Police officers and protesters face down Beijing (Photo: CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
In April 1989, the former Chinese Community Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang died. Student gatherings to mourn the passing of the deposed liberal reformer soon grew into full-fledged demonstrations demanding accountability and political freedom from the Chinese government. The protests spread to hundreds of other Chinese cities by mid-May, and about a million people took to Beijing's Tiananmen Square. On May 20, authorities declared marshal law, and on June 3 and 4, they initiated a crackdown on the demonstrators gathered in the Square.
From the CBC Archives, here's Tom Kennedy's Sunday Report story from June 4:
Twenty-five years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the death toll is still uncertain, with estimates ranging from the the official number of 241 to the thousands. In their wake, political reforms in China were halted, and some credit the events of that time for setting China on its current path of economic liberalization. Below, six reads and resources to help put the anniversary in context.
Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen
The so-called "Tank Man" of Tiananmen Square remains one of the most famous images in all of photojournalism, and a powerful symbol of protest worldwide. Yet his identity and fate are both uncertain. In this story, the New York Times interviews the four photographers who captured the iconic encounter from the Beijing Hotel, looking down over Changan Avenue. And for more on Tank Man, see the PBS documentary The Tank Man, which explores his fate and legacy inside and outside of China.
This 1989 speech is one of the most important in China's history
On Vox, Max Fisher explores the June 2, 1989 meeting of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee — a meeting where leader Deng Xiaoping argued for both the use of force and the necessity of economic reform to prevent future popular uprisings. "The June 2 meeting ensured that China's economy would continue to open, and that China would go from a very poor country to the economic giant it is today," Fisher writes. "But Deng's arguments also linked that opening to the Tiananmen crackdown, combining liberal-minded economics with at-all-costs authoritarianism in a way that remains central to China's political system today."
25 Years Later, Three Students Tell What They Saw
Jonathan Chan, Kenneth Lam and Liane Lee all witnessed the events of June 4, 1989 firsthand. The three former activists and protesters recalled to Time what those days were like, from the optimistic beginnings — "Preschool children, officials from government offices, grandparents, even members of the Communist party. They were so moved by the students’ message" — to their fight to keep the memory of the protests alive.
Crowds Gather in Hong Kong to Mark 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Killings
The 1989 crackdown has not been widely covered in the Chinese media, and indeed, most Chinese students don't even know about it. But in Hong Kong, as many as 180,000 people gathered today to mark the 25th anniversary of the killings. “China’s economy has developed rapidly, but on the issues of democracy and personal freedom, its record is very, very, very bad," the 40-year-old graphic designer Kwok Yin-cheong told the New York Times from the city's Victoria Park.
How China Stays Stable Despite 500 Protests Every Day
Despite the crackdown of 1989, protests continue in China to this day — in 2010 alone, reports The Atlantic, there were 180,000 of them. But those protests rarely rise to the level of open revolt against the system. As Austin Ramzy argues in Time, the root cause often has more to do with the gap between the country's rich and poor than it does a fight for political freedom.
On China Today
What's political life like in China today? According to Human Rights Watch: "Rapid socio-economic change in China has been accompanied by relaxation of some restrictions on basic rights, but the government remains an authoritarian one-party state. It places arbitrary curbs on expression, association, assembly, and religion; prohibits independent labor unions and human rights organizations; and maintains Party control over all judicial institutions."