Daily TWiP – The Tiananmen Square massacre takes place today in 1989

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Today (June 4th) in 1989, Chinese troops opened fire on student protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The protest began on April 15th, when a small number of students gathered in the square to mourn the death of Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who had advocated for democracy and capitalism and stood against corruption.

Over the next seven weeks, the number of protesters steadily increased, with one million people present for Yaobang’s state funeral on April 22nd. The focus of the protest soon shifted from honoring Yaobang’s memory to carrying on his legacy of reform.

Protests were held in other cities throughout China, but it was the gathering at Tiananmen that attracted the most attention. Students sang patriotic songs, listened to impromptu speeches, and drafted petitions to the government, listing issues that they would like officials to address. These issues included corruption, freedom of the press, and moving toward a democratic form of government.

Although the protests did not turn violent, the government was understandably nervous. Many officials remembered the Tiananmen Protests of 1976, which led to the removal of the Gang of Four (a leftist faction within the Communist Party that had wielded a considerable amount of power) and was now considered a patriotic display.

Efforts to convince the protesters to depart from the square were unsuccessful. They wanted to negotiate with the government and have their concerns heard, and instituted a hunger strike to help achieve that goal.

The government established martial law in Beijing on May 20th, but soldiers had a hard time entering the city due to citizens and protesters alike blocking their paths.

Realizing that protesters wouldn’t be satisfied by lip service and fearing that a lengthy protest could lead to political chaos, the government eventually gave the command to use force. This decision was not supported by all officials, however, and led to a deep divide within the Party.

At 10:30 p.m. on June 3rd, armed soldiers and tanks descended on the square. Protest leaders encourage students not to respond with violence. The square was clear by 5:40 a.m. on June 4th.

Between the bayonets of the soldiers and tanks running over soldiers and protesters alike, anywhere from several hundred to several thousand were killed with similar numbers wounded. Estimates from foreign journalists witnessing the event and international organizations are on the higher side, with estimates from Chinese sources on the lower.

In this age of media saturation and instant access, it’s difficult to understand the impact the Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent massacre had on the international community. This was the first time events of this kind had reached TV sets around the globe. The world would never look at China the same way again.

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– Teresa Santoski

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