The World Remembers Tiananmen


Timeline: Tiananmen protests

This file photo taken on 2 June 1989 shows hundreds of thousands of Chinese gathering around a 10-metre replica of the Statue of Liberty (C), called the Goddess of Democracy, in Tiananmen Square demanding democracy despite martial law in BeijingThe 1989 Tiananmen protests were the greatest challenge China’s communist rulers had faced

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

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.

Student displays a banner with one of the slogans chanted by the crowd of some 200,000 pouring into Tiananmen Square 22 April 1989 in Beijing in an attempt to participate in the funeral ceremony of former Chinese Communist Party leader and liberal reformer Hu Yaobang during an unauthorized demonstration to mourn his death
An editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper further fuels public anger

22 April: Hu’s memorial

Tens of thousands of students gather outside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square as 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 – China’s premier at the time – which is rejected.

26 April: Inflammatory editorial

The state-run newspaper, the People’s Daily, publishes an 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.

Picture dated 17 May 1989 shows a Chinese worker shouting pro-democracy slogans during a mass rally in Beijing streets in support of student hunger strikers gathered at Tiananmen Square, the scene of the mass pro-democracy protest led by students against the Chinese government
Tens of thousands of Chinese students in at least five cities stage protests

4 May: Numbers rise

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.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (R) gestures as he talks to journalists 16 May 1989 in Beijing as Chinese Prime Minister and Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) general secretary Zhao Ziyang (L) and Raisa Gorbachev look on
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, right, arrived in Beijing in May 1989

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 protests force the authorities to cancel plans to welcome him in Tiananmen Square – a huge embarrassment for the government.

19 May: Zhao visits square

Zhao Ziyang visits students on Tiananmen Square, and makes a final, unsuccessful appeal for a compromise.

Zhao is accompanied by Li Peng, his hard-line rival, and Wen Jiabao, who will eventually become China’s premier in the future.

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.

In this 19 May 1989 file photo, Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, centre with loud hailer, speaks with fasting university students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the last time he was seen in publicZhao Ziyang, centre, did not succeed in his appeal for a compromise

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 to 1 June: Heightened tensions

Over the next week, demonstrations continue with almost no visible security presence – there is a jubilant atmosphere in Tiananmen Square.

Waving banners, high school students march in Beijing streets near Tiananmen Square 25 May 1989 during a rally to support the pro-democracy protest against the Chinese governmentStudents, workers and officials take to the streets to ask for greater freedom and democracy

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

Kate Adie reports as Chinese troops fire on protesters

In the evening, thousands of PLA soldiers begin moving towards the centre of Beijing. People flood on to 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.

People Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers leap over a barrier on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing 4 June 1989 during heavy clashes with people and dissident students. On the night of 3 and 4 June 1989, Tiananmen Square sheltered the last pro-democracy supporters
The government hailed the military’s intervention as a victory

4 June: Anger and shock

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 People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks guard a strategic Chang'an Avenue leading to Tiananmen Square 6 June 1989Tiananmen Square was cleared after a night of the worst bloodshed ever seen in Beijing

5 June: ‘Tank man’

The army now has complete control of Beijing. But the world witnesses a staggering act of defiance – the unarmed man blocking a column of tanks as they moved along Chang’an Avenue towards Tiananmen Square.

To this day, the fate of the man remains unknown.

A Beijing citizen stands in front of tanks on the Avenue of Eternal Peace in this 5 June 1989 file photo during the crushing of the Tiananmen Square uprisingThis image, of a lone man in front of tanks, is now known around the world
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