Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Wednesday May 10th 1989, over 10,000 students and activists rode bicycles and pedi carts into downtown Beijing, stopping to rally at the headquarters of each of Beijing’s major media outlets. They handed out copies of their petitions for dialogue with the government.
Many students wore green headbands with slogans that said: “Free Press!” and “Equal Dialogue”.
One young man had a paper sign pinned on the front of his shirt that said: ”Resolutely Support Journalists- A righteous Profession.”
A girl wearing a foam-rubber Statue of Liberty Crown held hands with a young man in a jacket covered with hundreds of variations on the characters: Huangyan- (lies) written on it.
Another young man wore a headband inscribed with the characters “ We are willing to die for freedom.” When asked if he was really willing to die he replied, ”Of Course!”
Having protested for over three weeks without any real police retaliation, the students now seemed to presume the right to demonstrate as if it were an entitlement.
Although the only police seen were a few overwhelmed traffic cops trying to keep intersections open, it was hard to imagine how long the party could allow this kind of brazen challenge to go on.
When the students arrived in front of the NCNA Headquarters they started chanting:
“The People’s Daily speaks nothing but nonsense”
“Central Broadcasting turns truth into lies”
“The Guangming Daily does nothing but manufacture rumors and concoct falsehoods”
When several employees inside responded by opening a window and throwing out a cloth banner declaring support for the World Economic Herald, the crowd let out a delirious roar.
Moving from site to site the crowd stopped next to serenade the Central Committee’s Propaganda Department, and then finally the People’s Daily.
Sticking a bullhorn through the steal latticework of the paper’s locked gates, Wu’er Kaixi began speaking to the police and officials gathered anxiously inside.
“A billion Chinese people have only one mouth with which to speak, you are violating the Constitution. The People’s Daily should side with the people.”
Then he began to read their April 26th editorial out loud. When he finished he turned back to the crowd, “Are we makers of turmoil?” he cried out. “NO!” roared the crowd. “Are we a patriotic movement?” “YES!” they shouted.
The crowd then broke into a song sung to the tune of “Fre’re Jacques”:
People’s Daily, People’s Daily.
Truly strange! Truly strange!
They are always printing lies, they are always printing lies,
Oh how strange! Oh how strange!
That evening some 800 students at the People’s University heard rousing speeches from Guangming Daily reporter Dai Qing and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Bao Zunxin, who welcomed the student movement as marking a new stage in China’s search for democracy. Bao denounced the April 26th editorial for its Cultural Revolution –style thought and language.
The Beijing Party Committee reported that Muslim student at the Nationalities Academy were planning to demonstrate in Tiananmen Square on May 12th to protest publication of a book called Xing Fengsu (Sexual customs). Published in March 1989 by the Shanghai Cultural Publishing House, it contained a discussion of Muslim sexual custom that many Chinese Muslims found objectionable.
That same day, Zhao Ziyang chaired a Politburo meeting to discuss the student protest nationwide and the problems of the building democracy and rooting out government corruption.
In the meeting it was decided that Central leaders should hold discussions with various groups:
-Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng with workers
-Hu Qili, Rui Xingwen and Yan Mingfu (Director of the Party’s United Front Work Department) with journalist
-Li Ximing and Chen Xitong with the students
Wan Li’s visit to the United States and Canada would proceed as planned and it was emphasized that detailed measures must be taken to ensure the safety of Gorbachev and the success of the Sino-Soviet Summit.