Sunday, April 20, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Protest at Xinhuamen, Again

While the first protest at Xinhuamen was easily dispersed by police in the pre-dawn hours, news and rumors spread all over Beijing the next day. In defiance, a second wave of protest reached Xinhuamen on the very next night, as documented in April 20, 1989's edition of New York Times:
Defying a ban on political protests, tens of thousands of people poured into Beijing's central square Wednesday night, and then at least 10,000 of them marched for the second time on Communist Party headquarters, where police officers beat some of them.
''They hit me on the head and face with a belt, and I have a one-inch cut that required three stitches,'' said a 23-year-old student at the University of Political Science and Law, who gave his name only as Mr. Wang. He said three other students with him were also hit on the head, and other students said the number of those beaten appeared to be in the dozens. Nobody was reported to be seriously injured.
Earlier, the demonstrators pushed back and forth for more than an hour in a test of strength against a unit of security men guarding the walled Zhongnanhai compound, where Prime Minister Li and many other Chinese leaders live and work. ''Li Peng, come out,'' they shouted.

Violence broke out that night as police once again tried to disperse the crowd. The exact extent of the police brutality is difficult to assess, as it varies from one witness account to another. Other than the quote above, the NYT's description was inconclusive:
At about midnight, less than 24 hours after the first march on Zhongnanhai, more than 2,000 police officers filed out of several nearby buildings to disperse the student demonstrators. The crowd was separated into smaller groups by lines of police, and foreign journalists were ordered to leave. It was difficult to determine whether the remaining students were beaten or taken into custody.
When the police began to push the crowds back, they were met with resistance from the crowd of expectant onlookers, who shouted, ''No beating,'' and ''Running dogs, go away.''
One significant event that NYT had missed that night was the emergence of Wuer Kaixi (吾尔开希), a student at the Beijing Normal University. Many witnesses remember seeing him standing on a flatbed tricycle, bravely and passionately giving speeches and defying the police. He was carried away by his classmates when the violent clearing started.
Wu'er Kaixi would be heard and seen, more than anyone else, throughout the movement.
But on that night, at Xinhuamen, he also caught the eyes of Liu Gang, who was in the crowd observing quietly. Impressed, Liu Gang would seek out Wuer Kaixi later to form a new leadership for the movement.

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