Tiananmen Square Incident
By 1989, Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms had begun to deeply affect the country’s social and political situation. For one thing, academic and intellectual participation had increased, and many students had begun to suggest that China could benefit from increased freedom of speech and press. Also, mass discontent related to corruption in public officials had created tensions in the population, especially in government centers like Beijing. Economic ills such as poverty, housing, inflation, and wages contributed to discontent. As a result of these factors, students in Chinese universities had been holding protests in major cities to ask for these mild political reforms and anti-corruption measures. The movement, often called the 1989 Democracy Movement, was of a mixed intention. Some protestors only sought mild reforms to the communist system, others wanted a full democratization of China. All, however, were united with demands for increasing freedom of speech and press, and an end to public corruption in government officials. Initially, the demonstrations were merely a mourning procession in Tiananmen Square, where thousands gathered to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a major political figure and a leading reformer who died in early 1989. However, the broader impact of the procession was that it also represented impatience with slow reforms in China, and soon spiraled into broader protesting throughout many major cities. As things grew more tense, weeks of protestor occupation of Tiananmen Square in Beijing turned into months, and the government began to grow more hostile toward protests and the growing unrest. Then, on the evening of June 3rd, an offensive by the military pushed army troops into Tiananmen Square, and a massacre occurred, as gunfire was opened on civilian crowds. On June 4th, protests and gunfire conflicts filled Beijing, and the military presence increased as government leaders hailed a victory against rebellious rabblerousers. Famous moments during the events include the civilians supportive of the protestors who brought injured to hospitals, and the iconic June 5th “Tank Man”, an anonymous civilian who individually blocked the passage of an oncoming column of tanks that easily could have run him down, was taken aside by others, and was never heard from again. The events that occurred at Tiananmen Square in the rest of Beijing were mirrored in other developments elsewhere, as military crackdowns were permitted nationwide. The overwhelming impact of the Tiananmen Square Incident is that it became clear that the Chinese government was not yet willing to permit democratic reforms, and that economic advancement does not necessarily translate into the development of democratic institutions and government. This lesson was again repeated in the recent Hong Kong protests, in which democracy protests were met with violent backlash from the Chinese government. The Chinese government tends to downplay the intensity and seriousness of the Tiananmen Square Incident, suggesting that few or no deaths occurred, but outside sources suggest that the death toll was in the thousands in Beijing alone.