25 Years Ago: Political Sway of the Military Spreading

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 June 2, 1989 New York Times:

While China’s political leaders have removed themselves from sight to engage in a bitter struggle for power, there are signs that the military may be accumulating a larger role in the Chinese political process.

It is still too early in the power struggle to determine the consequences of the political crisis, but some scholars and diplomats see the outlines of two trends: a greater military influence during a prolonged period of political instability, and less certainty that the army will carry out orders from political leaders.

Some fear that the leadership may increasingly be vulnerable to military pressure, and even to a coup. But they say that the army is genuinely trying to become a more professional organization and that it may not be interested in taking advantage of weakness in the Government.

”The military gains strength whenever the political leaders depend on them to tackle unrest,” said an Asian diplomat in Beijing. But he and other diplomats noted that there were competing trends and that the military may not necessarily want to play a pivotal political role.

See also “China adds troops near Tiananmen” from Cox News Service.

MEIWANA banner on Tiananmen Square reads “Not Finished” (via CND)

Also on June 2, Taiwan rock singer Hou Dejian joined then Beijing Normal University lecturer Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo and Gao Xin to launch a hunger strike in support of the students.

[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.]