Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Thursday May 4th 1989, tens of thousands of students from 51 campuses marched on Chang’an Boulevard and into Tiananmen Square.
The students set out from their campuses about 8:00am and converged on Tiananmen from three directions.
On the way, more than 800 journalist from different Beijing publications, including representatives from The Peoples Daily, The China News Service, The Workers Daily and others, fell in-line behind them and defiantly shouted demands for freedom of the press.
Monks were part of the demonstrations. They wore their robes and held pieces of yellow cloth with the character “Fo”- (Buddhism). People cheered them as they walked past. They shouted “Buddhism supports democracy” and “Long live freedom of belief.”
About 11:00 am the enormous crowd of protesters broke though the police cordons that had been set up around the city center.
Students cheer after breaking through the police lines.
At 12:00 noon the first column entered the Square, and the other 2 column’s arrived about 2:00 pm. Drums, banners, slogans, and singing kept the crowd excited.
About 3:00 pm Student Leaders under a banner of the AFS read the May Fourth Declaration written the night before.
The declaration stated that the current student movement was a continuation and development of the great patriotic student movement of 70 years ago. It shared an ultimate goal with the government- which was China’s modernization.
Like the government, the declaration continued and the students stood for the traditional May 4th values of democracy, science, freedom, human rights, and rule of law.
It called on the government to accelerate political and economic reform, guarantee constitutional freedoms, fight corruption, adopt a press law, and allow the establishment of privately run newspapers.
Important first steps would include institutionalizing the democratic practices that the students themselves had begun to initiate on the campuses, conducting student-government dialogue, promoting democratic reforms of the government systems, opposing corruption, and accelerating the adoption of the press law.
With the help of hundreds of thousands of citizens, the declaration claimed the students had so far achieved a series of unprecedented victories for the cause of democracy and the May 4th Spirit, but it noted that the victories were fragile and that it was necessary to continue the struggle.
The students left the Square about 3:30 pm.
Mass demonstrations took place all across the country- in Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou Changsha, Wuhan, Xian, Fuzhou and Chongqing.
There were also protests by Chinese students abroad in both the US and Europe. Hong Kong was already having mass demonstrations.
A senior professor, who participated in the May 4th movement 70 years ago, was speaking to the crowd in support of the student’s petition in front of the Shanghai Municipal Government.
While the demonstration was going on, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was speaking about the student’s unrest to the annual meeting of the Asia Development Bank.
He gave a speech that some later famously criticized as “Expressing a Second Voice of the Leadership” because it was so much more moderate that Deng Xiaoping’s hard line.