23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 17th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam


Twenty-three years ago on this day Wednesday May 17th 1989, with more than 2 million people in and around the square, a planed tour for Gorbachev to the Forbidden City had to be cancelled and his meetings with Deng Xiaoping over shadowed by what was happening outside their window.

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What seemed like all of Beijing, lined the streets for the biggest rally China had ever seen.



The hunger strike was in its fifth day and more that 2000 of the 3600 strikers had been sent to the hospital, 6 were critically ill. Every half hour or so ambulances rushed into the square and then out again, their sirens blaring through the streets to take fallen strikers to the hospital.

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The people of Beijing could no longer stay on the sidelines, and everyone was calling for a dialogue.

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People on the crowded buses were now friendly to each other instead of fighting as often happened, everyone was concentrating on the student movement, and there was a great spirit of comradeship.

From every walk of life them came. Workers in Mao jackets, Buddhist monks in saffron robes, children in school uniforms, hip youths in acid-washed jeans, intellectuals in drip-dry white shirts and slacks, hotel bellhops in mustard colored vests and entrepreneurs in three-piece suits.

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Judges joined the protests.

Very significantly were hundreds of thousands of workers marching under banners inscribed with the names of some the best known factories and state enterprises in Beijing: the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the Capital Iron and Steel Works, the Bank of China, and the Beijing Boiler factory.

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Most of the demonstrators until now had entered the Square on foot, but now people were coming on motorcycles with two and three aboard, in public buses commandeered from the routes, in off-duty taxis crammed with people. Construction worker arrived in the backs of dump trucks and moving equipment, and of course thousands and thousands of bikes.

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So many bikes most were never found afterward.

Most funny was a contingent of “Red Flag limousines”, driven by soldiers spoofing the Party leadership’s addiction to foreign limos, with handmade signs taped to the huge cars radiator grills reading: “Don’t take a Benz”.

Yan Jiaqi (Leading advocate of economic and political reform and former advisor to Zhao Ziyang) and other intellectuals responded to Zhao Ziyang’s disclosure about Deng Xiaoping with a May 17th declaration.

“The problem of China is exposes fully to the country and the whole world,” it said. “The dictator has unlimited power. The government has failed; it is no longer human. China is still ruled by an old emperor, even though he does not wear the crown….

The Chinese people should not wait any longer for the dictators to criticize themselves… Down with dictatorship!

End government by old men!

The dictator must resign!”

The Chinese press and TV reporters not only moved freely among the students but for the first time in 40 years the news was reported without any censorship in both papers and on television.


Later in the afternoon large numbers of buses were brought to the square, 70 in all. The Red Cross set up shelters for the hunger strikers as severe thunderstorms were forecast for the next day.


Student leaders from the hunger strike also set up their headquarters in a bus parked on the north side of the Square.

Chai Ling was in charge of the hunger strikers camp along with Li Lu and Zhang Boli who was a member of the Beida writer’s seminar.

A joint meeting was called with the hunger strikers and the Dialogue Delegation.

Chai Ling, Wu’er Kaixi, Wang Dan, Ma Shaofang, Chen Zhen, Shen Tong, Xiang Xiaoji and others gathered in the headquarter’s bus.

Arguments immediately broke out between the hunger strikers and the Dialogue Delegation, most of them concerning the hunger strikers’ lack of cooperation and nothing was accomplished.

Late that night, the leadership erupted again in an emergency session of the Politburo at Deng’s house where Zhao was accused of sowing division within the Party, and an appeal made by him to visit the students was voted down.

When a declaration of martial law was formally endorsed, Deng was reported to have told Zhao, “I have the army behind me.”

“But I have the people behind me,” countered Zhao.

“In that case, you have nothing,” Deng replied.

Zhao then attempted to resign…..





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