Saturday, April 26, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: The Infamous People's Daily Editorial

After the Hu Yaobang funeral, neither the government nor the students knew what would happen next. While the students in Beijing continued to boycott classes and their leaders busied themselves into organizing solidarity-style leadership, they still hoped that their actions could be recognized by the government as patriotic and well-intended.

That hope received a huge, if not fatal, blow in the evening of April 25, when a People's Daily editorial, to be published the next morning, was broadcast. The language of the editorial was so incinerate that the New York Times immediately reported it under the title "Beijing Hints at Crackdown on Students", in the April 26, 1989 edition:
In its strongest public comment so far on the pro-democracy student demonstrations of the last 10 days, the Communist Party called tonight for ''a grave political struggle'' against student unrest.
The harshness of the message, which charged that the unrest was a conspiracy to wrest power from the party, immediately prompted fears among students that a crackdown was imminent. Similar wording was used in warnings that accompanied crackdowns against unrest in 1987 and in 1976.

Understandably, the immediate reaction from the students was an emotional one:
Several thousand students gathered tonight at Beijing University to discuss strategy after the announcement. The mood was angry.
''We must persist to the end and the victory will be ours,'' one woman said over the public address system.
A science student said: ''The mood is very, very defiant. I think people are all going to stick together and fight for it.''
Beijing University student leaders said tonight that they were still planning to continue their student strike, and planned to hold ''large-scale activities'' on May 1 and May 4, to commemorate the anniversary of famous student demonstrations that took place on May 4, 1919.
Students at Qinghua University nearby seemed somewhat more shaken by the announcement. Several thousand Qinghua students gathered tonight on the campus to discuss the situation, and decided that while they would continue their class boycott, they would not give the Government any pretext to intervene.
As the mouse-piece of the Party, People's Daily editorial carries the most authority in China. Open defiance was still unheard of in China by that time. But coming off the spectacular show of force during the Hu Yaohang funeral, this generation of students had no fear. As it turned out, the students did not even wait till May to show their determination.

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