Thursday, April 24, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Students Start To Organize

After the exhausting funeral and the big emotional letdown, no students in Beijing were in the mood to return to their regular classes. Therefore, a call to boycott classes was natural and well received. On April 24, 1989, New York Times reported that students were planing for their next actions:
University students in the capital were busy today planning their next round of protests in the campaign for more democracy, and some were bracing for a stern Government reaction to rioting in two Chinese cities.
The planned protests include a class boycott that students said would continue until their demands were met.
Xiong Wei, a 22-year-old student leader at Qinghua University, said that all the universities in Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin would boycott classes and jointly send out telegrams to universities in other parts of the country calling for their participation.
At Qinghua University, posters urged students to boycott classes, and students seemed full of fervor as several thousand gathered to pick representatives to plan the next protests.
Although the last sentence above strongly hinted an organizational effort, the NYT once again missed out on the story. In the evening of April 23, Liu Gang had gathered dozens of student leaders he had come to know, including Wuer Kaixi, at his place in Yuanmingyuan, and established the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation (BSAF). Those who attended the meeting were then sent back to their respective schools and organized elections for official representatives to the Federation. That was what Qinghua was doing.

At Beida, however, things are a little bit different. Beida already had its own Preparatory Committee and their leaders felt that it was not time yet for a inter-campus structure like BSAF. They chose to go their own way. At noon of April 24, Wang Dang and other leaders organized a mass meeting of thousands students in an athletic field. The agenda was to democratically disband the official student union and elect their own "solidarity" union. But the meeting quickly disintegrated into chaos as student leaders accused each other for being spies.

Nevertheless, the NYT report captured a list of demands by the students, based on the original 7-points drafted at Tiananmen Square a week or so ago:

As revised and agreed upon by a joint committee of delegates from Beijing area universities, the demands include: a reappraisal of Hu Yaobang, the former party leader whose death on April 15 touched off the protests; press freedom; more funds for education and better treatment of intellectuals; reassessment of the 1986-87 student demonstrations for democracy and the subsequent crackdown on intellectuals; acknowledgement that students were beaten last week; punishment of corrupt bureaucrats, and full publication in the newspapers of facts relating to the recent protests.
It also included details of the riots outside of Beijing:

The television news reported extensively tonight on rioting Saturday night and early this morning in two central Chinese provincial capitals, Changsha and Xian. According to the official reports, the clashes lasted more than seven hours in Changsha and more than 12 hours in Xian, although residents said both cities were quiet today.
The violence was a rare sign of social unrest in China and represented a major new challenge to China's leaders, already struggling to cope with illegal pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital that at their peak attracted more than 100,000 people.
The news reports said that in Changsha, rioters smashed and robbed 24 shops, overturned one car and hijacked two others, and ran into the train station where they broke shop counters and looted. The official New China News Agency said that several police officers were injured, one seriously, and about 100 looters detained.
In Xian, the police began 24-hour traffic control at key intersections this morning, after crowds attacked the provincial government headquarters, burning several buildings, 20 houses and 10 vehicles. About 130 security officers were injured in the attacks, the news agency reported. A bus carrying tourists from Taiwan was also attacked and its windows smashed. Anguish Over Hu's Death
It is not clear how much of a connection there was between the growing pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital in recent days and the rioting.
In both Changsha and Xian, the clashes came after students gathered in memory of Mr. Hu, who won the respect of many students after he was forced to resign in January 1987 after pro-democracy rallies in several cities. Today's official reports attributed the violence to hoodlums, not students.

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