It never had to lead to violence. It was always intended to be a peaceful demonstration. A student-led protest movement took to the streets of Beijing in the spring of 1989. This widespread coalition did not intend to topple the Chinese government; protesters shared a simple commitment to political freedom and an understanding that China’s authoritarian system had to be reformed to protect their human rights.
30 years ago, students & citizens in #China rose up in #TiananmenSquare to demand democratisation. While they were bloodily suppressed by the Chinese authority, their courage inspired generations of freedom-loving people in Taiwan & around the world.
Photo: Jian Liu pic.twitter.com/buVxM0tn3j
— 王定宇 Wang Ting-yu MP (@MPWangTingyu) June 3, 2019
These activists called for freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, which they saw as commonplace in the West. To showcase their commitment to these principles, protesters initially led hunger strikes and workforce sit-ins. Finally, on April 15, 1989, following the death of reformist politician Hu Yaobang (who was repeatedly purged from the party ranks by Chinese dictator Mao Zedong), they took to Tiananmen Square and refused to leave. At the height of the protests, some one million Chinese citizens joined fellow activists in Tiananmen Square.
Viewpoint – Tiananmen 1989 and today.
30 years after People's Liberation Army tanks and troops crushed China's fledgling pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, public discussion about what happened remains taboo https://t.co/e9tNVuAWZv pic.twitter.com/MPZqhryIxI
— AFP news agency (@AFP) May 31, 2019
China’s one-party system demands total unity, as it is essential to projecting strength and retaining the integrity of political authority over the mainland. Protests are understood by Beijing authorities as an intolerable projection of weakness that could jeopardize the centralized authoritarian ruling class. Though these protests began and continued as totally peaceful, their mere continuance was seen as intolerable.
On June 3, 1989, the Chinese government sicced its military on the unarmed, peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. At first, officials announced that they were enforcing martial law throughout Beijing. Then over a quarter-million soldiers were sent into the Square. The Communist Party propaganda machine spun into action, projecting the coming bloodbath as a justified response to “counter-revolutionaries” who could jeopardize the integrity of the state.
As #China’s communist regime continues to whitewash public memory of the #TiananmenSquareMassacre at home and abroad, remembering the events of #June4 is more important than ever. Here is how the #TiananmenMassacre unfolded–from initial unrest to "Tank Man." #Tiananmen30 pic.twitter.com/SHH6dBD9D6
— Victims of Communism (@VoCommunism) June 3, 2019
30 years ago, Chinese troops cleared pro-democracy protests from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Local authorities said 241 were killed. A cursory search of the web shows human rights orgs estimate a death toll much higher—unless you’re in China https://t.co/52WGvyyMH8
📸 Bettman pic.twitter.com/vVGcxOZR7i
— WIRED (@WIRED) June 4, 2019
The protesters largely defied the imposed martial law, believing that they had once and for all forced Chinese authorities to listen to their demands. At around 10 o’clock in the evening, all hell broke loose. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with the support of tanks, helicopters, and other military apparatus, fired live ammunition at the protesters, racking up thousands of casualties almost instantly. According to western estimates, thousands of civilians were mowed down in mere hours.
https://t.co/hlMbegiU4R The images are extremely graphic but everyone should know about the atrocities committed by the Chinese government 30 years ago at Tiananmen Square #Tienanmen30 pic.twitter.com/Q8U6JpuGGt
— Bryan Suarez (@DasBeetBoot) June 2, 2019
China marks 30 years since the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square with a wall of silence and extra security after arresting activists and tightening internet censorship https://t.co/lPosWbXwz9 pic.twitter.com/tnPp04j6HR
— AFP news agency (@AFP) June 4, 2019
While market-based economic reforms have allowed hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens to rise out of poverty over the last couple of decades and the quality of life for the average Chinese citizen has risen exponentially, political oppression remains central to the governing structure in China. Chinese citizens must still toe the party line, no matter what. And China’s continuing and severe repression of its ethnic and religious minorities shows that in many places in mainland China, the protection of human rights remains a catastrophic failure.
Thirty years later, we remember the June Fourth Massacre and honor the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to advance human freedom.