23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 31st 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Twenty-three years ago on this day Wednesday May 31st 1989, a sense of eerie anticipation filled the air. The Student federation Leaders decided the only thing they could do to keep the army from moving into the square was to ask the people of Beijing to keep helping them block their advance. Many student leaders, including Shen Tong set out in vans equipped with public address speakers to give pep talks to them.

Wherever they went, people gave them food and drinks and applauded them.

“It was a wonderful feeling to know that they were still behind what we were doing” said Shen.

As they drove around the outskirts of the city, they saw truckloads of troops that had been stopped by citizens. Sometime the people scolded the soldiers, but most Beijing residents were friendly to them, giving them food and drinks.

There was a general feeling that the soldiers did not know why they had been brought into the city and that they didn’t want to harm the students.

On one of the trips, a crowd of people gathered around an army truck full of soldiers, weapons, machine guns, rifles with bayonets, and cases of bullets.

“Those bastards in the government!” a man in the street shouted at the army officer on the truck.

“How can you use these things against the student?”

Han Dongfang spent most of the day, the last in May, in his tent exhausted and doubled over with stomach cramps. But more troubling still were his fears about what might come next.

The student might eventually be persuaded to leave Tiananmen, he supposed. But after the events of the previous day, he wondered whether the worker could leave. All the signs were that the government intended the students no harm, no matter how radical their positions became. But would the BWAF have anywhere to hide?

The Flying Tigers

More ominous news of the impending crackdown had arrived that day. The police had rounded up the Flying Tigers, the daredevil motorcycle squads that had tracked the movements of the martial law troops. That night, for the first time, Han began to consider the need for a federation to go underground….

Eyewitness memory:

“Before leaving Beijing I went to Tiananmen to say good-bye to the students, especially those from the Central Academy of the Fine Arts, where I had taught before I left for the West. They asked me to say something, but what could I say?

I wanted to tell them to get away from the square for their own safety, but they said they had already written their wills. If it took blood to achieve the goal, they were willing to make the sacrifice.

I told them to stay calm even though the authorities might arrest and imprison them, as they had done before.

Then they asked me what it was like in jail. They were very young. I knew that they had no idea of what jail was like under the Communist regime. I didn’t tell them my own experience during the Cultural Revolution. Instead, I told them that people would remember them forever for what they had done, and that jail was not that horrible.

I quoted Gorky: “Jails and hospitals are the best schools.”


Upon hearing this, they all came up to me and asked me to write these words on there shirts. I though I could give them moral support and comfort by doing this.

I wrote, tears rolled down my face.”
-Zhang Langlang, Writer

Having endured 7 weeks of humiliation and frustration, by the end of, May hard-line leaders had more that reached the limits of their tolerance.


Deng Xiaoping was said to have commanded the fresh troops that he had been assembling in preparation for another assault.

As rumors flew and tension in the capital once again mounted, many of the party’s key leaders withdrew from the city to the walled Jade Spring Mountain leadership compound nestled in the Fragrant Hills northwest of Beijing.

There they pored over reports from intelligence operatives scouting the streets. Yang Shangkun President of China and Vice-Chairman of the Military Affairs Commission and his brother Yang Baibing, Chairman of the army’s General Political Department, were among Deng’s most crucial allies.

Their strategy for retaking the city called for troops from the Peoples Armed Police and the Peoples Liberation Army serving under loyal commander to launch a pincer movement that would converge on the Square from all points of the compass at once.

What they feared most was not just that another advance might be halted, but that a new military operation might ignite a full-scale proletarian insurrection….

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