June 4, 1989 - the Chinese people struggle for democracy. Timeline of the Tiananmen protests

In the spring of 1989, more than one million Chinese students and workers occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square and began the largest political protest in communist China's history. Six weeks of protests ended with the Beijing massacre of 3-4 June.

15 APRIL - HU YAOBANG'S DEATH: Former Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang, a leading reformist, dies of a heart attack aged 73. Mourners begin to gather in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. They are expressing their sadness, but also their dissatisfaction with the pace of reform in China.

18-21 APRIL - DEMONSTRATIONS SPREAD: Students carry a memorial banner to Hu Yaobang. Numbers in Beijing swell into thousands in the following days, and demonstrations spread to cities and universities nationwide. Students, workers and officials shout slogans calling for greater freedom and democracy and an end to what they called dictatorship - others complain about inflation, salaries and housing.

22 APRIL - HU'S MEMORIAL: Tens of thousands of students gather outside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square as Mr Hu's memorial service is held. Their actions come in spite of an earlier warning by the city government that protesters risk severe punishment. They deliver a petition of demands and insist on a meeting with Li Peng - which is rejected.

26 APRIL - INFLAMMATORY EDITORIAL: The state-run newspaper, the People's Daily, publishes an important editorial entitled 'The Necessity for a Clear Stand Against Turmoil', accusing the protesters of rejecting the Communist Party. The article closely mirrors views expressed by Deng Xiaoping, China's unofficial leader. It further fuels public anger.

Tiananmen 300.jpg
To this day, the fate remains unknown of the unarmed man who blocked a column 
of tanks as they moved towards Tiananmen Square.

4 MAY MOVEMENT: Tens of thousands of Chinese students in at least five cities stage the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations of their kind since the communists came to power 40 years ago. The action coincides with the 70th anniversary of the 4 May movement, an intellectual movement that wanted a stronger China. But at a meeting with Asian bankers, Zhao Ziyang, the official head of the Communist Party, says the protests will gradually subside.

13 MAY - HUNGER STRIKE: Ahead of a visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, hundreds of students begin an indefinite hunger strike in Tiananmen Square, pressing for political reforms. They blame their extreme action on the government's failure to respond to their requests for dialogue. The move draws broad public support.

15 MAY - GORBACHEV'S STATE VISIT: Mikhail Gorbachev arrives in Beijing for the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years. His visit is intended to put a formal end to years of hostility between the two communist nations. The large protests force the cancellation of plans to welcome him in Tiananmen Square: a huge embarrassment for the government.

19 MAY - ZHAO VISITS SQUARE: Zhao Ziyang makes a last-ditch appeal to the student protesters. Zhao Ziyang visits students on Tiananmen Square, and makes a final, unsuccessful appeal for a compromise. Mr Zhao is accompanied by Li Peng, his hard-line rival, and Wen Jiabao, China's current premier. Mr Zhao, who wanted China to introduce far-reaching political reforms, reportedly told the crowd: "We have come too late." It was to be one of his last political acts.

20 MAY - TROOPS MOVE IN: Martial law is declared in several districts in Beijing and troops move towards the city centre.A huge number of civilians block their convoys, setting up barricades on streets. The soldiers have been ordered not to fire on civilians.

24 MAY - 1 JUNE - HEIGHTENED TENSIONS: Over the next week, the demonstrations continue with almost no visible security presence - there is a jubilant atmosphere in Tiananmen Square.  However, at government headquarters, China's leaders plan a new offensive to end the demonstrations and end the chaos in China's capital.

2 JUNE - OFFENSIVE APPROVED: Communist Party elders approve the decision to put down the "counter-revolutionary riot" by force.

3 JUNE - NIGHT OF BLOODSHED: In the evening, thousands of PLA soldiers begin moving towards the centre of Beijing. People flood onto the streets to try to block them, setting up barricades along routes into Tiananmen Square. As the army tries to break through in armoured personnel carriers, some troops open fire with guns loaded with live ammunition, killing and injuring many unarmed citizens. Tiananmen Square is cleared after a night of the worst bloodshed ever seen in Beijing under communist rule. As the new day begins, the capital is in a state of shock. Thousands of angry and curious residents crowd up to lines of soldiers blocking the north-east entrance. The soldiers open fire again. There is sporadic gunfire throughout the day.

The government hails the military intervention as a great victory. An editorial is published saying the army would severely and mercilessly punish "lawless people who plan riots and disturb social order".
But Peking Radio's English language service, in an act of defiance, says thousands of innocent civilians were killed. The government-run radio calls the act a gross violation of human rights and a barbarous suppression of the people. Afterwards the authorities claim no-one was shot dead in the square itself. There is still debate about exactly how many people were killed. Some say a few hundred, others say a few thousand...The army now has complete control of Beijing - but it is yet to witness a staggering act of defiance. To this day, the fate remains unknown of the unarmed man who blocked a column of tanks as they moved along Chang'an Avenue towards Tiananmen Square.

Deng Xiaoping appears in public. China's de facto leader Deng Xiaoping appears for the first time since the brutal crackdown. In a speech to military officers he praises their efforts, and blames the turmoil on counter-revolutionaries who wanted nothing less than to overthrow communism.

See also: ALL REFERENCES TO TIANANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE CLOSELY CENSORED FOR 20 YEARS: Twenty years later, it is still impossible for the Chinese media to refer freely to the ruthless suppression of China’s pro-democracy movement in June 1989. References to the demonstrations that took place throughout China for several weeks and the deaths of hundreds of students and workers at the hands of the army on 4 June 1989 are still strictly censored in the media and on the Internet. The information blackout has been enforced so effectively for 20 years that most young Chinese are completely unaware of this major event. When Chinese Internet users search for “4 June” in the photos section of Baidu, the country’s most popular search engine, they get this message: “The search does not comply with laws, regulations and policies.” The same search in the video section elicits this message: “Sorry, no video corresponds to your search.” If you do an ordinary Internet search for “4 June” with Baidu, you just get official Chinese statements about the “events of 4 June.”

The Chinese army’s brutal crackdown on the student revolt in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989 ended contemporary China’s most important pro-democracy movement. A free press was one of the main demands of the protesters as well as many journalists and journalism professors. Some are still paying the price in terms of administrative punishments, constant police surveillance or forced exile. Several journalists, including Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sending an email about the Tiananmen Square anniversary in 2004, are still in prison for referring to the massacre. Free expression activist Liu Xiaobo, one of the leading figures of the 1989 movement, was recently re-arrested. Cyber-dissident Huang Qi, who has long campaigned for the June 1989 victims to be recognised, has been held without trial in Chengdu since June 2008 and is now seriously ill. The censorship imposed after the “Beijing Spring” has never been relaxed...

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang are the memoirs of the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Zhao Ziyang, who was sacked after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The book was published in English in May 2009, to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the clearing of the square by tanks on June 4, 1989. It is based on a series of about thirty audio tapes recorded secretly by Zhao while he was under house arrest in 1999 and 2000. Co-editor Adi Ignatius pinpoints a meeting held at Deng Xiaoping's home on May 17, 1989, less than three weeks before the Tiananmen protests, as the key moment in the book. When Zhao argued that the government should look for ways to ease tensions with the protesters, two conservative officials immediately criticized him. Deng then announced he would impose martial law. Zhao commented: "I refused to become the General Secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on students."  Following the 1989 Tiananmen protests, Zhao was removed of all positions in government and placed under house arrest. For the next sixteen years of his life, Zhao lived in forced seclusion in a quiet Beijing alley. Although minor details of his life leaked out, China scholars lamented that Zhao's account of events was to remain unknown.

Zhao's production of the memoir, in complete secrecy, is the only surviving public record of the opinions and perspectives Zhao held later life in life. Zhao began secretly recording his autobiography on children's cassette tapes in 1999, and eventually completed approximately thirty tapes, each about six minutes in length. Zhao produced his audio journals by recording over inconspicuous low-quality tapes which were readily available in his home: children's music and Peking Opera. Zhao indicated the tapes' intended order by faint pencil markings, and no titles or notes on how Zhao intended the tapes to be otherwise interpreted or presented were ever recovered. The voices of several of Zhao's closest friends were heard in several of the later tapes, but were edited out of the published book in order to protect their identities. After the tapes' creation, Zhao smuggled them out of his residence by passing them to these friends. In order to minimize the risk that some tapes might be lost or confiscated, each participant was only entrusted with a small part of the total work..

Excerpts From Zhao Ziyang’s ‘Prisoner of the State’
Part 1, Chapter 4: 'The Crackdown' (Pp. 33-34): On the night of June 3rd, while sitting in the courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire. A tragedy to shock the world had not been averted, and was happening after all. I prepared the above written material three years after the June Fourth tragedy. Many years have now passed since this tragedy. Of the activists involved in this incident, except for the few who escaped abroad, most were arrested, sentenced, and repeatedly interrogated. The truth must have been determined by now. Certainly the following three questions should have been answered by now.

First, it was determined then that the student movement was “a planned conspiracy” of anti-Party, anti-socialist elements with leadership. So now we must ask, who were these leaders? What was the plan? What was the conspiracy? What evidence exists to support this? It was also said that there were “black hands” within the Party. Then who were they?

Second, it was said that this event was aimed at overthrowing the People’s Republic and the Communist Party. Where is the evidence? I had said at the time that most people were only asking us to correct our flaws, not attempting to overthrow our political system. After so many years, what evidence has been obtained through the interrogations? Have I been proven right, or have they? Many of the democracy activists in exile say that before June Fourth, they had still believed that the Party could improve itself. After June Fourth, however, they saw the Party as hopeless and only then did they take a stand to oppose the Party...

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