Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Sunday May 14th 1989, it was a beautiful Sunny Sunday, and word of the students’ hunger strike spread like wildfire throughout Beijing. About 300,000 curious onlookers were arriving from every direction.
Whole families arrived with small children riding on their father’s shoulders, packs of older kids weaving through the crowd, young lovers strolling arm-in-arm, and elders looked on with perplexed fascination.
The square had taken on a life of its own. The conspicuous absence of any governmental presence made the place seem all the more unreal, like a scene from a child’s fairy tale in which a mysterious force has banished all adults, leaving only light-hearted children free to play to their hearts content.
The students had established an island of freedom in the mist of the very heart of Party Control.
Although people took it for granted that plain clothes (PSB) officers were circulating, most were so affected by the joyous mood that they threw caution to the wind.
This sense of being inside a protected neutral zone was only heightened by the endless columns of new supporters of every conceivable age and occupation who kept arriving under banners openly proclaiming the names of their official Work Units and banners saying “Down with Li Peng” or “Deng Xiaoping must resign”.
As the hours ticked by to the arrival of Gorbachev, the students were sent a message that there would be a second meeting with Yan Mingfu and it would start at 6 pm.
The government said that because of such short notice this meeting could not be broadcast live, but agreed to have camera’s that would be recording the proceedings. The Dialogue Delegation agreed to meet under the conditions but really wanted this to be shown on television.
When Shen Tong arrived at the United Front building at 4:00pm to prepare for the meeting, foreign journalists and reporters were already waiting, people were running around and it was chaotic.
Wang Dan and Wu’er Kaixi arrived to represent the hunger strikers.
Just before 6:00pm the students asked again whether the meeting could be broadcast live on CCTV, and were told that because of a soccer game it could not, but it was agreed that a video tape of the footage would be sent back to the studio every half hour to be broadcast right after the game.
An audiotape was also to be broadcast over the loudspeakers in Tiananmen for the hunger strikers to hear.
The meeting started at 6:00, the dialogue delegates presented the student’s views to the officials and Yan Mingfu and Li Tieying did most of the talking for the government.
But student observers started to pass notes, proposing questions for the delegates to ask and the meeting began to get out of control. The representatives from the hunger strikers raised their hands to speak, but before anyone could recognize them, they turned on a tape recorder and played the text of hunger strike declaration.
The atmosphere became very emotional, it was clear that even the government officials were affected by hearing the declaration and most had their heads bowed.
As soon as the taped stopped, one the of the student delegates said, “The only thing we ask for is that the government stop calling us instigators of turmoil.”
All of a sudden assistants were giving messages to the government officials. Xiang Xiaoji stepped out of the meeting to see what was going on.
When he came back he said, “The students outside are ready to charge the building, the government has not been broadcasting the meeting.”
Wang Chaohua stormed into the conference room shouting, “Stop the meeting! The government has not been broadcasting any of this!”
Students then demanded of the officials, “Why have you not been broadcasting?” Asking a few times with no reply, the students said that they would not go on with the meeting if it was not broadcast to the square.
With that the government officials left the room.
For a few hours student were upset and confused and waited to see if the meeting would continue.
Just before 9:00 crews in charge of the sound system began setting up again in the meeting room.
A few minutes later Yan Mingfu entered the meeting room.
“It is a shame that we can’t go on because of technical reasons,” Mingfu said, “I hope you understand.”
One of the students stood up and accused the government of bad faith, others joined in criticizing the officials and with that Yan Mingfu got up and quickly left the room.
It was 9:30 when everyone filed out of the meeting room.
“You realize that if the huger strikers don’t leave the square, at midnight the troops are coming to clear them out,” one of the intellectuals said to Shen Tong.
After a day and a half, 27 hunger strikers fainted on the square, people were dirty and cold wrapped in blankets. The whole square was a mess, with people camping out all over.
WELCOME TO BEIJING MR. GORBACHEV!