Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Martial Law

The demonstration and power struggle at the top finally came to its head, as New York Times reported on May 20, 1989:
The Government called troops into the capital this morning and imposed martial law in parts of the city to crack down on China's growing democracy movement. But tens of thousands of people rushed out of their homes to block troops from reaching student demonstrators in the central square.
''We must adopt firm and resolute measures to end the turmoil swiftly,'' Prime Minister Li Peng said in a speech broadcast shortly after midnight. ''If we fail to put an end to such chaos immediately and let it go unchecked, it will very likely lead to a situation which none of us want to see.''
Chinese with access to information at the highest level said the Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang, had been stripped of all power but retained his title of General Secretary of the party.
Mr. Zhao was apparently deprived of his authority because he was too conciliatory toward the demonstrators and because he lost a power struggle with Mr. Li. Chinese said the nation's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, removed Mr. Zhao and put Mr. Li in charge of the party as well as the Government.
As part of the martial law measure, live broadcasting by foreign TV networks were immediately halted, causing some dramatic last-minute footages being aired in the United States.

But the biggest news was that, to the shock of students, government, and everybody, martial law troops were blocked at the outskirt of the city by spontaneous but defiant students, workers, and residents:
The 1,000 troops looked out in bewilderment from their immobilized convoy of 21 trucks in western Beijing today to find that their world had been turned upside down.
Rather than dispersing student demonstrators, as they had apparently been sent to do, they found themselves protected by students from throngs of residents who wanted to climb on the vehicles and let air out of the tires. The students linked arms and refused to let people through, except a handful who were assigned the task of making speeches imploring the soldiers to join the cause.
''You are our army,'' said a Chinese businesswoman who gave her name as Linda Liu and seemed near tears as she went from truck to truck pleading with the soldiers. ''You are our brothers and sisters. You are Chinese. Our interests are the same as yours. We believe you have a conscience. You must not crush the movement.''
In the midst of chaos, NYT neglected to report that students had called off their hunger strike and turned it into a sit-in at Tiananmen Square, just an hour before the announcement of the martial law. They had received the leaked news beforehand.

The United States expressed its regret with President George H. W. Bush calling for restraints. Chinese students in the US have also started to mobilize in support of their compatriots at home.

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