Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 (Fall 2012)

It is bizarre to think one of the most visited landmarks in China; often referred to as “the gates of heavenly peace” happens to be the same landmark that the Chinese government ordered to have hundreds of Chinese protestors killed. The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 happened on June Fourth 1989 at Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing City, the same courtyard where the Han Chinese population goes and pays respect to their past leaders everyday. People have different views as to what history forces triggered the protest and eventually led to the tragic event that caused thousands of Chinese civilians to be wounded and killed. Several people think it is because many corrupt Communist leaders ruled The Peoples Republic of China. Some like to think the death of the leader Hu Yaobang whom fought for a more democratic government triggered the people into protest. Others think it was the new generation of college kids wanting to have more liberty and the right to vote for things they believed in.

The first major force that led to the Tiananmen Square Massacre would have to be the Communist Government that is The Peoples Republic of China. In China the Communist party oversees many aspects of their citizens lives, for example things like what they are able to watch on television, how many kids their citizens are allowed to have, even down to what the young the kids are allowed to learn in school are all controlled by the government. The communist party is mostly made up of government officials, veterans, and workers from schools, farmers, as well as selected few form state-owned companies (Allen). The communist party although has members from a wide variety of occupations it is unrepresentative of China as a whole. This can be seen through the statistics like only a quarter of the communist party members are made up of women (Allen). Further more, joining the party includes backing of existing members and once you are in it brings you significant privileges. Those privileges might include access to many jobs that are only open to members, and this is especially crucial because in China, personal relationships are often more important than ones ability to work (Bureau). So having a chance to network with decision makers that could potentially influence their business is a big reason why people want to join the party. This is a problem because majority of the communist party are there to benefit themselves and not for the greater good of their province. Also they are much more susceptible to bribery from officials in order for a certain policy to pass.

Those are just a few examples of how China’s Communist government functions. Along with the way the communist party makes decisions there comes some consequences. The major one being the citizens does not have a say in any political matter. The officials are elected within the party and the member’s that have seniority over them heavily influences the party member’s decisions (Conachy). Nine out of ten times the communist party members aren’t courageous enough to speak up for what they believe in because they are worried about losing their spot on the board thus losing their benefits. At the end of the day since they are more selfishly worried about their own good, they tend to go with what everyone above them is telling them to do, and everyone in the country ends up having to also. In this situation only a handful of people make the major decisions that influence the entire country.

The Peoples Republic of China is often times portrayed as a very developed country with skyscrapers and many other modern luxuries. What people don’t see are the provinces where the less fortunate citizens live. Another aspect that people aren’t aware of is that there are fifty-six different ethnic groups in China and they are often neglected as well. Even though the political leaders have the means to support those that are in need, because the leaders are so corrupt most of the money that is suppose to help the poor is often spent frivolously on their part. So while the politicians are spending countless amounts on fancy meals or extravagant gifts, the ones that are less fortunate are left starving in the cold. The most awful part is that the majority of them don’t have a clue these things are happening, and they are grateful for the little help they do receive. Furthermore, the citizens that are knowledgeable enough to know their leaders are spending the money that is supposed to help them cannot do anything about it. As a result, the quality of life for Chinese citizens vary tremendously compared to the western world. Having lived in China, the quality of food sold at supermarkets varies dependent on the community the supermarket is in. The quality of education varies dependent on what the family is able to afford. What’s shocking is the quality of healthcare or any healthcare at all given to a person depends on what the person is able to afford, and the hospital will not treat the person if they are not able to put down the payment. These are just a few examples of how corrupt the government is.

Moreover, new ideas were introduced as more and more universities were built and enrollment numbers were going up, the new generations of Chinese college students were becoming better educated on democracy. Majority of them wanted the right to vote, and the liberty to make certain decisions in their lives. Therefore when political leader Hu Yaobang a political leader who pursued a series of economic reforms, and was in support of democracy died of a heart attack on April 15th 1989, students gathered to protest (Gayomali). At first several thousand students walked allover Beijing from very early in the morning singing revolutionary songs calling for a more democratic government (Gayomali). When they were asked what were their demands, one responded saying they wanted an official reappraisal of Mr. Hu Yaobang, and the resignation of all of the countries communist leaders, along with an apology from the government for their past mistakes (Kristof). One student from Beijing University said 'Hu Yaobang's death is not the reason for this demonstration. It is the excuse” (Kristof). Many saw the protest as a major challenge to the Chinese Government. The top Chinese leaders thought the enthusiasm coming from the students for mourning Mr.Hu was a huge embarrassment to them. What brought them over the edge was when the students proclaimed him the Soul of China (Kristof).

As the protest went on the government did not seem to give in to the student’s demands. Thus on the 13th of May, the students decided to begin a hunger strike, and this was two days right before the much anticipated state visit of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (Allen). The visit was meant to be highly publicized and knowing that the ceremony for the welcoming of the Soviet leader was going to be happening at the Tiananmen Square, the students wanted to use the hunger strike to force the government to meet their demands (Zen). As the hunger strike went on it gained quite a lot of respect and sympathy from the Chinese population and plenty more people around the city decided to join the protest. By May 17th there were roughly a million Beijing resident protesting around Tiananmen Square (Zen). Many international journalists who came in for the welcoming of Mikhail Gorbachev remained in Beijing to cover the protest, which gave the event international coverage. The protest had gotten so much momentum since the middle of April that it seemed unstoppable. At this point the protest was not only happening in Beijing but also in four hundred other Chinese cities.

The Chinese communist leader at the time Den Xiaoping also was the main person that was against the protest. He believed if the protests were to keep going the way it was going, it would be threatening China’s stability (WuDunn). Which is why on May 20th 1989, Deng Xiaoping declared martial law (WuDunn). Nevertheless, Den Xiaoping’s action was not enough to stop the protest. When that did not work, he sent the army into Tiananmen Square to stop the protest. At first the soldiers were hesitant to take the lives of their own country, but when they were threaten their families would be in danger they followed the order. The soldiers used automatic fire weapons and many protesters ended up being wounded and dead. Following the violent confrontations in early June, the protestors decided to withdraw. The number of deaths from this protest is said to be around four hundred to eight hundred, and around ten thousand casualties.

On the other hand, the protestors that were lucky enough to survive the Tiananmen Square massacre were not so lucky after the incident. The student leaders were sentenced to an average of ten years in jail. The schoolteachers and college professors that participated in the protest ended up being blacklisted and were unable to find jobs (Conachy). The worst of all, a big portion of workers and innocent people around the province were executed. Even the media and journals that broadcasted or published any reports sympathetic to the event also ended up being purged, and sentenced to prison. The government had put in every last effort to cover up the incident within their country. Even to this day the Tiananmen Square Massacre is a taboo subject in China, no media outlet is allowed to talk about it, and any website that mentions the incident is automatically blocked within seconds (Conachy). For this reason anyone less than twenty years old most likely have not heard about the details of the event.

Now, decades later, The Peoples Republic of China has yet to deal with this tragic event. The memory of the momentous event lies underneath the memories of those old enough to remember it. Looking back so many forces of history had an impact on the event. Weather it was the government being corrupt, or the economic problems that China was having, the idea of democracy being introduced to college kids, or seeing someone like Hu Yaobang die that was striving to make a change. It is sad to reflect on the event and see that the protest really did not much of a positive outcome; all it did is make people fear the government. Instead of honoring the brave citizens that came out to protest, the government has done everything possible to keep the truth from its own citizens. One can only hope one day China will overthrow its corrupt communist government and be under democratic control.


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  2. Bureau., Sheryl Wudunn: Sheryl Wudunn Is A Correspondent In The Times's Beijing. "THE PRISONERS OF TIANANMEN SQUARE." The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Apr. 1990. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
  3. Conachy, James. "World Socialist." Ten Years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre. ICFI, 4 June 1999. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
  4. Gayomali, Chris. "Top 10 Most Influential Protests." Time. Time, 28 June 2011. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
  5. Kristof, Nicholas D. "OP-ED COLUMNIST; Bullets Over Beijing." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 June 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
  6. WuDunn, Sheryl. "Beijing University Students Mark the 1989 Crackdown." LA Times 4 June 1991, 4B sec.: 12. Print.
  7. Zen, Oblivion. "The Tiananmen Square Massacre-1989." CNN IReport. CNN, 6 Oct. 2010. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.