Monday, May 18, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 18, Premier Li Peng Meets with Students

Tiananmen Square looked different on May 18, 1989. The hunger strike was poised to enter its sixth day, but the messy hunger strike camp was no more. Instead, about seventy city buses were parked neatly on the northern edge of the Square and all hunger strikers were moved into the buses.

The buses arrived overnight ahead of a forecast of severe thunderstorm. The Beijing city government provided the transportation buses as a temporary shelter for the hunger strikers. With millions of residents on streets continue to demonstrate in support of students daily, most public transportation had been shutdown. This would be a better use of the buses. Cui Jian, the most famous rock-n-roll star in China, showed up to perform for the striking students.

But the biggest surprise of the day happened around noon, when a few student leaders received an urgent message to go to the Great Hall of People. The unprepared group was met by the Premier Li Peng, during which Wuer Kaixi emotionally undressed the national leader. A video recording of the meeting was later shown to the general public with little editing.

The official media, meanwhile, was unquestionably turning to the side of the students. Blessed by Zhao Ziyang's request for openness, official newspapers carried emotional charged articles on the hunger strike and the demonstrations. People's Daily headlines the demonstration the day before with a title "History will never Forget this Day!" With the absence of censorship, however, the media also abandoned its objectivity and became an advocate for the cause of the student movement themselves.

At the Square, leaders of the hunger strike were also collapsing. Chai Ling, Li Lu, and Feng Congde all had spent substantial hours of this day in hospitals. Li Lu recalled in his autobiography that he had personally persuaded his hunger strikers to take food in the hospital and did it himself to set an example.

Behind the scenes, Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao finally decided that they had to get involved. At Jimen Hotel, they gathered most prominent intellectuals in town to discuss strategies. But the meeting did not arrive to any actionable conclusion or even a consensus.

Days of 1989

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