23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 16th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

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Twenty-three years ago on this day Tuesday May 16th 1989, Deng Xiaoping met with Gorbachev inside the Great Hall of the People bringing the long-sought normalization of Sino-Soviet relations. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of society demonstrated outside in support of the students.

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Between 8:30 and 9:30 am, the students held their second press conference on the square with both foreign and Chinese journalists.

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Li Lu, Chai Ling, Wang Dan and others informed reporters that the student’s were determined to continue the strike despite the cold and hunger.

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Now up to 3100 hunger strikers, 200 so far had fainted and most of these had returned to the strike after being revived.

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They emphasized that if their demands were not satisfied they would strike to the death.

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Zhao Ziyang also sent a message out to the square acknowledging the patriotic spirit of the protesters and promising that if given a chance the government would work out concrete measures to enhance democracy and law, oppose corruption and build an honest and clean government.

Although Wu’er Kaixi and Wang Dan viewed the offer as an important opening, they could not convince other hunger strike leaders to relent.

The students’ reluctance to yield unless the government made more tangible concessions, was made stronger by the waves of new supporters who had been watching what was happening on television and begun arriving in Beijing from every province.

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One large contingent from Tainjin even came on bicycles after having been prevented by authorities from boarding trains for the 90-mile trip.

Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong said that 200,000 outsiders flooded the city that day.

Professors now also started to take part in the hunger strike.

Twelve students from the Institute of Performing Arts refused food and water.

The scene on the square was chaotic.

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Student leaders started to pass out as well, Li Lu went down and was revived as well did Chai Ling.

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Chai Ling

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Shen Tong

Across the street at the gates of Zhongnanhai, Shen Tong was pleading with a group of soldiers that were guarding the entrance to let him in so he could talk to government leaders and stop this strike.

Shen took a deep breath and began walking through the gates toward the large letters on the back wall that said:

“TO SERVE THE PEOPLE”

Immediately a group of soldiers came out of nowhere and lined up in front of him.

He was taken to a room beside the gate where the sentries slept between shifts.

The soldiers seemed nervous and the people out side started to shout, “Let him go!”

Zheng Youmei from the central committee liaison office came out and said that he would transfer the student’s requests to the Central Leadership Party, and asked to let Shen go.

Shen went back to the Square were he and Xiang Xiaoji were told that the United Front office had sent for the students’ representatives. Wu’er Kaixi and Wang Dan had already gone, so they rushed over to the office where everyone was waiting in the lobby.

Yan Mingfu came out and addressed the students: “I am willing to be your hostage in the square if you agree to stop the hunger strike and water fast,” he said, “I will stay there as your hostage until the government agree to have dialogue with the students.”

“We were all impressed by his commitment to help us, but no one believed that this was a solution. It would be almost impossible to keep a hostage, and holding a government official captive was not compatible with our tactics.”
– Shen Tong

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Yan Mingfu entering Tiananmen Square to offer himself as hostage

But the group decided that Yan Mingfu would go to the square and present his proposal to the students there. So at 5:40pm, Wu’er Kaixi and Wang Dan took Yan to Tiananmen Square, where all three gave very inspiring speeches. But in the end not much came of this.

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Yan addressing the students in the Square

Yan’s speech moved many of the students, but the situation had already gone beyond the point where it could be turned around. (This speech became a major count against him when he was later dismissed from office.)

It was taken to a vote whether the strike should end and Chai Ling announced that 90 percent of students voted to keep the strike going.

While speaking to the students Wu’er Kaixi who was hooked up to an oxygen bottle fainted and was taken away by ambulance.

The students that stayed behind at the United Front offices were furious that they had been called there for such a weak gesture and now Shen Tong and others went back to the Zhongnanhai compound and staged a sit-in until a high ranking official would agree to talk with them.

They held hand and raised them declaring, “We will sit here and die until we reach our goal.”

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As word got out about the sit in many people came to show their support, including a group of workers who made a mock coffin to symbolize the death of the government. Buddhist monks wearing saffron robes came to lend support as well.

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The people were chanting: “Premier, Premier the people are calling you. Why do you ignore us? If you are afraid of the truth, don’t be the premier.”

Sitting there Shen Tong noticed that the traffic had stopped on Chang an Avenue, buses were not running, no policemen in sight. The government has quietly ordered all public transportation stopped so it could blame the students for disrupting life in the city.

Around 10:00 pm again Shen Tong was summoned to the United Front office where other delegates were waiting in the lobby.

“You have set off a bomb in front of the Zhongnanhai compound,” one of them said.

They said that a very important meeting was taking place with 5 members of the Standing Committee of the CCP Politburo – Zhao Ziyang, Li Peng, Hu Qili, Yao Yilin and Qiao Shi –  were meeting secretly with Deng Xiaoping. The meeting was to last 2 hours and there was a slim chance that a real dialogue might result from it.

Most importantly Shen Tong found out from the other dialogue delegates that when Zhao Ziyang met with Gorbachev earlier in the day, he had disclosed a political secret that effectively ended his relationship with Deng Xiaoping.

He told the Soviet leader, and therefore the world, that Deng was still the supreme leader even though in name he on longer held a position of power. There was a delicate balance between the reformers and the conservatives in the Politburo, and Deng Xiaoping always cast the deciding vote.

Although it wasn’t much of a revelation that Deng was still control, Zhao’s comment signalled that he and Deng were at odds and that Deng would cast his vote in favor of Li Peng’s faction.

At 2:00 am the United Front people told the student not to wait any longer and ushered them out of the building.

This split was huge….

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