Monday, April 21, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: China's Date With Destiny

After exhausting protests and scuffles with police at Xinhuamen for two nights in a row, April 21, 1989 appeared to be a relatively quiet day. On that day, New York Times only caught a glimpse of a small group of students marched into Tiananmen, whose spirit damped by the pouring rain. But the real actions were inside the campuses, unseen by NYT.

That morning, Wuer Kaixi had stood alone, in the rain, at the campus of Beijing Normal University, giving speeches to anyone passing by. He was talking about the police brutality at Xinhuamen the night before. By mid-afternoon, he only managed to gather a few hundreds students and led them to another march to Tiananmen. A thunderstorm quickly dispersed his team. But the dozens or so marched on. By the time they made to Tiananmen, there were only a handful with him.

Even earlier, just past midnight, thousands of students had gathered at the Triangle in Beida. After a series of speech, they "voted" to abolish the official student union and establish their own, in the form of a "Preparatory Committee". The committee included Wang Dan, Yang Tao, Xiong Yan, Feng Congde, Shen Tong, and so on. These names would become more and more familiar as time went on. The Preparatory Committee's first action was to organize a march to Tiananmen, protesting the "Xinhuamen Incident". Because of the rain, they only got a thousand or so for the march. Most likely, that was the group seen in the NYT report above.

There were similar actions all over other campuses as well. Big Posters were everywhere, with crying headlines such as "The April 20 Tragedy!" and "The Blood at Xinhuamen!". Contingents of students also marched on Tiananmen, but not all coordinated.

Liu Gang managed to meet up with Wuer Kaixi at the Tiananmen Square. They talked the need to create an inter-campus leadership. In a hurry, they decided on a name "Provisional Action Committee" and started to plan an action which would lead to thousands of students attending Hu Yaobang's funeral in the Square.

But in that quiet and rainy day, Nicholas Kristof of the NYT also sensed bigger things might be coming. He had quite appropriately titled his report as "China's Date With Destiny":

The students have learned to march on Zhongnanhai, the compound where Chinese leaders live, and their success in doing so is not something they are likely to forget. Even if the current demonstrations soon peter out, perhaps their legacy will be the boldness of the students to besiege the seat of power and call for the dismissal of those who rule the country. If the demonstrations continue after Saturday, that boldness will be difficult to contain.

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