The Beijing Massacre


Twenty five years ago, on June 4th 1989, Chinese government, under martial law, deployed 20,000 troops to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to forcefully remove the pro-democracy protestors. As the tanks rolled into the Square, the demonstrations turned bloody resulting in deaths of people, including soldiers, between 800 and 2,500. Immediately after the massacre, the world criticized China’s actions. US put immediate economic sanctions and large-scale protests took place in Hong Kong, Shanghai and other cities. But, still the people who took part in Tiananmen protests were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. Even after 25 years, mentioning ‘Tiananmen’ in art, media or literature is banned. A Chinese citizen is forbidden to know any information about these protests. A Google search for ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’ on the internet in China only returns the message ‘This page cannot be found.’

The drastic reforms of the 1978 by Chinese government were expected to bring in a new era of prosperity. It was also said to be the era when new universities were founded to create a generation of intellectuals for leading China towards prosperity. But, what followed was corruption and nepotism. Wealth increased but workers’ wages didn’t. University graduates and professors were angered over this increase in inequality. During this time, student democracy party was founded and was initially tolerated, since it was full of university-educated people.


In 1986, the Chinese central leadership got alarmed by the increasing protests. It immediately denounced the party’s general secretary Hu Yaobang for allowing this unrest to grow up. Hu was considered by many educated people as a reformer. Many of his office policies had the effect of making the government more transparent and removing total governmental control from the economy. It made him popular among the students, but the same thing frustrated the corrupted bureaucratic men.

After his resignation in 1987, Hu Yaobang died of heart attack in April, 1989. Hu’s death provided a catalyst for the student protests. Nearly 100,000 students is said to have marched in Hu’s funeral despite central leadership’s ban. The protests didn’t have a unified cause or leadership. The participants were generally critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and voiced complaints ranging from minor criticisms to calls for full-fledged democracy, but at the same time, they didn’t want to overthrow the government. However, the Chinese government took an aggressive stance rather than a conciliatory approach. On June 2, 1989, it officially sends the People Liberation Army (PLA) to clear people from Tiananmen Square.

Riding motorbikes, Chinese workers parade through

The soldiers were violently opposed as many residents blocked them from getting into the square. Chinese government later reported that, soldiers were incinerated when their vehicles were torched and many other soldiers were badly beaten by violent mob attacks. There are truths in these accounts too. When the army finally reached Tiananmen Square it began firing at thousands of protestors. There are no correct figures regarding the death toll since the Chinese government and Western media have made their own myths about those things.

While, China indulged in denialism, the Westerners mostly showed the massacre as a simple Students Vs Soldiers or a democracy Vs communism story. The students were not the only victims of the state’s violence. The main victims were the ordinary workers living in the Beijing suburbs. Apart from the violence in Tiananmen Square, hundreds of Chinese workers were gunned down in the streets. That is why many Chinese dissidents proclaimed the name ‘Beijing Massacre.’ The ‘Tiananmen massacre’ was just a Western created name, since students protesting remained more attractive than the rioting workers. The uprising or the massacre didn’t occur within a square; it occurred throughout Beijing. Many workers and innocent passer-by also lost their lives in a different place and under different circumstances. The Westerners has also side-lined the death of soldiers, many of whom were burned alive and their corpses hanged on the streets.


After cracking down the Tiananmen protests a familiar pattern of events could be seen, but the democratic movement never raised again. Today, United States and UN urge China to improve its human rights record. China replies ‘mind your own businesses’ to both. Authorities carry out a nationwide crackdown of journalists before the Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and each anniversary mostly passes without any public acknowledgement of the massacre.


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