Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Saturday May 6th 1989, class attendance on some campuses was as high as 80%.
At Beida it was only 50% because students were involved in a debate over whether to continue the strike or to try to obtain dialogue with the government though official student organizations with the help of the school’s party committee. At the second Dialogue Delegation meeting they drafted the text of a petition to the government, asking for an immediate discussion that would be broadcast live nationwide.
In the afternoon Xiang Xiaoji, Shen Tong and two other delegates took the petition to the Public Liaison Offices of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, and the State Council, which were located in the same building complex. All three liaison officers had agreed beforehand to meet with them and were to be waiting when they arrived.
First hand account from Shen Tong:
“This was our first experience with government agencies and their coordination gave us a sense of how little separation of powers there was among them.
Taking a taxi to the building, we were amused to see that we were being followed by several other taxis full of reporters. When we got out to walk into the liaison office, a number of the journalists trailed us. I don’t know what they expected to see; on this trip we were just delivering the petition.
To get onto the office we had to go to a back door in an alley lined with dilapidated houses. Some other people, also with grievances were waiting in line to see the liaison officers. The four of us walked in, but the reporters had to wait outside. Once in the office, we were met by three deputies rather than the liaison officers and they took the petition. We asked for a reply in two days which would be May 8th 1989.
When we arrived back at school, the loudspeakers were broadcasting the results of the vote on the class boycott. The students had cast their votes by marking a form that was given to each dormitory room.
Over 60% had said that they waned to continue the strike, versus 20% who wanted to end it and another 20% with no opinion. The ballot had also asked the student whether they supported the Beida Student Association, or the Preparatory Committee, and more than 98% of the student body had recognized the Preparatory Committee as the legitimate leadership.
As a result of this vote, the committee continued the boycott and urged Beida Students to hold discussions on the spirit of the May Fourth Movement and democratic reform in China. Beijing Normal joined us and asked other schools to do the same.”
On this day Zhao Ziyang had a conversation with Yang Shangkun (President of the PRC and Vice President of the Central Military Commission) his influence with the army is believed to have contributed to the military crackdown in June.
“There are two main tasks before us. One is to persuade Comrade Xiaoping to change his characterization of the student movement; the other is to ask the Standing Committee to reconsider its resolution. What do you think? You and Comrade Xiaoping are old comrades- in –arms. What if you raise the issue with him? I’ll work on the Standing Committee.”
“Let me think about it. You might have some trouble with the Standing Committee.”
“There shouldn’t be any problem with Qiao Shi and Hu Qili but Yao Yimin and Li Peng might not be receptive.”
“I’ll talk with Comrade Xiaoping. You know how he is, he might listen, but he might not. Anyway I will try.”