force.[15] Party authorities declared martial law on May 20, and mobilized as many as 300,000 troops to Beijing.[14]

In the aftermath of the crackdown, the government conducted widespread arrests of protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, expelled foreign journalists and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the domestic press. The police and internal security forces were strengthened. Officials deemed sympathetic to the protests were demoted or purged.[16] Zhao Ziyang was ousted in a party leadership reshuffle and replaced with Jiang Zemin. Political reforms were largely halted and economic reforms did not resume until Deng Xiaoping's 1992 southern tour.[17][18] The Chinese government was widely condemned internationally for the use of force against the protesters. Western governments imposed economic sanctions and arms embargoes.


In the Chinese language, the incident is most commonly known as the June Fourth Incident.[1] Colloquially, often a simple June Fourth (Chinese: 六四; pinyin: Liù-Sì) is used, just as the September 11 attacks are referred to as September Eleventh (or even "Nine Eleven"). The nomenclature of the former is consistent with the customary names of the other two great protests that occurred in Tiananmen Square: the May Fourth Movement of 1919, and the April Fifth Movement of 1976. "June Fourth" refers to the day on which the People's Liberation Army cleared Tiananmen Square of protesters, although actual operations began on the evening of 3 June. Some use the "June Fourth" designation solely to refer to the killings carried out by the Army, while others use it to refer to the entire movement. Names such as June Fourth Movement (Chinese: 六四运动; pinyin: Liù-Sì Yùndòng) and '89 Democracy Movement (Chinese: 八九民运; pinyin: Bā-Jiǔ Mínyùn) are used to describe the event in its entirety.

Outside mainland China, and among circles critical of the crackdown within mainland China, it is commonly referred to in Chinese as June Fourth Massacre (Chinese: 六四屠杀; pinyin: Liù-Sì Túshā) and June Fourth Crackdown (Chinese: 六四镇压; pinyin: Liù-Sì Zhènyā). To bypass internet censorship in China, which uniformly considers all the above-mentioned names too 'sensitive' for search engines and public forums, alternative names have sprung up to describe the events on the internet, such as May 35th, VIIV (Roman numerals for 6 and 4) and "Eight Squared" (i.e. 82 = 64).[6]

The government of the People's Republic of China have used numerous names for the event since 1989, gradually reducing the intensity of terminology applied.[5] As the events were unfolding, it was labelled a "counterrevolutionary riot", which was later changed to simply "riot", followed by "political storm", and finally the leadership settled on the more neutralized phrase "political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989," which it uses to this day.[5][19]

In English, the terms Tiananmen Square Protests or Tiananmen Square Crackdown are often used to describe the series of events. The term Tiananmen Square Massacre was also commonly used by the media, but journalistic use has waned in recent years.[15] This is because much of the violence did not actually happen in Tiananmen, but outside the square in the city of Beijing near the Muxidi area.[15] The term also gives a misleading impression that demonstrations only happened in Beijing, when in fact they occurred in many cities throughout China.[15]


The origins of the political showdown in Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989 date to the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen Incident of 1976, the rise of Deng Xiaoping and the onset of economic reforms.

Deng Xiaoping was purged by Chairman Mao Zedong at the outset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, rehabilitated by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1974, purged a second time by the Gang of Four in 1976, following the Tiananmen Incident of 1976 only to re-emerge in 1977 and become Paramount Leader of China from 1978 to 1992. Deng launched the Chinese economic reforms in 1978 and presided over the crackdown of the student protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

At the beginning of 1976, China’s political leadership was nominally headed by the aging Chairman Mao Zedong but was divided between the Maoists led by the Gang of Four and the old guard cadres including Deng Xiaoping, who had been purged at the outset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 but was rehabilitated by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1974. After Zhou died in January 1976, he was mourned by a massive outpouring of public grief in March and April during the traditional tomb-sweeping festival, when thousands of Beijing residents placed floral wreaths at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square. Attached to many wreaths were allegorical poems expressing anger at the Gang of Four. On April 5, 1976, the Maoists declared the gathering in the Square to be “counter-revolutionary” and ordered the people’s militia and workers armed with billy clubs to clear the Square. Deng Xiaoping was blamed for the counter-revolutionary gathering and purged from power.

After Mao died in September, the Gang of Four was arrested in October and Deng was rehabilitated again in 1977. Thereafter, Hua Guofeng, Mao’s anointed successor and Deng differed over the direction of policy and the treatment of the victims of the Cultural Revolution. Hua sought to continue the Maoist line and refused, among other measures, to reconsider the verdict of the 1976 Tiananmen Incident. Deng outmaneuvered Hua politically, drawing on the support of the old guard in the military as well as popular support for undoing the injustices of the Cultural Revolution, and sidelined the remaining Maoists. At the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee in December 1978, Deng launched a program to reform the Chinese economy, the party leadership also reversed the verdict of the 1976 Tiananmen Incident. At this time, some Chinese intellectuals, including Wei Jingsheng called for political reform and posted essays on the Democracy Wall in Beijing. This period of toleration of dissent, known as Beijing Spring, was short-lived. Wei Jingsheng was arrested in March 1979 and the Democracy Wall closed in December.

Deng promoted allies to run the reform agenda. Hu Yaobang was appointed the General Secretary of the CPC in February 1980 and Zhao Ziyang replaced Hua Guofeng as premier in September. By 1981, 73% of rural farms had decollectivized and 80% of state industries were permitted to retain profits. The advent of reforms created new political differences over the pace of marketization and the control over political ideology.

Challenges with reform

Hu Yaobang, who was promoted by Deng Xiaoping as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in February 1980, was known as a liberal within the Party. Hu was forced out of office by Deng in 1986. His death in 1989 triggered the student protests.

File:VOA Chinese Zhaoziyang.jpg

Zhao Ziyang was promoted by Deng Xiaoping as Premier in September 1980 and succeeded Hu Yaobang as Party General Secretary in 1986. He took a conciliatory line toward student protesters and was purged from power on the eve of the military crackdown in May 1989.

The reforms were generally well received by the public, but concerns grew over corruption and nepotism.[20] The state-mandated pricing system, in place since the 1950s, had long kept prices stable at low levels that reduced incentives to increase production. The initial reforms created a two-tier system where some prices were fixed 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] In addition, the money supply had expanded too fast. At least a third of factories were unprofitable. The government tightened the money supply in 1988, leaving much of the economy without loans.[21]

Following the 1988 Beidaihe meeting, the party leadership under Deng Xiaoping agreed to a transition to a market-based price system.[22][23] News of the relaxation of price controls triggered waves of cash withdrawals, buying and hoarding all over China.[24] The government panicked and rescinded the price reforms in less than two weeks, but its impact was pronounced for a much longer period of time. Inflation soared. Official indices report a Consumer Price Index increase of 30% in Beijing between 1987–88, leading to panic among salaried workers that they could no longer afford staple goods.[25] Moreover, in the new market economy, unprofitable state-owned enterprises were pressured to cut costs. The "iron rice bowl", i.e., job security and a host of social benefits that come with it, ranging from medical care to subsidized housing, were at risk for a vast segment of the population.[25][26]

Social disenfranchisement and legitimacy crisis

Reformist leaders envisioned in 1978 that intellectuals would play a leading role in guiding the country through reforms, but this did not happen as planned.[27] Despite the opening of new universities and increased enrollment,[28] the state-directed education system did not adequately prepare for increasing market demand in the areas of agriculture, light industry, services, and foreign investment.[29] The job market was especially limited for students specializing in social sciences and the humanities.[30] Moreover, private companies no longer needed to accept students assigned to them by the state, and many high-paying jobs were offered on the basis of nepotism and favoritism.[31] Gaining a good state-assigned placement meant navigating a highly inefficient bureaucracy that gave power to officials who had little expertise in their area of jurisdiction.[25] Facing a dismal job market and limited chances of going abroad, intellectuals and students had a greater vested interest in political issues. Small-scale study groups, such as the "Democracy Salon" and the "Caodi Salon", began appearing on Beijing university campuses.[32] These organizations motivated the students to get involved politically.[22]

At the same time, the party's nominally socialist ideology faced a legitimacy crisis as it gradually adopted capitalist practices.[33] Private enterprise gave rise to profiteers who took advantage of lax regulations, and who often flaunted their wealth in front of the 'have-nots' of society.[25] Popular discontent was brewing over the lack of fairness in wealth distribution. Greed, not skill, appeared to be the most crucial success factor. There was widespread public disillusionment over the country's future. People wanted change, yet the power to define 'the correct path' continued to rest solely in the hands of the state.[34]

Devising an appropriate response to the problems created by reforms opened a rift in the Chinese leadership. The reformers ("the right", led by Hu Yaobang) favoured political liberalization and a plurality of ideas as a channel to voice popular discontent, and supported further reforms. The conservatives ("the left", led by Chen Yun) said that the reforms had gone too far, and advocated for a return to greater state control to ensure social stability and to better align with the party's socialist ideology. Both sides needed the backing of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to carry out important policy decisions.[2]

1986 student demonstrations

In the summer of 1986, astrophysics professor Fang Lizhi, who had returned from a tenure at Princeton University, began a personal tour around universities in China, speaking about liberty, human rights, and separation of powers. He became immensely popular and his recorded speeches were widely circulated among students.[35] In response, Deng Xiaoping warned that Fang was worshipping Western lifestyles, capitalism, and multi-party systems, while undermining China's socialist ideology, traditional values, and the party's leadership.[35]

Inspired by Fang and other 'people-power' movements around the world, in December 1986, student demonstrators staged protests against the slow pace of reform. The issues were wide-ranging, and included demands for economic liberalization, democracy, and rule of law.[36] While the protests were initially contained in Hefei, where Fang lived, it quickly spread to Beijing and other major cities. The central leadership was alarmed by the protests, and accused the students of fomenting Cultural Revolution-style turmoil.

General Secretary Hu Yaobang was blamed for taking a soft attitude and mishandling the protests, thus undermining social stability. He was denounced thoroughly by conservatives. Hu was forced to resign as General Secretary on 16 January 1987. Following his resignation, the party began the "Anti Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign", taking aim at Hu, political liberalization, and Western-inspired ideas in general.[37] The Campaign put a stop to student protests and tightened the political environment, but Hu remained popular with progressives within the party, intellectuals, and students.[38]

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

Death of Hu Yaobang

When Hu Yaobang suddenly died of a heart attack on 15 April 1989, students reacted strongly. Hu's death provided the initial impetus for students to gather in large numbers.[39] In university campuses, many posters appeared eulogizing Hu, calling for a reversal of Hu's legacy. Within days, most posters were writing about broader political issues, such as freedom of the press, democracy, and corruption.[40]

File:Zhenglianjie Tiananmen.jpg

Demonstrators at Tiananmen.

Small spontaneous gatherings to mourn Hu began on 15 April 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. Organized student gatherings also began on a small scale in Xi'an and Shanghai on 16 April. On 17 April, students at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) made a large wreath to commemorate Hu Yaobang. Its laying-party was on 17 April and a larger-than-expected crowd assembled.[41] At five p.m., 500 CUPL students reached the eastern gate of the Great Hall of the People, near Tiananmen Square, to mourn Hu. The gathering featured speakers from various backgrounds giving public orations commemorating Hu and discussing social problems. However, it was soon deemed obstructive to the operation of the Great Hall, so police intervened and attempted to disperse the students by persuasion.

Starting on the night of 17 April, three thousand PKU students marched from the campus towards Tiananmen Square, and soon nearly a thousand students from Tsinghua joined. Upon arrival, they soon joined forces with those already gathered at the Square. As its size grew, the gathering gradually evolved into a protest, as students began to draft a list of pleas and suggestions (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 stop press censorship;
  5. Increase funding for education and raise intellectuals' pay;
  6. End restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing
  7. Provide objective coverage of students in official media.[42][43]

On the morning of 18 April, 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, others gathered at the Great Hall. Meanwhile, a few thousand students gathered at Xinhua Gate, the entrance to Zhongnanhai, the seat of the party leadership, where they demanded dialogue with the leadership. Police restrained the students from entering the compound. Students then staged a sit-in.

On 20 April, 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.[44] Also on this date, a group of workers calling themselves the “Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation” issued two handbills challenging the central leadership.[45]

Hu's state funeral took place on 22 April. On the evening of 21 April, some 100,000 students marched on Tiananmen Square, ignoring orders from Beijing municipal authorities that the Square was to be closed off for the funeral. The funeral, which took place inside the Great Hall and attended by the leadership, was broadcast live to the students. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang delivered the eulogy. The funeral seemed rushed, and only lasted 40 minutes, as emotions ran high in the Square. Students wept.[2][46][47]

Security cordoned off the east entrance to the Great Hall, but several students pressed forward. Three of these students knelt on the steps of the Great Hall to present a petition and demanded to see Premier Li Peng.[48] However, no leaders emerged from the Great Hall, leaving the students disappointed and angry; some called for a class boycott.[48]

From 21 to 23 April, students began organizing under the banners of formal organizations. On 23 April, the "Beijing Autonomous University Students Union" ("the Union") was formed. It elected CUPL student Zhou Yongjun as chair; Wang Dan and Wu'erkaixi also emerged as leaders. From this vantage point, the Union called for a general class boycott at all Beijing universities. Such an independent organization operating outside of party jurisdiction alarmed the leadership.[49]

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. As the situation became more volatile nationally, Zhao Ziyang called numerous meetings of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). 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.[3] Premier Li Peng called upon Zhao to condemn protestors and recognize the need to take more serious action. Zhao dismissed Li's views. Despite calls for him to remain in Beijing, Zhao left for a scheduled state visit to North Korea on 23 April.[50]

Turning point: April 26 Editorial

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

Zhao's departure to North Korea left Li Peng as the acting executive authority in Beijing. On 24 April, Li Peng and the PSC met with Beijing Party Secretary Li Ximing and mayor Chen Xitong to gauge the situation at the Square. The municipal officials wanted a quick resolution to the crisis, and framed the protests as a conspiracy to overthrow China's political system and major party leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. In Zhao's absence, the PSC agreed that firm action against protesters must be taken.[50] On the morning of 25 April, President Yang Shangkun and Premier Li Peng met with Deng at the latter's residence. Deng endorsed a hardline stance and said an appropriate 'warning' must be disseminated via mass media to curb further demonstrations.[51] The meeting firmly established the first official evaluation of the protests from the leadership, and highlighted Deng's having 'final say' on important issues. Li Peng subsequently ordered Deng's views to be drafted as a communique and issued to all high-level Communist Party officials in an effort to mobilize the party apparatus against protesters.

On 26 April, the party's official newspaper People's Daily issued a front-page editorial titled "It is necessary to take a clear-cut stand against disturbances." It accused "extremely small segments of opportunists" of plotting to overthrow the Communist Party and the political system.[52] The statement enraged students, who interpreted it as a direct indictment on the protests and its cause. The editorial backfired. Instead of scaring students into submission, it antagonized the students against the state.[53] The editorial proved to be a major sticking point for the remainder of the protests.[51] It evoked memories of the 1976 Tiananmen Incident: an event that was initially branded an anti-government conspiracy with much the same language as the 26 April Editorial but was later rehabilitated as "patriotic" under Deng's leadership.[2]

Han Dongfang, founder of the Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation.

Organized by the Union, on 27 April some 50,000-100,000 students from all Beijing universities marched through the streets of the capital to Tiananmen Square, breaking through lines set up by police, and receiving widespread public support along the way, particularly from factory workers.[2] The student leaders, eager to show the patriotic nature of the movement, also toned down anti-Communist slogans, choosing to present a message of "anti-corruption, anti-cronyism" but "pro-party".[53] In a twist of irony, student factions who genuinely called for the overthrow of the Communist Party gained traction as a result of the 26 April Editorial.[53]

The stunning success of the March forced the government into making concessions and meeting with student representatives. On 29 April, State Council spokesman Yuan Mu met with appointed representatives of government-sanctioned student associations. While the talks discussed a wide range of issues, including the editorial, the Xinhua Gate incident, and freedom of the press, they achieved few substantive results. Independent student leaders such as Wuer Kaixi refused to attend.[54]

The government's tone grew increasingly conciliatory as Zhao Ziyang returned from Pyongyang on 30 April and resumed his executive authority. In Zhao's view, the hardliner approach had proven to be useless, and concession was the only alternative.[55] Zhao asked that the press be opened to report the movement positively, and delivered two sympathetic speeches on 3–4 May. In the speeches, Zhao said that the student's concerns about corruption were legitimate, and that the student movement was patriotic in nature.[56] The speeches essentially negated the message presented by 26 April Editorial. While some 100,000 students marched on the streets of Beijing on 4 May to commemorate the May Fourth Movement and repeat demands from earlier marches, many students were satisfied with the government's concessions.[57] On 4 May, all Beijing universities except PKU and BNU announced the end of the class boycott. Subsequently, the majority of students began to lose interest in the movement.[57]

Protests escalate

Party and government leaders
Name Position(s) in 1989
Deng Xiaoping Chairman of the Central Military Commission; unofficial "paramount leader"
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 First Secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party
Yao Yilin First Vice Premier of the State Council
Yang Shangkun President of the People's Republic of China
Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Li Xiannian Chairman of the Conference National Committee
Wan Li Chairman of the Congress Standing Committee
Wang Zhen Vice President of the People's Republic of China
Jiang Zemin Communist Party Shanghai Municipal Secretary
Zhu Rongji Mayor of Shanghai
Hu Jintao Communist Party Tibet Regional Secretary
Wen Jiabao Chief of the General Office of the Communist Party of China
Bold text indicates membership in the CPC Politburo Standing Committee

Preparing for dialogue

The leadership was divided on how to respond to the movement as early as mid-April. After Zhao Ziyang's return from North Korea, the divisions intensified. Those who supported continued dialogue and a soft approach with students rallied behind Zhao Ziyang, while hardliner conservatives who opposed the movement rallied behind Premier Li Peng. Zhao and Li clashed at a PSC meeting on 1 May. Li maintained that the need for stability overrides all else, while Zhao said that the party should show support for increased democracy and transparency. Zhao pushed the case for further dialogue.[56]

In preparation for dialogue, the Autonomous Student Union elected representatives to a formal Dialogue Delegation. However, the Union leaders were reluctant to let the Delegation unilaterally take control of the movement.[58] Facing internal discord and declining engagement from the student body at large, a group of charismatic leaders, including Wang Dan and Wu'erkaixi, called for more radical measures to regain momentum. They believed that the government's 'dialogue' was merely a way to trick the students into submission. They began mobilizing students for a hunger strike on 11 May.[58]

Hunger strikes begin

Students began the hunger strike on 13 May, two days prior to the highly publicized state visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Knowing that the welcoming ceremony for Gorbachev was scheduled to be held on the Square, student leaders wanted to use the hunger strike there as a bargaining chip to force the government into meeting their demands. Moreover, the hunger strike gained widespread sympathy from the population at large and earned the student movement the moral high ground that it sought.[59] By the afternoon of 13 May, some 300,000 were gathered at the Square.[60]

Inspired by the course of events in Beijing, protests and strikes began at universities 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 class boycott and with the demands of the protest. The students sang The Internationale, the world socialist anthem, on their way to, and within, the square.[61]

Afraid that the movement would now spin out of control, Deng Xiaoping asked that the Square be cleared for the Gorbachev visit. Executing Deng's request, Zhao used a soft approach, and directed his subordinates to coordinate negotiations with students immediately.[59] Zhao believed he could appeal to the students' patriotism, and that the students understood signs of internal turmoil during the Sino-Soviet summit would embarrass the nation (not just the government). On the morning of 13 May, Yan Mingfu, head of the Party's United Front, called an emergency meeting, gathering prominent student leaders and intellectuals, including Liu Xiaobo, Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao.[62] Yan said the government was prepared to hold immediate dialogue with student representatives, but that the Tiananmen welcoming ceremony for Gorbachev would be cancelled whether the students withdraw or not - in effect removing the bargaining power the students thought they possessed. The announcement sent the student leadership into disarray.[63]

Gorbachev visit

Press restrictions were loosened significantly during early to mid May. State media began broadcasting footage sympathetic to protesters and the movement, including the hunger strikers. On 14 May, intellectuals led by Dai Qing gained permission from Hu Qili to bypass government censorship and air the progressive views of the nation's intellectuals on Guangming Daily. The intellectuals then issued an urgent appeal for the students to leave the Square.[60] Many students, however, believed that the intellectuals were speaking for the government, and refused to budge. That evening, formal negotiations took place between government representatives led by Yan Mingfu and student representatives led by Shen Tong and Xiang Xiaoji. Yan affirmed the patriotic nature of the student movement and pleaded for the students to withdraw from the Square.[63] While Yan's apparent sincerity for compromise satisfied some students, the meeting grew increasingly chaotic as competing student factions relayed uncoordinated and incoherent demands to the leadership. Shortly after student leaders learned that the event had not been broadcast nationally as promised, the meeting fell apart.[64] Yan then personally went to the Square to appeal to the students, even offering himself to be held hostage.[2] He also took the student's plea to Li Peng the next day, asking Li to consider formally retracting the 26 April Editorial and branding the movement as "patriotic and democratic." Li dismissed the idea.[65]

File:Goddess of Democracy replica.jpg

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

The students remained in the Square during the Gorbachev visit; his welcoming ceremony was held at the airport. The Sino-Soviet summit, the first of its kind in some thirty years, marked the normalization of Sino-Soviet relations, and was seen as a breakthrough of tremendous historical significance for China's leaders. That the smooth proceedings of this event had been derailed by the student movement embarrassed the leadership and drove many moderates onto a more 'hardliner' path.[66] The summit between Deng and Gorbachev took place at the Great Hall amidst the backdrop of commotion and protest in the Square.[59] When Gorbachev met with Zhao on 16 May, Zhao told the Soviet leader, and by extension the international press, that Deng was still the 'paramount authority' in China. Deng felt that this remark was Zhao's attempt to shift blame for mishandling the movement to him. The statement marked a decisive split between the country's two most senior leaders.[59]

Gathering momentum

The hunger strike galvanized support for the students and aroused sympathy across the country. Around a million Beijing residents from all walks of life demonstrated in solidarity on 17–18 May. These included PLA personnel, police officers, and lower party officials.[12] Many grassroots Party and Youth League organizations, as well as government-sponsored labour unions, encouraged their membership to demonstrate.[12] In addition, several of China's non-Communist parties sent a letter to Li Peng in support of students. 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. After the departure of Mikhail Gorbachev, many foreign journalists remained in the Chinese capital to cover the protests, giving the movement international spotlight. Western governments urged Beijing to exercise restraint.

The movement, on the wane by the end of April, now regained momentum that seemed unstoppable. By 17 May, as students from across the country poured into the capital to join the movement, protests of varying size were occurring in some 400 Chinese cities.[14] Students demonstrated at local party branches in Fujian, Hubei, and Xinjiang. Without a clear position from the Beijing leadership, local authorities did not know how to respond. Since the demonstrations now incorporated a wide range of social groups with varying grievances, it became increasingly unclear with whom the government could negotiate, and what exactly the demands were. For its part, the government remained indecisive on how to deal with the situation, as its authority and legitimacy gradually eroded, with the hunger strikers now occupying moral high ground.[12] These combined circumstances put immense pressure on the authorities to act, and martial law was discussed as a viable response.[67]

Since the situation seemed intractable, the weight of taking decisive action fell on paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. On 17 May, a PSC meeting was called at Deng's residence.[68][69] At the meeting, Zhao Ziyang's concessions-based strategy was criticized. Li Peng and Deng asserted that by making a conciliatory speech on 4 May, Zhao exposed divisions within the top leadership and emboldened the students.[69] Deng warned that if Beijing is not pacified quickly, the country risked civil war and another Cultural Revolution; his views were echoed by the party elders.[70] Deng then moved to declare martial law as a show of the government's no-tolerance stance.[71] To justify martial law, the demonstrators were described as tools of "bourgeois liberalism" advocates who were pulling the strings behind the scenes, as well as tools of elements within the party who wished to further their personal ambitions.[72]

On the evening of 17 May, the PSC met at Zhongnanhai to finalize plans for martial law. Zhao announced to the body that he was ready to "take a leave", citing he could not bring himself to carry out martial law. Hu Qili also voiced his reluctance. While Li Peng and Yao Yilin both supported declaring martial law, Qiao Shi was ambivalent.[73] Qiao said that while he opposed further concessions, he did not see martial law as a practical way to resolve the matter. The elders in attendance at the meeting, Bo Yibo and Yang Shangkun, urged the PSC to follow Deng's orders.[73] Zhao did not consider the inconclusive PSC vote to have legally binding implications on martial law;[74] Yang, in his capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, went on to mobilize the military to move into the capital.

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.

Wen Jiabao, then chief of the Party's General Office, accompanied Zhao Ziyang to meet with students in the Square. Wen survived the political purge of the Party's liberals and later served as Premier from 2003 to 2013.

Li Peng met with students for the first time on 18 May in an attempt to placate public concern over the hunger strike.[67] During the talks, student leaders once again demanded that the government rescind the 26 April Editorial and affirm the student movement as "patriotic". Li Peng said the government's main concern was sending hunger strikers to hospital. The discussions yielded little substantive results, but gained student leaders prominent airtime on national television.[75]

In the early morning of 19 May, Zhao Ziyang went to Tiananmen in what became his political swan song. He was accompanied by Wen Jiabao. Li Peng also went to the Square, but left shortly thereafter. At 4:50 am Zhao made a speech with a bullhorn to a crowd of students, urging the students to end the hunger strike.[76] He told the students that they were still young and urged them to stay healthy and not to sacrifice themselves without due concern for their futures. Zhao's emotional speech was applauded by some students. It would be his last public appearance.[76]

On 19 May, the PSC met with military leaders and party elders. Deng presided over the meeting and said that martial law was the only option. At the meeting Deng declared that he was 'mistaken' in choosing Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang as his successors, and resolved to remove Zhao from his position. Deng also vowed to deal resolutely with Zhao's supporters and begin propaganda work.

Outside of Beijing

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. 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 a commemorative section on Hu. Inside was an article by Yan Jiaqi, which commented favourably on the Beijing student protests, and called for a reassessment of Hu's 1987 purge. Sensing the conservative political trends in Beijing, Jiang Zemin demanded that the article be censored. Many newspapers were printed with a blank page.[77] Jiang then suspended Qin Benli. His decisive action earned accolades from party elders, who praised Jiang's loyalty.

In Hong Kong, on 27 May, 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 ethnic-Chinese lived, people gathered and protested. Many governments, including those of the United States and Japan, issued travel warnings to China.

Military action

Martial law

The Chinese government declared martial law on 20 May, and mobilized at least 30 divisions from five of the country's seven military regions.[78] At least 14 of PLA's 24 army corps contributed troops.[78] As many as 250,000 troops were eventually sent to the capital, some arriving by air and others by rail.[79] Guangzhou's civil aviation authorities put regular airline tickets on hold to prepare for transporting military units.[80]

The Army's 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 lectured soldiers and appealed to them to join their cause; they also provided soldiers with food, water, and shelter. Seeing no way forward, the authorities ordered the army to withdraw on 24 May. All government forces retreated to bases outside the city.[14][81] While the Army's retreat was initially seen as 'turning the tide' in favour of protesters, in reality mobilization took place across the country for a final assault.[80]

At the same time, internal divisions intensified within the student movement itself. By late May, the students became increasingly disorganized with no clear leadership or unified course of action. Moreover, Tiananmen Square was overcrowded and facing serious hygiene problems. Hou Dejian suggested an open election of the student leadership to speak for the movement, but was met with opposition.[2] Meanwhile, Wang Dan moderated his position, ostensibly sensing the impending military action and consequences, and advocated for a temporary withdraw from Tiananmen Square to re-group on campus, but this was opposed by 'hardliner' student factions who wanted to hold the Square. The increasing internal friction would lead to struggles for control of the loudspeakers in the middle of the square in a series of 'mini-coups': whoever controlled the loudspeakers was 'in charge' of the movement. Some students would wait at the train station to greet arrivals of students from other parts of the country in an attempt to enlist factional support.[2] Student groups began accusing each other of ulterior motives such as collusion with the government and attempting to gain personal fame from the movement. Some students even attempted to oust Chai Ling and Feng Congde from their leadership positions in an attempted kidnapping, an action Chai called a "well-organized and pre-medidated plot."[2]

June 1–3


Conservative party elders such as former President Li Xiannian supported the enforcement of martial law by force.

On June 1, Li Peng issued a report titled “On the True Nature of the Turmoil”, which was circulated to every member of the Politburo.[82] 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.[82] The report stated that turmoil was continuing to grow, the students had no plans to leave, and they were gaining popular support.[83] Further justification for martial law came in the form of a report submitted by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) to the party leadership, which emphasized the infiltration of bourgeois liberalism into China and the negative effect that the West – particularly the United States – had on the students.[84] The MSS expressed its belief that American forces had intervened in the student movement in hopes of overthrowing the Communist Party.[85] The report created a sense of urgency within the party, and provided justification for military action.[84] 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. [86]

On June 2, the 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.[87] They were also outraged by Beijing Daily’s June 1 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.[87] In response to the articles, thousands of students lined the streets of Beijing to protest against leaving the Square.[88]

File:Hong Kong for 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.jpg

On June 2, 1989, intellectuals Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo and Gao Xin along with singer Hou Dejian joined the students for a hunger strike and then persuaded many to leave the Square before the military crackdown. Liu Xiaobo, who proposed Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political reform, was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize but remains in prison after being convicted of subversion.

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.[citation needed] After weeks of occupying the Square, the students were tired, and internal rifts opened between moderate and hardliner student groups.[89] 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.[90]

On June 2, Deng Xiaoping and several party elders met with the three remaining politburo standing committee members, Li Peng, Qiao Shi and Yao Yilin, Zhao Ziyang and Hu Qili having been ousted, and they agreed to clear the Square so "the riot can be halted and order be restored to the Capital."[91][92] 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.[88] That day, state-run newspapers reported that troops were positioned in ten key areas in the city.[88][89] Units of the 27th, 65th and the 24th Armies were secretly moved into the Great Hall of the People on the west side of the Square and the Ministry of Public Security compound east of the Square.[93]

On the evening of June 2, reports that a police jeep ran into four civilians, killing three sparked fear that the army and the police were trying to advance into Tiananmen Square.[94] Student leaders issued emergency orders to set up roadblocks at major intersections to prevent the entry of troops into the center of the city.[94]

On the morning of June 3, students and residents discovered troops dressed in plainclothes trying to smuggle weapons into the city.[2] The students seized and handed the weapons to Beijing Police.[95] The students protested outside the New China Gate of the Zhongnanhai leadership compound and the police fired tear gas.[96] Unarmed troops emerged from the Great Hall of the People and were quickly met with crowds of protesters.[2] Scores were hurt in the scuffle. Eventually both sides sat down and sang songs, and then the troops retreated back into the Hall.[97]

At 4:30pm on June 3, the three politburo standing committee members met with military leaders, Beijing Party Secretary Li Ximing, mayor Chen Xitong, and State Council secretariat Luo Gan, and finalized the order for the enforcement of martial law:[91]

  1. The operation to quell the counterrevolutionary riot was to begin at 9:00 pm
  2. Military units should converge on the Square by 1:00 am on June 4 and the Square must be cleared by 6:00 am.
  3. No delays would be tolerated.
  4. No person may impede the advance of the troops enforcing martial law. The troops may act in self-defense and use any means to clear impediments.
  5. State media will broadcast warnings to citizens.[91]

The order did not explicitly contain a shoot-to-kill directive but permission to "use any means" was understood by some units as authorization to use lethal force. That evening, the leaders monitored the operation from the Great Hall of the People and Zhongnanhai.[91][98]

Night of June 3 to morning of June 4

On the evening of June 3, state-run television warned residents to stay indoors but crowds of people took to the streets, as they had two weeks before, to block the incoming army. PLA units advanced on Beijing from every cardinal direction—the 38th, 63rd and 28th Armies from the west, 15th Airborne Corps, 20th, 26th and 54th Armies from the south, the 39th Army and the 1st Armored Division from the east and the 40th and 64th Armies from the north.[95]

A Type 59 main battle tank on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in western Beijing. On June 3, 1989, People's Liberation Army deployed Type 59 tanks in the crackdown.

Type 63 armored personnel carrier deployed in Beijing in 1989

Unlike in the 1976 Tiananmen Incident when the authorities sent police and worker vigilantes with billy clubs to clear the Square of demonstrators, the soldiers in 1989 were armed with the Type 56 assault rifle (above), a variant of the AKS-47 (below), and fired live ammunition at civilians.

At about 10:00 pm, the 38th Army opened fire on protesters at the Wukesong intersection on Chang'an Avenue, about 10 km west of Square.[95][99] The crowds were stunned that the army was using live ammunition and reacted by hurling insults and projectiles.[95] Song Xiaoming, a 32-year old aerospace technician, killed at Wukesong, was the first confirmed fatality of the night.[95] The troops used expanding bullets, which expand upon entering the body and create larger wounds.[14]

At about 10:30 pm, the advance of the army was briefly halted at Muxidi, about 5 km west of the Square, where articulated trolleybuses were placed across a bridge and set on fire.[100] Crowds of residents from nearby apartment blocks tried to surround the military convoy. The 38th Army again opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties.[98][100] According to the tabulation of victims by Tiananmen Mothers, 36 people died at Muxidi including Wang Weiping, a doctor tending to the wounded.[99] Several were killed in the apartments of high-ranking party officials overlooking the boulevard.[98][14] Soldiers raked apartment buildings in the area with gunfire, and some people inside or on their balconies were shot.[81][98][101] The 38th Army used armored personnel carriers (APCs) to ram through the buses, and continued to fight off demonstrators, who hastily erected barricades and tried to form human chains.[98] Fatalities were recorded all along Chang'an Avenue, at Nanlishilu, Fuxingmen, Xidan, Liubukou and Tiananmen. Among those killed was Duan Changlong, a Tsinghua University graduate student, who was shot in the chest as he tried to negotiate with soldiers at Xidan.[95][102] Duan was the grand nephew of the warlord Duan Qirui, whose troops were responsible for the March 18 Massacre of 1926, the deadliest use of force against students in Beijing until 1989. To the south, paratroopers of the 15th Airborne Corps also used live ammunition, and civilians deaths were recorded at Hufangqiao, Zhushikou, Tianqiao, and Qianmen.[99]

The killings infuriated city residents, some of whom attacked soldiers with sticks, rocks and molotov cocktails, setting fire to military vehicles. The Chinese government and its supporters have attempted to argue that the troops acted in self-defense and seized upon troop casualties to justify the use of force. There were reports of soldiers being burned alive on the street and others were beaten to death. The lethal attacks on troops occurred after the military had opened fire at 10:00 pm on June 3 and the number of military fatalities caused by protesters is relatively few—seven, according to Wu Renhua's study,[103][104] compared to hundreds of civilian deaths. There were numerous instances of students and residents protecting soldiers from the angry mob as well as military units refusing to carry out orders against civilians.

At 8:30 pm, army helicopters appeared above the Square and students called for campuses to send reinforcements. At 10:00 pm, the founding ceremony of the Tiananmen Democracy University was held as scheduled at the base of the Goddess of Democracy.[105] At 10:16 pm, the loudspeakers controlled by the government warned that troops may take any measure to enforce martial law.[105] By 10:30pm, news of bloodshed to the west and south of the city began trickling into the Square, often told by witnesses drenched in blood.[105] At midnight, the students' loudspeaker announced news that a student had been killed on West Chang'an Avenue, near the Military Museum and a somber mood settled on the Square.[105] Li Lu, the deputy commander of the student headquarters, urged students to remain united in defending the Square through non-violent means. At 12:30 am, Wuerkaixi fainted after learning that a female student at Beijing Normal University, who had left campus with him earlier in the evening, had just been killed.[105] Wuerkaixi was taken away by ambulance.[105] By then, there were still 70,000-80,000 people in the Square.[105]

At about 12:15 am, illumination rounds lit up the sky and the first armored personnel vehicle appeared on the Square from the west.[105] At 12:30 am, two more APCs arrived from the South.[105] The students threw chunks of cement at the vehicles. One APC stalled, perhaps by metal poles jammed into its wheels, and the demonstrators covered it with gasoline doused blankets set on fire. The intense heat forced out the three occupants, who were swarmed by demonstrators. The APCs had reportedly run over tents and many in the crowd wanted to beat the soldiers. But students formed a protective cordon and escorted the three men to the medic station by the History Museum on the east side of the Square.[105]

Pressure mounted on the student leadership to abandon non-violence and retaliate against the killings.[106] At one point, Chai Ling picked up the megaphone and called on fellow students to prepare to "defend themselves" against the "shameless government."[106] But she and Li Lu agreed to adhere to peaceful means and had the students' sticks, rocks and glass bottles confiscated.[106]

At about 1:30 am, the vanguard of the 38th Army and paratroopers from the 15th Airborne Corps, arrived at the north and south ends of the Square, respectively.[107] They began to seal off the Square from reinforcements of students and residents, killing more demonstrators.[108] Meanwhile, the 27th and 65th Armies poured out of the Great Hall of the People to the west and the 24th Army emerged from behind the History Museum to the east.[106] The remaining students, numbering several thousand, were completely surrounded at the Monument to the People's Heroes in the center of the Square. At 2 am, the troops fired shots over the heads of the students at the Monument. The students broadcast pleadings back toward the troops: "We entreat you in peace, for democracy and freedom of the motherland, for strength and prosperity of the Chinese nation, please comply with the will of the people and refrain from using force against peaceful student demonstrators."[107]

At about 2:30 am, several workers near the Monument emerged with a machine gun they had captured from the troops and vowed to take revenge.[109] They were persuaded to give up the weapon by Hou Dejian.[109] The workers also handed over an assault rifle without ammunition, which Liu Xiaobo smashed against the marble railings of the Monument.[109] Shao Jiang, a student who had witnessed the killings at Muxidi, pleaded with the older intellectuals to retreat, saying too many lives had been lost. Initially, Liu Xiaobo was reluctant but joined in Zhou Tuo, Gao Xin and Hou Dejian in making the case to student leaders.[107] Chai Ling, Li Lu and Feng Congde initially refused to withdrawal.[107] At 3:30am, at the suggestion of two doctors in the Red Cross camp, Hou Dejian and Zhuo Tuo agreed to attempt to negotiate with the soldiers.[109] They rode in an ambulance to the northeast corner of the Square and spoke with Ji Xinguo, the political commissar of the 38th Army's 336th Regiment, who relayed the request to command headquarters, which agreed to grant safe passage for the students to the southeast.[109] The commissar told Hou, "it would be a tremendous accomplishment, if you can persuade the students to leave the Square.[109]

Fang Zheng, a student at Beijing Sports University, was among those evacuating from the Square who was run over by tanks on Changan Avenue at Liubukou, near the Beijing Concert Hall, on the morning of June 4.

At 4:00 am, the lights on the Square suddenly turned off, and the government's loudspeaker announced: "Clearance of the Square begins now. We agree with students' request to clear the Square."[107] The students sang The Internationale and braced for a last stand.[109] Hou returned and informed student leaders of his agreement with the troops. At 4:30 am, the lights relit and the troops began to advance on the Monument from all sides.[110][110] At about 4:32 am, Hou Dejian the student's loudspeaker and recounted his meeting with the military. Many students, who learned of the talks for the first time, reacted angrily and accused him of cowardice.[110]

The soldiers initially stopped about 10 meters from the students.[110] The first row of troops took aim with machine guns in the prone position.[110] Behind them squatted and stood soldiers with assault rifles.[110] Mixed among them were anti-riot police with clubs.[110] Further back were tanks and APCs.[110] Feng Congde took to the loudspeaker and explained that there was no time left to hold a meeting. Instead, a voice vote would decide the collective action of the group. Although the "stays" were louder than "gos", Feng said the "gos" had prevailed.[100] Just at that time, at about 4:40 am, a squad of soldiers in camouflaged uniform charged up the Monument and shot out the students' loudspeaker.[110][111] Other troops beat and kicked dozens of students at the Monument, seizing and smashing their cameras and recording equipment.[110] An officer with a loudspeaker called out "you better leave or this won't end well."[110]

Some of the students and professors persuaded others still sitting on the lower tiers of the Monument to get up and leave, while soldiers beat them with clubs and gunbutts and prodded them with bayonets. Witnesses heard bursts of gunfire.[110] At about 5:10 am, the students began to leave the Monument. They linked hands and marched through a corridor to the southeast,[100][110] though some departed through the north.[110] Those who refused to leave were beaten by soldiers and ordered to join the departing procession.[112] After securing the Square, the military sent in helicopters to pick up large plastic bags piled by soldiers.[112]

Just past 6:00 am on June 4, as a convoy of students who had vacated the Square were walking westward in the bicycle lane along Chang'an Avenue back to campus, three tanks pursued them from the Square, firing tear gas and one drove through the crowd, killing 11 students, injuring scores.[113][114]

Later in the morning, thousands of civilians tried to re-enter the Square from the northeast on East Chang'an Avenue, which was blocked by rows of infantry.[115] Many in the crowd were parents of the demonstrators who had been in the Square.[115] As the crowd approached the troops, an officer sounded a warning, and the troops opened fire.[115] The crowd scurried back down the avenue in view of journalists in the Beijing Hotel.[115] Dozens of civilians were shot in the back as they fled.[115] Later, the crowds surged back toward the troops, who opened fired again, sending the people aflight.[115][116] The crowd attempted several more times but could not enter the Square, which remained closed to the public for two weeks.[117]

June 5


"Tank Man" temporarily stops the advance of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, in Beijing, in what is widely considered one of the iconic images of the 20th century.[118][119][120] This photograph (one of four similar versions) was taken by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press.

On June 5, suppression of the protest was immortalized in Western media by the famous video footage and photographs of a lone man standing in front of a column of tanks driving out of Tiananmen Square. The iconic photo that would eventually make its way around the world was taken on 5 June on Chang'an Avenue. 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.[121]

By and large, the government regained control in the week following the military's seizure of the Square. A political purge followed in which officials responsible for organizing or condoning the protests were removed, and protest leaders jailed.

Other cities in China

After order was restored in Beijing on 4 June, protests continued in other cities of mainland China for several days. There were large protests in Hong Kong, where people again wore black in solidarity with the demonstrators in Beijing. 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. 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.[122]


On 5 June, students marched very quickly on the streets and stopped traffic using roadblocks.[123] Factory workers skipped work and railway traffic was also blocked.[123] Public transport was also suspended early in the morning. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation “ten thousand staff members and workers could not get to work on time”.[citation needed]

The next day, The Shanghai Municipal Government sent out 6,500 people to remove the roadblocks.[124] 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”.[124]

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).[125] 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”.[126]


On 5 and 6 June, students marched, set up roadblocks, and stopped workers from entering factories.[127] 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”.[126]


On 5 June, approximately 20,000 students from the University of DongJin marched to Tiananmen Square.[128] 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”.[128] The next day, students continued demonstrating in the streets and stopped traffic. About one thousand students “staged a sit-in on the railroad tracks”.[129] Rail traffic on the Beijing-Guangzhou and Wuhan-Dalian lines was interrupted. The students also urged workers from major enterprises to go on strike.[129]

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”.[130] 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”.[130] The situation in the city was tense and residents “withdrew cash and began panic buying”.[130]


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”.[131] In the early evening traffic was still blocked.[131] 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”.[131] Traffic resumed by the end of the day.[131]

On 8 June, students from Nanjing University and Hehai University “retook an overpass one kilometer from the Nanjing Railway Station, halting traffic”.[132] 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”.[132] 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.[132]

Government pronouncements

At a news conference on June 6, State Council spokesperson Yuan Mu announced that based on "preliminary statistics", "nearly 300 people died . . . includ[ing] soldiers", 23 students, "bad elements who deserve[d] this because of their crimes, and people who were killed by mistake."[133] The wounded, he said, included "5,000 [police] officers and [soldiers]" and over "2,000 civilians, including the handful of lawless ruffians and the onlooking masses who do understand the stituation."[133] Military spokesperson Zhang Gong stated that no one was killed in Tiananmen Square and no one was run over by tanks in the Square.[134]

Deng addresses the Army

On June 9, Deng Xiaoping, appearing in public for the first time since the protests began, delivered a speech praising the "martyrs" (PLA soldiers who had died).[135][136] Deng stated that the goal of the movement was to overthrow the Party and the state.[137] “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.[138] 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".[139]

Death toll

The civilians killed in Beijing, according to the city police, "included university professors, technical people, officials, workers, owners of small private enterprises, retired workers, high school students and grade school students, of whom the youngest was nine years old."[140] The number of deaths and whether there was bloodshed in the Square have been in dispute ever since the government's press conference of June 6, 1989. The number of dead and wounded remains unclear because the Chinese government has since suppressed the release of any information regarding the incident and prohibited any research of the subject matter in China. Hence, large discrepancies exist among various casualty estimates, which range from several hundred to several thousand.

Official figures

  • Some of the early estimates were based on reports of a casualty figure of 2,600 from the Chinese Red Cross, which was quickly retracted.
  • On June 6, State Council spokesperson Yuan Mu claimed that preliminary tallies by the government showed that about 300 civilians and soldiers died, including 23 students from universities in Beijing, along with a number of people he described as "ruffians".[133] Some 5,000 soldiers and police along with 2,000 civilians were wounded.
  • On June 19, Beijing Party Secretary Li Ximing reported to the Politburo that the government's confirmed death toll was 241, including 218 civilians (including 36 students), 10 PLA soldiers and 13 People's Armed Police, along with 7,000 wounded.[141][142]
  • On July 1, Chen Xitong, then Beijing mayor, reported that about 200 civilians and several dozen soldiers died.[143][144]

Other estimates


Ding Zilin and her husband Jiang Peikun, in front of the portrait of their son Jiang Jielian, who was 17 when killed by gunfire on June 3, 1989 in Beijing. Ding and another bereaved mother founded the Tiananmen Mothers, a network of families who lost loved ones in the military crackdown. She has been detained or placed under house arrest repeatedly in the years since for her advocacy.

Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times wrote on June 21, 1989 that due to the lack of physical evidence it was difficult to determine the actual number of casualties, but that "it seems plausible that about fifty soldiers and policemen were killed, along with 400 to 800 civilians."[145] 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.[146]

Since much of the shooting took place outside of the Square, a count of deaths within the Square is not reflective of the scale of violence that took place. In addition, the Army reportedly fired on students after they left the Square, especially in the area near the Beijing concert hall.[147]

  • 4,000 to 6,000 civilians killed, but no one really knows – Edward Timperlake.[148]
  • Over 3,700 killed, excluding disappearance or secret deaths and those denied medical treatment – PLA defector citing a document circulating among officers.[148]
  • 2,600 had officially died by the morning of 4 June (later denied) – Time Magazine.[144] An unnamed Chinese Red Cross official estimated that, in total, 5,000 people were killed and 30,000[Clarification needed] injured.[149]
  • Closer to 1,000 deaths, according to Amnesty International and some of the protest participants, as reported in a Time article.[144] Other statements by Amnesty have characterized the number of deaths as hundreds.[150]
  • 300 to 1,000 according to a Western diplomat that compiled estimates.[145]
  • 400 to 800 plausible according to an estimate by New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof on June 21, 1989 using limited information from Beijing hospitals.[145]
  • 180–500 deaths and "thousands more" injured, according to a declassified NSA cable, filed the morning of 4 June 1989, prior to the occurrence of casualties in subsequent days.[151]
  • Other sources stated that 3,000 civilians and 6,000 soldiers were injured.[152]

Tiananmen Mothers' compilation

According to the victims' database compiled by the Tiananmen Mothers, the victims' advocacy group co-founded by Ding Zilin and Zhang Xianling, whose children were killed during the crackdown, 202 victims have been named and identified as of August 2011.[153] The group has worked painstakingly, in the face of government suppression and interference, to locate victims' families and collect information about the victims.[153] Their tally has grown from 155 in 1999, to 187 in 2005, to 195 in 2010 and 202 in 2011.[153] The list includes four individuals who committed suicide on or after June 4, for reasons that relate to their involvement in the demonstrations.[153][154]

Military deaths

As for military personnel killed in the martial law enforcement operation, according to Wu Renhua's careful study, only 15 could be verified.[103] Of these 15, six soldiers from the 38th Army were killed when the truck they were riding in flipped over and caught fire, one was a photographer in the propaganda unit of the 39th Army who was not in uniform while taking pictures and hit by gunfire (and counted as a "friendly fire" casualty) and one was a platoon commander from the 24th Army who died of a heart attack on July 4.[103] The remaining seven deaths among military personnel may be counted as actual killed in action.[103]

Whether there was bloodshed in Tiananmen Square

Chinese government officials, since the June 6 press conference, have insisted that no one died in the Square. Deng Xiaoping, in his June 9 speech, asked rhetorically, "We shall see, what kind of people are the PLA soldiers? Was Tiananmen Square washed in blood? Who had shed blood? Once we clarify this question, we will have the initiative."[135] While visiting the United States in 1996, Chi Haotian, the general who oversaw the martial operations insisted that no one died in the Square.[155]

Accounts of a "massacre" in the Square was widely reported in the Western media. Chai Ling said that the tanks that entered the Square had run over the tent city, flattening those students who refused to leave. Among students who retreated from the Square, it widely believed that those who stayed behind at the Monument were killed. The use of helicopters to remove remains from the Square added to suspicions that the government was covering up a massacre. Several people at the Monument, including Hou Dejian, Wu Renhua, John Pomfret have said that while they heard gunshots in the Square, they did not see any mass firings.[156] An internal US State Department summary at the time concluded "the massacre took place on Chang'an Avenue and other of Beijing's main thoroughfares rather than in Tiananmen Square itself."[157] These accounts have led some journalists to conclude that "as far as can be determined from available evidence, no one died that night in Tiananmen Square." and that the mass killings occurred elsewhere in Beijing.[158]

Among the diplomatic cables disclosed by Wikileaks, is the account of Carlos Gallo, a Chilean diplomat who spent part of the evening of June 3 and early morning of June 4 on the east and north side of the Square, who told U.S. Embassy personnel that he had witnessed no mass firing within the Square and heard only sporadic gunfire. He also observed helicopters transporting plastic bags from the Square but could not comment on whether the bags contained refuse or bodies. Another cable reports that the mother of a soldier who participated in the crackdown learned from her son that his unit confronted a human wall at the southeast corner of Tiananmen, opened fire with machine guns, and left "a thousand dead on the streets, almost all ordinary civilians.[159] The cable could not verify the reliability of the account and filed the report as an example of the "grisly stories of Tiananmen continu[ing] to circulate through the land."[159]

The Chinese government's characterization of the situation in the Square appears to be confined the military's final push to displace the protesters at the Monument at 4:30 am on June 4.[citation needed] However, Ding Zilin and the Tiananmen Mothers organization have documented at least three student deaths from fatal gunfire in the Square itself prior to the storming of the Monument.

  • Dai Jinping, a 27-year old Beijing Agricultural University graduate student, was killed by gunfire near the Mao Zedong Mausoleum on the south side of the Square at about 11:00 p.m. on June 3.[160][161] His body was identified by relatives at Beijing Friendship Hospital.[162]
  • Cheng Renxing, a 25-year old Renmin University graduate student, was shot in the stomach at a flag pole near the north end of the Square, suffered massive hemorraging and was pronounced dead at the Beijing Hospital at about 2:00 a.m. on June 4.[106][162][163][164]
  • Li Haocheng, a 20-year old Tianjin Normal University undergraduate student, was taking photographs at the southeast corner of the Square in the early morning hours of June 4 when he was hit by gunfire, and died at Beijing Tongren Hospital.[160][162]

Soldiers also used lethal force around the Square. At around 4:00 a.m., a 16-year-old boy who had been watching the events from atop Tiananmen Gate, rode his bicycle out of the Gate. As he was crossing the moat, going toward Chang'an Avenue on the north side of the Square, he was beaten by soldiers armed with clubs and dragged into the Workers' Cultural Palace next to Tiananmen, where he died a little more than an hour later.[165]


Arrests and punishment

The authorities carried out mass arrests. Many workers were summarily tried and executed. 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 student leaders such as Chai Ling and Wuer Kaixi 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.[166]

Smaller protest actions continued in other cities for a few days. Some university staff and students who had witnessed the killings in Beijing organized or spurred commemorative events upon their return to school. At Shanghai's prestigious Jiaotong University, for example, the party secretary organized a public commemoration event, with engineering students producing a large metal wreath.

According to the Dui Hua Foundation, citing a provincial government, 1,602 individuals were imprisoned for protest-related activities in the spring of 1989.[167] As of May 2012, at least two remain incarcerated in Beijing and five others remain unaccounted for.[167] All are reported to be suffering from mental illness.[167]

Leadership changes

The Party leadership expelled Zhao Ziyang from the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (PSC), because he opposed martial law. Hu Qili, another 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 in the Ministry for Machinery 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 Airport upon returning from his shortened trip abroad; the authorities declared his detention to be on health grounds. 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 a mostly ceremonial role. Several Chinese ambassadors abroad claimed political asylum.[168][169]

Jiang Zemin, the party secretary of Shanghai, where student protests were subdued largely without violence, was promoted to succeed Zhao Ziyang as CPC General Secretary in 1989.

Li Ruihuan, the party secretary of Tianjin, who maintained order the large municipality next to Beijing, was also promoted to national leadership in June 1989.

In place of Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, then Party Secretary of Shanghai, was promoted to CPC General Secretary. Jiang's decisive actions in Shanghai, in closing down reform-leaning publications and preventing deadly violence, won him support from party elders in Beijing. Having put the new leadership team in place and recognising his weakened position, Deng Xiaoping himself also bowed out of the party leadership (at least officially) by resigning his last leadership position as Chairman of the Central Military Commission later that year, after which he kept a low profile until 1992.

Bao Tong, Zhao Ziyang's aide, was the highest-ranking official to be formally charged with a crime in connection with 1989 demonstrations. He was convicted in 1992 of "revealing state secrets and counter-revolutionary propagandizing" and served seven years in prison. To purge sympathizers of Tiananmen demonstrators among the party's rank-and-file, the party leadership initiated a one and half year long rectification program 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. More than 30,000 communist officers were deployed to assess political reliability of more than one million government officials.[170] The authorities arrested tens if not hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Some were seized in broad daylight while they walked in the street; others were arrested 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.[171]

Media coverage

Chinese media

The suppression on 4 June marked the end of a period of relative press freedom in China, and media workers—both foreign and domestic—faced heightened restrictions and punishment in the aftermath of the crackdown. 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 Xinwen Lianbo broadcast on China Central Television were fired because they displayed sad emotions. Wu Xiaoyong, the son of former foreign minister Wu Xueqian was removed from the English Program Department of Chinese Radio International, ostensibly for his sympathies towards protesters. Editors and other staff at People's Daily, including director Qian Liren and Editor-in-Chief Tan Wenrui, were also sacked because of reports in the paper which were sympathetic towards the protesters. Several editors were arrested, with Wu Xuecan, who organised the publication of an unauthorised Extra edition, sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

Foreign media

All international networks were eventually ordered to cease broadcasts from the city during the military action, with the government shutting down satellite transmissions. Broadcasters attempted to defy these orders by reporting via telephone. Footage was quickly smuggled out of the country. The only network which was able to record shots during the night of 4 June was Televisión Española of Spain (TVE).[172][173] During the military action, some foreign journalists faced harassment from authorities. CBS correspondent Richard Roth and his cameraman were taken into custody while filing a report from the Square via mobile phone.[174] Several foreign journalists who had covered the crackdown were expelled in the weeks that followed, while others were harassed by authorities or blacklisted from reentering the country.[175][176] In Shanghai, foreign consulates were told that the safety of journalists who failed to heed newly enacted reporting guidelines could not be guaranteed.[177]

International reaction

A replica of the memorial in the Polish city of Wrocław depicting a destroyed bicycle and a tank track as a symbol of the Tiananmen Square protests. The original was destroyed by Security Service despite the fact that it was after the 1989 elections

The Chinese government's response was denounced, particularly by Western governments and media.[178] Criticism came from both Western and Eastern Europe, North America, Australia and some west 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.[179] Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany, among others, supported the Chinese government and denounced the protests.[178] Overseas Chinese students demonstrated in many cities in Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia.[180]

Foreign trade and investments drop

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 foreign governments;[181] 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.[182] 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.[183]


Student leaders

Wang Dan and Zhao Changqing were arrested among student leaders who were arrested. Wang Dan was sent to prison, then allowed to emigrate to the United States in 1998 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 and has been a political commentator on Taiwanese national radio.[184] Chai Ling escaped to France, and then to the United States. In a public speech given at the University of Michigan in November 2007,[185] 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 the non-profit organization 'All Girls Allowed,' devoted to helping women in China and to fighting China's One Child Policy.[186]

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.

"Tank Man"

What happened to the "Tank Man" following the demonstration is not known. Some say he was pulled away and went into hiding, others say he was executed by the authorities.[187]Time Magazine dubbed him The Unknown Rebel and later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. In an interview with U.S. media, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin said he did not think the man was killed.[188]

Domestic political developments

The protests led to a strengthened role for the state. In its aftermath, many of the freedoms introduced during the 1980s were rescinded, as the party returned to a conventional Leninist mold and re-established firm control over the press, publishing, and mass media. The protests were also a blow to the 'separation of powers' model established by the 1982 Constitution and by convention, whereby the President was a symbolic position, and the real centres of power of the Premier, the Party General Secretary and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission were intended to be different people, to prevent the excesses of Mao-style personal rule. However, when President Yang Shangkun asserted his reserve powers and openly split with General Secretary Zhao Ziyang over the use of force to side with Premier Li Peng and Central Military Commission Chairman Deng Xiaoping, official policy became inconsistent and incoherent, significantly impeding the exercise of power. Following the protests, to avoid another open split within the leadership, the President became an executive position, and the roles of General Secretary, President, and Central Military Commission Chairman were all consolidated into the same person.

In 1989, neither the Chinese military nor the Beijing police had sufficient anti-riot gear, such as rubber bullets and tear gas.[189] After the Tiananmen Square protests, riot police in Chinese cities were equipped with non-lethal equipment for riot control. The protests led to increased spending on internal security and expanded the role of the People's Armed Police in suppressing urban protests.

The aftermath of the protests saw the resurgence of conservative attitudes towards reform among policymakers, intended to slow the rapid changes that were said to have contributed to the causes of the protest.[18] Deng Xiaoping, the "architect" of the reform policy, saw his influence significantly reduced following the protests, forcing him into making concessions with socialist hardliners.[190] In dismissing Zhao Ziyang, who shared Deng's vision for economic reform but disagreed with him over politics, Deng had lost the foremost champion of his own economic vision. Facing pressure from the conservative camp, Deng distanced himself from the affairs of state.[18]

These slow pace of reform was 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's Southern Tour of 1992, designed by the ailing but influential leader as a means to reinstate his economic reform agenda.[18] On the tour, Deng criticized the leftist hardliners that had gained power following the protests, and praised entrepreneurship and other market-driven policies. Initially ignored by Beijing, the Chinese Politburo eventually sided with Deng and economic reforms again gained prominence.


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. Deng Xiaoping died in 1997. Before his death in 1998, Yang Shangkun told army doctor Jiang Yanyong that "June 4" was the most serious mistake committed by the Communist Party in its history, a mistake that Yang himself could not correct but one that certainly will eventually be corrected.[191] Zhao Ziyang remained under house arrest until his death in 2005. Zhao's aide Bao Tong has repeatedly called on the government to reverse the verdict for the demonstrations. Chen Xitong, the mayor of Beijing, who read the martial law order and was later disgraced by a political scandal, expressed regret for the bloodshed in 2012, a year before his death.

Hong Kong

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. In response, Governor Chris Patten attempted to expand the franchise for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, which led to friction with Beijing. For many Hong Kongers, Tiananmen served as a turning point for when they lost trust in the Beijing government. The event, coupled with general uncertainty over the status of Hong Kong after the transfer of sovereignty, led to a sizeable exodus of Hong Kong people to Western countries such as Canada and Australia prior to 1997. The British government's attempt to stem the exodus led to the instigation of the British Nationality Selection Scheme to grant full British citizenship to some Hong Kongers. 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. Many Hong Kongers see the continued protests as a symbol of the territory's autonomy and freedom from the interference from Beijing on political issues.

International image

The Tiananmen Square protests damaged the reputation of China internationally, particularly in the West. Western media covering the Sino-Soviet Summit in May were in an excellent position to cover some of the military action live. Protesters seized this opportunity to create signs and banners designed for international television audiences. Indecision within the Chinese government over how to handle media coverage of the events also meant a relatively liberal environment for both domestic and foreign journalists for a significant portion of the protests.

Images of the protests would strongly shape Western views and policy toward China in the next two decades.[192] Of particular significance was the image of "Tank Man", the unknown rebel who became immortalized in the West as a symbol of civil resistance against a repressive regime. There was considerable sympathy for the protests among Chinese students in the West. China's image as a country undergoing modernizing reforms and an ally against the Soviet Union was replaced by that of a repressive authoritarian regime. The protests were frequently invoked to argue against trade liberalization with mainland China and by the United States' Blue Team as evidence that China was a threat to world peace and US interests.

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.

EU and 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 protests, remains in place today. The PRC has been calling for a lift of the ban for years and has had a varying amount of support from EU members. Since 2004, China has portrayed the ban as "outdated", and damaging to China-EU relations. In early 2004, French President Jacques Chirac spearheaded a movement within the EU to lift the ban, which was supported by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. However, the passing of the Anti-Secession Law of the People's Republic of China in March 2005 increased tensions between mainland China and Taiwan, damaging attempts to lift the ban, and several EU Council members retracted their support for a lift of the ban. Moreover, Schroder's successor Angela Merkel opposed lifting the ban. Members of the U.S. Congress had also proposed restrictions on the transfer of military technology to the EU if the latter lifted the ban. The UK also opposed the lifting of the embargo when it took charge of the EU presidency in July 2005. The election of José Manuel Barroso as European Commission President also made a lifting of the ban more difficult, because Barroso is a critic of China's human rights record.[193]

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 European Parliament has repeatedly opposed any lifting of the arms embargo on the PRC. 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 this co-operation.[194]


Censorship in China

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Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, Zhao Ziyang's account of the protests was published in 2009 but remains banned in China.
The Critical Moment – Li Peng Diaries, Li Peng's journal entries during the protests was published in 2010 and is also banned in China.
File:Tiananmen Guidebook black out.jpg

Description of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests are blacked out in guidebooks for sale at the Foreign Languages Bookstore in Beijing.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) forbids discussion of the Tiananmen Square protests,[195] and has taken measures to block or censor information. Textbooks have little, if any, information related to the protests.[196] Following the protests, officials banned controversial films and books, and shut down a large number of newspapers. Within a 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, the government also announced it had seized 32 million contraband books and 2.4 million video and audio cassettes.[197] Access to media and internet resources on the subject are restricted or blocked by censors.[198] The article you are currently reading is on the English Wikipedia; there is also a Mandarin Chinese article on the same topic, which is organized somewhat differently, but generally covers the same topic in the same fashion. Both articles (as well as any similar articles) are blocked to make them invisible to the vast majority[citation needed] of people inside the borders of China. The controversial nature of an article on the Tiananmen Square protests was discussed the first week Wikipedia was online.[1]

The party’s official stance towards the incident is that the use of force was necessary in order to control a 'political disturbance'[199] and helped to ensure the stability necessary for economic success.[200] Chinese leaders, including general secretaries Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, reiterate this line when asked about the question by foreign press.[201]

Public memory of the Tiananmen Square protests has been suppressed by the authorities since 1989. Print media containing reference to the protests must be consistent with the government’s version of events.[199] Presently, many Chinese citizens are reluctant to speak about the protests due to potential repercussions.[202] Many young people born after 1980 are completely unfamiliar with the events and are apolitical while older intellectuals no longer aspire for political change and instead focus on economic reform.[203]

However, some individuals do speak out, such as Ding Zilin of the Tiananmen Mothers organization.[204] Youth in China are generally afraid to mention or unaware of the events that took place, the symbols such as tank man,[205] or even the date 4 June itself.[206]

Internet searches of '4 June' or 'Tiananmen Square' return censored results or cuts the server connection temporarily.[204] Specific web pages with select keywords are censored, while other websites, such as those of overseas Chinese democracy movements, are blocked wholesale.[196][204] The censorship, however, has been inconsistent - with many sites being blocked, unblocked, and re-blocked over the years, including YouTube, Wikipedia, and Flickr.[207] In addition, the policy is much more stringent with Chinese-language sites than foreign-language ones. In January 2006, Google agreed to censor their mainland China site to remove information about Tiananmen and other subjects considered 'sensitive' by the authorities.[208] Google withdrew its cooperation on censorship in January 2010.[209]

Leading up to and during the event's 20th anniversary on 4 June 2009, party authorities increased security around the square. Members of the Public Security Bureau and the People’s Armed Police were present at the square in uniform along with several hundred plain-clothes officers.[210] Journalists were denied entry to the Square.[210] Those who attempted to film at the Square or interview dissidents were briefly detained.[211] The anniversary also saw the shut down of global social-networking sites in China, as well as increased policing of dissidents.[198][212] No protests were to be tolerated on this occasion.[199][213][214]

Censorship does not apply to Hong Kong and Macau; the two special administrative regions enjoy a high degree of autonomy and people enjoy freedom of speech and assembly.

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.[215]
  • 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.[216]
  • Forbidden City was banned in 2006.
  • Collection of June Fourth Poems, a collection of poems about the protests.[217]
  • Writings or interviews with Zhao Ziyang or Bao Tong are banned.[218][219] As such, Conversations with Zhao Ziyang in House Arrest by Zong Fengmin was not published due to government pressure.[220] However, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang was published in May 2009 after tapes were smuggled out of China.

Calls to reverse the verdict

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.[200] 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.[221]

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 US$10,250). 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.[222]

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.[223] 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."[223] 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.[223]

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."[224] 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."[224] It claimed that the labelling of the “incident as ‘the Democracy Movement’” is a “distortion of the nature of the incident."[224] According to the Chinese Government these observations were “inconsistent with the Committee’s responsibilities."[224]


In 1995, Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton produced The Gate of Heavenly Peace an award-winning three-hour documentary film about the Tiananmen Square protests. The film contains interviews with Liu Xiaobo, Wang Dan, Wuer Kaixi, Han Dongfang, Ding Zilin, Chai Ling, Dai Qing, Feng Congde, and Hou Dejian.

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.

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.[225]

Cultural references


In May 1998, an Indonesian general threatened a "Tiananmen Square massacre" in Jakarta to suppress student-led demonstrations against President Suharto.[226]

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."[227]

In February 2011, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in response to an uprising in Benghazi against his rule, held up China’s 1989 military assault on Tiananmen Square as an example of how to deal with popular unrest.[228] Chinese media censored Gaddafi's reference to Tiananmen Square.[228]


This event has inspired many references in music. In May 1989, Hong Kong artistes (including Andy Lau, Sally Yeh, Roman Tam, Andy Hui, Maria Cordero) gathered to record the song "For Liberty" (為自由) in support of the protesters.

The second music video for Michael Jackson's song "They Don't Care About Us" (1996) and the music video for Princess X's song "Free" (2013) contain a video clip of the Tank Man. In their Rome concert on 4 June 1989, British rock band The Cure, dedicated their last encore, "Faith," to "everyone that died today in China." In the same year, Joan Baez's song "China" from her album Speaking of Dreams commemorated the event. (Baez also stated in the liner notes that she dedicated the album to the students of Tiananmen Square who "nonviolently and, at an enormous price, have changed the face of China forever.") The second-last historical reference cited in Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire, released in September 1989, is "China's under martial law". Leonard Cohen's song "Democracy" from his 1992 album The Future states that democracy is coming "from those nights in Tiananmen Square". The music video for Princess X

Progressive rock group Marillion wrote a song titled "The King of Sunset Town" that uses imagery from Tiananmen Square, such as the line "a puppet king on the Fourth of June." American rock band The Hooters referred to the event in their hit song 500 Miles, 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."

Canadian industrial music group Skinny Puppy's song "Tin Omen" is about the incident. Its title is a play on words.

American thrash metal band Slayer released a song "Blood Red" on their album Seasons in the Abyss, which was inspired by Tiananmen Square. Similarly, Testament's "Seven Days of May" protested the Beijing massacre. System of a Down's "Hypnotize" on their 2005 album of the same name mentioned Tiananmen Square. Brazilian metal band Sepultura mentions Tiananmen Square in their song "Refuse/Resist" from their 1993 album Chaos A.D.; the music video for the song features Tank Man.

"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.[229]

In 1990 the song "Blood Is On the Square" by Philip and Teresa Morgan[230] about Tiananmen protests was released.

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 "The Tiananmen Man", based on the picture of the Tank Man, appeared on Nevermore's second album The Politics of Ecstasy.

Paintings and movies

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

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


  1. 1.0 1.1 Events named by date in Chinese are conventionally named by the number of the month and the date, followed by the type of event. Thus, the common Chinese name for the crackdown on the 1989 protests ("六四事件"), is literally (word-by-word) "Six" "Four" "Incident" ("六" means "six", "四" means "four", "事件" means "incident"), which refers to the incident which occurred on the "Fourth day" of the "Sixth month", in other words, the "June Fourth Incident", which is the usual translation.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 "The Gate of Heavenly Peace". Long Bow Group Inc. in collaboration with ITVS. 1995. Retrieved 15 January 2012.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ghp" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.0 3.1 Zhao, Ziyang (2009). "The origins of the 1989 Student Movement". Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1-4391-4938-0. 
  4. See May Fourth Movement of 1919, March 18 Massacre of 1926, December 9th Movement of 1935 and Tiananmen Incident of 1976.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Vogel, Ezra F. (2011). Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 634. ISBN 0-674-05544-6. 
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Sources Cited

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External links

Coordinates: 39°54′12″N 116°23′30″E / 39.90333°N 116.39167°E / 39.90333; 116.39167

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