Tiananmen Uprising (1989)
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese, were popular
demonstrations crushed by China’s army on 4 June 1989, when China’s leaders ordered the army to force the protesters
out of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. On their way to the Square, soldiers killed protesters in unknown numbers, and the
crackdown became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the June 4 Massacre. However, secret cables from
the United States embassy in Beijing, ―partly confirm the Chinese government’s account of the early hours of June 4,
1989, which has always insisted that soldiers did not massacre demonstrators inside Tiananmen Square. Instead, the
cables show that Chinese soldiers opened fire on protesters outside the center of Beijing, as they fought their way
towards the square from the west of the city.‖ In the aftermath of the seven-week protests, the Chinese government
strengthened its police and internal security forces, and put leadership unity and political consensus ahead of
modernization. Economic and political reforms were delayed or halted.
In the late 1970s, the Chinese leadership of Deng Xiaoping abandoned Maoist-style planned collectivist economics, and
embraced market-oriented reforms. Due to the rapid pace of change, by the late 1980s, grievances over inflation, limited
career prospects for students, and corruption of the party elite were growing rapidly. Communist governments were also
losing legitimacy around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. In April 1989, triggered by the death of deposed
Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer, mass gatherings and protests took place in and
around Tiananmen Square. At its height, some half a million protesters assembled there. The demonstrations, consisting
of local working residents as well as students, called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of
speech, and the restoration of workers’ control over industry.
The movement lasted for about seven weeks. The government initially attempted to appease the protesters through
concessions, but a student-led hunger strike galvanized support for the demonstrators around the country. Ultimately,
Deng Xiaoping and other party elders resolved to use force to suppress the movement. Party authorities declared martial
law on 20 May. Military convoys entered Beijing on the evening of 3–4 June. Under strict orders to clear the Square by
dawn, the People's Liberation Army pushed through makeshift blockades set up by demonstrators in western Beijing on
their way to Tiananmen Square. The PLA used live fire to clear their path of protesters. The exact number of civilian
deaths is not known, and the majority of estimates range from several hundred to thousands.
Internationally, the Chinese government was widely condemned for the use of force against the protesters. Western
governments imposed economic sanctions and arms embargoes. Following 4 June, the government conducted
widespread arrests of protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, expelled foreign
journalists and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the domestic press. Officials deemed sympathetic to the
protests were demoted or purged. The aftermath of the protests strengthened the power of orthodox Communist
hardliners, and delayed further market reforms until Deng Xiaoping's 1992 southern tour. To this day, the government
of the People’s Republic of China continues to suppress public mention or discussion about the protests.
May 4th Movement (1919)
The May Fourth Movement (五四運動) was an anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement growing out of
student demonstrations in Beijing on May 4, 1919, protesting the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of
Versailles, especially the Shandong Problem. These demonstrations sparked national protests and marked the upsurge
of Chinese nationalism, a shift towards political mobilization and away from cultural activities, and a move towards
populist base rather than intellectual elites.