The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 occurred in Beijing in the spring of ’89 and it was led by students with support from local residents. The big divide in China’s political leadership that time was exposed by the demonstration. Hard-liners in the Chinese government heavily and forcibly suppressed the demonstrators and enlisted the help of the country’s military to enforce martial law in China’s capital.
How It Started
On June 3-4, 1989, the crackdown on the protesters began and it led to numerous deaths, an event now called the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Government troops began to fire at the students using assault rifles. Tanks were also present and these resulted in the deaths of students and unarmed civilians who were attempting to block the advancement of the military. No official death toll was provided but it has been approximated to be anywhere between hundreds to thousands people.
So what started the protests? In April 15, 1989 ousted General Secretary of the Communist Party Hu Yaobang died at age 73. He was a liberal reformer who was impeached when he lost in a power struggle against Chinese government hardliners. They fought regarding political and economic reforms. Hu also spoke against limited career prospects in the nation, corruption of the elite in government and inflation. The students and other protesters wanted the government to be held accountable for Hu’s death.
After Hu Yaobang’s death, college students marched and assembled in Tiananmen Square to grieve. They were also calling for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the recovery of the workers’ power over industry measures.
During the busiest time of the protests, roughly one million residents camped in the Square. The majority of these were college students who attended school in the capital. In the beginning, the government made a decision to take a conciliatory stance when dealing with the protesters. But thanks to a hunger strike led by the students, they were able to gather more support all over China. Soon similar protests were sprouting in four hundred cities in the country.
Eventually, Deng Xiaoping, China’s main leader and other party officials, decided to resolve the impasse with the use of force. Martial law was declared by party authorities on the 20th of May. About three hundred thousand troops were mobilized in Beijing to handle the protestors. Any government official who was found to be sympathetic to the protests were either purged or demoted. At 1:00AM on June 4, 1989, Chinese troops entered the Square and fired at civilians and students. This went on until the next day and tens of thousands of people were arrested.
The international community was shocked by the massacre. The government of China was condemned all over the world because of their use of force against civilians and students. Countries in the West imposed economic sanctions, as well as arms embargoes and today, people continue to commemorate this tragic event every year.