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Tiananmen Square protests of 1989

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Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 1988 (1).jpg
Tiananmen Square in 1988.
Date 15 April 1989 (1989-04-15) – 4 June 1989 (1989-06-04)
Location Beijing
400 cities nationwide
  • Death of Hu Yaobang
  • Economic reform
  • Inflation
  • Political corruption
  • Career prospects
  • Social unrest in Eastern Europe
Goals Social equality, "A Communist Party Without Corruption", freedom of the press, freedom of speech, socialism, democracy
Characteristics Hunger strike, sit-in, occupation of public square
  • Army intervention, protests suppressed
  • Zhao Ziyang purged
  • Jiang Zemin succeeded
  • Market reforms delayed
Parties to the civil conflict
Communist Party of China
China Government of the People's Republic of China
China Emblem PLA.svg People's Liberation Army
University students
Factory workers
Lead figures
  • Deng Xiaoping
  • Li Peng
  • Yang Shangkun
  • Zhao Ziyang
Death(s) Estimates vary from 241 to 2,500+
Injuries Over 7,000

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese, were student-led popular demonstrations in Beijing in the spring of 1989 that received broad support from city residents and exposed deep splits within China's political leadership but were forcibly suppressed by hardline leaders who ordered the military to enforce martial law in the country's capital. The crackdown 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. Though diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks appear to confirm the Chinese authorities' longstanding position that no students were killed in the Square itself, 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.

Officially, the Chinese government condemned the protests as a " counterrevolutionary riot", and has prohibited all forms of discussion or remembrance of the events within China. Even the memoirs of leaders who supported the crackdown are banned. 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.

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 Chinese economic and political reforms. 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. They called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the restoration of workers' control over industry. At the height of the protests, about a million people assembled in the Square.

The government, led by the moderate CPC General Secretary, Zhao Ziyang, initially took a conciliatory stance toward the protesters, but hardline Premier Li Peng’s meeting with student leaders ended poorly. The student-led hunger strike galvanized support for the demonstrators around the country and the protests spread to 400 cities by mid-May. Ultimately, China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and other party elders resolved to use force. Party authorities declared martial law on May 20, and mobilized as many as 300,000 troops to Beijing.

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. 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.

Internationally, the Chinese government was widely condemned for the use of force against the protesters. Western governments imposed economic sanctions and arms embargoes. In July, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who visited Beijing during the protests in May, renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine and the revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in the fall and winter of 1989 proceeded largely peacefully.


Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
Chinese 六四事件
Literal meaning Six Four Incident
Name referred to by the PRC Government
Chinese 1989年春夏之交的政治风波
Literal meaning Political Storm Between Spring and Summer in 1989
Second alternative Chinese name
Chinese 八九民運
Literal meaning Eighty-Nine Democracy Movement

In the Chinese language, the incident is most commonly known as the June Fourth Incident. 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.

In Chinese dissident circles and among people of the movement, it is commonly referred to 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).

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. 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 Storm between Spring and Summer of 1989," which it uses to this day.

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. 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. The term also gives a misleading impression that demonstrations only happened in Beijing, when in fact they occurred in many cities throughout China.


Challenges with reform

At the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Communist Party Congress in 1978, the Chinese leadership initiated a series of economic and political reforms, which led to the gradual implementation of a market economy and some political liberalization that relaxed the system set up by Mao Zedong. These reforms were generally successful in the early years and well received by the public. However, the pace of political reform was slow, as corruption and nepotism pervaded the shift toward a free-market economy.

Deng Xiaoping was Chinese Paramount Leader from 1978 to 1992.

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. 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.

Following the 1988 Beidaihe meeting, the party leadership under Deng Xiaoping agreed to a transition to a market-based price system. News of the relaxation of price controls triggered waves of cash withdrawals, buying and hoarding all over China. 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. 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.

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. Despite the opening of new universities and increased enrollment, the state-directed education system did not adequately prepare for increasing market demand in the areas of agriculture, light industry, services, and foreign investment. The job market was especially limited for students specializing in social sciences and the humanities. 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. 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. 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. These organizations motivated the students to get involved politically.

At the same time, the party's nominally socialist ideology faced a legitimacy crisis as it gradually adopted capitalist practices. 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. 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.

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.

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. 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.

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. 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. 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.

Protest development

Death of Hu Yaobang

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

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. 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.

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. 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.

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. Also on this date, a group of workers calling themselves the “ Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation” issued two handbills challenging the central leadership.

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.

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. However, no leaders emerged from the Great Hall, leaving the students disappointed and angry; some called for a class boycott.

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.

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. 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.

Turning point: 26 April Editorial

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. 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. 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. 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. The editorial proved to be a major sticking point for the remainder of the protests. 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.

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. 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". 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.

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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

Protests escalate

Party and government leaders
Name Position(s) in 1989
Deng Xiaoping Paramount Leader, Chairman of the Central Military Commission
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.

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. 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.

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. By the afternoon of 13 May, some 300,000 were gathered at the Square.

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.

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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. Yan then personally went to the Square to appeal to the students, even offering himself to be held hostage. 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.

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. The summit between Deng and Gorbachev took place at the Great Hall amidst the backdrop of commotion and protest in the Square. 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.

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. Many grassroots Party and Youth League organizations, as well as government-sponsored labour unions, encouraged their membership to demonstrate. 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. 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. These combined circumstances put immense pressure on the authorities to act, and martial law was discussed as a viable response.

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. 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. 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. Deng then moved to declare martial law as a show of the government's no-tolerance stance. 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.

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. 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. Zhao did not consider the inconclusive PSC vote to have legally binding implications on martial law; Yang, in his capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, went on to mobilize the military to move into the capital.

Li Peng met with students for the first time on 18 May in an attempt to placate public concern over the hunger strike. 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.

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.

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. 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.

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. 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

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

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.

The Chinese government declared martial law on 20 May, and deployed People's Liberation Army (PLA) forces in three to four major vehicle convoys to Beijing. Their 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. 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. Every military region sent units, some arriving by air and others by rail. Guangzhou's civil aviation authorities put regular airline tickets on hold to prepare for transporting military units.

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. 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.

1 and 2 June

For the party leadership, the days leading up to 4 June were crucial in their decision making. The leadership agreed that it was necessary to end the “turmoil,” and that the students occupying the Square should return to their campuses. However, they struggled with the idea of using force. In order to carry out the clearing of the Square, the members of the Politburo needed to agree that using martial law to restore order was the only option. On 1 June Li Peng issued a report titled “On the True Nature of the Turmoil”, which was circulated to every member of the Politburo. 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. The report stated that turmoil was continuing to grow, the students had no plans to leave, and they were gaining popular support.

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. The MSS expressed its belief that American forces had intervened in the student movement in hopes of overthrowing the Communist Party. The report created a sense of urgency within the party, and provided justification for military action. 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.

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

On 2 June, 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. After weeks of occupying the Square, the students were tired, and internal rifts opened between moderate and hardliner student groups. 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.

During a meeting on 2 June, the party formally moved to clear the Square by force. Records from this meeting indicate that the Party Elders (Deng, Li Xiannian, Yang Shangkun, Peng Zhen and Wang Zhen) agreed with the PSC that the Square needed to be cleared as quickly as possible. 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. In preparation for clearing the Square, martial law troops moved into Beijing. On the morning of 2 June, newspapers reported that troops were positioned in ten key areas in the city. Around midnight of 2 June an order went out to the remaining martial law troops to move to designated areas. After finalizing the decision to clear the Square, the CPC intended to act quickly. On the evening of 2 June, there were reports that a police Jeep ran into four civilians, killing three, and injuring the other. This incident sparked fear that the army and the police were trying to advance into Tiananmen Square. Student leaders issued emergency orders for the students to set up roadblocks at major intersections to prevent the advance of the large numbers of armed troops that were attempting to infiltrate the Square. In the early hours of 3 June, the first reports of violence on both sides were reported.

3 and 4 June: Military advances to Tiananmen Square

Soldiers and tanks from the 27th and 38th Armies of the People's Liberation Army were sent to take control of Beijing and clear Tiananmen Square. The 27th Army was commanded by a relative of Yang Shangkun. Intelligence reports also indicated that 27th and 38th units were brought in from outside provinces because the PLA troops were considered to be sympathetic to demonstrators. Reports described the 27th as having been responsible for most civilian deaths and suggested that elements of the 27th established defensive positions in Beijing, potentially to defend against attacks by other military units. There were rumours at the time that high-ranking officials sympathised with the pro-democracy protesters and reports of defiance among other troops. Major General Xu Qinxian, commander of the 38th Army, shocked the top leadership when he refused a verbal order from General Li Laizhu to send the 38th in to clear the square; Xu had insisted on a written order. Xu was immediately removed from command and was later jailed for five years and expelled from the Party.

As word spread that hundreds of thousands of troops were advancing from all four directions, residents flooded the streets to block them. As they had done two weeks earlier, people set up barricades at major intersections. At about 10:30 pm, near the Muxidi apartment buildings (home to high-level Party officials and their families), the army began firing live bullets at protestors, killing many.

Supporters of the Chinese government justify the massacre by claiming that protesters first threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police and army vehicles and lit many vehicles on fire in the streets all around Tiananmen, some with their occupants still inside them. There were reports of soldiers being burned alive in their armoured personnel carriers while others were beaten to death. Therefore, soldiers responded by opening fire on protesters. Soldiers raked apartment buildings in the area with gunfire, and some people inside or on their balconies were shot.

The reporting of Timothy Brook and others say that the army was ordered to get to the Square by midnight. Getting desperate, because they were unable to move forward, it was decided by unknown officials to use whatever means were necessary, and the army therefore opened fire on the civilians blocking their way. John Pomfret, reporter from the Washington Post, concluded later that "Deng [Xiaoping] and the Party elders made the decision that, because they believed this was a nationwide counterrevolutionary movement similar to what was happening in the Soviet Union, they needed to make a bloody stand to cower their population back into submission." The first rounds caught the civilians by surprise and at first they did not believe the army was using live ammunition. Live ammunition, however, did not drive the people from the streets.

As the army advanced towards the square, a battle raged in the surrounding streets. The army attempted to clear the streets using tear gas and gunfire. Protesters had blocked the slowly advancing army by constructing barricades of vehicles, and "in other cases [the army is] breaking though human barriers and they [the protestors] have to be shot." Many injured citizens were saved by rickshaw drivers who ventured into the no-man's-land between the soldiers and crowds and carried the wounded off to hospitals. During the military action, many people wore black armbands in protest against the government, crowding boulevards or congregating by smoking barricades. In several cases, soldiers were pulled from tanks, beaten and killed by protesters.

Meanwhile, the PLA systematically established checkpoints around the city, chasing after protesters and blocking off the university district.

Within the Square itself, there was a debate between those who wished to withdraw peacefully, including Han Dongfang, and those who wished to stand within the square, such as Chai Ling.

At about 1:00 am, the army finally reached Tiananmen Square and waited for orders from the government. The soldiers had been told not to open fire, but they had also been told that they must clear the square by 6:00 a.m.–-no exceptions. They made a final offer of amnesty if the few thousand remaining students would leave. About 4:00 am, student leaders put the matter to a vote: Leave the square, or stay and face the consequences.

The remaining students, numbering a few hundred, left the square under the military's watch before dawn.

Armored personnel carriers (APCs) rolled up the roads, firing ahead and off to the sides. BBC reporter Kate Adie spoke of "indiscriminate fire" within the square. Eyewitness reporter Charlie Cole also saw Chinese soldiers firing Type 56 rifles into the crowd near an APC which had just been torched.

Students who sought refuge in buses were pulled out by groups of soldiers and beaten with heavy sticks. Some students attempting to leave the square were beaten. Leaders of the protest inside the square, where some had attempted to erect flimsy barricades ahead of the APCs, were said to have "implored" the students not to use weapons (such as Molotov cocktails) against the oncoming soldiers. Meanwhile, many students apparently were shouting, "Why are you killing us?" Around 4:30 am on 4 June, tanks smashed into the square, crushing vehicles and people with their treads, according to Cole. By 5:40 am 4 June, the Square had been cleared. A Chilean diplomat told US Embassy personnel that he had witnessed no mass firing within the Square itself. Later accounts by foreign journalists likewise reported few casualties during the Square-clearing process itself, citing that much of the killings happened in the Muxidi area on the way to the Square but not inside it. 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."

On the morning of 5 June, protesters, parents of the injured and dead, workers and infuriated residents tried to enter the blockaded square but were shot at by the soldiers. The soldiers shot them in the back when they were running away. These actions were repeated several times.

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.

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.

Number of deaths

The number of dead and wounded remains unclear because of the large discrepancies between the different estimates, which range from several hundred to several thousand. Some of the early estimates were based on reports of a casualty figure of 2,600 from the Chinese Red Cross. PBS Foundation claim the official Chinese government figure is 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded.

Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times wrote that due to the lack of physical evidence it is impossible 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."

The Chinese government has maintained that there were no deaths within the Square itself. Jay Mathews, former Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post said "as far as can be determined from the available evidence, no one died that night in Tiananmen Square". Videos taken there at the time recorded the sound of gunshots but there is no video showing anyone being shot. The State Council claimed 5,000 PLA and 2,000 civilians wounded. Yuan Mu, the spokesman of the State Council, said that about 300 soldiers and civilians died, including 23 students from universities in Beijing, along with a number of people he described as "ruffians". According to Chen Xitong, then Beijing mayor, 200 civilians and several dozen soldiers died. Other sources stated that 3,000 civilians and 6,000 soldiers were injured.

According to The Washington Post first Beijing bureau chief, Jay Mathews: "A few people may have been killed by random shooting on streets near the square, but all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully. Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under different circumstances." 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.

General consensus has emerged that much of the shooting took place outside of the Square; thus 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.

  • 4,000 to 6,000 civilians killed, but no one really knows – Edward Timperlake.
  • Over 3,700 killed, excluding disappearance or secret deaths and those denied medical treatment – PLA defector citing a document circulating among officers.
  • 2,600 had officially died by the morning of 4 June (later denied) – Time Magazine. An unnamed Chinese Red Cross official estimated that, in total, 5,000 people were killed and 30,000 injured.
  • Closer to 1,000 deaths, according to Amnesty International and some of the protest participants, as reported in a Time article. Other statements by Amnesty have characterized the number of deaths as hundreds.
  • 300 to 1,000 according to a Western diplomat that compiled estimates.
  • 400 to 800 plausible according to the New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof. He developed this estimate using information from hospital staff and doctors, and from "a medical official with links to most hospitals".
  • 180–500 casualties, according to a declassified NSA document which referred to early casualty estimates.
  • 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded, according to the PBS Foundation.
  • 186 named individuals confirmed dead at the end of June 2006 – Professor Ding Zilin of the Tiananmen Mothers. The Tiananmen Mothers' list includes some people whose deaths were not directly at the hands of the army, such as a person who committed suicide after the incident on 4 June.
  • A USA State Department Briefing, classified top secret, dated the morning of 4 June 1989, reported 180 to 500 deaths.



On 5 June, students marched very quickly on the streets and stopped traffic using roadblocks. Factory workers skipped work and railway traffic was also blocked. 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”.

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

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). 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”.


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


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

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


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

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

Deng addresses the Army

On 9 June, Deng Xiaoping appeared in public for the first time since the protests began. He started his speech to a group of generals in Beijing by recognizing the “martyrs” (PLA soldiers who had died). Deng stated that the goal of the movement was to overthrow the Party and the state. “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. 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".

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 events at Tiananmen were the first of their type shown in detail on Western television. The Chinese government's response was denounced, particularly by Western governments and media. Criticism came from both Western and Eastern Europe, North America, Australia and some east 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. North Korea, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany, among others, supported the Chinese government and denounced the protests. Overseas Chinese students demonstrated in many cities in Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia.


Arrests and punishment

Wu Guoguang, former aide to Zhao Ziyang was quoted as saying that the account of 38th Army commander Maj. Gen. Xu's revealed for the first time that the Central Military Commission issued verbal orders fearing written records of the crackdown would go down in history; he said this suggested they knew the action was unlawful. Chinese authorities summarily tried and executed many of the workers they arrested in Beijing. In contrast, the students – many of whom came from relatively affluent backgrounds and were well-connected – received much lighter sentences. 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 dissidents 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.

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. However, these commemorations were quickly put down, with those responsible being put to death by firing squad.

During and after the demonstration, the authorities attempted to arrest and prosecute the student leaders of the Chinese democracy movement, notably Wang Dan, Chai Ling, Zhao Changqing and Wuer Kaixi. Wang Dan was arrested, convicted and sent to prison, then allowed to emigrate to the United States on the grounds of medical parole. As a lesser figure in the demonstrations, Zhao was released after six months in prison. However, he was once again incarcerated for continuing to petition for political reform in China. Wuer Kaixi escaped to Taiwan. He is married and holds a job as a political commentator on Taiwanese national radio. Chai Ling escaped to France, and then to the United States. In a public speech given at the University of Michigan in November 2007, 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.

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.

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

High-level political changes

Jiang Zemin succeeded Zhao Ziyang to become CPC General Secretary in 1989.

The Party leadership expelled Zhao Ziyang from the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (PSC), because he opposed martial law. He remained under house arrest until his death in 2005. 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.

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. Members of the government prepared a white paper explaining the government's viewpoint on the protests. An anonymous source within the PRC government smuggled the document out of China, and Public Affairs published it in January 2001 as the Tiananmen Papers.

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. 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.


Domestic political trends

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, whereby the positions of President, Premier, and the General Secretary were intended to be different people following 1982 to prevent the excesses of Mao-style personal rule. However, when President Yang Shangkun openly split with General Secretary Zhao Ziyang over the use of force, official policy became inconsistent and incoherent, significantly impeding the exercise of power. Following the protests, to avoid another open split within the leadership, the roles of General Secretary, President, and Central Military Commission Chairman were all consolidated into the same person, Jiang Zemin (and by extension his successor, Hu Jintao).

In 1989, neither the Chinese military nor the Beijing police had sufficient anti-riot gear, such as rubber bullets and tear gas. 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.

Effect on economic reform

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. Deng Xiaoping, the "architect" of the reform policy, saw his influence significantly reduced following the protests, forcing him into making concessions with socialist hardliners. 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.

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. 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.

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. 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. For many Hong Kongers, Tiananmen served as a turning point for when they lost trust of 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.

International trade

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; 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. 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.

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.

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). 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.

Images of the protests would strongly shape Western views and policy toward China in the next two decades. 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.

"Tank Man"

The suppression of the protest was immortalized in Western media by the famous video footage and photographs of a lone man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks which were attempting to drive out of Tiananmen Square. 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.

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. 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.

Continuing issues


The Communist Party of China (CPC) forbids discussion of the Tiananmen Square protests, and has taken measures to block or censor information. Textbooks have little, if any, information related to the protests. 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. Access to media and internet resources on the subject are restricted or blocked by censors.

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

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. Presently, many Chinese citizens are reluctant to speak about the protests due to potential repercussions. However, some individuals do speak out, such as Ding Zilin of the Tiananmen Mothers organization. Youth in China are generally unaware of the events that took place, and cannot recognize symbols such as tank man, or even the date 4 June itself.

Internet searches of '4 June' or 'Tiananmen Square' return censored results or cuts the server connection temporarily. Specific web pages with select keywords are censored, while other websites, such as those of overseas Chinese democracy movements, are blocked wholesale. The censorship, however, has been inconsistent - with many sites being blocked, unblocked, and re-blocked over the years, including YouTube, Wikipedia, and Flickr. 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. Google withdrew its cooperation on censorship in January 2010.

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. Journalists were denied entry to the Square. Those who attempted to film at the Square or interview dissidents were briefly detained. The anniversary also saw the shut down of global social-networking sites in China, as well as increased policing of dissidents. No protests were to be tolerated on this occasion.

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

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.

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.


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. 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.

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 $10,250 USD). 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.

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. 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." 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.

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

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