Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Saturday May 20th 1989, it was a hot, sultry day, and the day that Beijing was placed under martial law.
All forms of public protest would be banned, all journalist prohibited from entering the martial law area of jurisdiction and troops would be authorized to handle the situation “forcefully.”
Li Peng’s statement was met by choruses of booing and chanting in the square- “Down with the government, down with Li Peng.”
With the 2 million people that poured into he streets the night before, the troop transports were confronted by barricades constructed out of traffic-lane dividers, public buses, booths from street markets, dumpsters, and concrete sewer pipes, as well as throngs of ordinary people.
Pyjama-clad patients from one hospital were reported to have left their sick beds in order to form a human blockade. Some people went so far as to lie down in the middle of the street to prevent convoys from passing.
Columns of troop trucks and supply vehicles were soon halted and backed up for miles.
Meanwhile thousands of Beijinger’s returned to the Square itself to provide psychological support and to bring food, drinks, clean clothing, wet gauze for face masks in case if the troops fired tear gas, and even a new generator for the students’ sound system.
Thousands of workers streamed into the Square as a general strike was called by the Autonomous workers Union.
Several hundred editors and reporters took to the streets under a People’s Daily banner, distributing copies of an “extra” edition of the paper as they went.
The students met in their different fractured groups to talk about the next step.
Both Shen Tong and Chai Ling gave speeches reminding the students that this was a non-violent protest, as Helicopters fly over the Square.
The student leaders from the hunger strike also had now taken off their headbands and badges and all had “student bodyguards” following them everywhere. Chai Ling also started to wear a doctor’s coat.
Students take an oath in the Square to defend it.
Rumors were running rampant in the Square about the troops and their movement and students were waiting scared that any moment the troops would take the Square.
Troops had been reported to have entered the Forbidden City, the Museum of History and the Great Hall of the People (all three surround the Square). Student were talking about plain-clothes soldiers mixing in with the students on the Square. It now was difficult to just walk into the Square as student marshals were posted in the Square checking student credentials. Even some of the leaders had to fight their way in.
Zhao Hongliang from the Beijing Autonomous Federation of Workers
Reports reached Li Peng and other leaders that the Beijing Autonomous Federation of Workers had organized hundreds of motorcyclists into a “Flying Tiger Group” to provide students and citizens in the Square and around the city with news about martial law and related topics. The report said that “this so-called Flying Tiger Group” had been formed by lawless people in society, “we must use resolute measures to disband it or the consequences could be catastrophic.”
As the night progressed, crowds in the Square waited anxiously for news.
Just after midnight student loudspeakers came to life. “Students! The people of Beijing have stopped the advance of the PLA at the Hujialau intersection!” A few seconds went by as the true impact of the momentous news began to dawn on the exhausted students in the Square. Then a joyous roar of triumph went up all around.
In Shanghai students were still holding a hunger strike at the main government building and set up the Statue of Liberty in front of the main door.
In China’s provinces, 132 cities held demonstrations across the county.