Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Thursday April 27th 1989, students from 40 universities surged out of the campus gates and with banners announcing their colleges and academic departments, poured into the streets.
Thousands of homemade signs, some saying “ Willing to die!”, “Patriotism is No Crime” and others rebuking Deng’s editorial were on display.
A contingent from the University of Politics and Law carried a huge sign with the articles 35 and 37 of the Chinese Constitution, which guaranteed Chinese citizens freedom of speech, press, assembly, association and procession, and freedom from unlawful search and seizure.
One protester held a sign that said: “If the old don’t get out of the way, the new cannot come in”
To prevent troublemakers, the students held hands forming protective chains on ether side of the long column of marchers.
“This was our first organized march and everyone was in very serious frame of mind,” remembered Wu’er Kaixi.
Yang Shangkun asked and received Deng Xiaoping’s permission to move about 500 troops of the Beijing Military Regions 38th Group Army into Beijing to protect the Great Hall of the People.
More than 8000 students at Beida were ready to march. Feng Congde, Wang Dan and I walked at the head of the line. As we left the campus, I couldn’t believe what I saw ahead of us. Throngs of journalists, photographers, camera crews, and curious onlookers were just outside the main gate. We could hardly get out, it was so crowded.
As we marched, we picked up students from some other universities along the way. First came the students for Qinghua University, followed by those from the Agriculture College making us a long column of marchers.
Everyone had disregarded the announcement to cancel the rally.
I was holding a megaphone, marching beside some students who were hoisting the flag of China, Beida’s school flag, and several large banners. Chai Ling and others were handing out the leaflets we had printed.
It wasn’t long before we ran into our first wall of policemen, who were standing three deep with their arms linked. Wang Dan and I stopped the Marchers and went to talk with the head of the police, who was a very old man.
“You know you can’t stop us”, I said. “You’re only three deep and there are thousands of us. Why don’t you let us pass? We’re only going to the third Ring Road and then tuning back. If you don’t let us pass we’re going to rush your line and after that none of us will be able to control the students.”
He didn’t say a word to us, just ordered his men to move aside. Wang Dan and I looked at each other and smiled, surprised that it had been so easy.
When we got to the Peoples University, I told the student leaders there that we were only walking to a little farther before turning back. They said, “You cant do that, if Beida leaves halfway what will happen to the rest of us?”
“I’m sorry, that’s what the student representatives decided last night and that’s what we have to do”. But, when we stated marching again Wang Dan said ”I know we planned to stop at the Third Ring Road, but all the students want to go on to the square. How are we going to stop them?” Feng Congde didn’t say anything, but I sensed that he agreed with Wang Dan.
Everyone behind us was eager to keep marching, and I was the only one holding to our compromised agreement. There were more ahead of us, so we had to consider everybody’s safety. If the students were determined to go on, I couldn’t stop them, so just that quickly we abandoned our plan and kept going toward the Tiananmen Square.
The next time we ran into a wall of policemen they seemed to move aside almost as if our numbers made them realize there was no way to prevent us from going ahead. We had to breakthrough 6 more barriers of policemen before we reached the square.
We could see this was a big day, more than one million people had come out to support us. They too had heard the governments warning and had left their offices and homes as way of protecting us. Some climbed trees to get a better look, and others lined the streets and applauded us, calling out ”We Love the Students!” and “We support you!” as we walked by.
The 40,000 leaflets we had printed were gobbled up immediately by the enormous crowds.
The laobaixing (ordinary people) gave us courage and the determination we desperately needed to go on, because as we got closer to Tiananmen Square, soldiers carrying rifles were everywhere. The 38th Army had been dispatched to the streets around the square, and a truck with regiments of PLA Troops was on every corner. We started singing the army songs we had learned at camp two summers before to show that we were friendly. We also shouted, “The people love the People’s Liberation Army and the Army loves the People!’
As we walked we were told that the Chief Editor of the People’s Daily had resigned to protest the editorial criticizing the students, and that Qin Benli, Editor–in–Chief of the World Economic Herald in Shanghai, who had published articles supporting the students had been dismissed that day for violating Party discipline. When we heard this, we shouted slogans supporting these men and demanding their reinstatement.
Just before we got to the intersection of Xidan and Changan Avenue, we were forced to stop behind a group from Beijing Normal University. There was a huge wall of police ahead of them, waiting to keep us from getting to the square. This group was not giving way to easily as the other had, but Wu’er Kaixi, leading the Beijing Normal student, managed to rush through, allowing us to force our way through behind them.
Wu’er Kaixi pushed through a huge number of police allowing the students to enter Tiananmen Square.
As we surged past the police who had been pushed to the side, we came face to face with them but we were no longer afraid.
When we got to the Gate of Heavenly Peace, it was already afternoon. The square was overflowing with students. About 12 of us, including the members of the Preparatory Committee, Chai Ling, and others at the head of the line held hands and raised them in victory as we walked along the north side of Tiananmen Square.
150,000 students from more that 40 universities had defied the government and were reveling in the square – it was a fantastic sight. Tiananmen Square is an enormous space, and seeing it filled with people was amazing.
That day not only were students protesting in Beijing but also in Shanghai, Tianjin, Changchun, Xi’an, Wuhan, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Hefei, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Shijiazhuang, Jinan, Nanning, Kunming, Shenzhen, Yinchuan and Guilin.