23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 11th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam


Students on Strike!

Twenty-three years ago on this day Thursday May 11th 1989, some alarming trends in the Security Ministry Reports drew the attention of government officials. Reports stated that a group of graduate students from Beida posted a notice proposing that students conduct a hunger strike and occupy Tiananmen Square to greet Gorbachev when he arrives in Beijing on May 15th.


Wang Dan and 6 others addressed the students at Beida.

Unable to achieve a consensus among the student unions about whether to strike, students in favor of the strike by-passed the organization and appealed to students directly.


The AFS posted sign-up sheets on several major campuses for students willing to start a hunger strike at noon on May 13th on behalf of the freedom of the press, student-government dialogue, and democratization.

In a meeting attended by 400 students and some 30 foreign reporters, it was announced that the headquarters for the AFS was moving to Beida and that it would launch a campaign to gather signatures for an invitation to Gorbachev to come to the university to speak.

On the public-address system, students debated how to use Gorbachev’s visit to promote their cause. The public-address system broadcast said that student delegations in Tianjin and Shanghai were coming to Beijing to welcome Gorbachev and to demand government dialogue.


Shen Tong was given a campus building number by the government official that had visited him two days earlier. The address turned out to be the apartment of a Beida Professor.

When he arrived there were 9 Beida Professors waiting for him.

These professors were from all different departments including: Economics, International Relations, Politics, Literature, History, Mathematics and Computer Science. Most of these professors served as unofficial advisers to several high-ranking government officials.

The professors gave him a number of pointers for conducting the dialogue with the government:

  • “Focus on long-term goals, don’t just make short term demands.”
  • “You have to realize the potential of the dialogue, if it is broadcast on television, it will be a great way to educate the people of China as to what the Pro-Democracy Movement is about and what is really going on in the country. Many people don’t know the extent of our problems.”
  • “The most important thing to remember is not to let your opponent lead the discussion, stay on the course you have charted and be sure to say everything you want to say.”
  • Before he left the professors told him they would give him some research papers they had written on educational and economic reforms.

That afternoon a press conference was held to update reporters. The reporters asked about the progress of the negotiations for the dialogue and how long the class boycott would last.

One question that came up repeatedly during the 2 hours press conference was, “What is it that your students really want?”


Shen Tong answered this question:

“We see the movement in three stages.

  • The first is to gain attention so the people of China understand our concerns.
  • The second is to make our campuses democratic castles and strengthen our own commitment to democratic reform, while giving student in other cities and those in other sectors of society – workers, peasants, and journalists – the time to gain their own political awareness.
  • The third is to hold a nationwide pro-democracy movement in the fall, to educate people as to what democratic reform is all about.”

Everyone was talking about the student strike.

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