The Tiananmen Square Protests

What was it?

Tiananmen square is a city square in Beijing, China. In 1989, there were student-led protests and demonstrations calling for democracy, free speech and free press in China that culminated in this square. The pro-democracy student protestors had marched through Beijing to Tiananmen Square following the death of Hu Yao bang, a former communist party leader who had worked to introduce democratic reform in China. In mourning Hu, the students called for a more open, democratic government and also demanded the resignations of Chinese Communist Party leaders who were deemed repressive and inadequate. For nearly three weeks, the protesters kept up daily vigils, marched and chanted. The event drew around one million participants and was being captured and reported on by news channels all over the world. It had become a global event, but one which would have a terrifying ending.

The Tiananmen Square Massacre

The government had considered negotiating with the demonstrators and offering concessions. However, many in power were opposed to this and decided that to avoid anarchy, the protests needed to be suppressed forcibly. To this end, martial law was declared in Beijing, and army troops were stationed around the city. Initially, attempts by the troops to reach Tiananmen Square were thwarted by the citizens of Beijing who flooded the streets and blocked their way. Eventually however, the Chinese government decided to crack down on the protestors in Tiananmen square with all their might. They sent soldiers and security police that stormed through Tiananmen Square, firing indiscriminately into the crowds of protesters. Tanks and heavily armed troops advanced toward Tiananmen Square, opening fire on or crushing those who tried to block their way.

Hence, carnage ensued as tens of thousands of the young students tried to escape the terrorizing Chinese forces. Other protesters fought back, stoning the attacking troops and overturning and setting fire to military vehicles. Once the soldiers reached the square, a number of the few thousand remaining demonstrators chose to leave rather than face a continuation of the confrontation. By morning the area had been cleared of protesters, though sporadic shootings occurred throughout the day. By June 5, the military had secured complete control, though during the day there was a notable, widely reported incident involving a lone protester momentarily facing down a column of tanks as it advanced on him near the square. This incident is now a famous picture that serves as a representation of what happened at Tiananmen (featured image of the article).

The Aftermath

In the aftermath of the massacre and crackdown, the United States instituted economic and diplomatic sanctions on China for a time, and many other foreign governments criticized China’s handling of the protesters. Leaders and governments worldwide condemned the Chinese government’s military actions. Still, the Chinese government arrested thousands of individuals who were suspected to have been involved in the protests, and many of them received prison.

From the outset of the incident, the Chinese government’s official stance was to rationalize their actions, calling the protesters ‘counterrevolutionaries’ and minimizing the extent of the military actions. The government’s count of those killed was 241 (including soldiers), with some 7,000 wounded. However, most other estimates have put the death toll much higher. In the years since the incident, the government has attempted to suppress all references to it, and public commemoration of the incident is officially banned. However, the residents of Hong Kong have held an annual vigil on the anniversary of the crackdown, even after Hong Kong reverted to Chinese administration. It remains a sensitive topic to date in China, and there is little to no discussion or debate about in Chinese public forums. Regardless, everyone in China and in the world knows and remembers the tragic events that occurred in Tiananmen square and the protestors that died while wishing for a better China.