Friday, April 18, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Memorial Turns Into Protest

The April 18, 1989, edition of the New York Times has a lengthy report in its Science section on the delay of building the Three Gorges Dam. In a sign of growing democracy, the government decided to delay the project so that more debates on its environmental impact could be conducted. Curiously enough, public opposition of the Dam, led by famous journalist Dai Qing (戴晴), has been long tolerated. Eventually, of course, the Dam has been built.

But certainly the attention should be shifted to Tiananmen Square from now on. Beida's students had reached the Square, following those from the University of Political Sciences and Law. And they had come up with their demands:
Several thousand students marched through the capital in predawn hours today, chanting democratic slogans and singing revolutionary songs as they mourned the ousted Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang and called for a more democratic government.
The demonstration was the most significant sign of unrest in China since student demonstrations for democracy were crushed more than two years ago.
One student leader announced to a cheering crowd that the students had three demands: an official reappraisal of Mr. Hu, an apology from the Government for various unspecified mistakes, and a ''collective resignation,'' apparently of all the country's leaders.
Later, other student leaders added further demands, such as democratic elections, the release of China's political prisoners, and freedom of the press.
The students were ostensibly mourning the death Saturday of Mr. Hu, whom they regarded as a protector of intellectuals. But the mourning seemed overshadowed by displays of protest.
''We want democracy,'' explained a radio electronics student from Beijing University as he walked his bicycle with the other marchers. ''Hu Yaobang's death is not the reason for this demonstration. It is the excuse.''

The NYT report did not identify any leaders at this stage, nor the details of the student demands. Wang Dan, who would eventually become one of the faces of this movement, played a significant role in this early march. He also helped, with feedbacks from the crowd, to formulate the demands into a 7-point petition. This petition became the rally cry in the early phase of the movement.

The report did include some vivid details of how the protest was formed in Beida (Beijing University):
The demonstration was organized shortly after midnight today at Beijing University, the most important educational institution in the nation and the one that the children of many high officials attend. A snowballing crowd of students marched from building to building, calling for reinforcements.
At one point the crowd broke down the door of a women's dormitory that had been locked to keep the residents inside after the curfew.
The demonstration was a clear challenge to the Government, but even the students say they have no idea if there will be further protests.
... ...

In the predawn demonstration, the Beijing University students decided to march for 10 miles to Tiananmen Square, bypassing People's University, where they summoned their friends to join the march. At that point there were probably more than 4,000 people gathered, but nearly half dropped out along the route.
The authorities did not interfere, except to divert traffic away from key intersections. While such demonstrations normally are illegal, the police appeared eager to avoid a confrontation. They declined to say whether the march was legal or illegal, although one said that an expression of mourning was permitted.
Once the police appeared particularly nervous: when the marchers paused at the entrance to Zhongnanhai, the walled compound where many of Chinese leaders work and live. Several police cars rushed up, and the marchers sang the ''Internationale,'' the anthem of revolutionary workers, as they walked on.
At Tiananmen Square, the students erected a huge white banner that honored Mr. Hu and proclaimed him the ''soul of China.''
After that, Wang Dan and his friends decided to hand in their 7-point petition to the officials in the Great Hall of People, on the west side of the Square. He was not very successful at that. But his efforts led to a dramatic sit-in on the stairs of the Great Hall. Meanwhile, Xinhuamen, the entrance of Zhongnanhai, would become a battleground.

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