Tiananmen

The death of reformer Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, sparked an outpouring of grief that quickly grew into demonstrations, first of students, with growing support of workers and other segments of the population. The government quickly labeled the students' actions illegal, but with the world's attention already drawn to the public demands for democratic reforms and a reduction in government corruption, the central leadership had pause to use unnecessary force. In addition, there existed an inner circle of officials, led by Zhao Ziyang, who supported the students and many of their goals. Seeking to take a new tack, one of the hardliners, Prime Minister Li Peng, agreed to a televised meeting with the student leaders (13.9). The students' refusal to bow before state pressure only further antagonized the hardliners. In the days immediately following the meeting, martial law was declared, Zhao Ziyang was expelled from the CCP and dismissed from his post as the Secretary General (typically seen as the position held by Deng's successor). At the end of May and the first days of June, public support for reform soared. Demonstrations spread to virtually every major city in China, and rock- stars visited the square, offering free concerts in support of the student movement (13.11). Word also arrived that troops were being brought into the capital, and despite efforts (and warnings) from many different groups sympathetic to their cause, many students refused to clear the square. In the early morning hours of June 4, 1989, the military entered the city en force, with tanks and troop carriers shooting and crushing those who refused to disperse. In the aftermath, with the top student leaders fleeing underground and often overseas, the government issued a variety of responses to the demonstrations in an attempt to counter the intense international condemnation and to justify their actions to the Chinese people themselves (13.10).

Seven-Point Petition (April 18, 1989)

In the early hours of April 18, 1989, hundreds of students (largely from Beijing University) gathered around the Monument to People's Heroes, a ten-story-high obelisk located at the southern end of Tiananmen Square. They spent the night guarding the hundreds of wreaths, flowers, and personal poems left there. The students discussed their thoughts and ideas and decided to draft a formal petition to the government. The petition was first written as a "big character poster," and student leaders Wang Dan and Li Jinjin made separate attempts to present it to the People's Representatives meeting in the Great Hall of the People (at the western edge of Tiananmen). Four days later, on April 22, in one of the most dramatic gestures of the movement, a small group of students, including Zhou Yongjun and Guo Haifeng, kneeled in the hot spring sun on the steps of the Great Hall, lifting a copy of the Seven-Point Petition over their heads in a highly symbolic gesture dating back to the Qing dynasty whereby any commoner could bring their appeal to the imperial city. Their effort was in vain. No party official came out to receive their petition. The following translation is from the original version of the petition, which was updated and modified over the next several days but retained the original sentiments of this version.

Questions

ZHAO ZIYANG (1919-2005)—A leading reformer under Deng Xiaoping and seen by many as his anointed heir, but his support for the student demonstrations in 1989 caused him to be stripped of all titles, and he spent the last 15 years of his life under house arrest until his death in 2005.

  • 1. What seems to be the students' primary focus in the demands included in their petition?
  • 2. Why would the government hesitate to even receive such a petition?

Seven-Point Petition:

  • 1. Reevaluate the merits and faults of Hu Yaobang.
  • 2. Negate the previous “anti-spiritual pollution" and "anti-bourgeois Liberation" movements.
  • 3. Allow private newspapers and freedom of speech.
  • 4. Publicly publish the government leaders' income and property holdings.
  • 5. Abolish Beijing's "Ten-Point Restrictions" [restricting public assembly and demonstrations].
  • 6. Increase education funding and improve treatment of intellectuals.
  • 7. Report this movement truthfully.

Transcript of May 18 Meeting Between Premier Li Peng and Students (May 18, 1989)

To appease the student hunger strikers, Prime Minister Li Peng agreed to meet with the top student representatives. Among the student leaders were Wang Dan of Beijing University and Wu'erkaixi (Orkesh Dolet), a Uyghur from the northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang. They sensed that popular opinion was on their side, as the students displayed little patience for the standard government platitudes. Throughout the meeting, the student leaders did not soften their delivery, interrupting Li Peng, lecturing, and deliberately addressing him by titles other than Prime Minister (Wu'erkaixi even attended the meeting wearing his pajamas, a clear breach of etiquette). Li Peng and the hardliners were not amused and felt their efforts at reconciliation received only insulting responses. Two days later, the Central Committee voted to impose martial law, with Zhao Ziyang as the only dissenting vote.

Questions

  • 1. What is Premier Li Peng's primary goal as stated in the following transcript?
  • 2. Why are Wang Dan and the student leaders so concerned with the movement being labeled as a disturbance?

Li Peng (premier): I am so pleased to meet with you all. This meeting came together a bit late. I apologize for this. ... To be frank, today I am hoping to discuss one topic only, and we can put aside the other topics until sometime in the future. The topic I would like to discuss is how to relieve the hunger strikers of their predicament as soon as possible.... It is not that we have other motives, its simply that we mainly concerned about students. Frankly, I see how young you all are—I'd guess the oldest among you is about 22 or 23? My youngest child is older than you. I have three children. None of my children are engaged in profiteering by officials. None. They are all older than you. We look at you as if you were our own children, our own flesh and blood.

[Camera shows close-up shots of Li Peng speaking, with occasional pan shots of

the room.]

Wu'erkaixi (student): [Camera cuts to Wu'erkaixi as he interrupts] Premier Li, our time is limited. We can sit down and have a drink here, but there are students outside who are sitting on the cold ground and starving on the Square. I'm sorry to butt in, but our hope is to begin a substantial dialogue as soon as possible. Sorry, to interrupt, because you are like an elder.

Li Peng: It does not matter. You are not very, not very ...

Wu'erkaixi: [interrupting] Not very polite.

Li Peng: It does not matter.

Wu'erkaixi: It's not that it does not matter. You have just

said that this meeting is a little late. The fact is that we asked for a meeting with you as early as April 22nd at Tiananmen Square. Therefore, this meeting is not only a little late, but too late. However, it doesn't matter, it's good you are here now. [words indistinct]. You said we were going to discuss only one question. In fact, it is not that you asked us to come for discussion, but that the great number of people at the Square asked you to come out for a talk. The topics of discussion should be decided by us. Fortunately, we agree that there is only one, and just one, question that needs to be discussed. Therefore, let us discuss just this single question.

Many students have already fainted. But this is not my point. What is important is to solve the problem. How can the problem be solved? I think that it is good that you have finally come out and shown your sincerity to resolve the problem. We read and listened to Comrade Zhao Ziyang's written statement yesterday and the day before [in which Zhao indicated that the students demands for democracy were reasonable and patriotic, and promised there would be no retaliation]. Why haven't the students left? Why did we stay after Comrade Zhao Ziyang's speech? I believe you know are clear on this as well. We regard the written statement as insufficient. It's truly insufficient. I believe that you are aware of the prevailing conditions at the Square. If such conditions continue, then it is likely we will not be here to continue to discuss matters with you. Premier Li, it may seem like I am over-exaggerating a bit. Please think about this: Should the slightest misstep unfold at the Square, or should a student... I do not want to elaborate further.

[Wu'erkaixi motions to Wang Dan, seated next to Wu'erkaixi, to speak.}

[ Video shows shots of Wang Dan speaking, but he does not face the speaker

directly, thus making his comments difficult to hear.)

Wang Dan (student): Let me report on the current situation. So far,

some 2,000 [students] have fainted and lost consciousness, [words indistinct] On the contrary, the students' emotions are reaching new highs. As to how we can bring the hunger strike to an end so that the students will leave the Square? Our requests must be addressed thoroughly. Moreover, you might have all seen, yesterday's demonstration, the street was filled with demonstrators. Several million people came out in support. What we proposed were very clear, [words indistinct] A government must pay attention to people's wishes to solve the problem as soon as possible. Therefore, our stand is clear that the two conditions proposed by students must be implemented before the hunger strike students would end their strike [words indistinct].

Wu'erkaixi: Because your age, please allow me to address

you as "Teacher Li," if I may. Teacher Li, the problem now lies not in persuading us [the student representatives]. First, as we have already stated clearly, we too wish very much for the students to leave the Square. Second, even if you succeed in utterly convincing us here, it would be pointless. The situation at the Square is dictated not by the standard rule of a minority following majority. Instead it's more like

99.9 percent of the students obeying the 0.1 percent. If a single student refuses to leave, I believe then thousands will also choose to stay.

Wang Dan: After Comrade Yan Mingfu's talk, we conducted a survey among over a hundred students yesterday, on the question of evacuating the Square. 99.9% students voted against withdrawing from the Square...

Wang Zhixin (student): [interrupting] If [government decision] is put off

any longer, it is not only the students will be unable to control themselves, but also citizens more generally. . . . [Video shows Li Peng nodding his head.] I have another question to ask the government. On April 22nd, we went down on our knees for a long time to present our petition. However, you did not show up despite our repeated request for you to do so. . . . One more question. I wonder how the government is going to respond to this. At present, different types of people, including aunties, grandpas and grandmas, and whole families, have joined our ranks. I wonder what the government thinks of this. There are people as old as 80 and as young as just a few years old. Small children formed a line marching in an orderly way, shouting slogans, and crying: Big brothers, sisters, drink some water; eat something.

[• • •]

Li Peng: I would like to express my views on several

points. Everyone is interested in discussing substantive issues. First, I want to discuss one substantive issue. I propose that the China Red Cross Society and its chapter in Beijing responsibly and safely send the hunger strikers to various hospitals. I hope that all other students at the square will help and support this operation. This is my concrete proposal. . . . This morning, Comrades Ziyang myself and other comrades visited some of the students [in hospitals].

Second point is that neither the government nor the party Central Committee have ever said that the broad masses of students were creating turmoil. We have never said such a thing. We have unanimously affirmed the patriotic aspirations of everyone... . Nevertheless, the situation may develop independently of your good ideas, fine intentions, and patriotic fervor. This an objective principle no one can control it. In fact, there is complete chaos in Beijing. Moreover, chaos has spread throughout the country. ... I can state that during the past few days, Beijing has been in a state of anarchy. I hope comrades will think what consequences might be brought about by this situation.

The government of the People's Republic of China is a government responsible to the people. It is impossible for us to be indifferent to this phenomenon. It is impossible for us not to protect the safety and lives of students, not to protect factories, not to protect our socialist system. Whether or not you are willing to listen to what I have said, I am really pleased to have the opportunity to say it. I want to tell you that it is absolutely not my intention to impose anything on you, because some things are independent of man's will. Much unrest has occurred in China. Many people did not want unrest to occur, but it occurred anyway. ... I have finished what I wanted to say.

[...]

Xiong Yan (student): I'd like to add one more point. Dear Comrade

Li Peng, just now you brought up the point that there are signs of a disturbance in society. I will speak briefly for 3 minutes, offering the simplest explanation of the difference between a student movement and a disturbance. If a disturbance occurs in a country or a society, does it have a direct cause-and-effect relationship with a student demonstration? I say no. A disturbance in a country or society is not caused by student demonstrations, but by the social system in existence, the ills of society. It does not have a direct cause-and-effect relationship with student demonstrations. The very purpose of student demonstrations is to expose the ills of society at an early date so that the government can deal with them and overcome the ills without delay. Thus, the student movement or the movement to promote democracy will indeed serve to prevent society from falling apart and avoid a real disturbance. The argument is utmost simple explanation. This is what I want to say.

[•••]

Wang Zhixin: [interrupting] I want to make one point. At the

beginning it was said that this is a meeting not a dialogue.

Li Peng: [interrupting] Yes, it is a meeting. See you again.

Yan Mingfu (student): Premier Li Peng is having talks with a foreign

delegation in the next hour. . .[Video shows Li Peng standing up, shaking the hands of the students before departing for his next meeting.]

 
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