Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Apple #388: Tiananmen Square

I've been seeing all sorts of news articles about how the Chinese government is restricting access to certain websites in an attempt to keep its citizens from reading about what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

I haven't seen Blogger on their list of restricted sites, though. So on the very far off chance that someone from China might be able to see this -- I'm not sure if anyone from China has ever found this blog -- I'm going to post some information about that event. In an effort to keep this from getting blocked, I'll post my sources later.

  • Just as we refer to the World Trade Center bombings by the date when that occurred, 9/11, many of the Chinese refer to the events of Tiananmen Square by its date, 6/4.

Tian An Men Square in central Beijing.
(Map from the Beijing Centre)

  • In 1988, China had fallen into a seriously bad economic state. Inflation had risen, in some cities as 30%, people were panicking and drawing everything they had out the bank which caused several banks to collapse, and unemployment skyrocketed.
  • Students in particular had trouble finding jobs. What jobs were available were not available to them because of a cultural tradition of hiring family members, not necessarily the best qualified.
  • In the midst of this trying situation, a reformist pro-democracy movement leader named Hu Yaobang died of a seizure following heart attack on April 15, 1989. Students who had known him or his work began to gather in Beijing to mourn his death.
  • Then, according to one participant, as if by instinct, the group of students turned and marched toward Tiananmen Square. Their mourning became a protest. One participant realized this was happening and hastily scrawled some seven requests on pieces of paper. His requests were for things like freedom of the press, an end to corruption, the right to democratic participation.
  • The number of people chanting these requests grew, and soon the crowd was chanting and singing, calling for the people to come together and form a unified China that was truly by and for its people.
  • As the days passed, more students joined those already in the square. The military was standing nearby, armed with clubs and teargas, but they did not use their weapons. They stood still while the students marched around them, chanting slogans.

May 4, 1989, students surrounding soldiers who have linked arms to try to keep the students from getting through, but to no avail. I can't get over the sheer mass of people.
(AP Photo sourced from cryptome)

  • Throughout the protest, the students sent delegations to the office of the then-Premier, Li Peng, to negotiate. But as more time passed, both sides hardened in their positions, and they were not able to reach any compromise.
  • As news spread of the protestors, workers as well as students -- tens of thousands of them -- began traveling to Beijing to join the students in Tiananmen Square. Estimates put the number of people in and around Tiananmen Square at more than a million. Activity in the capital had reached a standstill.
  • According to one person who was there, everyone was friendly, joyous, excited. They were working together toward a common goal. According to one participant, you could ride the subway or the bus without paying. Everyone was smiling. "Pickpockets called a moratorium."

The crowd in Tiananmen Square. In the background is a statue of the Goddess of Democracy, made by Fine Arts students who modeled it after the Statue of Liberty. Just behind that is the image of Mao Zedong.
(Photo sourced from Facts and Details)

  • Some students began a hunger strike. Out of sympathy, residents of Beijing began to join them in the square. Then the hunger strikers began to pass out. Ambulances were trying to push through to those who needed medical attention. The government felt that it was all descending into chaos and on May 20, imposed martial law.
  • When troops arrived outside the capital, students and workers and citizens of Beijing rushed forward and put themselves in front of the soldiers, blocking their way. Some even lay down in front of the trucks and tanks. Remarkably, this seemed to stop the soldiers, or at least slow them down.

Student leader Wang Dan calling for a city-wide march, May 27, 1989. He was only just recently released from prison.
(AP Photo sourced from One Angry Man)

  • Over the next few days, the troops began to filter into the capital. The protestors' numbers dwindled, from over a million to 10,000 or so. Then some distance away from the square, a police van swerved and killed three bicyclists. The news spread quickly to the capital, to the protestors still in the square, who became angry and defiant. In their anger, some of the protestors beat up some soldiers. In response, the government told the military to stop the protest and to use whatever force was necessary.
  • The next day, before dawn on June 4, seven weeks after the students first marched into the square, the military drove its tanks into Tiananmen Square and opened fire. As the soldiers were firing, they were shouting, "Love the people!" Some of the tanks drove right over the students as they sat in the square, refusing to move. One man lost his legs when they were crushed under a tank. According to one correspondent, "many civilians are casually slaughtered for no apparent reason."

One man stood in front of the tanks as they rolled in. As they tried to avoid him, he repositioned himself in front of them again. At one point, he even climbed onto the front of one of the tanks. In the end, he ran off into the crowd. Others who stayed in front of the tanks were not so lucky.
(Famous AP Photo by Jeff Widener sourced from Libbie's site about 1989)
(For those who are not faint-hearted, here are some photos of some of the students who were killed that day, as well as other protests that have happened since then.)

  • The number of students and workers killed is still disputed. The Chinese government says 241 people died. The Chinese Red Cross estimated that 2,600 people had been killed, but later they retracted that number. Human rights groups and family members of those who were killed say the number is in the multiple hundreds.
  • An estimated 30 people are still serving prison sentences in China. Hundreds more are living in exile. They are still passionate about their country, and they look forward to the day when Chinese citizens can speak freely about what happened in Tiananmen Square.

This isn't a happy subject, so it seems to contradict the usual Daily Apple fare. But freedom of the press is a happy subject, and an important one. So I'm hoping to contribute even a little bit to that future, positive goal.


  1. I had no idea the protests latest that long, or that the death toll was so high, or that I knew so little about Tiananmen Square. Thank you for enlightening me, Apple Lady.

  2. same here! great to get informed, thanks!!! I hope you messages reaches many in China too!
    Va, USA

  3. Thank you for a great summary and for the important reminder about the morals and ideology of the government that now holds the mortgage on the United States. www.satisfiedsole.com

  4. I was a little over-optimistic. I've since seen articles saying that the Chinese government is blocking any sites that use keywords like "Tiananmen Square," as well as entire domains. Among those blocked domains is a newspaper published in Hong Kong called the Apple Daily. Since I get a few people from Hong Kong who were hoping to find the Apple Daily, I doubt any Chinese internet browsers will make it to this page.

    But I think a lot of us here in the States and elsewhere don't know that much about what happened, either. Like Mark, I discovered that I knew precious little about what had actually happened, and I remember seeing some of the images on TV at the time. So even if I can't reach anyone in China, I have reached you. The more people who know about it, wherever they are, the more likely it is that cracks will appear eventually in the wall of censorship.

  5. Fascinating. I remember this event well but learned some new facts. You are a good blogger

  6. I had no idea what really happened there. Thank you for summarizing this sad situation. We are so lucky here, not so much the case in other parts of the world.


If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!