30 Years Ago: Shortages Begin to Cripple Beijing

30 Years Ago: Shortages Begin to Cripple Beijing

This year marks the 30th 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. 

From the May 23, 1989 New York Times:

As the capital ends its third day of martial law, Beijing is finding itself crippled by shortages and disruptions of vital services. In the absence of an effective government in parts of the city, only student rule seems to have averted total collapse in the city.

Mail delivery has become sporadic and traffic jams abound. Most subway and bus service has been suspended. As a result, workers are forced to ride bicycles or walk, and they often arrive late to work, if they arrive at all.

There are desperate shortages of gasoline, electricity, vegetables, milk and eggs. Some key roads into the city are blocked by military convoys and citizens surrounding them, and the distribution network seems to have been further hampered by roadblocks and demonstrations throughout the city. ‘Very Hard to Do Business’

”It’s very hard to do business now,” said a diplomat here. ”When we invited some officials to lunch, they said they couldn’t drive here because once they got out of their compound their drivers would join the demonstrators. So we had to send a diplomatic car to fetch them.” [Source]

From an op-ed by A.M. Rosenthal from the same day’s New York Times:

The truth of what has happened in China is so startling that even now the world hardly takes it in. For a time, the Government of the world’s most populous country has lost its power to govern and control the nation. When that happens a Government is in effect overthrown until it shows it can resume control.

Since no other authority is available to step in, the Chinese Government will probably be able to pull together what remains of its influence and summon the power to direct the nation once more.

But the fact that there was a time in May 1989 when the Government of China was overthrown as the real controlling authority will become part of China’s history and is certain to affect China’s future. [Source]

From beijing.may89, taken on May 23, 1989:


The  was covered – just for a couple of hours. It had been defiled by paint or something, and it was quickly covered up until it was replaced by a new portrait. The atmosphere was very special and strange, a little eerie and scary too. [Source]

For more photos, see beijing.may89’s Photostream.

Also from this date in 1989: “China Army Leaders Vow not to Attack” from AP and an editorial from the New York Times, “After the Students Go Home.”

protestsProtesters come from all walks of life and all age groups as they march in Beijing on May 23, 1989 (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 [email protected] and we’ll consider including them in this series. Many thanks.]

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