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Tiananmen – Chinese Democracy Movement – 20 Years Ago

June 3rd, 2009 · 4 Comments · Miscellania

Lady of Liberty - Fudan University

The day marked both the end and beginning. On June 4, 1989, the world watched as the Chinese Student Democracy Movement was crushed by the military forces of the People’s Republic of China. This ended almost two months of protests throughout China which began on April 15th when Hu Yaobang died. That day also marked the beginning of a series of event around the world which culminated in the end of the Cold War.

I ended up in Shanghai, my familial home, after college for a year of study and travel. As an American-born Chinese, with some skills in hardcore mountain-biking and Shanghai-dialect, this proved to be quite the experience. Much like being dropped from a spaceship onto a distant, but familiar planet. I had planned to end my trip by spending the summer biking from Kashgar back East, but the events of that Spring derailed that idea. (I later went to Taiwan and rode around the island and climbed Snow Mountain)

For most, the Chinese Democracy Movement is known solely for what happened in Beijing at Tiananmen Square. That is not the case. There were student protests in every major city across China – Shanghai especially. It’s just that the Western media only had reporters in Beijing, nobody was covering the rest of China. The student protests and why is a complicated story. Be happy to discuss in comments. After a few weeks of student marches, regular folk (that’s a Chinese term, like Average Joe) began to join in the marches too. Entire factories were shutdown when their workers began their own sympathetic strikes.  Then the state media began notifying the public that unless things returned to normal soon, there would be consequences.

Student protests are not a big deal and easily quashed, but the idling of State Production would not be tolerated. To me, this was the moment I felt things were not going well. The only reliable source of news we could count on was Voice of America and whatever US Consulate staff would tell us – very little and mostly rumor. On June 4th, some countries began evacuating their nationals – US citizens were too numerous for this to happen. We were told to stay put or find our own way out of China. Right.

Everything was shutdown. No public transportation. Students had mobilized and for several nights disabled buses at every major intersection in and around the city to impede the movement of military forces. In addition to the very numerous Public Security Bureau personnel, there were reports of troops on the outskirts of town and near the train station.  A person was killed at the station. The only way to move was bike or foot. On June 6th, several friends and I got tickets and boarded a passenger boat to Hong Kong. I don’t recall how we found a van to take us to the dock, but I do remember it was rushed and I had to leave some of my bike gear. It took us 3 days to reach the safety of British-run Capitalistic Crazy.

The following pictures were taken in Shanghai the Spring of 1989. They are mainly of two major events – a very large student march on the Communist Party Headquarters and a protest march Downtown on Nanjing Rd and The Bund. We foreign students, especially me, were somewhat ambivalent about the cause, but felt it was important to be present as witnesses.


4 Comments so far ↓

  • Small Pines

    Wow. The photos are amazing. They remind me of an old Life magazine essay. It’s incredible that you have them. This must have been a seriously awe-inspiring thing. The haze of our twenties is a very odd thing, especially once one gets twenty years past it; once one is able to see our personal experiences through the prism of 20 years of perspective.

  • TourPro

    It’s weird to think than nobody in China will hear about all the world’s remembrance of the event due to the media blackout. The Great Firewall is blocking everything.

  • Tai Slim

    Hi , The photographs of largest ever student’s movement are really rare collection. You are a lucky person who witnessed the historical changes of China.

    Around May student movement also started to go beyond university, attracting many sympathizers across China’s society. Hundreds of reporters and others in news media took to the street and had their own demonstration in Shanghai.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • ChasL

    Wow, you mean when nobody is killing the cops and unarmed troops, the Chinese government didn’t shoot anyone?

    Are you sure this is the China on our planet? According to our media, the Chinese government went ape @#$% back then.

    No? Our media was feeding us propganda? No way.

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