23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 28th 1989, Beijing China – Part 1

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Sign Reads: NO END

Twenty-three years ago on this day Sunday May 28th 1989, leaflets were handed out in the Square calling for another hunger strike.

Chai Ling spent the day in a state of nervous exhaustion, racked with grief and guilt.

Chai Ling also meet for the first time a Western student who was freelancing for the BBC, Philip Cunningham.

She invited him into the student leaders intersanctum and what was to be an interview turned out to be more of a conversation:

“She continued to pour her heart out. After a few minutes I realized that the film crew had definitely not just stepped back to change tapes or put in a new battery. Going, going, gone. They wrapped in a huff and disappeared without saying a word.

Chai Ling and I shared the mutual embarrassment of having an interview fall apart even as we spoke, leading us both to shrug our shoulders and laugh.

She continued talking politics, in a low voice but with great energy and emotion, telling me the student movement had come to a crucial turning point; the future was full of uncertainty. There were serious conflicts between rival student groups.

The Beijing students were tired but tempered from weeks of demos and the hunger strike. It was the provincial students, relatively late arrivals, who were pushing for action. Chai Ling said there was a plot to destroy the movement and she didn’t know who to trust anymore. She spoke of betrayal, of fear, and of her sense of responsibility as a leader.

We were interrupted again, this time by a student messenger. Upon the receipt of some urgent communiqué, she turned to me and said she had to go, asking how to get in touch.”

“Bei-jing Fan-dian, 1-4-1-3,” I said, giving her my room number at the hotel.

“I want to talk more,” she said with a soft-spoken intensity. “Can I trust you?”

I waited for her to say more, trying to understand.

“I want to run away. . .” she said.


“It is getting very dangerous!”

“Yes, you should be more careful,” I said. “But what did you say, run away?”

“A Chinese person told me that the British Embassy is offering political asylum to student activists. What do you think about that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s possible, but not likely. Who told you that?”

“I think it may be a trap.”

“Can you ask about that for me?”

“I told her I didn’t know anyone at the British Embassy but I said that maybe one of my “good friends” at the BBC did. Then I added my own advice. “Be careful about dealing with foreign embassies. If you go to a big embassy, it could used against you politically. Maybe the embassy of a small, neutral country is better.”

“If she went to the US Embassy I was afraid she would become a political pawn in US-China relations. I didn’t think that the British Embassy would be any better. Worse yet, what if it was a trap? What if the asylum offer had been made by an undercover agent, a trap set by Chinese police to discredit the nationalism of the students?”

“Jin, I must go now,” she said. “See you again!”

-Phillip Cunningham

She would speak to him in a hotel room in what would be one of the most telling pieces in this whole revolt. …* (See part to of this post to follow)

In the evening, she returned to the square. “I’ve come to the end of my strength, both physically and mentally,” she told the students. “Please forgive me, and approve my resignation.” The student movement was slipping into chaos, she said in tears. She no longer knew whom to trust.

People had begun to steal money from the students’ strongbox.

The old leadership – Wang Dang, Wu’er Kaixi, and now Chai Ling herself was finished.

It was time for someone else to clean up the mess. She begged Li Lu to try to straighten things out.

The provincial students congratulated themselves for reviving the waning movement.

The students had the garbage in the square cleared away, and the stinking portable toilets were removed and cleaned. A new consignment of tents and large injections of cash arrived from well-wishers in Hong Kong; the brightly colored tents, square nylon domes on sturdy tubular frames, soon went up in neat, orderly rows.

A visitor from Hong Kong that brought the provisions for the Square, took Chai Ling to a nearby hotel, let her take a shower, and gave her a change of clothes.

In better spirits, she told Li Lu that she felt ready to return to the fray.

Meanwhile, a group of students prepared a scaffold at the northern end of the square, directly facing the great portrait of Mao; it was to support a statue that was being sculpted from Styrofoam at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

During these final days in Tiananmen Square, Han Dongfang and Li Jinjin became inseparable, and the BWAF (Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation) formally appointed Li Jinjin as its legal counselor.

Han Dongfeng

Hang Donfeng

Han Dongfang persisted in his efforts to raise the profile of the independent workers union.

On the 28th the BWAF again revamped its 5 person standing committee. More that 100 members took part in the vote, squatting on the ground in the near darkness outside Zhangnanhai. After the vote, Han turned the meeting over to Li who laid out the provisional charter he had drafted:

The federation shall be an entirely independent and autonomous organization, built up by the workers on a voluntary basis and through democratic processes; it should not be subject to control by other organizations. The Federation shall perform the role of monitoring the Party of the proletariat- the Chinese Communist Party, Within the bounds of the law and the Constitution, it shall strive to protect all legal right of its members.

In some ways the government was much more afraid of the Worker Federation than the students, after all they had the power to shut down the country….


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