A Description of the Government Crackdown in Tiananmen Square

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Editors: Jeff Hay and Frank Chalk
Date: 2013
The People's Republic of China
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: Genocide and Persecution
Document Type: Viewpoint essay; Excerpt
Pages: 12
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 62

Viewpoint 6: A Description of the Government Crackdown in Tiananmen Square

Amnesty International

In the mid-1980s, as Communist China began to open up its economy, university students and a few dissidents began to work for political reforms to accompany the economic progress. By 1989 the pro-democracy movement in China was widespread and vocal. After a pro-reform official, Hu Yaobang, died on April 15, 1989, tens of thousands of protesters began to gather in Beijing's Tiananmen Square demanding political change. The government, fearful of disorder, declared martial law in late May. Then, when protesters refused to leave the square, leaders made the fateful decision to use the People's Liberation Army to stop the protests. Various accounts suggest that many people were killed or wounded. The following viewpoint by international human rights organization Amnesty International pieces together the events in the square the night of June 4, 1989.

Tiananmen is a very large square edged by long buildings on two sides: the Great Hall of the People on the west; the Museum of the Chinese Revolution and the Museum of Chinese History on the east. In the north, Chang'an Avenue separates the

“Our Hearts Were Breaking,” Death in Beijing (Contemporary Report 1989). London: Amnesty International British Section, 1989, pp. 25–33. Copyright © Amnesty International UK Section. All rights reserved. Adapted and reproduced by permission.

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Square from Tiananmen Gate—the entrance to the Forbidden City. Opposite Tiananmen Gate, on the northern end of the Square, was a statue to the “Goddess of Democracy” erected by students on 30 May [1989]. The Statue was pulled down by troops at around 0500 hours on 4 June. In the southern part of the Square is Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall (referred to hereafter as the Mausoleum) and north of it is the Monument to the People's Heroes—a large column erected on a stepped platform around which Beijing students had established their headquarters. In the south, Qianmen Avenue marks the end of the Square and a large gate—Qianmen Gate—faces it at the crossroad between Qianmen Avenue (east—west) and Qianmen Street (north—south).

The eye-witness statements received by Amnesty International indicate that most civilians killed or wounded in that area were shot on the edges of the Square, particularly in its northern part, as well as in the neighbouring streets.

Official Statements Are Incomplete and Inconsistent *

Several public statements made by Chinese officials since 4 June have denied that anyone died during the “clearing” of the Square. These statements, however, refer only specifically to the period of time between 0430 hours and 0530 hours of 4 June, and to the evacuation of the centre south of the Square by students—in other words, they do not refer to what happened before 0430 hours (described below) or to what happened on the edges of the Square. One of the earliest official statements, made by the Propaganda Department of Beijing Municipal CCP [Chinese Communist Party] Committee on 5 June, while denying that many killings had occurred in the Square, said: “As there were many onlookers and students at the Square, some were run down

* Subheadings were not in the original text but were added by the editors of this volume of Genocide and Persecution.

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by vehicles, some were trampled by the crowd, and others were hit by stray bullets”. This specific reference to people killed or injured “at the Square” has not been repeated in subsequent official statements. The 5 June statement by the Beijing CCP Committee also narrowed down the time during which “no one was killed” to “less than 30 minutes” between 0500 hours and 0530 hours. It said:

At around 0500 hours, holding their banners, they [the students] began to move out of the Square in an orderly way. At that time there was still a small number of students who persistently refused to leave. In accordance with the demands of the ‘circular’ [by the Martial Law command], soldiers of the armed police force forced them to leave the Square. The Square evacuation was completely carried out by 0530 hours. During the entire course of evacuation, which took less than 30 minutes, not a single one of the sit-in students in the Square, including those who were forced to leave the Square at the end, died.

Various sources estimate that the number of people in the Square between midnight and 0300 hours was anything between 30,000 and 50,000. The numbers gradually decreased later. There were also large crowds along East Chang'an Avenue, close to the Square.

Violence and Chaos Begin Overnight *

Some 15 or 20 minutes after midnight on 4 June, two armoured personnel carriers (APCs) came from the south into Tiananmen Square and drove along its sides at high speed. One turned left into West Chang'an Avenue and went all the way up to Xidan. The other one turned right into East Chang'an Avenue. The APC in East Chang'an Avenue was seen by many people driving at a speed estimated by eye-witnesses of 100 kilometres per hour.

* Subheadings were not in the original text but were added by the editors of this volume of Genocide and Persecution.

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It smashed through barricades along the way, killing and injuring many people. After it passed the Jianguomen intersection, it turned around at the next crossroad and came back again at high speed towards the west. At the Jianguomen intersection, thousands of civilians had blocked a large convoy of trucks full of soldiers for several hours before the APC arrived. The civilians had also dragged a truck filled with soldiers into the middle of the barricades in the road. The APC, on its return journey, came smashing through the crowd and into the truck, overturning it and other vehicles. Several people were killed—including at least one soldier—and several others injured. On its way, somewhere along Jianguomen Avenue, the APC had also reportedly crushed a man on a bicycle. Either the same APC or another one (according to some sources, there were two) was seen again, shortly afterwards, colliding with a truck, driving at full speed from the west towards Tiananmen Square. It went through East Chang'an Avenue. People in the dense crowds present in that area then blocked the APC when it reached Tiananmen Square at around 0100 hours. It was set alight and when soldiers emerged from the burning vehicle the first one was surrounded by people, badly beaten and apparently killed. The others, however, were rescued by students and taken onto a bus. Nevertheless, this incident was later shown on Chinese Central Television as an example of the “counter-revolutionary rebellion” and of “hoodlums on the rampage”.

At around 0100 hours in the north of the Square, shooting was heard coming from the west and several big fires could be seen in West Chang'an Avenue. At about 0130 hours, the first trucks full of troops coming from West Chang'an reached the northwest of the Square. At around that time an eye-witness saw five or six people injured at a medical point at the northwest corner of the Square. He assumed that they had been brought into the Square from West Chang'an Avenue by people retreating in front of the troops. As the troops approached and stopped at the corner of West Chang'an, there was a great deal of firing, but Page 66  |  Top of Articlemost eye-witnesses thought at that stage the troops were either firing into the air or firing blanks or rubber bullets, as they saw few casualties. One journalist described the first two casualties he saw as follows: “a girl with her face smashed and bloody, carried spread-eagled towards the trees. Another followed—a youth with a bloody mess around his chest”.

According to two eye-witnesses, after the troops arrived they divided into two groups—one which moved slightly towards the Square and started firing in that direction, and another one which started moving towards Tiananmen Gate but was apparently distracted by a fire in the northwest corner. Several fires were burning in the north of the Square. One of these was the tent of the Independent Federation of Workers (formed during the protests), and bushes were also burning at the northwest corner. The APC which had been stopped earlier by the crowd was also burning further to the east. At that time, a group of about 15 armed police came from the entrance to the Forbidden City (Tiananmen Gate) charging people with batons. Some youths attempted to throw petrol bombs at them. The police charged again, some firing was heard and people ran in panic towards East Chang'an.

Battles in the Square *

Sometime after 0200 hours, a group of soldiers formed in lines across Chang'an Avenue at the level of Tiananmen Gate, facing east. One eye-witness described them as being formed in three lines—one kneeling or crouching, the second one slightly above and the third one standing at the back. They started firing towards the crowds in the northeast of the Square for a few minutes, then stopped. There were at least two more bursts of firing as the soldiers advanced in stages towards East Chang'an Avenue during the next hour or so. Some eye-witnesses said that

* Subheadings were not in the original text but were added by the editors of this volume of Genocide and Persecution.

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firing was also coming from other directions in between volleys of firing from these troops. Some bullets were flying overhead, some ricocheting, some hitting people. The crowds at the corner of East Chang'an were running away during the shooting, then coming back towards the Square in between bursts of firing. Some were singing the Internationale [a widely sung anthem], others shouting slogans. One or two people at the front of the crowd were throwing objects at the troops. Between 0230 hours and 0300 hours, a bus came from East Chang'an Avenue, passed the crowd and drove towards the troops in the northeast corner of the Square. There was some shooting. The bus slowed and stopped. Soldiers surrounded it, smashed the windows and—it is presumed—killed the driver.

The troops reached the northeast corner of the Square at about 0300 hours, sealing the entrance to the Square. They were now in complete control of the north end of the Square. Several sources estimate that by that time around 20 to 30 people had been wounded and “a few” killed by gunfire in that part of the Square. The wounded were carried away by pedicabs.

At 0330 hours, the crowds of civilians in East Chang'an Avenue were gathered near Nanchizi Street. There was a long period of quiet (at least 20 minutes). People in the crowd were relaxing, thinking there would be no more shooting as the troops were now blocking access to the Square. Suddenly, without warning or provocation, the troops started firing again. Several eye-witnesses said there was a lot of firing, louder than previously. They described it as machine-gun fire which lasted for a very long time. One source said that when the firing started the crowds ran away one full block to Nanheyuan, while troops continued to fire at their backs. Some bullets were going over heads. Some people crouched on the ground, others ran into side streets. Several eye-witnesses said they saw many casualties. One source counted between 36 and 38 wounded people being carried away. Some had stomach wounds, others back wounds or leg injuries. Another source, who was at the corner of Wangfujing Street (further east

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Several bodies of civilians lie dead near Tiananmen Square after the government crackdown on protesters on June 4, 1989.

Several bodies of civilians lie dead near Tiananmen Square after the government crackdown on protesters on June 4, 1989. © AP Images.

in the Avenue), saw many injured people carried away in pedicabs or rickshaws: one man had the top of his head blown away; some had bad chest or stomach wounds.

Student Demonstrators Wait and Prepare *

Meanwhile, in the Square, it was very quiet around the Monument to the People's Heroes. The students' loudspeakers had called on people several times to gather around the Monument. Many were sitting on the steps or around it—some sleeping. Various sources estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 students were gathered there at around 0330 hours. The atmosphere was calm. A few young workers of the “Dare-to-die” brigades (about two dozen according to one source), had dashed back and forth between the Monument and the north end of the Square earlier. They had stakes and pikes and were determined to sacrifice their

* Subheadings were not in the original text but were added by the editors of this volume of Genocide and Persecution.

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lives. When troops started coming into the north end of the Square from West Chang'an Avenue, one of them said “I have just smoked my last cigarette”. He then dashed off towards the north with others and was never seen again.

By 0330 hours the army was in complete control of the Square. Troops at the north had sealed the entrances to the Square. They had been followed by tanks and APCs which lined up in the north of the Square and stayed there until about 0500 hours. To the east of the Square, a large number of soldiers were sitting in front of the History Museum. To the west, troops were occupying the Great Hall of the People. In the south, troops had arrived at around midnight from West Qianmen Avenue and had taken position in the southwest corner. Other troops later came from the south, firing into the air. According to two eye-witnesses, there was some firing in the south of the Square at around midnight. One said he saw three people, including an old man and an old woman, killed by gunfire when soldiers came from Qianmen Street.

By 0330 hours, in addition to the students around the Monument, there were still many civilians in various places in the Square, particularly along the edges and in the southern part.

A Negotiated Withdrawal *

At 0400 hours, the lights in the Square were suddenly switched off. They came on again about 45 minutes later. (This timing—given by private sources—does not correspond to that given in an official account of events around the Monument, which was published in the People's Daily on 24 July 1989. According to the People's Daily, the lights were switched off just after 0425 hours and were switched on again at 0530 hours. This official account says that, as the lights were switched off, onlookers in the Square started to disperse, and students closed ranks around

* Subheadings were not in the original text but were added by the editors of this volume of Genocide and Persecution.

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the Monument.) While the lights were off, a quick succession of events occurred in various parts of the Square. A bus came from the southeast corner of the Square and parked near the Monument. It was still calm around there. Then, hundreds of armed soldiers started coming out of the Great Hall of the People. Others moved up from the southwest corner. An APC came rushing from the southeast corner, smashing the barricades along the road that marks the southeast end of the Square. At the Monument, one of four Chinese intellectuals who had been on hunger-strike in the Square since 2 June suddenly announced that they had reached an agreement with the soldiers for students to evacuate the Square through the southeast corner. On their own initiative, the hunger-strikers had negotiated a retreat for the students with the army during the previous hour. Many students and workers did not want to leave; there were speeches and discussions, then a vote. The shouts of those wishing to stay were apparently louder, but a student leader announced that the evacuation had been decided. Groups of students started to leave before the lights came back on and, according to some sources, most had walked away from the Monument by 0500 hours.

Meanwhile, however, a detachment of 200 soldiers among those which had come out of the Great Hall of the People had launched an attack on the Monument, smashing the students' equipment and reportedly beating people in the way with batons. (This assault is described in detail in the People's Daily article of 24 July, which also confirms most of the following description.) For a while there was chaos for a while around the Monument and some soldiers started firing. According to some sources (including the People's Daily account), the soldiers were firing over people's heads, at the Monument, destroying the students' loudspeakers, and no one was killed. According to other sources, some people at the Monument were hit by bullets. Among others who claim that people were killed at that stage, one Chinese student was cited in press reports on 5 June as saying: “I was sitting down. A bullet parted my hair. Students fell down around me, about 20 Page 71  |  Top of Articleto 30. A group of workers protecting us was all killed”. Some foreigners, however, say they saw no deaths around the Monument.

At around 0500 hours the tanks and APCs at the north of the Square started driving slowly towards the south, followed by infantry several rows deep. As the troops advanced, the statue of the Goddess of Democracy in the north of the Square was pulled down. Some tents near the statue and further south were crushed by tanks. A large group of students was by then leaving towards the southeast. The tanks slowly came closer to them. The students were slowly walking away with their banners, forming lines linking hands, stopping, and then advancing again. Several foreign journalists have told Amnesty International that they saw the bulk of the student group leave the Square unhurt. However, soldiers were firing towards people along the sides by the time the first tanks and APCs reached the southern end of the Square. By 0600 hours the Square was completely sealed off by troops and army vehicles.

Uncertainty and Mixed Reports *

It is not clear whether some students or other people stayed behind. Government reports say that some people who did not want to leave were “forced” to leave. According to one source, some 200 students stayed in the Square and about 50 of them, badly beaten up, were later reportedly taken by police to a hospital where they were treated for an hour before being taken away by police. Other sources claim that students and other people who stayed behind were shot. It is not clear whether or not this refers to shooting in the southern end of the Square. When some APCs reached the southeast corner and parked along the side road there at around 0530 hours, some eye-witnesses heard a lot of sustained gunfire coming from within the Square. By that time the troops who had come down behind the tanks and APCs were firing in the direction of onlookers gathered on the edges

* Subheadings were not in the original text but were added by the editors of this volume of Genocide and Persecution.

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of the Square—apparently above their heads in some cases, but people among the groups of onlookers were hit by bullets. One eye-witness in a lane on the southeast side of the Square saw two or three bicycles carrying wounded people, and was told later that people in buildings in the lane had been killed by bullets. A member of the Hong Kong Student Federation saw a student from Beijing Normal University beside him “filled with blood all over his head which nearly exploded”; he died immediately. (Hong Kong Standard, 5 June 1989.) A Polish state television reporter said that a student standing one metre from him was shot dead after shouting insults at advancing soldiers; he added that he saw soldiers shooting fleeing students in the back, unprovoked and at random. Another source told Amnesty International that a friend of his was shot in the back of the head at about 0600 hours in the southeast corner of the Square and that the bullet came out by his mouth. The extent of the casualties in the south of the Square, however, is not known.

It is also unclear whether people in tents were crushed by tanks. Between 0300 and 0330 hours, several foreigners checked tents near the statue of the “Goddess of Democracy” in the north of the Square, and some of the tents on the east of the Monument. They found three to five students sleeping in the tents in the north, and “a few” people in those to the east of the Monument. At around 0500 hours two foreigners checked some tents around the Monument and found them empty. The official People's Daily account of 24 July says that soldiers who had launched the assault on the Monument checked “every tent with flashlights” and forcibly drove away some “stubborn people” who still refused to leave.

Attacks Outside the Square *

Two other incidents during which students were killed or wounded after they left the Square have been reported. These incidents

* Subheadings were not in the original text but were added by the editors of this volume of Genocide and Persecution.

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happened around Liubukou [Street]. Most of the students who left the Square went west into Qianmen Avenue, then headed north into a smaller street, reaching West Chang'an Avenue at Liubukou. When they left Qianmen Gate (south of the Square), the students (numbering several thousands) formed a long column, marching very slowly. It took over an hour for the head of the column to reach Liubukou. There, they turned left into Chang'an Avenue and walked towards the west at around 0600 hours. At that point, several APCs driving at high speed towards the west came from Tiananmen Square and crushed several students, killing 11 people. (A photograph of some of the crushed bodies has been published in various newspapers and magazines.) Ac cording to some sources, the APCs were not firing before they crushed the students and one of the APCs stopped while another one went around the scene. Soldiers in a third and fourth APC then reportedly opened fire and threw tear-gas towards the crowd gathered there. The APCs later continued towards the west at high speed. The students were able to collect the bodies of the dead.

One eye-witness, who described the APCs as tanks, has given the following account of the scene:

About six in the morning, it was already light. I was on my bike, and walking with me were some students who had retreated from Tiananmen and were returning to their schools.

As we arrived at Chang'an Street, I saw four tanks coming from the square going west at very high speed. The two tanks in front were chasing students. They ran over the students. Everyone was screaming. We were too. I counted 11 bodies.

The soldiers in the third tank threw tear-gas toward us. Some citizens decided to recover the students' bodies. The fourth tank fired at us with machine-guns. They hit four or five people. After the tanks had passed, some people collected the bodies. I saw two bodies very close: one boy student and one girl. I got a good look. They were flat. Their bodies were all bloody. Their mouths were pressed into long shapes. Their eyes were flat and big. We cried because our hearts were breaking.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2061800017

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