Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Saturday May 13th 1989, at noon the two hundred students from Beida signed up for the hunger strike and were invited by their professors to have their last lunch.
People said little. There were no speeches. On everyone’s head was a band on which was written, “Give me liberty or give me death.” They all wore white vests over their jackets or shirts; some said:
“ I stave for china, I cry for china”
“Mama, I am hungry, but I cannot eat.”
“ I love rice, but I love truth more.”
Everyone was given paper and a pen to write out their wills.
It was a sad and solemn meal. Tears poured down some peoples faces, but no one cried aloud.
After lunch students gathered in the triangle, teachers and students lined the campus walks holding banners and the loudspeaker was still broadcasting Chai Ling’s speech.
On the way to Tiananmen Square everyone was silent, people walked very solemnly.
As the students from Beida arrived at the Square, it was crowded with people. Every university had supporters. The hunger strikers stayed north of the Monument of the People’s Hero’s, many of them sitting in the position of a praying monk.
A big circle of students protected the strikers. Surrounding them were crowds of people come to show their support. People were curious, exited, and angry with the authorities.
Students were promising to Wu’er Kaixi that they would refuse all food until Party leaders agreed to start a concrete and equal dialogue with them.
Once more the students protesters had taken over the center of Beijing, and they upped the ante by adopting one of the most symbolic and potent forms of protest.
A hunger strike…
At 5pm a banner rose between two flagpoles in front of the monument.
On it, Feng Congde had written big characters in black “HUNGER STRIKE”
The square suddenly fell silent.
Wang Dan announced the purpose and conditions of the hunger strike. Then he led the students in pledge.
“I take my pledge, for democracy to exist and develop in our country for the prosperity of our motherland. I am determined to take part in the hunger strike. I will abide by the discipline of the strike and I will not stop until I achieve my goal.”
Li Lu suggested that the broadcasting station from the university should be moved to the square and that Chai Ling’s speech should now be distributed nation wide. Also need were quilted coats as the nights were still cold as well salt water for people to drink.
Meanwhile, Shen Tong decided not to join the hunger strike because he had much work to do with the Dialogue Delegation in getting ready to speak with the government.
They meet and started preparing and were surprised to find out that the authorities had scheduled another meeting with the students for May 15th. It would be similar to the on April 29th but this time 50 students would attend, 30 of which represented the official student associations.
They knew that the presence of these students would prevent a real dialogue from taking place.
While in this meeting, someone from the United Front Department came and told them that Yan Mingfu (Minister of the United Front and Vice Chairman of the National People’s Consultative Committee) would meet with them but only if they would go right away.
They knew that they had to agree, as they may not have another chance. Xiang Xiaoji, Shen Tong and four others would go.
A van was waiting outside to take them to the United Front Department.
They told the students that Yan Mingfu had met with them the night before to talk about the situation and as a result he agreed to meet with the students now.
They got to the conference room at the department around 5:00 pm and found out that other vans had also picked up hunger strikers including Wang Dan, Wu’er Kaixi, Wang Chaohua, Chai Ling, and a number of others.
The officials treated them like VIP’s, pouring water and giving them pads of paper to take notes, and had also prepared supper for them, but the students did not eat, as most of them were part of the hunger strike.
Yan Mingfu walked into the room with a number of government officials, including the one that had contacted Shen Tong on campus.
Wu’er Kaixi handed Shen Tong a note that said they should concentrate on the two most important demands:
- The government should recognize the student movement as patriotic
- The government should conduct a dialogue with them and that it should be broadcast live to the country
The intellectuals were serving as arbiters between the government and the students, although it was clear that they were on the student’s side and stressed that the government must find a way to have a dialogue with the students.
“The dialogue Delegation agrees with the suggestions that have just been made,” Shen Tong said, “the government and the students should move ahead as quickly as possible.”
At this point Chai Ling left the room, her face was dirty and sweaty and she was exhausted from leading the hunger strikers and speaking to them for the most of the afternoon.
It was unfortunate that she was not able to participate in the rest of the meeting, because the students got one of the clearest views of the fractional infighting that was taking place in the Party hierarchy.
The students were reminded that the May 15th visit of Mikhail Gorbachev was only 2 days away and if they didn’t leave the square, the Party conservatives would seize the chance to say that the students had sabotaged the Sino-Soviet relations.
Students responded by saying they knew the importance of the visit but this was their time to ask the government to sit and talk with them. They asked to have the dialogue before the May 15th visit.
“The ball has been kicked in the governments court, we are waiting to see how the government will kick the ball back,” said Zheng Min ( A dialogue delegate from the People’s University)
Suddenly the battle lines were drawn between the government and the students.
Yan Mingfu then said, ”If the student do not leave the square by May 15th, the consequences will be hard to predict. None of us wants to see anything bad happen.”
This signaled the end of the meeting. None of the student’s demands were met.
Back at the Square hungers strikers had to find a place to lie down. They crowded against each other to keep warm. One coat would cover several people.
Some were reading articles on Gorbachev and other political stories.
Medical students from the Beijing Medical College went around distributing liquid.
“It was so cold that we couldn’t go to sleep. We stood up and sang the Internationale.”
– Li Lu