Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day, Tuesday April 18th 1989 Tiananmen Square looked dramatically different from the past few days. A sea of people now surrounded the monument of the people and there were many wreaths in front of it by now. From time to time lines of students arrived with wreaths, and the armed policemen had disappeared.
At one o’clock in the afternoon a huge crowd gathered around the west part of the square. Students from the Qinghua, Beida, and several other schools sat quietly in a circle under the hot sun. They used newspapers to cover their heads and clothing to shade their faces from the harsh sunlight. The people around them now started to donate money and buy them soda and popsicles.
A student with a bullhorn repeatedly read these seven requests to the Communist government:
1. Reevaluate the achievements and 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. Disclose information on the income of state leaders and their family members
4. End the ban on privately run newspapers and permit freedom of speech and press
5. Increase funding for education and raise intellectuals’ pay
6. End restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing
7. Hold democratic elections to replace government officials who made bad policy decisions.
In addition, they demanded that the government-controlled media print and broadcast their demands and that the government respond to them publicly.
A standoff prevailed throughout the day. At 8 A.M. and again at 5:30 P.M. lower-ranking officials met with student representatives Guo Haifeng and Wang Dan, both from Peking University.
But the students were not satisfied. Meanwhile, students from many campuses continued to converge on Tiananmen Square, they were joined at the end of the day by others who had been sitting before the Great Hall of the People. Students praised Hu Yaobang as the “soul of democracy” and sang the worldwide Communist anthem, the “Internationale.”
By 10:50 P.M. about two thousand students and onlookers had moved from Tiananmen to the Xinhua Gate of Zhongnanhai (the government leadership compound adjacent to the Forbidden City). The crowd was disorderly, and traffic along Chang’an Boulevard (major street in front of Tiananmen and the Forbidden City) came to a standstill.
Here they began to chant for Premier Li Peng to come out and accept their seven-point petition. Not since the founding of the Peoples Republic had any group demonstrated against the government so openly at such an important symbolic location.
Back on the university campuses including the triangle at Beida crowds of students pushing to read and record messages and posters that became both a symbol and a catalyst for the student movement.
“The student ringleaders gave several preconditions for the dialogue. They demanded that the government send only leading politburo members, vice premiers, or NPC deputies. They also specified that both sides had to agree on the time and location, and publish a joint communiqué. Their purpose was to force the government to recognize them as an equal political force, which of course, we could not accept.”
Yuan Mu – former journalist and spokesman for the State Council