Tiananmen Square Protest And The Massacre

Massive crowd gathered in Tienanmen Square to push their demand for reforms (Image: Reuters)

In late 80s of the last century, foundations of communist rule across the globe started to weaken due to mass uprisings in countries against the socialist governments. People angry with the misrule of communist parties took the streets demanding for widescale reforms.

China, ruled by communist regime since 1949, was one of them. It’s citizens specially the students rocked various parts of the country demanding democracy, freedom of speech, improvement of human rights situation, tackling unemployment and many more. Tiananmen Square, the central point of capital Beijing, was the heart of those protests. Students from colleges and universities started to gather there from mid-April. Soon people from other communities and identities joined there protest.

This unprecedented movement actually began with the death of the former general secretary of Chinese communist party Hu Yaobang on 15 April 1989. Despite being a communist leader, Hu initiated many social and economic reforms which made him notably popular among the people.

However for same reason Hu was highly disliked by most of his fellow party colleagues and millitary officials, who used to see reforms as threats to the communist rule. They unitedly conspired against Hu Yaobang that forced him to resign from general secretary post in 1987. In later months he became outcast inside the party and was rarely seen in public.

On 15 April 1989, Hu Yaobang died after suffering a heart attack few days earlier. In the face of public pressure, communist party organized a state funeral for Hu. That event was attended only by party officials. Therefore a separate public funeral was also arranged in the ‘Great Hall of the People’ beside Tiananmen Square on 22 April so that the ordinary citizens can pay their respect.

Since the day Hu Yaobang died, students were organizing small demonstrations regularly in Tiananmen Square. It number of demonstrators increased to around 50,000 on the day of Hu Yaobang’s public funeral on 22 April.

Gradually their grief for Hu turned into anger against the government. Students decided to occupy Tiananmen Square for indefinite period. And that led to the people’s decades long disappointments on dictatorial rule, absence of freedom of speech, economic inequality, unemployment problem suddenly to outburst in Tiananmen Square. Citizens from all walks of life joined the protests in massive scale. They announced not to leave the square until their demands for reforms were not properly met.

The Chinese government was totally unprepared for this sudden and unprecedented gathering. Though few of the communist party leaders had a bit sympathy for the reform demands, but majority were viewing it as a threat to their political existence.

In the meanwhile, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov paid a visit to Beijing. His welcome ceremony was prescheduled at Tiananmen Square. But due to the sit-in protest there, the event was forced to be shifted in the airport. That too embarrassed the Chinese authority.

The capital’s movement was by then spreading in other parts of the country. People were blocking vital points in other major cities too.

As the situation was becoming out of control day by day, the communist party decided to take hardline. Martial law was imposed on 20 May and the army was ordered to gather around 250,000 personnel in the capital.

However the government’s plan to deploy troops in Beijing failed as the protesters strongly prevented them in the city’s main entry points. Therefore government had to took the forces back to their bases on 24 May. By the end of May, the number of the protesters in Tiananmen Square reached 1 million.

After being halted from entering Beijing, the Chinese military started preparation for a more deadly campaign. On 4th June midnight armed forces stormed into Tiananmen Square. They started to shoot indiscriminately. Hundreds of protesters died with many more injured.

Facing the aggressive and brutal action by the armed force, protesters had no option but to run away and vacate the square. However a section of the protesters tried to build some resistance. They set fire to many army vehicles which killed a notable number of soldiers and officers.

But their resistance couldn’t stand long infront of heavily armed Chinese forces. By the next morning, Tienanmen Square was vacated and under total control of the military.

During the 4th May midnight crackdown, casualties occurred more in Tienanmen Square’s entry points rather than the square itself. The Chinese government claimed the total number of fatalities including both military and civilian was around 300. But according to the witnessing members of various embassies in Beijing and international media correspondents, the actual figure was way more than that. It could be starting from few hundreds upto 3,000.

The Tank Man

After vacating the Tienanmen Square, when a number of tanks were leaving the compound in the morning of 5 May, an unarmed man suddenly came infront of them. He stood still infront of the first tank of the column. When the tank tried to take a turn aside, the man wearing white shirt and black pant also moved around and again positioned himself infront of the tank. At a stage he climbed up to it and tried to talk with the driver. After some moments he came down and as the tank started to move, he again stood infront of it. Few minutes later, some of the pedestrians dragged him out of the area.

Journalists from a nearby hotel captured the entire incident. The image of an ordinary man with unbelievable courage firmly standing infront of a group of deadly military tanks stunned the world. The man became known worldwide as the ‘Tank man’. After so many years of the incident, it is still unknown what later happened to the man, is he still alive or atleast what his name is.

After the Tienanmen Square massacre on 4 and 5 May 1989, strong condemnations poured in from countries not only from western bloc, but from Soviet Union too. Economic and diplomatic sanctions were imposed on China by various nations, alliances and organizations.

In today’s China, the Tienanmen Square incident and it’s aftermath are totally absent from any of it’s media or publications. Even inside China it’s impossible to find anything on internet regarding the event. That’s because China since then strongly censors any piece of information on the crackdown and even don’t tolerate anyone’s attempt to raise the issue there.