25 Years Ago: Li Peng “Come Out! Come Out!”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the nationwide, student-led democracy movement in China, and the subsequent military crackdown in Beijing. To mark the occasion, CDT is posting a series of original news articles from that year, beginning with the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15 and continuing through the tumultuous spring. The full series can be read here.
In a scene never witnessed in the 40 years of Communist rule, more than 1,000 students assembled outside the ornate red-lacquered gate of Zhongnanhai compound, where the top leaders officially live and work. Sitting on the pavement, lotus-like, they exhorted Premier Li Peng to hear their demands, chanting, “Come out! Come out!”
The furor reached a peak on Saturday. As many as 150,000 students and other activists massed in Tiananmen for one of China’s biggest demonstrations since the Communist revolution in 1949. As the nation’s top leaders filed into the Great Hall for Hu’s memorial service behind a wall of 8,000 Chinese troops, the protesters waved their fists and chanted, “Long live freedom!” and “Down with dictatorship!” Some of the leaders seemed to stop momentarily to listen to the shouts. In Xian, to the northwest, the demonstrations turned into a riot as students burned 20 houses and injured some 130 police; 18 protesters were arrested.
The demonstrations had been growing in intensity through the week, spreading quickly from Beijing to at least six other cities, including Nanjing, Shanghai and Tianjin. Always the rallying cry was for political reform.
Without money, telephones, photocopiers or permission, the student movement in less than two weeks has succeeded in establishing a loose network of universities in Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin, and it is trying to establish links with other universities. An inter-university committee has been established and its decisions seem to be generally respected by most of the city’s students.
But in what may be a sign of the difficulties of creating their own leadership, Beijing University students today postponed an election intended to select a new group of student leaders. They said the election needed better planning and would be held soon.
Students there have already set up their own loudspeaker system to broadcast news and they are talking about starting a newspaper.
Posters are also a prime way to communicate ideas. Today, students at Beijing University and other campuses erected new posters criticizing the Government’s televised discussion with student leaders, held on Saturday, as inadequate and superficial. Most students said they planned to continue their protests.
[CDT originally posted this series 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.]