Friday, April 17, 2009

This Day in 1989: April 17, Students March to Tiananmen Square

After spending the entire previous day making a huge wreath, Chen Xiaoping and Wu Renhua were pleasantly surprised that their note had garnered a few hundreds of students at their University of Political Science and Law. At 1pm, April 17, 1989, they headed out of the campus toward Tiananmen Square. It was the first demonstration of 1989, also a first since the Beijing government outlawed such activities two years earlier.

They arrived in late afternoon and placed the wreath on the base of the Monument to People's Heroes. Wu Renhua placed a small bottle of Maotai as a traditional dedication to the deceased. (It was later interpreted as a protest against Deng Xiaoping as "small bottle" is a homophone of "Xiaoping" in Chinese.)

At Peking University, Wang Dan and about 40 students delivered a wrath to Hu Yaobang's residence in the afternoon. But that evening, thousands of students were milling around The Triangle when the news of the demonstration came and shocked the crowd. They could not believe the tiny University of Political Science and Law could have gone ahead of Peking University, the traditional school in leading student movements.

In the darkness, they grabbed a giant banner, dedicated to Hu Yaobang as "China's Soul," and organized a march of their own. Wang Dan and his friends from the Democracy Salon were among the leaders.

They arrived at Tiananmen Square around midnight. The place was empty and quiet. The Monument to People's Heroes was now decorated with quite a bit of flowers and wreaths, including the giant one from University of Political Science and Law. Guo Haifeng climbed up the base of the Monument and placed the "China's Soul" banner in the middle.

Fearing that the dedications could be removed by the authorities during the night as it had happened during the April Fifth Movement in 1976, the Peking University students decided to stay the night in the Square to guard the wreaths.

Days of 1989

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