Sunday, May 17, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 17, Millions March to Support Student, Targeting Deng Xiaoping

When the students launched their hunger strike at Tiananmen Square five days ago, they had dreamed that their suffering could wake up the consciousness in the general populace and make their appeal for democracy directly to the people. On this day of May 17, 1989, their efforts appeared to be paying off.

From the early morning and throughout the entire day, people marched, paraded, and come to the Square every which way they could. There were millions and millions of residents, workers, journalists, famous TV personalities, office dwellers, intellectuals, and even some monks. Indeed, the entire city of Beijing came out, and they were all in support of the students whose lives and health were under increasing danger.

The Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang released a written statement appealing for students to stop the hunger strike. He promised not to punish anyone involved. But he did not address the students' demand either.

Most other organizations within the government apparatus were releasing open statements of their own. Their tones were increasingly siding with the students with appeals to the government to resolve the crisis immediately and humanly. In the meanwhile, Yan Jiaqi and Bao Zunxin continued their assault on Deng Xiaoping personally. Posters denouncing Deng Xiaoping started to show up in Tiananmen Square.

On this fifth day of hunger strike, there were now more than 2,000 hunger strikers in their camp, many had joined in the last couple of days. Many earlier hunger strikers had fainted or collapsed many times and were taken to hospitals in ambulances. Some of them quietly ended their hunger strike while at hospital, but many returned after receiving IV fluid treatment and nutrition. Accusations of cheating within hunger strikers were also rampant.

At the newly formed Hunger Strike Headquarters, Chai Ling, Li Lu, and other leaders were trying to find an exit strategy of their own. They had proposed that any hunger striker who was taken to hospitals should not be allowed to return. As soon as the last striker fainted and taken away, they would reach the end of the hunger strike. The strategy, however, was a non-starter as more and more new people were joining in the hunger strike every day. More emotional students were refusing water and talking about self-immolation to raise the stake. The movement was tittering on the edge of losing control.

Days of 1989

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