25 Years Ago: Crowds Keep Troops from City Center

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the nationwide, student-led democracy movement in China, and the subsequent June 4th military crackdown in Beijing. To commemorate the student movement, CDT is posting a series of original news articles from 1989, beginning with the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15 and continuing through the tumultuous spring. The full series can be read here.

From the May 21, 1989 New York Times:

Huge throngs, possibly amounting to more than one million Chinese, took to the streets today to defy martial law and block troops from reaching the center of the capital, effectively delaying or preventing the planned crackdown on China’s democracy movement.

Troops approaching Beijing on at least five major roads were halted or turned back by the largest crowds to have gathered so far in a month of almost continuous protests. Students and ordinary citizens erected roadblocks or lay in the path of army trucks, while others let the air out of their tires.

Reports from around the country indicated growing support for the democracy movement. The city of Xian was reportedly brought to a standstill by 300,000 protesters, and rallies were reported in Shanghai, Canton and at least half a dozen other cities, and even small villages.

A few clashes were reported, but the confrontations seemed to be mostly peaceful. More troops were reported to be making their way toward Beijing, however, and it was not clear that the people could continue to keep the soldiers out.

Other articles from the same edition:
- “People’s Army, Faced by the People, May Be Opening a New Chapter
- “In Beijing Protests, Changes By Deng Return to Vex Him
- “Armed Only With Optimism, China’s People Rise Again
- “Facing the People, the Soldiers Fall Back

army convoyA convoy of some 200 vehicles from the army sit idle after demonstrators blocked the road to Beijing (via CND)
may 21Students wave fists and flags as five military helicopters buzz Tiananmen Square at dawn on May 21 (via CND)

[This series was originally posted by CDT in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the protests. If you have access to additional sources of original reporting, video, accounts or photos from the spring of 1989, please send them to us at cdt@chinadigitaltimes.net and we’ll consider including them in this series. Many thanks.]