Monday, May 19, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Millions Are In The Square

On May 18, 1989, New York Times' Sheryl WuDunn took a little break from the ongoing hunger strike to look into the problem of "billions of bad teeth" in China. But she came back in time to show that a million Chinese marched in sympathy and support of the student hunger strikers.

Indeed, May 17 was one of the climax date during the 1989 movement. The hunger strike was entering its fifth day and it had finally caught the attention and imagination of the normal folks in Beijing. If the students had indeed hoped their action would ignite a popular uprising, they came closet on this day, as Nicholas Kristof reported separately:
More than a million Chinese took to the streets of Beijing Wednesday in an extraordinary outpouring of support for more democracy.
The protests, amounting almost to a general strike, continued this morning and greatly increased the pressure on the Government to sacrifice one or more top officials and speed political liberalization.
In an attempt to defuse the situation, several of the nation's top leaders visited hospitalized students on a hunger strike early this morning to show their concern. But the crowds this morning seemed at least as militant as those on Wednesday, and many people said they would be satisfied only with the removal of the country's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, or Prime Miniser Li Peng.
On this same day, after Zhao Ziyang's disclosure, the leading intellectual and Zhao Ziyang's adviser Yan Jiaqi published a strong statement that denounced Deng Xiaoping by name. The movement was now rallying behind Zhao Ziyang and targeting Deng Xiaoping, or Li Peng, who was considered a surrogate of the conservatives.

The report also mentioned hunger strike Wang Wen (王文), who was one of the people who made the initial decision to go on hunger strike. In many occasions he had tried to wrestle its leadership role from Chai Ling, including a kidnap attempt later on.
It was the 3,000 hunger strikers -like Wang Wen, a young man who turned 21 years old Wednesday and pledged to maintain the strike until death if necessary - who galvanized the support and often tears of people all over the city. On Wednesday, the fifth day of their strike, the students were visibly weakened as they lay on the ground sheltered from the hot sun by sheets and tents. But they saw their cause provoke a political crisis in China. Party Leaders Visit Strikers
The Government televised this morning's hospital visit, in which Prime Minister Li and the Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang, met with hunger strikers, and some of the television scenes included students making strong criticisms of Communist Party rule.
''Everybody thinks the nation has no hope, the Communist Party has no hope,'' a disheveled young man shown on national television told his visitors. ''We should do things the way they do them in the United States, and thus restore people's confidence.''
The hospital visit seemed to have no impact in placating the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who gathering again this morning in the center of the city to join the protests. More and more were high-school students and people from other cities who have poured into Beijing on trains and buses.
Meanwhile, the protest spread:
More and more prominent individuals and organizations also called on the Government to bend to the students' demands, in a sign of weakening support for the official party line. Among those appealing to the Government to heed the students were the presidents of eight universities and the central committees of the Chinese Communist Youth League, the All-China Youth Federation and the All-China Students Federation.
On Wednesday, the protest campaign seemed to complete its transformation from a student movement into a broad-based democracy movement that will be very difficult to squelch. The New China News Agency reported that the number of protesters in Beijing exceeded 1 million, corroborating Western estimates and making it by far the biggest demonstration in China since the organized rallies of Red Guards more than two decades ago, early in the Cultural Revolution.
Students and workers reported that small strikes were beginning at a number of offices and factories to show support for the students. The strikes compounded the urgency of the crisis and narrowed the options for top leaders.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gorbachev backed away from his "hothead" comment and addressed the student movement as a "painful but necessary" process during reform.

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