25 Years Ago: Beijing Spring
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.
The night before the march, Jia Guangxi and his five roommates at Peking University toasted one another with farewell glasses of wine. “Some of us even wrote last wills,” recalled Jia, 18, an economics major from Inner Mongolia. And why not? Chinese officials, having tolerated eleven days of protests by tens of thousands of students, were darkly warning of a crackdown that would put an end to the demonstrations once and for all.
On Thursday morning Jia rose early, grabbed a megaphone and headed for the headquarters of the student organizing committee. As his classmates poured out of their dormitories, Jia held up his megaphone and shouted quotations from the constitution. “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration!” he bellowed. School officials blasted a threatening countermessage over loudspeakers: “Go back to your classes! Don’t give in to pressure from your fellow students! Beware of the consequences to yourself and your family!”
Just outside the university gates was a sight to give even the most determined demonstrator pause: row upon row of uniformed policemen. What happened next will be remembered for years to come. As more than 50,000 striking university students flooded the streets in defiance of government warnings, some 250,000 ordinary citizens joined them, supporting their demands for more democracy.
[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 [email protected] and we’ll consider including them in this series. Many thanks.]