1989: Massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square
It was a protest unlike anything Communist China had ever seen. Night after night, for six weeks in the spring of 1989, thousands upon thousands of students and residents poured into Beijing's Tiananmen Square to demonstrate for democracy. It all came to a violent end in the early morning of June 4, when troops moved in with a show of force to break up the protest for good. CBC Digital Archives presents a selection of clips about the protest, the massacre and the aftermath.
The massacre begins shortly after midnight as tanks and armoured personnel carriers roll through the streets, crushing hastily erected barricades and into Tiananmen Square. After launching tear gas and using loudspeakers to order people to leave, the army starts shooting. But the protesters fight back, beating army officers or simply standing their ground. They form human walls around foreign press to make sure the story gets out to the world.
• A large portrait of Mao Zedong overlooks the square, which at 4.4 square kilometres is the largest urban square in the world.
• The Tiananmen Square protest began in April 1989 after the death of Hu Yaobang, a former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. University students in Beijing, who saw Hu as a supporter of democracy, began the protest as a memorial to him.
• The students were supported by their professors, intellectuals and workers in Beijing who were concerned about corruption in the government.
• Canadian and European media brought global attention to the protests in mid-May with the (coincidental) visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Beijing.
• Martial law was imposed on May 20, and while protests continued the movement was beginning to dwindle by the end of May.
• Negotiations between protest leaders and the government went nowhere as leaders within the Communist Party disagreed on how to deal with the rebellion.
• Hardliners in the party won out with a decision to use force. "It is better to shed a few drops of blood now to prevent greater bloodshed later," leader Deng Xiaoping told army generals.
• On May 25, military troops were warned by their officers that they should be ready to "suppress the chaos and restore public order."
• On the night of June 2 unarmed troops began to move on Tiananmen Square.
• The next evening the government broadcast warnings over state television. "Do not come into the streets. Do not go to Tiananmen Square. Stay at home to safeguard your lives."
• That night the army began to take the square on orders from Deng. They were told to use "all necessary measures." (Source: Jan Wong, Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now)
• One of the most famous figures from the Tiananmen Square protests was an unknown protester later dubbed "Tank Man." On June 5, 1989, as a column of tanks rolled through the square, a young man stepped in front of the lead tank. The tank dodged left and right, but the protester stood his ground before climbing onto the tank. A short time later he jumped down and blocked the tank's path again before being led away by fellow protesters.
• Exactly how many people died in Tiananmen Square is unknown; the number is a state secret. The Chinese Red Cross estimated about 2,600 civilians were killed; Globe and Mail reporter Jan Wong puts the number at about 3,000.
• Between 7,000 and 10,000 people were injured.
Program: Sunday Report
Broadcast Date: June 4, 1989
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy
Last updated: April 25, 2012
Page consulted on March 4, 2014
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