Tiananmen Square Crackdown, 1989

A man waves a flag in May 1989 at China’s Tiananmen Square. Creative Commons image by Robert Croma https://www.flickr.com/photos/croma/422634812

This past weekend marked the 28th Anniversary of the tragic crackdown and massacre of protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.  Students calling for a more democratic government were met with Chinese troops and tanks in a brutal show of force.  Although there is no officially reported death toll, estimates range from several hundred to thousands.

At the National Museum of China in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, one will not find any exhibit on the dramatic and tragic events which took place in Tiananmen Square on the 4th of June, 1989.

It all began with the 1989 death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader, who had become a symbol of democratic reform with his work of moving China in the direction of a more open political system.

Following his death on April 15, thousands of students began marching through Beijing to Tiananmen Square, calling for a more democratic government.  In the following weeks, thousands joined the students in the square to protest China’s Communist rule.

Student at Rest – Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 1989. Robert Croma

Tensions escalated when over 100 students began a hunger strike in the square on May 13, and over the next few days, the number increased to several thousand.  Six days later on May 19, a rally at Tiananmen Square drew an estimated 1.2 million people. General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Zhao Ziyang, appeared and pleaded for an end to the demonstrations.   On that same day, Premier Li Peng imposed martial law.

China blocked live American news telecasts in Beijing on June 1st, and reporters were prohibited to photograph or video the demonstrations or Chinese troops. The next day, singer Hou Dejian gave a concert in the square in support of the demonstrators, and a reported 100,000 people attended.

A protest leader addresses the crowd at Tiananmen. Flickr: Robert Croma

Two days later at about 1 a.m. on June 4th, Chinese troops reached Tiananmen Square. They began firing on civilians and students and continued throughout the day, bringing an end to the demonstrations.

One of the iconic moments of the stand taken at Tiananmen Square took place on June 5 when a man stood alone in the street for several minutes to block a column of tanks before being pulled away by onlookers.

The National Security Archive published “Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History,” in 1999.  It included U.S. State Department documents regarding events that occurred during the demonstrations.

The Tiananmen Papers,” a collection of internal government documents such as transcriptions of notes, meeting minutes and eyewitness accounts was published by two Chinese scholars in January of 2001. The Chinese government, however, claimed the papers were fabricated material.

By estimates, up to 10,000 people were arrested during and after the protests, and several dozen were executed for their parts in the protests. China has never released a death toll from the day it sent in tanks to break up the protests in and around Tiananmen Square that day, however “estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.”

The U.S. and rights groups have called on China to account for the Tiananmen crackdown but Chinese leadership has declined all calls to reverse its assessment of events

On June 6, 2015, in a rare comment by state media on the subject, the English edition of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial, “Keeping quiet in public places about the 1989 turmoil has been accepted by the public as a political strategy to maintain social unity,”


4 thoughts on “Tiananmen Square Crackdown, 1989

  1. Libby, when Chinese use their Google and try to find out what happened on June 4th, nothing comes up. Yet, there is an underground who calls it May 35th, where people can find some information. It is like it did not happen. I am sure the US president would like to do this. Of course, he is doing it with climate change deletions from the EPA website. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow Keith! That’s fascinating information. May 35th…I will study that so I can expand on my story for next year’s look-back…

      I was prompted to write about Tiananmen because of the disturbing actions this administration is taking. Particularly DTs desire to have tanks at his inaugural and his hatred of the first amendment and the press. Thank you as always for your comments


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