June 4, 1989

June 4, 1989

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 1989.

Tank Man (above) made his stand on  June 5, 1989

The Chinese military used tanks and armed force to remove demonstrators during the “Tiananmen Square Incident” on June 4, 1989. There were certainly civilian casualties, but the number of fatalities is unclear.


Student demonstrators started gathering in the Square on April 15, 1989 in observance of the death of progressive political leader Hu Yaobang. Officials refused to meet student petitioners at the Great Hall of the People, and a sit-in developed in front of Zhongnanhai’s Xinhua Gate starting the night of April 19th. Crowds marched to Hu Yaobang’s funeral, held on April 22nd at the Great Hall of the People, near Tiananmen Square. On April 26th an editorial in the official People’s Daily threatened the return of political repression as a response to increasing political and citizen unrest. The next day, April 27th,  university students marching to Tiananmen Square to confront an official committee meeting in the Great Hall were joined by angry city dwellers in what was often called The Big March. 

Small-scale college campus demonstrations followed until a hunger strike started in mid-May at Tiananmen Square, in anticipation of a state visit by USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev. By the time the Soviet proponent of Perestroika arrived on May 16th, 2,300 students were said to be on a hunger strike in the Square, surrounded by 100,000 supporters. Martial law was declared on May 20th; troops arrived to find the Capital’s citizens blockading the streets and were turned back by the crowds. Student demonstrators occupying Tiananmen Square added the end of martial law to their demands, and by the end of May world media attention focused on their actions. Supplies arrived from supporters in Hong Kong, and the Square became a tent city on May 29th. On May 30th, the tenth day of martial law, the statue of the Goddess of Democracy was unveiled in Tiananmen Square, and world attention was riveted on the site.

On June 2nd leading intellectuals and celebrities began to join the protesters in the Square, including Taiwan-born singer/songwriter Hou Dejian, who performed near the Goddess of Democracy. Later a speeding military jeep crashed into pedestrians on Chang’an Avenue, killing three, and thousands of students and residents rushed to the scene, taking it as a sign of military escalation.

Crowds of silent, unarmed troops, wearing white shirts but in their army uniform pants, appeared around Tiananmen Square on June 3rd, were surrounded by students and residents, and retreated into nearby government buildings. A magazine reporter drove some leading figures from the Square to a safe-house. Gunshots were heard later that night as the 38th Army marched toward the center of Beijing (it’s commander Lieutenant General Xu Qinxian had been removed for refusing to participate). Casualties were reported. Weapons continued to fire as the column approached, and troops were sighted nearing Tiananmen Square just after midnight on June 4, 1989. Clashes with civilians were reported throughout the morning across the city.

By June 5th, troops were firmly in control of Beijing. The only resistance, though purely symbolic, has been the most enduring: The image of Tank Man.


Zooming out on Tank Man

From CNN:


Short link: http://wp.me/p6sb6-joc

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not boring or obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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