23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 25th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Twenty-three years ago on this day Thursday May 25th 1989, the Autonomous Federation of Students sent 5 teams of students to various places around the country to network, the first headed by Wu’er Kaixi, had already left by train for Tianjin and planed to go south from there.

In Beijing the students sent vehicles equipped with loudspeakers around the city calling on people to join a demonstration that afternoon to welcome Wan Li (Chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, and retired Vice Premier retired in 1993) and to ask that Li Peng step down.

From 2:00 pm on, some 100,000 students and citizens, including workers and a variety of government employees, demonstrated for an emergency NPC meeting, the firing of Li Peng, and the return of Wan Li. As student from the command post of a the large contingent of non-Beijing Students said that 216 institution of higher education were represented from 27 provinces. The demonstrators were more loosely organized that they had been in the past.

Li Peng step down!!

Disabled Veterans made a slogans out of crutches
“Supporting Students Against Corruption Disabled Veterrans” in Tiananmen Square

One of the AFS organizers revealed privately that the students were divided over whether to withdraw from the Square. They had almost decided to do so but postponed the proposal after Chai Ling opposed it because, as she put it,

“The intellectuals are trying to take control of the Student Movement in the Square.”

The State Security Ministry detailed recent activities of the FASSC (Federation of all Social Sectors in the Capital)

This illegal organization was formed by Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao, who headed the Non-governmental Beijing Social and Economic Science Research Institute.

These two had emerged as the “Main Plotters” behind the scenes of the student movement.

They distributed two documents in the streets of Beijing this day.

The first was the introduction to the FASSC, its structure and purpose. The second was describing the patriotic democracy movement.

Also on May 25th reports came in to the capital describing the demonstrations and sit-ins occurring in 60 cities around China and around the world.

New York Chinese Embassy

Washington DC Chinese Embassy

Miami, USA

Hong Kong

Chengdu, China


Shenyang, China

Moscow, Russia


The broadcast booth and student leader central

Young western journalist, Phillip Cunningham got into the student leaders broadcast booth on the Square and reported what he saw:

I felt a bit like I’d just peeked behind the curtain at the Wizard of Oz. This was it? This was the projection booth responsible for the amazing, rainbow-hued phantasmagoria outside that only days before involved the choreography of a million obedient souls? The inner sanctum itself was slummy-looking, a modest patchwork of canvas and tarps, mounted on poles, nestled up against an angular recess in the marble pedestal of the Martyr’s Monument, but its centrality was not to be underestimated. Spending the afternoon inside the tent gave me a vivid sense of how hierarchical things were getting, how overwhelming the scale was becoming, how raw and apparently arbitrary was the power that emanated from this ad hoc command center in the heart of Tiananmen Square. The most obvious trapping of power, with parallels to both gang organizations and legitimate governments, could be seen in the plethora of security guards who controlled access and watched my every move. The broadcast tent was not much to look at, but crucial decisions hammered out here were disseminated to tens of thousands by loudspeaker, printed handouts, and word of mouth.

A portable generator rigged up just north of the tent sputtered and growled, supplying power for announcements, radio and lights. Matching signs announced NO SMOKING and NO PHOTOS, as if the two prohibitions were somehow related. The smoking ban was judicious as there were containers of kerosene stored adjacent to the flammable tent.
While waiting for permission to enter, I had to stand around conspicuously in front of the tent on a rarified patch of empty pavement with thousands of eyes on my back.
The strictly guarded sterile zone in front of the tent, roped off and maintained despite the press of the crowd and inevitable shoving matches, was like a square within the square, an empty ceremonial space imbued with symbolic power. It was the undemocratic center command of the democracy movement, shrouded in security and secrecy, riddled with intrigue and infighting.

Then, with a silent hush as if an imperial audience were about to begin, a series of student bodyguards waved me on, ushering me into the “studio,” the China Broadcast Station of the Tiananmen Nation. Stooping to step inside the low-slung tent the first thing that caught my eye was a portrait of Mao displayed next to decks of electronic broadcasting equipment. The painted likeness of Mao was based on a well-known photograph of the great leader as a young revolutionary. In the spirit of the tacky personality cult of the Cultural Revolution era, it portrayed the handsome demigod against a solid red background.

Were the students closet Maoists? Or was it some kind of inside joke? A good-luck totem perhaps?

The portrait was hung respectfully in the center of the tent, much as it might have been had these students been Red Guards making revolution in 1966. If the kitschy painting was a period piece from the 1960’s, then the painted plate was at least as old as the students who had put it up in the tent for inspiration.

“So why do you have a picture of Mao up there?” I asked a bodyguard.

“Oh Mao? We just put him there just for the fun of it. It’s our way of showing our discontent with Deng,” he said with a jocular laugh. “But China does need a great leader.”

A bare light bulb illuminated the cluttered interior of the lean-to tent that was nestled comfortably in an indented corner of the monument at ground level where the white marble facade meets the gray stone pedestal. The south and east walls of the shelter were composed of canvas, the sturdy north and west side utilized the fastness of the marble monument itself. The stone-slab pedestal of the monument, which rose about four feet off the ground, was wider than the decorative marble structure that it supported. This created a ledge that gave the tent instant bookshelves, filled with bric-a-brac worthy of a home. The ledge was cluttered with assorted odds and ends ranging from a bouquet of flowers in an empty Coke bottle, to packets of medicine, printing supplies, crumpled paper and piles of hand-printed reports.

Two banks of brand new amplifiers were stacked four or five high, nestled against the marble wall. The amps looked like store-bought stereo equipment, they were plugged into a socket mounted on the wall that led to the generator in a tangle of wires. The student announcers, squeezed next to each other on a narrow cot against the marble wall, handed back and forth a bouquet of microphones strapped together with tape.

I didn’t ask any questions. A woman and two men, both of whom looked to be around my age, sat on the cot going over scripts for the next announcement. Sitting next to the radio equipment was yet another woman who also looked to be in her early 30s. So this was a bit more than a student movement. But who was she? It is possible she was a merely a graduate student or a sympathetic faculty advisor, but it struck me as possible that she might be a link to someone high up in the government.

The broadcast tent propaganda crew was preoccupied with writing, editing and reading “official” announcements, but every once in a while one of them smiled or otherwise acknowledged my presence. One of them kindly suggested I could take a nap, offering genuine make-yourself-at-home hospitality in spite of the tense and cramped work conditions. Although I seriously doubted that I could sleep in the middle of such hubbub, with tens of thousands more milling around outside, the air was hot and stuffy and I was tempted by the offer. After politely refusing to monopolize the cot and displace others, I settled for an open space on the cot that lined the east wall of this makeshift studio. Given the womb-like embrace of the tent, I felt safe and secure, even though I was surrounded by thousands of what the government now characterized as “thugs and rioters” in the middle of an illegal encampment in a city under siege.

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