In May 1989, following the death of pro-reform Communist leader Hu Yaobang, the Chinese leadership was shaken by the students’ Campaign for Democracy. The students’ movement – China’s most popular unrest in forty years of Communist rule – had led to the resignation of the Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang. This was after citizens of Beijing had flooded into Tiananmen Square to protest against the Martial Law declared by the then Chinese Premier Li Peng. The students on their part had come out on the streets to oppose the Martial Law because it was aimed at crushing the nation-wide movement for democratic reforms. Li Peng had imposed Martial Law after announcing that he would be taking measures to end the six-day old students’ hunger strike that had triggered massive protests across the country.
Soon after Martial Law was imposed, news media was brought under a virtual blackout. Some of the regulations imposed, included a ban on all reporting activities by foreign reporters. The Chinese authorities had also halted the broadcast of several western television networks.
In Shangai, almost 200, 000 people had gathered in the city’s people’s Square and many protesters carried banners demanding Peng’s resignation. The magnitude of the crisis can be gauged by the fact that Zhio Ziyang, who was respected as a reformist and had even pushed for a compromise with the students, had been forced to resign and ousted from power. When Ziyang was on the scene, despite the hardliners, who were bent upon crushing the students’ movement, the troops did not show the will to recapture Beijing from the students.
After Zhao Ziyang’s ouster, Deng Xiaoping and other party elders met the politburo standing committee members, including Li Peng, and agreed to clear the Tiananmen Square and two days later, the entire world received with shock and grief the news of the Tiananmen square massacre in Beijing.
From the way Zhio Ziyang was removed from the centre-stage of Chinese politics after the imposition of Martial Law on May 20, 1989, it was apparent that the hardliners under the leadership of the then Chinese Premier Li peng were bent upon crushing the pro-democracy unrest at any cost. The only hope for peace and the demonstrators lay with the people’s Army since it was reluctant to raise arms against the Chinese citizens but all hell broke lose on 3 June 1989, when the Army launched a frontal attack on more than a million protesters sitting in demonstration at Tiananmen Square. The actual onslaught finally came on June 4 morning when truckloads of troops attacked a crowd at a major intersection of Tiannanmen square. During the crackdown, about two thousand protesters were shot dead or mowed under the wheels of the advancing tanks and armed personnel carriers. In this attack, the police and the Army also suffered casualties.
What led to the stalemate that ended in mass-massacre was the stranglehold of the powerful Communist bourgeoisie that too at a time when post-Mao China was going through rapid economic development and social change. Dissent was natural as China had opened its doors to the outside world and the Chinese youth and students were exposed to liberal values of other civilised societies. At this juncture, when the Chinese society was in the throes of transition, the Chinese students laid down their life demanding democratisation of various State institutions through what was a peaceful movement. But its a historical paradox and a blot on humanity that the Chinese authorities that were at the helm had chosen to crush them with brute force.