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1989: Massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square

The Story

The images are shocking. Armoured tanks plow into crowds of people, flames from burning buses light up the night sky, and bleeding bodies are rushed to hospital. For weeks student protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square have been demonstrating for political reform of China's communist government. A declaration of martial law has failed to quell the protests, and now the government has called in the military. Death is all around as the CBC's Tom Kennedy reports. The massacre begins shortly after midnight as tanks and armoured personnel carriers roll through the streets, crushing hastily erected barricades and driving 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. 

Medium: Television
Program: Sunday Report
Broadcast Date: June 4, 1989
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy
Duration: 6:08

Did You know?

• Located in central Beijing, Tiananmen Square is adjacent to the Forbidden City, the seat of power for centuries of imperial Chinese rulers. In 1949, the Tiananmen Gate was where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China. 

• 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.

Also on June 6:
• 1895: The Canadian Golf Association is founded in Ottawa. It became the Royal Canadian Golf Association the following year by royal decree.

• 1944: American, British and Canadian military forces launch Operation Overlord on the beaches of Normandy, France, during the Second World War. This event came to be known as D-Day.

• 1966: Leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Canada approve the ordination of women as elders and ministers. Two years later, Shirley Jeffery becomes the church's first female minister.

Also on June 4:
• 1940: "Operation Dynamo", the evacuation of Allied troops from the French port of Dunkirk, comes to an end. About 337,000 troops are safely transported to British ports as the German army completes its conquest of France during the Second World War.
• 1976: The federal government announces a 200-mile off shore fishing zone. The law would go into effect on January 1, 1977 restricting fishing boats from other countries.
• 1980: Hockey great Gordie Howe announces his retirement from the NHL's Hartford Whalers at the age of 52.


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