The Blood-Stained History of June 4th 1989 “Never Forget the June Fourth and Awaken the Conscience”

April 15, 1989: Upon the death of Hu Yaobang, the more progressive former secretary of the Communist Party of China, citizens and students of Beijing spontaneously gathered in Tiananmen Square to commemorate him. The crowds protested corruption and illegal dealings by government officials and demanded dialogue with the government.

April 18: Tens of thousands of students staged a sit-in in Tiananmen Square, raising their "Seven Demands, which were the following: 1) fairly re-evaluate Hu Yaobang, recognizing the value of democracy, freedom, and tolerance; 2) renounce the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization and Anti-Spiritual Pollution campaigns and vindicate the wrongly punished; 3) reveal the salaries and wealth of party and government leaders and their families; 4) allow citizens to publish non-official newspapers and end press censorship; 5) increase education expenditures and improve the treatment of intellectuals; 6) rescind the Beijing government’s unconstitutional "Ten Provisional Articles Regulating Public Marches and Demonstrations"; and 7) provide clear and accurate news coverage of the students’ demonstration.

April 19: Several thousand students staged a sit-in outside the official Xinhua News Agency, demanding to speak with Premier Li Peng. Amid a confrontation, the government sent armed police to disperse the students.

April 22: During the official commemoratory event for Hu, around 100,000 students staged a sit-in Tiananmen Square, demanding to participate in the event, submit their petition and speak with party leaders. Three representatives knelt on the ground for half an hour, but their pleas remained unheeded.

April 26: The People’s Daily released a condemnatory editorial calling for the “riots” to be “unequivocally opposed.” The students organized a protest on the following day, with a million citizens supporting them along the way.

April 28: The Autonomous Student Union of Beijing was established.

April 29: The State Council officials spoke with the student representatives for the first time, claiming that the editorial was not targeted at them.

May 4: On the 70th anniversary of the May 4th Movement, over 100,000 students marched to Tiananmen Square.

May 13: Upon Soviet Union General Secretary Gorbachev’s visit to China, more than 3,000 students participated in a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square, but the government remained adamant. On May 16, as the protesters began to forgo even water, more than 300 students fainted.

May 19: General Secretary Zhao Ziyang visited the Square at midnight to show his concern, tearfully asking the students to end their hunger-strike and stating that their demands would be considered. The students decided to end their hunger strike and change to a sit-in protest.

May 20: At midnight, Li Peng declared martial law and a news blockade over parts of Beijing. The students instantly responded with a hunger-strike protest with 200,000 participating.

May 30: The Goddess of Democracy statue was erected in Tiananmen Square.

June 3: At 10 p.m., the troops were ordered to ignore any opposing citizens, as armored vehicles and tanks drove blindly into crowds, killing and injuring many, forcing their way into Tiananmen Square. As the troops fired indiscriminately at the people, the blood of the deceased and injured marked the Avenue of Eternal Peace from Muxidi, Fuxingmen, Liubukou to Jianguomen.

June 4: The troops continued firing at student and citizens, leaving countless dead or injured.

Before and After June Fourth:

The June Fourth massacre was a watershed in modern Chinese history. During the decade before June Fourth (1979-1989), as China emerged from the catastrophic Cultural Revolution, a liberalizing atmosphere prevailed. Meanwhile, economic reforms, the academia, and culture were also beginning to flourish.

With calls for reforms both inside and outside the system, Chinese society was hopeful and vibrant. Outside the system, there was the Democracy Wall on Xidan Street and an election movement among high schools; the national student movements from the end of 1986 to the beginning of 1987 marked the milestone in a wave of reforms. Culturally, many articles about political reforms surfaced, as cultural studies organizations emerged everywhere, including Chan Ziming’s Beijing Social and Economic Sciences Research Center.

Within the establishment, there were the “Meeting on Theory and Metaphysical Matters”, “Deliberation among 4000 High Cadres”, etc. Hu Yaobang promoted the “Big Debate on the Criterion for Truth,” thereby raising the curtain for the Ideological Emancipation Movement. The government also promoted separating the party from the country’s political functions, ensuring the independent powers of the executive and judicial branches and removing party organizations from the executive branch. The political environment was relatively free.

After June Fourth:

After the bloody suppression, white terror enveloped the entire country. Until today, the victims of June Fourth, dissidents and human rights defenders are still being oppressed. Many—including Liu Xiaobo, Tan Zuoren and Gao Zhisheng—have been arbitrarily imprisoned under the name of “inciting subversion of state power,” and some have even been “suicided,” as Hunan labor rights activist Li Wangyang was on June 6, 2012.

After June Fourth, the prospect of political reforms has declined as businessmen and politicians collude for wealth, forming a system of complicity in which ethics and justice are ignored. The past few years have seen the depletion of environmental resources, smog across the country, “gutter oil,” “tofu-dreg projects,” toxic milk formula…Every year, there are hundreds of thousands of mass events, prompting the government to spend as much as 700 billion yuan on “maintaining stability,” but clearly, it is failing.

Meanwhile, the CPC’s Propaganda Department has tightened control over thought and debate, forcing some cultural and social activities underground and others to the commercial market, where homogeneity has replaced diversity. As economic activities distract the public from intellectual development and enlightenment, it looks like the thriving culture of the 80s is becoming increasingly distant.