23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 3rd 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam


Twenty-three years ago on this day, Wednesday May 3rd 1989, in a press conference State Council Spokesman, Yuan Mu rejected the Beida University Students “Twelve preconditions for dialogue.”


His remarks emphasized six points:

  1. It would be unreasonable to exclude the official student organizations from the dialogue, as the petition demanded. To hold a dialogue only with certain groups and not others would not be conducive to unity among the students. *(Meanwhile that is just what the Government did in the first “fake dialogue”.)
  2. Dialogue should be without preconditions.
  3. The petition took the form of an ultimatum and was threatening to the government.
  4. Although the government was not planning to punish students for extremist words and actions, those who violated criminal law would be punished accordingly. This would involve mainly *”non-student elements” who had wormed their way in among the students and were inciting them. (See notes at bottom that define “non-student elements”.)
  5. The government would continue to deal calmly and carefully with the students.
  6. There were some evil people hidden deeply behind the scenes and manipulating the students. For the time being the government was not going to do anything about them because they were too intimately mixed in among the students.

Yuan also pointed out that he had followed foreign reporting on the incident, and most reports praised the government’s correct policies although a few reports aimed at inciting the turmoil to even greater heights. (This of course was far from the truth as most all foreign reporting praised the students.)


  • On the afternoon of May 3rd the State Security Ministry reported that students everywhere were dissatisfied with Yuan Mu’s remarks. They believed that Yuan expressed a “hard-line attitude” and that he failed to understand the student’s motives. Students especially resented Yuan’s claim that they were being manipulated by elements behind the scenes and insisted their actions were spontaneous and their motives were good.
  • The students were busy preparing banners and homemade loudspeakers. Some teachers feared that if the government reacted too strongly, the student’s attitude would harden.
  • A group of students went to the ”Letters and Visits Bureau of Party Central and the State Council” to ask for an answer to their petition. A spokesman told them there would be no further answer beyond what has been said at the press conference.
  • The State Ministry also reported that student representatives from 47 Beijing Campuses voted to hold a demonstration in Tiananmen Square on May 4th. They planned to march on the Square and distribute fliers calling for, among other things, democracy, dialogue, protection of constitutional freedoms, support of the **World Economic Herald, and opposition to corruption.
  • On the same day the Beijing Municipal Party Committee submitted a report that alarmed Li Peng, Yao Yilin and Yuan Mu.

It said that students from 28 Beijing Campuses had elected a 65 person “Dialogue Delegation” despite the fact that this group had already been declared illegal.

The delegation’s initial agenda for dialogue had three items:

  1. The government’s official view of the student movement.
  2. Questions of reform of the political structure that were raised by the problem of corruption.
  3. The legalization of the AFS-(Autonomous Federation of Students) in keeping with the constitutional guarantees of the freedoms of the press, publication, and association.

Work on these three issues was divided up among the campuses, and each issue had a series of demands. For example, the second item included a seven-point set of demands involving such issues as democratization within the party, freedom of the press, and changes in the government decision-making processes in order to remove opportunities for corruption.


Xiang Xiaoji and Shen Tong

Xiang Xiaoji represented the University of Political Science and Law, and was voted Chairman of the Dialogue Delegation, and Shen Tong represented Beida, and was voted General Secretary.

That afternoon a group of Beijing Journalists came to Beida and wanted to join the march the next day. The asked if the students could make banners for them, it was almost impossible for them to organize, as they were being watched closely by their supervisors.


The students made banners for them out of white sheets that said, “News must tell the truth,” “Freedom of Press” and “ We want to tell the truth.”

Students mimeographed 100,000 leaflets, and in the evening several key student leaders and intellectuals – Wang Chaohua, Feng Congde, Wu’er Kaixi, Zhou Yongjun, Lao He, and Liu Xiaobo gathered in the news center to draft a declaration that would be read in the square.


The final draft, completed around 3:00am and called for democracy on college campuses and eventually in all of China.


Liu Xiaobo a Beijing Normal lecturer had just returned from the United States to join the movement. Xiaobo is now in jail again 21 years later for signing “Charter 08” asking for the same basic Human Rights in China all these years later.


Reports from around the country on May 3rd showed there were student demonstrations only in Nanchang and Xining. In other large and medium-sized cities students prepared for demonstrations for May 4th. The Shanghai Municipal Party Committee reported that two-thirds of the students on the three main campuses in that city were boycotting classes.

Tomorrow May 4th will prove to be a turning point in this stand-off…

* By non-student elements they mean some of the dissident’s or so called “Black Hands” including: Chen Ziming, Wang Juntao, Liu Gang, Fang Lizhi and his wife Li Shuxian as well as others. All had been either intellectuals or had been working groups for Democracy in China.
** The World Economic Herald, a Shanghai newspaper had said it intended to establish a column memorializing Hu Yaobang, which infuriated government leaders.
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