23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 29th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

The Goddess of Democracy being erected in Tiananmen Square.

Twenty-three years ago on this day Monday May 29th 1989, it was the 10th day of martial law and the students heard for the third time that the government had a black list of students names ready.

“We know that the government would be harsh with most students, they would be beaten and told to write self-criticism. But we also knew that the leaders would be punished much more severely. “
-Li Lu

Many of the intellectuals who helped organized the joint conference began to move out as well as many of the students. Some of the student leaders gave their goodbyes to Chai Ling.

There were still thousands of students and people occupying the square and the “Free Forum” was still being broadcast, which still brought a sense of hope and optimize.

But the writing was on the wall this day as a number of people were visited by officials from the government.

Unaware to the students the Party prepared for a possible crackdown. The troops made physical and mental preparations to confront the students. The State Ministry and the Beijing municipal authorities informed the Politburo that the students were manipulated by domestic and foreign enemies as part of a plot to overthrow the regime.

This position would later form the basis of the Party’s official line on Tiananmen and of its criminal indictments of the movement’s leaders.

While in the broadcast station at Beida, Shen Tong was visited by officials from the government, who came to tell them that what they were doing by broadcasting was illegal and that they had to stop immediately.

At the Workers Federation Headquarters they received a visit from the Public Security Bureau. A plainclothes officer snapped at a worker there and said that the BWAF’s presence at Zhangnanhai was illegal.

When he left, he posted an official notice on the wall.

Han Dongfeng deciphered it with difficulty under the dim, flickering street lamps:

“This facility is the property of an important State Organ,” he read. “Occupation is forbidden. It must be vacated immediately, or those present will be responsible for the consequences.”

There were some jeers of bravado. “Stay where you are,” a group of workers shouted.

Han weighing the options. “Perhaps it was now time to abandon the site and move the BWAF headquarters into the square, whether the student liked it or not.”

On May 29th the Chinese leadership received 27 reports on Western Media coverage about China. With Martial law troops stalled in the Beijing suburbs, Western reporters had a rare chance to view PLA equipment and to see how outdated it was.

The Washington post reported that military trucks had to be started with a crank, tanks broke down because of mechanical problems and that certain Soviet–style armored vehicles were over 30 years old.

At about 10:30 that night the Square came to life with a party atmosphere.

The statue – The Goddess of Democracy – arrived on a half dozen flatbed Beijing Bicycles. It was a huge plaster statue of a female figure with flowing hair, holding up a torch that was deliberately modeled on the American Statue of Liberty.

It was the final symbol of the movement’s refusal to yield. That night, strong winds lashed Tiananmen Square, bringing sudden gusts of rain. But work on the Goddess went on.
Thousands of People watched it as it went up.

“When I entered the square, I saw that the art students were just mounting the head of the Goddess. The students had been holding a vigil throughout the night, and now they stood up and cheered. I got to the monument, where I found Wang Chaohua. We huddled in a corner, sharing a filthy old blanket. It was cold that night.

I really don’t know what I should do. In spite of all my worries about how the movement was being run in the Square, I was grasping for a way to remain active. If there is work here for me, I would still love to contribute to the movement.

Could you go talk to Chai Ling, now that it seem she is in charge, and see if I can still be of help? If not I should go and relive my friend who is at the American Consulate now, applying for a visa for me. I am seriously thinking about going abroad.

My parents want me to go to America, but I want to stay in China. I want to continue what we have begun here. (Shen Tong’s dad was in the hospital and he didn’t know it, but he was very sick at that time.)

“I will go to talk with Chai Ling” Wang said.

My eyes were still on the beautiful Goddess when Wang Chaohua came back with a blank expression on her face.

“Shen Tong”, she said, “you should to get your visa.”

I didn’t say anything. We looked at each other for a moment. Take care of yourself I said and walked down the monument steps.”
– Shen Tong

Shen Tong and his amazing dad
who passed away a few days
after Shen came to the US

At midnight about 300 students gathered to determine their next move.

Chai Ling gave a speech pointing out some of the difficulties they faced, among them lack of consensus (especially disunity between Beijing and non Beijing students) and inadequate funding.

She offered to resign and proposed a democratic election to select a new leader. The students then decided to form an All-China AFS that combined the Autonomous Student Association from around the country.

They also decided to remain in the Square until the NPC met on June 20th (once again) and in the interim to establish and unified decision-making body, to strengthen propaganda work, to mobilize the masses and to raise more money.

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