The Weeks before June 4 – a Trip to North Korea

« An explanation of this 1989 series

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Main Link: 八九天安门事件大记 (Major Daily Events, Tiananmen 1989), by Wu Renhua.

Wednesday, April 19, 1989

Some two thousand students stay in front of Xinhua Gate overnight, even after three in the morning. But it is quite a reduction from the peak of the evening before, when there were more than twenty-thousand students and onlookers. At 4.20 a.m., a loudspeaker announcement warns of bad elements trying to create trouble, and wanting to use people for their own ends. This was no longer a normal mourning activity, says the message. A great number of police cars arrive, plus two buses, which take students who still stayed on at Xinhua Gate back to their campuses without incidents. In the afternoon, the slogans, besides praise for late Hu Yaobang, begin to include calls for unfolding the May-4 tradition1).

At 9 p.m., several ten-thousand people have gathered on Tian An Men Square again. Public security authorities inform the public by loudspeaker messages that wreathes may be taken to the Monument of the People’s Heroes, but not to Zhongnanhai. Around 10 p.m., police stops students from flying seven hydrogen balloons which carry the inscription “Hu Yaobang isn’t Dead”. Xinhua Gate is out of reach for demonstrations, as it has been sealed off by police.

In the evening, the Democratic Salon holds a session at Beijing University’s San Jiao Di [explanation here, underneath the seven demands]. It is initially moderated by the university’s history department student Wang Dan, and then by Wu Yunxue (武运学), as Wang Dan’s voice is getting hoarse. Ding Xiaoping (丁小平), Xiong Yan (熊焱), Feng Congde (封从德), Yang Tao (杨涛) and others give speeches. The students present at the session decide to depose the [official] Students’ Union and to establish a Steering Commission for an Autonomous Beijing University Students’ Union.

The CCP Central Committee announces that a mourning ceremony for Hu Yaobang will be held in the Great Hall of the People on April 22, at ten a.m.. The ceremony will be broadcast live by China National Radio and CCTV.

Fang Lizhi (方励之), researcher at the National Astronomical Observatories (北京天文台) at the time, is interviewed by a Hong Kong reporter on the phone. The students have the right to make demands, and to express them peacefully on demonstrations, he says. He supports the students, and so do intellectuals and public opinion in general. He has no direct links with the students; the students strife for democracy and freedom is spontaneous, with views of their own. He isn’t directly participating in their actions.

Thursday, April 20, 1989

At midnight, at the Democratic Salon at Beijing University, Wang Dan announces the foundation of the “Beijing University United Students’ Union Steering Committee”, which is to replace the officially-controlled Beijing University Students’ Union. The steering committee’s seven members are Ding Xiaoping, Yang Tao, Wang Dan, Yang Dantao (杨丹涛), Xiong Yan, Feng Congde, and Chang Jin (常劲, sometimes also spelled Chang Jing). The committee recommends that students from every university organize themselves and elect delegates to ensure a unified leadership for the movement.

At peak times, there are now up to fifty- or sixty-thousand people on Tian An Men Square.

Zhongnanhai is sealed off [apparently to prevent further demonstrators to get to Xinhua Gate], and loudspeaker messages at 3.45 in the morning warn the about 300 students who are still in front of Xinhua Gate that if the “small minority of people” still hold out there, the consequences will solely be their own responsibility. At about 4 a.m., military police disperses the several hundred students and forces them on buses. Some don’t want to get on the buses and for the first time, there is fighting.

Hong Kong’s Express (Kuai Bao) reports that student delegates from Beijing University, the People’Äs University and the University of Political Science and Law who had regular talks with the authorities, but there hasn’t been news from them since they had entered Zhongnanhai at two a.m.. Students are losing patience.

At 3 p.m., protests emerge at Beijing University, against the beating of a University of Political Science and Law student, Wang Zhiyong, at Xinhua Gate early that day. The student’s bloody clothes are put on display at Wang’s university.

Deng Xiaoping, in his capacity as the CCP’s central military commission, decides to call troops into Beijing to reinforce the police and military police in Beijing. Troops dispatched are from the 3rd Capital Garrison Division (Police), and from the 38th Army (belonging to the Beijing Military Region).

In the morning, vice chief state councillor Tian Jiyun (田纪云) meets party secretary general Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) and suggests that Zhao should change his plan to leave for a visit to North Korea on April 23. Tian is the only cadre Zhao brought with him to Beijing2), from Sichuan. Zhao says that he has thought about that, too, but he believes that to change his plans would suggest to the world outside that the political situation was unstable. He therefore sticks with his travel plan.

Students come in from Tianjin, by train, fifty on them this Thursday evening. More than one-hundred have bought train tickets and will arrive on Friday to take part in a demonstration in Beijing.

Demonstrations are reported from Anhui Province, and in Nanjing, at 10.30 p.m., more than three-thousand students leave the Nanjing University campus for demonstrations at the Jiangsu Province government buildings.

In Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, some 2,300 people charge ahead for the entrance of the provincial government building. More than 200 are arrested by military police. An official statement says that very few organized students had been among the troublemakers, and that the majority had been “young people waiting for work”3), workers, people without fixed duties, and mostly young.

Continued here »

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Notes

1) See last paragraph – a quote from the Hong Kong Standard – there. The May-Fourth movement of 1919 is canonized in Chinese history recording, as a starting point for national renewal and for patriotism, and to invoke this tradtion usually helps to add legitimacy to ones own actions.

2) 待业青年 (young people waiting for employment) remained a euphemism for youth unemployment in the 1990s. Basically, the Shaanxi provincial government communique distinguished between “good-for-nothings” and students – in the early days or weeks of the 1989 movement, there seemed to be a wide-spread reluctance among officials to condemn the students’ agenda, not only among cadres close to Zhao Ziyang. This initial sacrosanctity was possibly owing to the glorification of the May-19th movement in China’s official history records, and also to a switch in the CCP’s coalition-building, away from the peasant and working class towards the intellectuals, as (particularly explicitly) described by Chinese academic Kang Xiaoguangcited there.

3) It probably goes without saying that Zhao Ziyang, general secretary of the CCP at the time, was rather sympathetic towards the students’ movement, and certainly not willing to unleash the army on them. Wu Renhua, who wrote the Tian An Men 1989 records I’m quoting from in these posts, sees a particular degree of trust between Zhao and Tian, because they worked together in Sichuan Province, before Zhao was promoted to Beijing.

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Related

» April 20, 1989, Under the Jacaranda, April 20, 2012
» April 19, 1989, Under the Jacaranda, April 19, 2012
» Zhao Ziyang’s Memoirs, New York Times, May 14, 2012

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5 Responses to “The Weeks before June 4 – a Trip to North Korea”

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