Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Thursday May 18th 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev leaves Beijing and with his exit went the protection the student had with him in the city. This student revolt was most embarrassing for the leaders, they truly ”lost face.”
CNN reporter- “We came here to cover a summit and we walked into a revolution.”
Around noon the sky darkened and torrential rain began to pour down, creating an atmosphere of eeriness. The heavy rain turned the area in front of Tiananmen Gate into a swamp of soggy, sinking rubbish.
Despite the Red Cross having brought in a fleet of buses, hungers strikers looked puffy and sick. Not only were they wet, but they had not taken a shower, shaved, brushed the teeth or changed their clothes, much less had a good nights sleep in 6 days.
Despite the downpour tens of thousands of workers and people continued to flow into the Square. The workers Autonomous Union was also growing across the street from the square.
When the Chinese people turned on their television sets that morning they saw their leaders in yet another unscripted TV appearance, this time trooping through a hospital ward full of bedridden students like generals reviewing wounded troops.
It was the kind of drama that would have astonished any viewing audience. Clearly, no one was more surprised to see this “show of compassion” than the patients themselves, awakened in the middle of the night by blinding klieg lights.
Zhao was clearly reaching out the students in sympathy, but Li seemed only to be going through the motions.
But even more shocking then this hospital visit, was the evening CCTV broadcast of a face–to-face real life drama/dialogue with the leaders and students in the Great Hall of the People. Zhao Ziyang was no were to be seen.
Li Peng played the lead role, sitting stone faced in an overstuffed armchair wearing a buttoned up gray Mao suit that was accessorized with nothing but nerdish grey hushpuppies. He was supported by Beijing’s hard-liners.
On the students side, Wang Dan in a leather jacket and hunger strikers head band, and just out of his hospital bed wearing striped pajamas after fainting in the Square, and a oxygen bag, Wu’er Kaixi.
(It doesn’t get better than this!)
(ONE OF MY FAVORITE MOMENTS, WU’ER KAIXI, A MAN AFTER MY OWN HEART!)
Eyewitness from student leader Wu’er Kaixi:
Right after I left the hospital, Wang Chaohua said to me, “Kaixi, let’s go and meet Li Peng.”
Ironically the meeting was held in the Xinjiang Room- (Kaixi is Uyghur, from Xinjiang an autonomous region of China in the northwest) in the Great Hall of the people.
“Upon entering, I saw nearly a company of fully armed soldiers guarding the meeting room. I greeted the soldiers and walked right in. I also wanted to slight Li Peng, so I didn’t stand up until he was in front of me. He stretched out his hand, and then I offered mine.
Before he turned around, I had already sat down. My anger only increased at the sight of the man. Since April 22, we had been pleading for a meeting with Li Peng, and it was not until May 22 exactly one month later, that a meeting was allow.”
“Li Peng told us that he had come “in a little late.” I interrupted him and said, “Not a little to late, but much too late.” He knew this was true and didn’t reply. I was really very upset, thinking that for to long China’s leaders have continued to behave as emperors who could lord over us.”
Chinese some times say, “To be met by the premier is the happiest moment in one’s life.” It is so difficulty for the Chinese to give up their habit of thanking the “Emperor” for his noblesse oblige.
I didn’t feel thankful to Li Peng. I felt that our respect for him should depend on his abilities, not on his official title.
People throughout the country were able to see for themselves how a 21-year-old man spoke as an equal, and spoke critically no less, to the premier of the nation.
We had the guts to do so because we had the truth on our side. People liked what we said because in it they heard an expression of their own anger at the government.
If Zhao Ziyang had been there, I would have said the same thing. If Deng Xiaoping had come, we would have been even harsher in our criticism.
At the end of the meeting I told Li, “You are not sincere at all.” The Government obviously does not want to talk to us either. Therefore, there is no point in our sitting here anymore.
My heart suddenly began to race. I feel back onto the sofa and tried to grab the oxygen bag, but I couldn’t reach it. I didn’t lose consciousness, I just felt faint and extremely weak. Then Wang Dan said, “Kaixi, lets go.”
I said, “Carry me out of here.” A stretcher came and carried me out, and I was immediately rushed to the hospital.”
(YOU CAN READ THE ENTIRE TRANSCRIPTS OF THE MEETING IN THE NEXT BLOG POST)
Also that day, published in the Beijing Youth News, results of a poll showing that 95% of those surveyed felt that the student movement was “ Patriotic” and 80% believed that the demonstrators would ultimately compel the government to give in and initiate democracy.