Sunday, April 19, 2009

This Day in 1989: April 19, Preparatory Committee Formed at Peking University; More Confrontation at Xinhuamen

In retrospect, April 19, 1989, was the first significant date during the 1989 student movement.

It was a Wednesday, a regular meeting date of the Democracy Salon at Peking University. As the situation escalated, Wang Dan decided to hold the session right at The Triangle at the center of the campus. In that evening, about three thousand students gathered in the darkness to listen to a few speakers taking their turns on a stool. With a voice vote, the crowd "disbanded" the official student union and decided to establish a Preparatory Committee for their own student solidarity. Xiong Yan, Wang Dan, Feng Congde, and later Shen Tong, joined the committee. It marked the first time in any student movement that a formal and non-anonymous organization structure was put in place.

The Preparatory Committee at Peking University would, with its temporary name intact, last through the entire length of the movement and play an extremely significant role.

Meanwhile, students from other campuses returned to Xinhuamen for another round of push-and-shove match with the guards there. Wuer Kaixi made his first public appearance of the movement. He stood up in front of students and police to give his real name and address, and then took the leadership role at the scene. In a side corner, Zheng Yi, Zhang Boli, and a few of their friends displayed a makeshift banner calling for a hunger strike, but were ignored.

The protest at Xinhuamen did not last long this time before it deteriorated into a violent mess. Hundreds of police charged the crowd and used belts and boots to disperse and force students into waiting buses along the Chang'an Avenue. Many students suffered minor injuries either at the hands of the police or by smashing the bus windows. In the chaos, a young girl screamed "Down with the Communist Party!" She was promptly shut up and whiskered away by fellow students before more damage could be done.

There was little evidence of significant police brutality in this early morning scuffle. Students forced into buses were driven to campus areas and released without questioning. Nonetheless, it was termed as the "April 20 Tragedy" and "Blood at Xinhuamen" in many campus posters. Students were all angry and started to plan for more protests.

Also on this day, the government announced that the state funeral for Hu Yaobang was scheduled for April 22.

Days of 1989

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