June 4, 1989: The Date CCP Wants to Forget

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Tiananmen Square

China was going through massive changes in the 80s. The Chinese Communist Party had opened up its economy to foreign investment. Leaders like Deng Xiaoping were credited to have put China on the path of prosperity. His move raised the income and living standards of the Chinese populace phenomenally. However, along with prosperity came the education and expectations for greater political openness.

The students were at the forefront of these demands. This spark of the early-80s gave shape to student protests of the mid-80s. However, no one had expected that this spark would become a flame in a short period. The catalyst came in the form of the death of the leading politician, Hu Yaobang.

Hu Yaobang was General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and a close comrade of President Deng Xiaoping. He was credited with China’s launch into capitalism and recovering the country from the misdeeds of Mao Zedong.

In 1987, Hu Yaobang was unceremoniously removed from his post and made an ordinary politburo member. His crime, he tolerated “bourgeois liberalization”, or had sympathy for student demands for democratic reform.

Tiananmen Square is Beijing’s most famous landmark and it was about to become world-famous. On 15 April 1989, learning about the death of Hu, thousands of students started gathering in Tiananmen Square. They were chanting the slogans of greater freedom of speech and less censorship.

Crowds kept swelling day by day and eventually the number of protesters reached over a million. Such large numbers baffled the government and they were unsure of taking direct action against the protesters. Soon the debates started raging among the ranks of CCP about what line should be adopted against the protesters. The progressives were backing concessions, while the hardliners wanted a tough approach. Eventually, the hardliners won the debate.

On 21 May 1989, martial law was declared in Beijing. On 3 to 4 June, PLA troops began to move towards Tiananmen Square. They opened fire on their citizens, many of them their own brothers and sisters, killing over 10,000 (as per the cable of the British Ambassador to China, Sir Alan Donald) and wounding thousands of others. The student moment was brutally crushed. All student leaders and protesters were arrested. Communist Party had once again reigned supreme and regained control of the area.

The aftereffects of the Tiananmen Square were that …

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04 June 1989: The Date CCP Wants to Forget

Tony Simon

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