23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – June 2nd 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Anti-government graffiti on the wall of Zhongnanhai
where top Chinese Communist party leaders reside.

Twenty-three years ago on this day Friday June 2nd 1989, Deng Xiaoping and party elders met with the Standing Committee of the Politburo, topic: “ How to put a quick end to the turmoil and restore order to the capital.”

“In Chinese tradition there is no such notion as compromise,” said Xiang Xiaoji. “You either die or I die….. This is philosophy of the Chinese Communist Party of struggle.”
*(Note- This is still the same philosophy that stands today in 2012 as the CCP fights tooth and nail to stay alive)

“If the turmoil created by this small handful of people is not resolutely put down, then there will be no peace in either the Party or the country,” the 84 year old Chen Yun Chairman of the Central Advisory Commission, a bastion of the Gang of elders, had warned.

“ There is no way for us to retreat” President Yang Shangkun warned.
“To retreat means our downfall, to retreat means the downfall of the Peoples Republic of China.”

There was a vote and it was decided to clear the Square by force.

Deng closed the meeting by ordering Yang Shangkun to pass the decision along to the Central Military Commission for execution…

In the afternoon on the Square Hou Dejian and three intellectuals, Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo and Gao Xin – formally announced that they were beginning their hunger strike.

-Hou Dejian was a well-known Rock Pop singer; his hit song “Children of the Dragon” was know nation wide.

-Liu Xiaobo was a literary critic and young scholar from Beishida and had just come back from the New York to help the students. He also helped Wu’er Kaixi behind the scenes. (As most know, Lui Xiaobo is in prison today for his continued fight for the human rights of all the Chinese people. Hero 21 years ago-hero today)

-Zhou Duo was an economist with the privately owned and highly successful Stone Corporation.

-Gao Xin a former editor.

Their written declaration called upon the Chinese people to observe their duty as responsible citizens by supporting a peaceful democratization process. They called for an independent civil society that could check and balance the government and a government that used democratic procedures rather than arbitrary authority.

“We would rather have ten devils checking on one another, than one angel holding absolute power.”

Their statement criticized the government for suppressing a popular movement, but it also criticized the students for neglecting democratic procedures in spite of their democratic ideals.

This announcement ceremony drew the attention of high-ranking people in the Party and also figured in their final decision on the afternoon of June 3rd to clear the Square by force.

New tents were set up on the Square this day in orderly rows with hundreds of flags over them, and a new loudspeaker was on its way from Hong Kong.

In the early evening of the 2nd, the Square was peaceful. In the student headquarters they were discussing the latest news. An announcement had been posted on walls around the city, signed by the “Thieves Association”: “To show our support of the student movement, we will go on strike. We will no longer steal.”

Crime rates fell to the lowest point in the nations history. Everyone seemed to be on strike in the city, including transport workers and traffic police. Workers and ordinary citizens were helping to keep order.

Rock star Hou Dejian arrival in the Square attracted a great deal of attention and thousands of young people who showed up on the Square that night.

Han Dongfang gave what was to be his last interview with a foreign journalist for almost 3 years.

Han Dongfang

The reporter asked him whether he thought the Party could ever be reformed. As usual, Han chose his words with care:

“I believe that the Communist Party will still be able to overcome its difficulties, that it will accept the people’s suggestions and keep its officials honest and uncorrupted. The constitution is the highest law; it is the highest embodiment of the people’s will. Everything should be done subject to the rule of law.”

Events were now moving, however in a different direction. Only hours later, a People’s Armed Police jeep jumped a curb and hit three people in the western suburbs of Beijing, killing all three.

A crowd of several thousand enraged local residents quickly formed, many of them suspecting foul play and calling for revenge.

Worker Zheng Lubing

A worker came running into the square, blood running down his head and face. He had been caught in the chaos.

When news first came near midnight that the army had started to move into the city not many people took notice, because there had been rumors for days, and the army had been pulling back avoiding confrontation with the unarmed people.

Then someone reported that an army unit had reached Sanhuan Road- only a kilometer from the Square. Someone else came to the student leaders and reported that a large unit was only 55 meters away.

The students immediately went on alert. They called on all students and people of Beijing to mobilize and stop the trucks and tanks from coming closer.

More and more reports of troop movement kept coming in.

“Representatives from schools had already gathered in front of the headquarters, we decided that we should keep order in the Square no matter what happened nearby.

If we could prevent the army actually entering the Square, we would be victorious. Even if they got in, we would still persist in the policy of not attacking if attacked. We must all keep cool.

A strange, tense peace came over the Square. Over the loudspeakers we broadcast Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, it’s solemn sound reverberated throughout the Square, sounding so mysterious, so other–worldly, that helped calm their worry and fear of death even as it elevated our soul………”
– Li Lu

No one know what was to happen and that this was the last night of innocents for the students and the country of China…

With Liberty and Justice for all….

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23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – June 1st 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Twenty-three years ago on this day Thursday June 1st 1989, every member of the Politburo received a copy of a report entitled “The True Nature of the Turmoil.”

Ordered by Li Peng, the report had been drafted by Li Ximing, and Chen Xitong in the name of the Beijing Party Committee and the People’s Government. Its aims were to establish the legality and necessity of clearing Tiananmen Square.

It portrayed the unarmed students and the crowds of citizens who supported them as terrorist who were preparing an armed seizure of power. It also contained the first use of the phrase “Counterrevolutionary Riot.”

Also on June 1st the headquarters of the martial law troops sent a report to the Politburo and Central Military Commission stating “ The officers and soldiers of the Martial law troops are ready both spiritually and physically and wait only for orders from the Central Military Commission before moving to clear Tiananmen Square.

The report told the top decision makers that the choice was now theirs…

The Peoples Daily carried a signed letter by eight Beida University Professors who called on the students to return to their studies.

Also a former student demonstrator published an article in the Beijing Daily entitled, “Tiananmen I Cry for You” in which he described messy, chaotic conditions on the Square, expressed his disillusionment with the whole movement, and called for the remaining protesters to withdraw.

These two articles triggered a wave of protests from the students in the Square and on the campuses. Some demanded the eight professors be fired and one wall poster suggested that Beijing Daily be burned down.

Li Lu was woken up and told that someone had kidnapped Chai Ling and Feng Congde.

He was sleeping in different tents each night due to security, and as he entered the student headquarters he saw about a dozen men in a semi-circle facing the entrance. Chai Ling and Feng Congde sat half dressed on the floor in the middle. Around Feng Congde’s neck hung a knotted scarf that had obviously been used as a gag.

Li Lu, Chai Ling and Feng Congde

Student Leaders headquarters

A student named Wu Lai, who had previously tried to take over the student headquarters since May 16th and who was staying across the street that the Capital Hotel was sitting on a low stool, pointing his finger threateningly in their faces.

Wu was demanding to know where the money was spent that had come from overseas and said that he had evidence of embezzlement. They went back and forth until the student headquarters guards (who had been drinking the night before) came and drove him out.

Feng Congde

Chai Ling and Feng Congde stopped Wang Dan from having a news conference in the Square that day but held their own about the “kidnapping event”.

The attempted kidnapping was not the only serious event that happened in the Square that day. Guards reported that the wires of two if the loudspeakers where cut, as were telephone lines from the headquarters to the outside.

June 1st was Children’s Day and many children arrived in the square that day to support the students and brought donations. They were given armbands on which was written: ”Please remember forever the Democratic Movement of 1989.”

They also came to see the Goddess of Democracy. Lines of guards surrounded it for protection.

Lui Xiaobo

That night Liu Xiaobo, a lecturer at Beijing Normal University, (who had been working overseas and flew back to Beijing when reading about the revolt) and Hou Dejian, a popular singer from Taiwan came to the square and announced that they would begin a hunger strike the next day.

Hou Dejian Pop singer from Taiwan

June 1, 1989 -There is no backing down there is no turning back now.

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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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23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 30th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Twenty-three years ago on this day Tuesday May 30th 1989, as the sun rose over Tiananmen Square, there she was, a beautiful white foam and plaster Goddess 37 feet high, shrouded in scaffolding, one arm held high in the air baring a touch of freedom, directly in front of Tiananmen Gate.

It was on the great axis, heavy with symbolism both cosmological and political, that extended from the main entrance of the Forbidden City (which in imperial times was thought to be the center of the earth) with the huge portrait of Mao Zedong over it.

The Goddess confronted the “Great Leader” FACE TO FACE.

When it came to the unveiling of the goddess a man and woman were chosen from the crowed to come forward and pull the ropes that uncovered a shroud over the statue’s head. As the veils fell, the crowd burst in to cheers and there were shouts of:

“Long live democracy!”

“The statue of the Goddess is made of plaster, and of course cannot stand forever” explained a statement read out over the PA system in the Square. “But as the symbol of the people’s hearts, she is divine and inviolate. Let those who would hurt her beware: the people will not permit this!”

The sight of this pristine white statue being erected to the accompaniment of the Western song “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, allowed the Chinese people to hope that their country was at last breaking out of Communism and merging with a cosmopolitan political current that would bring more openness, tolerance and democracy.

For older intellectuals who had been trained abroad before 1949, it had been a long and agonizing wait. When the shroud fell, some openly wept.

Enormous crowds immediately gathered to gaze up at the towering Goddess and to enjoy the nonstop carnival on musicians, Martial-arts experts, storytellers, comedy teams, dancers, and dramatic troupes that began performing at her base.

For a moment it seemed like the first days of the hunger strike had returned.

Some foreign reporters began to write about signs of a “deadlock” in the confrontation, as if the government has been permanently paralyzed. In fact the foreign press treated the unveiling of the Goddess as a kind of coronation ceremony, for what most were now calling the “Chinese Democracy Movement.” For Americans in particular, the Goddess’s striking resemblance to the Statue of Liberty made it a TV image with which everyone could instantly identity.

In a devastatingly simple visual way, the Goddess again challenged the Party’s claim of being rightful heir to the Square. Facing Tiananmen Gate, the Goddess looked almost as if at any moment she might swing her touch of freedom like a club and strike out at Mao’s portrait.

Understandingly, Party hard-liners found everything about the statue an abomination.
As the presence of the Goddess in the Square fanned the protest movement back to life.

Party propagandists mobilized to nullify its influence. “Your movement is bound to fail! It is foreign. This is China, not the United States,” a voice boomed out over the loud-speakers in the Square. “All citizens have the duty to cherish and protecting our motherland and our nation,” fumed the People’s Daily.

“The Square is sacred. No one should have the right to add any permanent memorial or to remove anything from the Square.”

Because again the students had successfully occupied the Square with their powerful visual symbols, the Party propagandists were forced to create their own images.

A massive banner proclaiming “Oppose Bourgeois Liberalization” was unfurled down the side of the state-owned Beijing Hotel at the northeast corner of the Square.

At 9:00am Jiang Zemin was presiding over a meeting of the Shanghai Party Committee to discuss the guidelines set out by Party Central and the State Council on safeguarding social stability against turmoil. Suddenly he received an emergency call from the General Office of the Central Committee summoning him to Beijing. He boarded a special jet and arrived in Beijing that afternoon.

At 10:00 am the headquarters of the student movement held a news conference at the Square to announce that Chai Ling and Wang Dan were to be replaced by Feng Congde and Li Lu as student leaders.

At 1:30 Shen Yinhan a member of the BWAF standing committee cycled past to take a look at the Goddess. When he got as far as the Beijing Hotel, several men leaped out of a jeep, grabbed Shen, and threw him inside. Shen had the presence of mind to drop two notebooks on the ground. A passerby picked them up and wrote down the jeeps license plate number as it sped away.

At the BWAF headquarters Han Dongfang was getting word of many of his members being picked up by police and being arrested.

The arrests were like the first drops of rain that announce a coming storm.

Han Dongfang led a group of two dozen BWAF activists to the offices of the Beijing Public Security Bureau on Qianmen Street just off the Square. A line of police blocked the entrance. Some of them taped the BWAF delegation with video cameras. Behind the police line, the PSB building itself was blocked off by a customary wide screen wall with its gold inscription “ Serve the People!” – in the slanting calligraphy of Mao Zedong.

The crowd swelled as hundreds of student rushed over from the square in a rare display of solidarity with the workers.

The crowd went wild; police with bullhorns ordered the crowd to disperse. The workers and students sat down instead, holding up placards that read “ Secret arrests! show you true face” and “ If we don’t dare to descend into the jaws of hell, who will?”

Eventually the police allowed Han dongfang, Li Jinjin ( his legal adviser) and 3 bodyguards to enter.

“I am the legal adviser to the BWAF, can you confirm the arrest of our members, were these arrests carried out in due legal fashion, and what are the grounds for their detention?”

The PSB official looked at Li as if he had descended from another planet.

“By coming to quibble with us on these matters, you are in violation of martial law. You must leave right away.”

Li pressed on with no avail and the 5 returned to the crowd outside.

Han took the microphone and proposed to the crowd a compromise. Since the authorities would not respond to their demands, the workers should move to the nearby Ministry of Public Security and maintain a token sit-in until all the workers were released.

The crowd had been there for 7 or 8 hours. Han had not raised his voice once, but the incident marked him in the minds of the authorities as the “workers’ ringleader.”

Amid the celebration and festivity that accompanied the unveiling of the Goddess of Democracy, the students never noticed the scruffy table and chairs that were installed that afternoon in the newly-roped off area in the far northwest corner of the square. The workers had now moved their headquarters to the Square.

Later that day Han tried to hold a press conference on the steps of the monument to report the arrests of the workers, the students agreed to it but later were upset that the workers were in their space.

On the evening of May 30th Wang Dan broadcast a call for society to organize itself in intellectuals associations, trade unions, and farmers associations.

He called to the emergence of a Walesa-like personality to lead civil society.

When word arrived that police had arrested autonomous labor organizer Shen Yinhan, some 300 students headed off into the night to demonstrate for his release.

*Personal Note: For me, as the Goddess rose on that square 23 years ago it became one of the most inspiring in the 50 days of revolt. This action still inspires me every day to believe whole-heartily that both China and Tibet will be free. Freedom still rings in that square underneath all the Party’s rhetoric and is only lying dormant waiting for the next Goddess to be placed there.

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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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Part 2 – Chai Ling: Last will and testament – Famous last interview given to Phillip Cunningham by Chai Ling May 28th 1989

Written by Diane Gatterdam

A petite sun-bronzed woman wearing a stained white tennis shirt and dusty beige trousers sits next to me in the back of the taxi, grimacing as if in pain, weeping quietly to herself. Named to the police blacklist, she says she fears imminent arrest. Up front the driver sullenly surveys the streets, scanning the road for Public Security vehicles.

Chai Ling, the so-called Commander in Chief of Tiananmen Square, had come to me this morning saying she wanted to “talk,” but for the moment I couldn’t get a word out of her. I had brought along a small tape recorder and camera along as part of my hasty response to the startling and unsolicited request for an interview, but we had yet a safe place to talk.

A graduate student from Shandong studying psychology at Shida, she rose to sudden prominence during the world’s biggest hunger strike. This morning she had approached me in the hallway of the Beijing Hotel as I was on my way to breakfast. It was so weird seeing her there, a fugitive from the police hiding in plain sight in a government hotel lobby. I naively invited her to join Bright, Wang Li and myself for breakfast in the Western Restaurant in the old wing of the hotel. But this wasn’t a Long Island kind of problem that could be worked out in a diner over a cup of coffee, bacon, eggs and toast.

Face drawn with tension, almost morbidly silent, the famous hunger striker, who barely gave her food a second glance, explained in a low whisper that she wanted to record some kind of final statement, a sort of last will and testament. I looked at Bright, who declined to offer an opinion, though her eyes implored me not to get involved.

“If policeman follow,” Wang Li says, turning around to peer at us, “I tell you, okay?”

Chai Ling, lost in a silence so deep that she seemed almost voiceless, quietly vetoed the idea of doing an interview in the car. Instead of talking, she penned a stark message on a piece of scrap paper:

This may be my last chance to talk, I entrust (Jin Peili) Philip Cunningham to tell my story to the Chinese people of the world.
–Chai Ling, MAY 28, 1989 10:25 AM

Holding in my sweaty palm what was essentially a last will and testament made me realize how quickly the tables had turned. Was this the same defiant young rebel who had risen to prominence during the hunger strike, supported by enthusiastic crowds of a million or more? Was this leader of the Square, the strident voice of the public address system, the Joan of Arc of the movement who refused to talk to journalists?

As the driver approached the Lido hotel, I advised him not to enter by the hotel gate but instead to go around to the back in order to directly enter the apartment complex. The driver paused at the rear gate while the sleepy guard gave us a brief visual inspection. Waved through without incident, we all breathed a bit easier once inside the compound. I had the driver follow the meandering course of a private drive that led us past a pair of empty tennis courts adjacent to a low-rise apartment block.

We get out on the top floor and I run ahead to the door of Lotus and Albert’s apartment, knocking excitedly. The door opens a crack.

We awkwardly filed into the small bedroom, acutely aware we were invading the private realm of a teenage princess. There were dolls and teddy bears, a McDonald’s poster, an unmade bed of pastel sheets and an armchair.

“Okay, Chai Ling,” I say, signaling the start of the interview. “Why don’t you tell us who you are and how you got involved in the student movement?”

My interview subject is slow to react, as if weighted down by her own thoughts. She looks away from the camera, staring blankly at the wall.

“No, I think it’s better if you look this way.” I say, pointing to the blinking red light of the camera. “Here, hold the tape recorder yourself.”

The student leader takes the compact cassette recorder and holds it in front of her mouth, as if she was addressing her followers with a megaphone. I motion for her to keep it down, away from her face, to put it in her lap.

“Okay, let’s start, what do you want to say?”

She began calmly but depressingly: “I think these are going to be my last words, as the situation is getting more and more cruel.

“I am Chai Ling. I am twenty-three year old.” She recalled the moment when she joined the movement at Hu Yaobang’s funeral on April 22. When the three students knelt down for their petition on the stairs of the Great Hall of People, she saw the tears of students in the Square. She saw her husband Feng Congde biting his finger to write words with his blood on a handkerchief. She remembered the launch of hunger strike, the dialogue with Yan Mingfu, and Li Lu’s proposal of self-immolation. She sprinkled her retelling of the movement with many negative observations of other student leaders who had opposed the hunger strike and continued trying to compromise with the government.

She was distraught. Her voice was hoarse, pausing, and sometimes incomprehensible. Eventually, she broke down and started to sob uncontrollably. She could not face the fact that her beloved movement was disintegrating and losing its purity. As the government side started to unite and toughen up, she cried out desperately, students were moving in the opposite direction. Without giving specifics, she claimed that there were traitors, embezzlers, and special agents working for the government among the student leadership.

I asked gently, “When was the darkest moment of the movement?” Chai Ling was ready with an answer: the darkest days had yet to come. She pointed her fingers at “all the people” who had advised students to withdraw and unequivocally declared that Tiananmen Square was the last and only ground for the students to hold. They just could not retreat.

Chai Ling appeared to be particularly upset with people trying to seize power from her. She explained that she had to cling to the post of the commander-in-chief because she needed this power to fight against the forces of withdrawal. The other leaders, including Beijing Students Autonomous Federation, the Capital Joint Conference, and all the other self-proclaimed organizations, she accused, were working to undermine her.

Especially Liu Xiaobo and Wu’er Kaixi, whom she singled out by name and with anger. All they cared about was seeking leadership position even though Wu’er Kaixi had already caused great harm to the movement at least twice. The older intellectuals, on the other hand, only cared about making themselves look good.

Then, as if a pendulum were swinging back, Chai Ling recalled the early days of the hunger strike with fondness and deep longing. That was the best period of the movement when everyone was united as one and the movement was pure. The residents were supportive because the students had wakened their sense of sympathy. The movement reached its glorious peak, she said, when Beijing residents laid down their bodies to stop martial law troops from entering the city. But the happy thought did not last for more than a couple of minutes as the uncertain future crept into her mind immediately.

With that, she spoke the words that would forever associate with her in controversy:

The students always ask me. What should we do next? What could we achieve? I feel deeply sad in my heart. I cannot tell them that what we are really waiting for is bloodshed. It’s when the government reaches the end of its cruelty and uses butcher knives on its own citizens. I think, when and only when blood is flowing like a river in Tiananmen Square, all the people in China could then see clearly and finally unite. But how could I tell students such things?

Taken at face value, these words carried a sense of conspiracy of their own: that she was willing to steer the movement into bloodshed for the intention of waking up the populace while keeping that goal only to herself. But at the moment, Chai Ling was more worried about other people’s conspiracies. She became more and more emotional and incoherent. She talked about her husband, about their original plan to go abroad, about her parents, and about the debt she owed to her family.

I asked Chai Ling to describe her own plans for going forward. Chai Ling spoke more words that would come back to haunt her later:

For the next step, I think I myself will try to survive. The students at Tiananmen Square, however, will have to stay and persist to the very end, waiting for the government’s last resort in washing the Square clean with blood. But I also believe that the next revolution will be right around the corner after that. When that happens, I will stand up again. For as long as I am alive, my goal will be to overthrow this inhuman government and build a new government for people’s freedom. Let the Chinese people stand up at last. Let a real people’s republic be born.

Carefully, Liang Shuying inquired about the plan to withdraw on May 30. In no uncertain terms, Chai Ling said that that proposal had caused tremendous damage to the movement. She regretted that she had not opposed it from the beginning. Once again, she labeled the plan as a conspiracy. If they did withdraw, China as a country would go backwards.

“Will you continue to stay in Tiananmen Square yourself?” “No, I won’t.”


“Because I am not the same as everybody else. I am a person who is already marked as ‘Most Wanted.’ I will not be content to be murdered by such a government. I want to live. That’s what I am thinking right now. I don’t know if people will think that I am selfish. But I believe that the work I am doing now needs someone to carry on. Because such a democracy movement needs more than one person.

Could you not disclose these words, please?”

The last question seemed to indicate that Chai Ling had finally realized that her words were not appropriate for public consumption. With her “last words” taped, all Chai Ling had to do was to say farewell with her husband before she took off.

*You can see Chai Lings interview on You Tube- Gates of Heavenly Peace.

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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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23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 27th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Twenty-three years ago on this day Saturday May 27th 1989, a summit meeting of movement leaders and intellectuals was held outside the Square.

Chai Ling finally relented and agreed that the student’s cause would be best served by leaving the Square. It was decided that before making the strategic retreat back to their university campuses to continue a struggle in “a new form”, protesters should hold one last face-saving rally on May 30th.

As soon as news of this agreement reached the Square, the out-of-town students were upset and said that the plan was a “sell-out”.

They urged the protesters to remain until the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress met in June 20th.

Li Lu grew agitated. “It’s too dangerous,” he yelled. “If we leave, they’ll stop the NPC. Beijing will be under army control. We won’t be able to demonstrate. They’ll surround the colleges and block the exits. They’ll throw us in jail. You’re talking defeat. They’ve given us nothing we asked for. All our hopes will be gone!”

Li Lu turned angrily to Wang Juntao. “What’s going on here?” he snapped. “The Capital Joint Liaison Group has no power to make a decision like this.”

Rumors that blacklists were being prepared by the government and the threat of long prison terms made many students reluctant to give up the protection that their togetherness in the Square gave them.

Lu Li wondered, he was 23 and how many years would he spend in prison, and that student leaders like him may be sentenced to 15 to 20 years. They would be over 40 years old when they would come out.

Pressured by Li Lu and others, Chai Ling began to reconsider her position to leave the square. She broke down in tears.

Later that day, a press conference was held in the Square to announce a ten-point statement decided at the early meeting. All the students, old and new, attended, as well as the intellectual groups.

People were grabbing pens and added new wording to the ten-point statement, then someone else would cross them it out again.

By the time Wang Dan read the statement at a press conference that evening, the paper was a mass of illegible scribbles.

When Wang Dan reached the eighth point, he paused for a moment, then softly read on, “It has been proposed to the Capital Joint Liaison Group that the students evacuate Tiananmen Square on May 30.”

He then walked away from the microphone and handed in his resignation.

Pandemonium broke out.

Another emergency conclave, another rewrite. When the students final emerged, the document had been rewritten again stating:

“Unless a special meeting of the National People’s Congress is convened in the next few days, the occupation of the square will continue until June 20.”

After the press conference Li Lu, Chai Ling, Feng Congde and Zhang Boli met and summed up the work they had done in the past few days.

Corruption had emerged among the middle level students leaders. Some were power hungry. Others were not responsible. Zhang Boli would examine the work and the people at the broadcast station and make some decisions.

They also decided to start a broadcasting “Free Forum” two hours during which anyone could say anything.

On the night of May 27th Deng Xiaoping held a meeting at his house with the other senior leaders and determine that Jiang Zemin would be Zhao Ziyang’s successor and CCP General Secretary.

A most important item happened a few days earlier, 8 art colleges had offered to build a statue which was to be called “The Goddess of Democracy”. The student headquarters had given them 7,000 Yuan for supplies and the artists were now working on it.

They decided to set up a Democracy University under the statue.

Though they couldn’t yet launch a frontal attack on the government, they could make Tiananmen Square the fount of democracy in China, a college to cultivate talented people and leaders, a base for a future democracy on the in the country….

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23 Year Remembrance of Tiananmen Square – May 26th 1989, Beijing China

Written by Diane Gatterdam

Twenty-three years ago on this day Friday May 26th 1989, even though the square had been fairly quite these past few days, the feeling was of a standoff between the government and the students, nether knowing what the other was going to do next.

“There was an underlying atmosphere of crisis.”
-Shen Tong

Shen Tong went to the square everyday, going from tent to tent talking to the students.

“I talked to my fellow students, I was encouraged. No one knew what was going to happen, but instead of talking about death, people were talking about building a better life for them and for China. They wanted to move forward from what they had achieved.”

“I was proud of my generation.”
– Shen Tong

Students had set up little camps for themselves, with pillows and blankets and mattresses that had been donated by various sourced. Those on the perimeter tended to have better provisions that those in the center, who were harder to reach.

Many people were reading, some were preparing for the TOEFL exams so they could go abroad to study, others read novels or fliers called “fast news” which were printed by the hunger striker leadership at the monument. A lot of students listened to music on personal stereos, and others brought portable stereos so music was heard all over the square. Two of the most popular singers were Qi Qin and Cui Jian, called the John Lennon of China.

One of the food stations on the Square

After dark brought impromptu concerts on the square, bringing a sense of joy.

In Chai Lings camp, they tried to carry out plans to push for a special meeting of the National People’s Congress, divide the soldiers, launch workers’ strikes, give speeches in other cities, print leaflets and set up a university in the square.

On the Square and on various school campuses, posters announced a new resolution from the Autonomous Federation of Beijing Students about a “Great Global Chinese Protest Day” to held on May 28th.

At Beida a wall poster signed by Wang Dan proposed a prolonged battle to promote democracy in China. Wang called for the formation of four groups of 200 students. The groups would take turns demonstrating on the Square.

On May 26th came the formal dismissal of Zhao Ziyang, but it seemed that the conservatives had lost too, because they were still unable to control the situation.

Shen Tong was right to be proud of his generation

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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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