Written by Diane Gatterdam
* (Note-There are very graphic images in this post)
Twenty three years ago on this day Sunday June 4th 1989, “We are now completely surrounded” said Li Lu, “The army was advancing from three directions. Students and Beijing residents crowded into the student headquarters.”
About 1:00 someone came up to Chai Ling with a knife in his hand and said, “You must give the order to evacuate the Square. So many are dead.”
Chai Ling and I don’t know what to do, If we led the 5000 people toward the soldiers lines with no promise from the government to stop the shooting, could we get off the Square alive?
We could see the flashing of bayonets and the helmets all around its edge.
Four intellectuals came to the headquarters and said we should withdraw from the Square at once, and offered to negotiate with the army on our behalf. There seemed to be no alternative so the four of them left on their mission.”
Chai Ling and Li Lu then left the headquarters and went to the monument to talk to the students. The students saw them and started to applaud.
Li Lu said, “We the members of the headquarters have spent so many days with all of you. Today is the last time we will be together. I hope everyone will face the last moment calmly. We will stick to the principle of non-violence to the very end. We won’t swear when sworn at, we won’t hit back when hit. The words I have said so often now sounded pale and powerless.
Was this the government that taught us to love the Party? Was it the Government who said the people’s army would not take ever a single needle and thread from the people?
Chai Ling spoke to the students. Her last speech was more wrapped than ever in the mystique of blood.
“There is a story, she began, about a clan of a billion ants who lived on a mountain. One day there was a terrible fire on the mountain. The only way for them to escape was to hold each other tight into a ball and roll down the mountainside. But the ants on the outside of the ball would be burnt to death. We are now standing on the Monument. We are the ones who stand on the outside of our nation. Only our sacrifice can save it, only our blood can open the eyes of our people and the rest of the world.”
Her words, so calm, seemed momentarily to defeat the monsters and devils.
Soldiers now were at the intersection of Xidan and Chang’an Avenue.
The Avenue was filled packed with angry people and everyone was crying.
Pedi carts were everywhere picking up the wounded and the dead.
At the intersection of Liubukou where the last barricades before the Square had been set up, an even more grisly scene of slaughter was enacted.
“As the army reached the intersection, an angry crowd of over ten thousand surged forward to surround the troops,” wrote a Chinese student, later published by the Yale –China Association.
“ This time the soldiers turned on the people with even greater brutality. The sound of machine guns rang loud and clear.
Because some of the bullets used were the kind that explode within the body, when they struck, the victims intestines and brains spilled out. I saw five such bodies.
They looked like disemboweled animal carcasses.
A man with a Chinese journalist’s identity card all covered with blood rushed toward the troops screaming, “ Kill me! Kill me!
You’ve already killed three of my colleagues! “
Then I saw them shoot him and when he fell, several soldiers rushed over to kick him and slash at him with their bayonets.”
“Troops have been firing indiscriminately and still people would not more back.” BBC New Chief Correspondent Kate Adie reported in a television broadcast after visiting both the western and eastern ends of Chang’an Avenue. “Indeed, it was hard at the time to grasp that this army was launching into an unarmed civilian population as if charging into battle. There was not one voice on the streets that did not express despair and rage.
“TELL THE WORLD” they said to us.
Kate Adie had her car commandeered to rush a young women with a severe head wound to Children’s Hospital near by the Square, were she found herself caught in a crush of people frantically trying to arrange medical care for wounded friends.
“Casualties were arriving every few seconds on bicycles, on park benches, on tricycle rickshaws, all with gunshot wounds. Housewives, elderly residents, people shot while sitting in their homes” she said in her BBC reports. “The operating theater was overflowing, and many of the staff were in tears.”
As these horrific scenes were unfolding those who turned on their TV’s to see what was happening were treated to one of the most surreal sideshows of this macabre night. Premier Li Peng , who had not been heard from in nine days, was giving a taped speech about government strategy to combat environmental pollution.
The southern part of the square, below the Mao Mausoleum, was littered with burning cars and buses. In the north end, almost the only sign of life was the emergency tent of the Beijing United Medical College. Surrounded by a thin circle of student pickets, doctors worked feverishly to save a steady stream of casualties, as the 5000 students huddled tightly together on the three tiers of the monument. They seemed calm, almost resigned. Some quietly wrote their wills. There was no sense of panic, though the steady chatter of gunfire could be heard on the fringes of the square and in the darkness beyond.
Abruptly, the remaining loudspeakers burst to life with an endlessly repeated warning “This is a serious counterrevolutionary rebellion, everyone was to leave the square immediately.”
“We had never imagined that the government could be so cruel and so barbarous” said Wu’er Kaixi, “We heard the first news that a student from my university was hit in the head at Liuukou, this was the first time I cried uncontrollably.”
At 2:00 am, the main invasion force, entering the city from the west, arrived at the smouldering ruins of the BWAF tents.
The first column of troop transport trucks now started to advance in the square, hesitantly, moving forward at walking pace. Groups of infantry escorted them, at first just a thin line, but soon increasing to a dense column, thousands of troops, all wearing steel helmets and carrying assault rifles. They took about an hour to deploy fully along the northern edge of the square.
Several hundred troops moved across from Tiananmen Gate to seal the northeast entrance to the square.
A student named Ke Feng, one of the main organizers of the Goddess of Democracy Project, was hiding in the small park outside the Museum of Chinese History. In the first five minutes or so, he saw about twenty people in the vicinity of the pedestrian underpass hit by stray bullets, including five people who fell and couldn’t get up again.
“The soldiers”, Ke Feng recalled, “were jumping for joy, as if playing a game.” The PLA sealed off the entire square by 3:00 A.M. Thousands of silent troops, each carrying an AK-47 and a long wooden cudgel, positioned themselves along the steps in front of the museum. On the other side of the square, in front of the Great Hall of the People, it was the same. Only a small exit corridor in the southeast would be left open.
“At 3:00 am I looked at my watch and the wounded were still coming in,” remembered a doctor who requested anonymity. “There were college students, teachers, local residents, children, elderly people. Two students were brought in. Their friends had torn off their shirts and pants to tie up their bleeding thighs.
There were 5 students from Beida and Nanjing University who were stuck together with there own blood when we pulled them out of the ambulance. Three of were already dead, but we managed to save two others. In tears, the nurses sent the bodies to the morgue. The emergency room was a mess, the floor was stained with blood, everyone was cursing and sobbing.”
At the stroke of 4:00 A.M, all lights went out . . . .
But still the attack on Tiananmen Square did not materialize. There was nothing but darkness and silence.
The students remained seated on the Monument, as before. No one made any move to leave. Noiselessly, as if in a dream, a busload of student reinforcements appeared from the southeast.
The loudspeakers on the monument crackled back on and a voice announced – deadpan, as if reading a railroad schedule:
“We will now play the Internationale, to raise our fighting spirit.” The famous words, “Arise, ye starvelings of the earth” floated across the square to the soldiers, who had been taught to sing them by the Party.
At about 4:15 A.M, an array of lights suddenly came on all across the front of the Great Hall of the People, filling the west side of the square with a soft, luminous glow. At the same time floodlights went on along the facade of the Forbidden City. Next, the southernmost doors of the Great Hall swung open, releasing a river of gun-toting troops, many of them with fixed bayonets.
These soldiers formed an L-shaped blocking line across to the front of the Mao Mausoleum. Troops fired warning shots at the monument from the steps of the Museum of Chinese History, and sparks flew from the obelisk, high above the students heads.
Just after 4:30 A.M the loudspeakers came on again, and Feng Congde who introduced himself as a leader of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation took the microphone.
“Students, we must on no account quit the square.
We will now pay the highest price possible for the sake of securing democracy in China. Our blood shall be the consecration.” There was a tense pause, and another voice, less educated rang out. It was an anonymous leader of the BWAF. “We must all leave here immediately,” he cried, “for a terrible bloodbath is about to take place. There are troops surrounding us on all sides and the situation is now extraordinarily dangerous. To wish to die here is no more than an immature fantasy.”
The struggle between immolation and compromise, or as some of the students would have it, between principle and surrender – continued to the last.
On the government side, every vestige of reason seemed to disappear. But in the end reason triumphed, after a fashion, among the protesters who held on in the Square.
For that, the four members of the seventy-two-hour hunger strike could take the greatest credit. In the final predawn hours, they went among the crowd at the monument, persuading some demonstrators to surrender their sticks, chains, and bottles, arguing with them that resistance was futile.
To their horror, they discovered one fifteen year-old at the foot of the monument with a machine gun, hidden in padded quilts, trained on the advancing army. The boy was incoherent with grief.
Someone said they had killed his brother. The gun was wrested away from him, and Liu Xiaobo, the professor and one of the hunger strikers took it and smashed it to pieces.
The hunger strikers then confronted the ragged remnants of the student leadership – Chai Ling, Feng Congde, and Li Lu. They told them that there was no choice but to negotiate with the army.
The rock singer Hou Dejian and the economist Zhou Duo, an unlikely pair, walked across the darkened expanse of the square to seek out the officers in command.
Chai Ling declined the invitation to go with them. She was commander in chief, she told them, she could not abandon her people.
Two men came forward to meet Hou and Zhou. They introduced themselves only as Commissar Ji and Commissar Gu.
“There is only one way the troops will not by mistake, do any harm to the students in the Square while carrying out our orders,” they told the hunger strikers tersely.
“The students and other people must leave unconditionally. You have until daybreak. The southeast corner of the Square has been left open. If you could persuade the students to leave,” the officers added, “You will be praised.”
There was no option but to leave immediately. They had no bargaining chips left. Too much blood had already been shed. Hou promised that the hunger strikers would guard the retreat and would be the last to leave.
There was a momentary silence, then furious shouts of “Shame!” and “Surrender!” From the northern sector of the Square came a distant rumble.
The tanks had started their engines.
Intense gunfire could be heard and bullets were ricocheting off the upper part of the monument.
Minutes passed with nothing to break the spell until Li Lu proposed taking a final vote.
Given the darkness, a show of hands would not work. They would have to make do with a voice vote.
There were two choices: Evacuate or Stand Firm. Some swear to this day that the “Stand Firm” voices were louder; others say opinions were equally divided. But Li Lu, opting this time for wisdom over the clamor of the masses, announced that those who favored evacuation had won.
The occupation of Tiananmen Square would end.
Now it was the frightened students’ turn to endure the humiliation of defeat and retreat. They had to pass through a gauntlet of taunting troops, some of whom aimed weapons at them or fired menacingly into the air. According to a reporter who was among them, several tanks added to their ordeal by charging full speed at the retreating students, stopping just before hitting them.
“They had tears rolling down their faces, men, women alike,” wrote the reporter.
“All looked shaken and many were trembling badly or walking unsteadily, but all looked proud.”
As they straggled out of the Square, an armored vehicle rammed the Goddess of Democracy, knocked it to the ground, and crushed it beneath its steel treads.
Seeing her being destroyed was for many of the students almost as agonizing as abandoning the Square itself.
According to Hou Dejian, and number of Western Journalist such as Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times, most if not all the students were able to leave the Square unharmed. Although many thought that students may still have been in there.
Before leaving the Monument to the Martyrs of the People that night, one student scrawled a final farewell on the base.
“June 4th 1989, the Chinese People Shed Blood for Democracy.”
At the front, Chai Ling, Li Lu, and Feng Congde marched together, leading the contingent turning west at Qianmen then north behind the Great Hall of People. From there, they entered Chang’an Avenue at Liubukou. Behind them, the procession of students stretched as long as a mile. This was where police had used tear gas to take back a bus-load of weapons less than twenty hours earlier.
Li Lu had heard many reports of horrific fighting between the army and residents along Chang’an Avenue merely hours earlier, but he could not spot much residue of that bloody battle.
As the main thoroughfare of the capital, Chang’an Avenue had four vehicular lanes in each direction. On each side, there was another wide lane designated for bicycle traffic.
A green iron-bar fence separated the bicycle lanes from pedestrian sidewalks. Some of the fences had been taken off to make barricades but most were still intact. The student leaders led their procession across the avenue to the north side and then turned west. They chose to walk in the bicycle lane.
As they finally turned west on Chang’an Avenue, they heard a threatening roar behind them. Looking back, they were stunned to see three tanks speeding toward them while shooting tear gas canisters, light yellow smoke filled the air.
The orderly procession of students turned into a chaotic scramble, yet the tanks did not slow down. One of them was right in the bicycle lane and plowed directly into the crowd.
Dozens of students desperately scaled the green iron fence for the sidewalk. While most of them made it over to safety, some were left clinging onto the fence for dear life. As the smoke cleared and the tanks sped away, a most horrifying scene unfolded in front of their very eyes.
A section of the fence had been smashed into the ground and bent over under the weight of a tank. Several bodies were left sprawled over it. A couple of them were so badly mangled that they were barely recognizable as human remains. Red blood mixed with white brain flowed onto the streets. In that one instant, five had died and another nine were seriously injured.
It was finally morning, the morning of June 4 and by dawn Tiananmen had been sealed off on all sides but a cordon of armored vehicles and infantry. Military helicopters clattered overhead through the clouds of thick black smoke billowing up from around the monument.
Tiananmen Square was a disastrous aftermath of a battle zone littered with destroyed tents and burning debris.
The only people remaining inside were soldiers dressed in combat camouflage.
The traditional flag-raising ceremony commenced once again. To the rousing tune of the “March of Volunteers” all the soldiers, who were the same age as the students they had just expelled, stood absolutely still, saluting the rising Five-Starred Red Flag.
The streets revealed scenes of desolation and ruin. Main thoroughfares leading toward the Square were strewn with wreckage and trash.
Bicycles lay twisted like mangled coat hangers where they had been run over by APC’s and tanks. Windows had been shot out in many apartments buildings and several hotels along the western side of Chan’an Avenue. Tattered and bloody dividers, charred wreckage and disfigured bodies littered the streets. Intersections were clogged with the hulks of burned –out cars and buses.
Whole military convoys stood in ghostlike smouldering columns, the steel cleat tracks of armored vehicles strewn about like broken parts of children’s toys.
The government claimed that 120 public buses, over 1,000 military trucks, 60 APC’s, and 30 police cars had been torched or otherwise damaged.
On one disabled tank, someone had emblazoned a swastika. On the scorched side of a bus, someone else had scrawled in blood:
“Li Peng!- You will never be in Peace!”
About 10:00 a large crowd gathered to taunt and shout at soldiers positioned at the east entrance to the Square. “Don’t shoot! You are one of us! You are one of the People, not a tool of the government!” Then growing bolder the crowd began inching forward into the no-man’s zone that divided them from the troops and scores of tanks and APC’s. Without warning the soldier’s guns exploded. For one endless minute the bullets poured out. The soldiers seemed to have no idea if they were shooting to kill or simply to frighten.
Troops crouched and continued firing, killing and wounding scores. Then several APC’s opened up with their machine guns. “They left a hundred-yard length of corpse’s, abandon bicycles, and prone terrified survivors” said a bystander.
Beijing was a madhouse of uncertainty and grief.
Families had no way of knowing whether loved ones had been killed, wounded or had gone into hiding to avoid arrest. Parents searched frantically for their children in hospitals and in makeshift morgues hastily set up amid the chaos of the night before.
A women was seen tripping through the streets with the bullet–riddled body of her child in her arms. A man standing in the street near a long convoy of military vehicles waving a broom handle with his child’s torn and blood–soaked dress affixed to the end in the faces of a group of soldiers. “ Look what you have done!” he cried out, “You have killed my daughter!”
When people turned on TV, all that was broadcasting over and over was Chinese Opera!
On collage campuses students were trying to come to grips with all that just had happened, and preparing for anticipated military occupation.
Funeral wreath at Beida
Outside Beida’s main gate hung a funeral banner reading
“A generation of Young Heroes Has Gone to an Early Death”
Trees began to fill with white funeral flowers on campuses.
An Australian journalist smuggled out of China a recording of a poem written by a Sichuanese Poet, which captured the feeling of the agony that many young students feel at that moment:
“In the name of the citizens, blow up cities!
OPEN FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!
Upon the elderly!
Upon the children!
Open fire on women!
On students! Workers! Teachers!
Take aim at those angry faces.
Empty all barrels at despairing and peaceful faces.
FIRE AWAY to your hearts content!….
Do away with all beauty!
Do way with flowers! Forests!
Campuses! Love! Guitars and pure clean air!
Do away with flights of folly!
OPEN FIRE! BLAST AWAY!
IT FEELS SO GOOD SO GOOD! SOOOO GOOD!…….
Cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry !”