25 Years Ago: Students Declare Hunger Strike
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.
In the afternoon of May 13, hundreds of students began a hunger strike on Tian’anmen Square…
Day 1 (May 13): About 500-600 university students, with majority from Beijing Universtiy, entered Tian’anmen Square at 4 pm. They stopped taking any food beginning at 5:20. More students joined the hunger strike deep into the night. At 2 am, Beijing government officials visited the students at the Square. Students would not leave.
Below is the full text of The May 13 Hunger Strike Declaration, courtesy of Columbia University’s Asia for Educators site:
In these bright and beautiful days of May, we are beginning a hunger strike. In this moment of most beautiful and happy youth, we must leave life’s happiness behind. We do this ever so unwillingly!
Yet [we must do so], for our country is in a critical state. Prices are soaring, official profiteering is rampant, power is concentrated in the hands of the few, and the bureaucracy is corrupt. The country is losing large numbers of patriotic, upstanding Chinese who are living overseas but are willing to devote themselves to the betterment of their motherland. Social order and public security deteriorate day by day. At this life-and-death moment of the nation’s fate, countrymen of conscience, please listen to us!
This country is our country,
These people are our people,
This government is our government,
If we do not cry out, who will?
If we do not act, who will?
Though our shoulders are still fragile, though death still seems too great a burden for us , we are ready to leave you. We could not but go. History asks this of us.
Our purest feelings of patriotism and loyalty to the nation have been called “turmoil”, and we have been described as having “ulterior motives”, and being “exploited by a small handful of people”.
We ask every upright Chinese citizen — every worker, peasant, soldier, civilian, intellectual, noted figure, government official, policeman, and those who have made these accusations against us – to place your hand on your heart and ask your conscience: What crimes have we committed? Are we creating turmoil? What has caused us to demonstrate, to boycott classes, to fast, to hide? Our words have not been heard in good faith. We were beaten by police when we marched, though we hungered only for truth. Our representatives knelt for hours presenting our petition, only to be ignored by the government. Our requests for dialogue have been put off again and again. The safety of our student leaders is now uncertain.
What are we to do?
Democracy is the highest of human aspirations, freedom the innate birthright of all human beings. But today these must be bought with our lives. How can Chinese people be proud of this?
We are going on hunger strike because there’s no other alternative, and because that is what we should do.
Ready to face death, we fight for life.
But we are children, we are children still! Mother China, look at your sons and daughters. As hunger destroys their youth, as death closes in on them, can you remain indifferent?
We do not want to die; we want to live, to live fully, for we are at life’s most promising age. We do not want to die; we want to study. Our motherland is so impoverished, it feels as if we are abandoning her to die. Yet death is not what we seek. But if the death of one or a few people can enable more to live better, and can make our motherland prosperous, then we have no right to cling to life.
We say to our dear mothers and fathers, do not feel sorry for us when we are hungry; to our aunts and uncles, do not grieve for us when we leave this life. We have only one hope, that we may all live better lives. We have only one request, that you remember this: our pursuit is life, not death. Democracy is not a task for a few, it takes generations.
May this declaration, written with our lives, break up the clouds that cast their shadows over the People’s Republic of China.
We are doing this:
to protest the government’s indifference to the student demonstrations
to protest the government’s failure to enter into a dialogue with students
to protest the government’s unfair characterization of the student democratic movement as “turmoil” and the further distortion of it in newspaper coverage.
an immediate and equal dialogue of substance between the government and the students
an acknowledgement by the government of the legitimacy of the student democratic movement.
Time of the hunger strike: Begins at 2:00 P.M., May 13, 1989.
Place of the hunger strike: Tiananmen Square.
Watch ABC News footage from May 13, 1989:
ABC US News | ABC Entertainment News
[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.]