To our Funny Little Friends in Beijing, 中国国家安全部，
To our Funny Little Friends in Beijing, 国家安全部
Dear State Security,
I guess by now you’re beginning to figure out the connection between me and Zhang ZiYi.
Regards from Ivan
Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Saturday May 13th 1989, at noon the two hundred students from Beida signed up for the hunger strike and were invited by their professors to have their last lunch.
People said little. There were no speeches. On everyone’s head was a band on which was written, “Give me liberty or give me death.” They all wore white vests over their jackets or shirts; some said:
“ I stave for china, I cry for china”
“Mama, I am hungry, but I cannot eat.”
“ I love rice, but I love truth more.”
Everyone was given paper and a pen to write out their wills.
It was a sad and solemn meal. Tears poured down some peoples faces, but no one cried aloud.
After lunch students gathered in the triangle, teachers and students lined the campus walks holding banners and the loudspeaker was still broadcasting Chai Ling’s speech.
On the way to Tiananmen Square everyone was silent, people walked very solemnly.
As the students from Beida arrived at the Square, it was crowded with people. Every university had supporters. The hunger strikers stayed north of the Monument of the People’s Hero’s, many of them sitting in the position of a praying monk.
A big circle of students protected the strikers. Surrounding them were crowds of people come to show their support. People were curious, exited, and angry with the authorities.
Students were promising to Wu’er Kaixi that they would refuse all food until Party leaders agreed to start a concrete and equal dialogue with them.
Once more the students protesters had taken over the center of Beijing, and they upped the ante by adopting one of the most symbolic and potent forms of protest.
A hunger strike…
At 5pm a banner rose between two flagpoles in front of the monument.
On it, Feng Congde had written big characters in black “HUNGER STRIKE”
The square suddenly fell silent.
Wang Dan announced the purpose and conditions of the hunger strike. Then he led the students in pledge.
“I take my pledge, for democracy to exist and develop in our country for the prosperity of our motherland. I am determined to take part in the hunger strike. I will abide by the discipline of the strike and I will not stop until I achieve my goal.”
Li Lu suggested that the broadcasting station from the university should be moved to the square and that Chai Ling’s speech should now be distributed nation wide. Also need were quilted coats as the nights were still cold as well salt water for people to drink.
Meanwhile, Shen Tong decided not to join the hunger strike because he had much work to do with the Dialogue Delegation in getting ready to speak with the government.
They meet and started preparing and were surprised to find out that the authorities had scheduled another meeting with the students for May 15th. It would be similar to the on April 29th but this time 50 students would attend, 30 of which represented the official student associations.
They knew that the presence of these students would prevent a real dialogue from taking place.
While in this meeting, someone from the United Front Department came and told them that Yan Mingfu (Minister of the United Front and Vice Chairman of the National People’s Consultative Committee) would meet with them but only if they would go right away.
They knew that they had to agree, as they may not have another chance. Xiang Xiaoji, Shen Tong and four others would go.
A van was waiting outside to take them to the United Front Department.
They told the students that Yan Mingfu had met with them the night before to talk about the situation and as a result he agreed to meet with the students now.
They got to the conference room at the department around 5:00 pm and found out that other vans had also picked up hunger strikers including Wang Dan, Wu’er Kaixi, Wang Chaohua, Chai Ling, and a number of others.
The officials treated them like VIP’s, pouring water and giving them pads of paper to take notes, and had also prepared supper for them, but the students did not eat, as most of them were part of the hunger strike.
Yan Mingfu walked into the room with a number of government officials, including the one that had contacted Shen Tong on campus.
Wu’er Kaixi handed Shen Tong a note that said they should concentrate on the two most important demands:
The intellectuals were serving as arbiters between the government and the students, although it was clear that they were on the student’s side and stressed that the government must find a way to have a dialogue with the students.
“The dialogue Delegation agrees with the suggestions that have just been made,” Shen Tong said, “the government and the students should move ahead as quickly as possible.”
At this point Chai Ling left the room, her face was dirty and sweaty and she was exhausted from leading the hunger strikers and speaking to them for the most of the afternoon.
It was unfortunate that she was not able to participate in the rest of the meeting, because the students got one of the clearest views of the fractional infighting that was taking place in the Party hierarchy.
The students were reminded that the May 15th visit of Mikhail Gorbachev was only 2 days away and if they didn’t leave the square, the Party conservatives would seize the chance to say that the students had sabotaged the Sino-Soviet relations.
Students responded by saying they knew the importance of the visit but this was their time to ask the government to sit and talk with them. They asked to have the dialogue before the May 15th visit.
“The ball has been kicked in the governments court, we are waiting to see how the government will kick the ball back,” said Zheng Min ( A dialogue delegate from the People’s University)
Suddenly the battle lines were drawn between the government and the students.
Yan Mingfu then said, ”If the student do not leave the square by May 15th, the consequences will be hard to predict. None of us wants to see anything bad happen.”
This signaled the end of the meeting. None of the student’s demands were met.
Back at the Square hungers strikers had to find a place to lie down. They crowded against each other to keep warm. One coat would cover several people.
Some were reading articles on Gorbachev and other political stories.
Medical students from the Beijing Medical College went around distributing liquid.
“It was so cold that we couldn’t go to sleep. We stood up and sang the Internationale.”
– Li Lu
Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Friday May 12th 1989, at this point, most of the students didn’t see any danger ahead, and hoped for dialogue with the government. Chai Ling though was in despair as her the decision to go on a hunger strike came from feeling, not from reasoning.
At first most of the leaders of the Independent Students Union would not support her but Wang Dan and Ma Shaofang did and they persuaded the others.
Initially only 7 students from Beida agreed and then it grew to 40.
Then, Chai Ling made a speech that became the manifesto of the student hunger strikers.
Later it became the striker’s last will and testament also. It was copied on tape, printed and reprinted.
This is that speech:
In these bright and beautiful days of May, we are beginning a hunger strike. We are young, but we are ready to give up our lives. We cherish life, we do not want to die. But this nation is in a critical state. It suffers from sky-rocketing inflation, growing crime rates, officials profiteering, and other forms of bureaucratic corruption, concentration of power in a few people’s hands, and the loss of a large number of intellectuals who would now rather stay overseas.
At this life-and-death moment of the nation’s fate, countrymen, PLEASE LISTEN TO US!
China is our mother-land. We are the people. The government should be our government. Who should speak out, if we should not? Who should act, if we should not?
Although our bones are still forming, although we are too young for death, we are ready to leave you. We must go; we are answering the call of Chinese history.
Our honest feelings of patriotism and loyalty to the nation were distorted as “turmoil,” and we were accused of being the tools of a “handful” who have “ulterior motives.”
We ask of every Chinese citizen, every worker, peasant, soldier, civilian, celebrity, every government official, policeman, and our accusers- that you place your hand on your heart and ask yourself: What wrong have we done? What “turmoil” have we created?
What causes have led us to protest, to demonstrate, to boycott classes, to fast, to hide ourselves?
Why did this happen?
Our words were not heard in good faith. We were beaten by police when we marched, though we were only hungry for the truth.
Our representatives knelt for hours, presenting our petition, only to be ignored by the government. Our request for dialogue has been put off again and again.
The safety of our student leaders is now uncertain.
What shall we do?
Democracy is supposed to be the highest of human aspirations and freedom, a sacred human right, granted at birth.
Today these must be bought with our lives.
We say to our dear mothers and fathers, do not feel sorry for us when we are hungry. To our uncles and aunts, do not feel sad when we leave this life. We have one wish, that the lives of everyone we leave be better. We have one request, that you remember this: our pursuit is life, not death.
Democracy is not a task for a few; it takes generations.
Death is awaiting the echo that is most universal and immemorial.
When a man is about to die,
His words would be kind.
When a horse is about to expire,
His cries would be sorrowful.
Farewell, comrades, take care! May those who die and those who live share the same loyalty.
Farewell, beloved, take care! I cannot bear to take leave of you, yet there is no choice but to take leave.
Farewell, our parents! Please forgive us, your children cannot manage to be loyal and filial at the same time.
Farewell, our people! Please permit us to demonstrate to you our loyalty in this desperate fashion.
With our lives we have written this attestation, must make clear the sky of our republic.
May this declaration, written with our lives, break up the clouds that cast their
shadows on the People’s Republic of China.
Reason for this hunger strike:
- To protest the government’s indifference to the student demonstrations;
- To protest the government’s failure to enter into a dialogue with students;
- To protest the government’s unfair characterization of the students democratic movement as “turmoil” and the further distortion of it in newspaper coverage.
- An immediate dialogue between the government and the students on substantial topics with equal status;
- An acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the student democratic movement.
Time of the hunger strike: Begins at 2:00 P.M., May 13, 1989.
Place of the hunger strike: Tiananmen Square.
-Chai Ling May 12th 1989
After Chai Ling’s speech, more than a 1000 tapes were copied and sent off to other universities.
The students are now positioned to take over.
There is no stopping it now, the hunger strike will begin tomorrow….
Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Thursday May 11th 1989, some alarming trends in the Security Ministry Reports drew the attention of government officials. Reports stated that a group of graduate students from Beida posted a notice proposing that students conduct a hunger strike and occupy Tiananmen Square to greet Gorbachev when he arrives in Beijing on May 15th.
Wang Dan and 6 others addressed the students at Beida.
Unable to achieve a consensus among the student unions about whether to strike, students in favor of the strike by-passed the organization and appealed to students directly.
The AFS posted sign-up sheets on several major campuses for students willing to start a hunger strike at noon on May 13th on behalf of the freedom of the press, student-government dialogue, and democratization.
In a meeting attended by 400 students and some 30 foreign reporters, it was announced that the headquarters for the AFS was moving to Beida and that it would launch a campaign to gather signatures for an invitation to Gorbachev to come to the university to speak.
On the public-address system, students debated how to use Gorbachev’s visit to promote their cause. The public-address system broadcast said that student delegations in Tianjin and Shanghai were coming to Beijing to welcome Gorbachev and to demand government dialogue.
Shen Tong was given a campus building number by the government official that had visited him two days earlier. The address turned out to be the apartment of a Beida Professor.
When he arrived there were 9 Beida Professors waiting for him.
These professors were from all different departments including: Economics, International Relations, Politics, Literature, History, Mathematics and Computer Science. Most of these professors served as unofficial advisers to several high-ranking government officials.
The professors gave him a number of pointers for conducting the dialogue with the government:
That afternoon a press conference was held to update reporters. The reporters asked about the progress of the negotiations for the dialogue and how long the class boycott would last.
One question that came up repeatedly during the 2 hours press conference was, “What is it that your students really want?”
Shen Tong answered this question:
“We see the movement in three stages.
- The first is to gain attention so the people of China understand our concerns.
- The second is to make our campuses democratic castles and strengthen our own commitment to democratic reform, while giving student in other cities and those in other sectors of society – workers, peasants, and journalists – the time to gain their own political awareness.
- The third is to hold a nationwide pro-democracy movement in the fall, to educate people as to what democratic reform is all about.”
Everyone was talking about the student strike.
Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Wednesday May 10th 1989, over 10,000 students and activists rode bicycles and pedi carts into downtown Beijing, stopping to rally at the headquarters of each of Beijing’s major media outlets. They handed out copies of their petitions for dialogue with the government.
Many students wore green headbands with slogans that said: “Free Press!” and “Equal Dialogue”.
One young man had a paper sign pinned on the front of his shirt that said: ”Resolutely Support Journalists- A righteous Profession.”
A girl wearing a foam-rubber Statue of Liberty Crown held hands with a young man in a jacket covered with hundreds of variations on the characters: Huangyan- (lies) written on it.
Another young man wore a headband inscribed with the characters “ We are willing to die for freedom.” When asked if he was really willing to die he replied, ”Of Course!”
Having protested for over three weeks without any real police retaliation, the students now seemed to presume the right to demonstrate as if it were an entitlement.
Although the only police seen were a few overwhelmed traffic cops trying to keep intersections open, it was hard to imagine how long the party could allow this kind of brazen challenge to go on.
When the students arrived in front of the NCNA Headquarters they started chanting:
“The People’s Daily speaks nothing but nonsense”
“Central Broadcasting turns truth into lies”
“The Guangming Daily does nothing but manufacture rumors and concoct falsehoods”
When several employees inside responded by opening a window and throwing out a cloth banner declaring support for the World Economic Herald, the crowd let out a delirious roar.
Moving from site to site the crowd stopped next to serenade the Central Committee’s Propaganda Department, and then finally the People’s Daily.
Sticking a bullhorn through the steal latticework of the paper’s locked gates, Wu’er Kaixi began speaking to the police and officials gathered anxiously inside.
“A billion Chinese people have only one mouth with which to speak, you are violating the Constitution. The People’s Daily should side with the people.”
Then he began to read their April 26th editorial out loud. When he finished he turned back to the crowd, “Are we makers of turmoil?” he cried out. “NO!” roared the crowd. “Are we a patriotic movement?” “YES!” they shouted.
The crowd then broke into a song sung to the tune of “Fre’re Jacques”:
People’s Daily, People’s Daily.
Truly strange! Truly strange!
They are always printing lies, they are always printing lies,
Oh how strange! Oh how strange!
That evening some 800 students at the People’s University heard rousing speeches from Guangming Daily reporter Dai Qing and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Bao Zunxin, who welcomed the student movement as marking a new stage in China’s search for democracy. Bao denounced the April 26th editorial for its Cultural Revolution –style thought and language.
The Beijing Party Committee reported that Muslim student at the Nationalities Academy were planning to demonstrate in Tiananmen Square on May 12th to protest publication of a book called Xing Fengsu (Sexual customs). Published in March 1989 by the Shanghai Cultural Publishing House, it contained a discussion of Muslim sexual custom that many Chinese Muslims found objectionable.
That same day, Zhao Ziyang chaired a Politburo meeting to discuss the student protest nationwide and the problems of the building democracy and rooting out government corruption.
In the meeting it was decided that Central leaders should hold discussions with various groups:
-Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng with workers
-Hu Qili, Rui Xingwen and Yan Mingfu (Director of the Party’s United Front Work Department) with journalist
-Li Ximing and Chen Xitong with the students
Wan Li’s visit to the United States and Canada would proceed as planned and it was emphasized that detailed measures must be taken to ensure the safety of Gorbachev and the success of the Sino-Soviet Summit.
Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Tuesday May 9th 1989, these first days of May later would be described as the “Low Tide Days” in the student movement because they seemed very quite.
After the earlier waves of demonstrations, students were meeting and planning on campuses what their next moves should be.
Class strike continued only at Beida and Beijing Normal Universities.
The Dialogue Delegation was waiting for a response from the government to their request.
A government official approached Shen Tong on campus and said he would help them to get the dialogue “through the back door” unofficially. He also said “ You students should remember to speak with one voice,” he advised. “I will continue to negotiate with the government if you do your best to make sure that the Dialogue Delegation is organized.”
The independent student organizations were either engaged in infighting or drifting without a clear agenda. To most students the movement appeared to be over.
Reporters from official media organizations took some concrete action on May 9,1989.
After joining the students during the demonstration five days ago, 1,013 reporters organized themselves and published an open letter of their own and delivered it to the “All-China Journalist Association.”
Led by Li Datong of the China Youth Daily, they demanded press freedom and a revaluation of the decision to shutdown the Shanghai newspaper “World Economics Herald.”
Both reporters and editors signed the petition.
After hearing of the reporter’s petition, students announced that they would launch a bicycle march the next morning to support the reporters, as well as to show the city that they had not given up themselves.
Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Monday May 8th 1989, no one was pausing for a breath. Every day, around the clock, the meetings went on. Student leaders, both moderate and radical, met to ponder their next steps.
The Standing Committee of the Politburo met in an emergency session. The meeting ended in a shouting match between Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng when Zhao announced that he intended to visit the students in the square. “Do that,” Li Peng warned, “and you will be held responsible for splitting the Party.”
Knowing that the government wanted the class boycott to ended, the Beida Preparatory Committee posted a dazibao (large letter poster) stating five conditions that the authorities should meet before the students would return to classes.
Another list of demands was also posted and this was creating problems for the Dialogue Delegation, another indication of how the student leaders of the movement had the same goals most the time, but were unable to organize enough to speak with a united voice.
There were so many groups often going off in different directions, the government couldn’t be sure what they were asking for and who was asking for it.
That afternoon Xiang Xiaoji, Shen Tong and two others went back to the liaison office of the Party Central Committee for their reply. They took a taxi again and again were followed by a crowd of reporters.
This time the head of the liaison office for the Central Committee greeted them.
“We don’t have a reply for you,” he said. “But the government feels that dialogue is good, and we are working toward that.”
He gave them the impression that the government was stalling for the time being, but hadn’t ruled out the possibility of meeting with them. The students also felt that there would have been internal struggle within the Party.
The reporters rushed the group as they left the liaison office and asked what had happened inside.
The student responded with “We have no formal reply” and said they were going back to discuss what to do next.