Brief Chinese Chronology

Against the Current No. 22, September/October 1989

April 17—Two days after the death of former Communist Party secretary Hu Yaobang, thousands of students demonstrate in Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities. Hu was deposed after the wave of student demonstrations for democracy in December 1986.

April 26—Peoples Daily in Beijing denounces student protesters as “a handful of people with ulterior motives” who “are actually opposed to … socialist democracy and are trampling both democracy and law.” A huge protest march responds the next day to this attack Beijing students have formed their own independent union and demand dialogue with government.

May 4-70th anniversary of student-led movement of 1919 is marked by mass demonstrations in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and other cities. In Beijing, where an Asian Development Bank meeting is opening, 100,000 people gather in Tiananmen Square. At a rally, a twenty-five-year-old factory worker, Wan Zhicheng, tells a Western reporter:

“Before an earthquake, small animals know it and run for cover. They are the intellectuals. And a great earthquake isn’t far away.”

May 13—Students mobilize in Tiananmen Square as Soviet leader Gorbachev’s visit to China is pending. Hunger strike begun by 1,000 students, later growing to 3,000.

May 16—As Gorbachev meets with Deng Xiaoping, hundreds of thousands (800,000) by some estimates) of people march in Beijing to support students. Demonstrations and hunger strikes spread to Shanghai, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Shenzen.

May 17—One to two million people march in Beijing supporting the hunger strikers. Workers from Capital Iron and Steel Factory turnout in the largest numbers. Other banners are displayed by workers from Beijing Petrochemical Co., Capital Hospital, Xidan Supermarket Workers, Beijing Workers Union, All-China Federation of Trade Unions, No. 1 Machine Tool Factory, Pipe Music Instrument Factory, Chinese Heavy Machinery Products Factory, civilian employees of the Peoples Liberation Army, Peoples Bank of China, Beijing Electric Utilities Co., Ministry of Railways, Beijing Municipal Institute of Labor Protection, and many restaurants and hotels.

May 19—Party secretary Zhao Ziyang visits hunger strikers, apologizes and appeals to them to end hunger strike. Independent student union announces end of strike, but declaration by Prime Minister Li Peng denouncing student demonstration as a conspiracy and calling troops to crack down reignites their anger. Millions of workers and residents in Beijing form barricades to block troops. A group of workers announce formation of Capital City Workers’ Autonomous Federation.

May 20—Martial law declared in Beijing. A permanent popular mobilization begins to protect students at Tiananmen Square. Students call for resignations of Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping, for special session of National Peoples Congress.

May 27—Many experienced student leaders, including Wuer Kaixi, suggest leaving Tiananmen Square for strategic reasons, including the political situation and the physical exhaustion of many activists. The suggestion is defeated, however, as new student forces from outlying provinces arrive in Beijing. Many Beijing students leave the square—they will return as the crisis polarizes a few days later.

May 28—Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation issues a provisional memorandum for the organization. In the following two days, three of its leaders are detained. Several hundred students and workers picket police headquarters demanding their release.

June 3—Students from Central Art School erect Goddess of Democracy facing Mao’s portrait in the square.

June 4—After several failures, tanks, armored personnel cars and thousands of troops smash their way into Tiananmen Square. A massacre of still-unknown proportions unfolds.

June 5-7–Demonstrations spread to cities across China.

June 8—Central government announces an extensive hunt for pro-democracy activists including student leaders, intellectuals and labor activists.

June 9—Top Communist party leaders appear on TV to congratulate Peoples Liberation Army for suppressing”counterrevolutionary riot.”

The main sources used for this chronology are the newsletter Echoes of Tiananmen (Hong Kong) and Los Angeles Times.

September-October 1989, ATC 22