Saturday, May 16, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 16, Hunger Strike Continues amid Sino-Soviet Summit

Back on May 16, 1966, a directive from the Party Central launched the decade-long turmoil of Cultural Revolution in China. But on this day in 1989, people paid scant notice to this anniversary. Their attention was transfixed at Tiananmen Square, where the hunger strike was entering its fourth day.

In the morning, Chai Ling and Li Lu called a meeting of hunger strike representatives and formally "elected" the Hunger Strike Headquarters, fending off at least temporarily the challenge to their leadership the night before.

In the Great Hall of People adjacent to the Square, the Sino-Soviet summit was underway. In a surprise disclosure, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang told the visiting Mikhail Gorbachev that Deng Xiaoping, although with no official title for doing so, still had the final say of any critical decisions in China. The news would not have surprised many, but some of Zhao Ziyang's close advisers took it as a hint of a breakoff between Zhao Ziyang and Deng Xiaoping.

Yan Jiaqi was quick to react. In that same afternoon, as millions of Beijing residents poured into the Square for the hunger strikers, he proudly read a statement denouncing Deng Xiaoping as "an old and fatuous dictator" and called on the masses to end the "politics by the elders." It was the first time in the movement that Deng Xiaoping was singled out as a target.

Tiananmen Square, meanwhile, was quickly turning into an emotional stir-pot itself. Many hunger striking students were fainting. Ambulance sirens were becoming a constant. Student marshals established a "life line", in which human chains stood guard to ensure a passage for ambulance vehicles amid the crowd.

Some more radical students were no longer satisfied with the hunger strike itself. Several groups laid claims that they would refuse water as well. Cheating was also discovered within the hunger strike camp. A group of students from University of Political Science and Law broke off angrily and set up another camp in front of Xinhuamen, where they vowed to have a purer version of hunger strike of their own.

Yan Mingfu was still desperate to resolve this crisis. In this afternoon, he came to the Square and offered himself a hostage to the students. If the students ended their hunger strike, he pledged to stay with them until a satisfactory dialogue became reality. Students were stunned to his offer. But in the chaos of Wuer Kaixi fainting at the scene, Yan Mingfu left the Square.

Days of 1989

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