Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 19, Zhao Ziyang Makes Farewell, Li Peng Announces Martial Law

Before dawn of May 19, 1989, in the darkness, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang showed up on the edge of Tiananmen Square unexpectedly. The exhausted and downbeat national leader was accompanied by Premier Li Peng, Chief-of-Staff Wen Jiabao, and other aids and guards. The entourage caused quite a stir. Zhao Ziyang boarded one of the buses housing hunger strikers, shook hands, and gave an unprepared speech to a few cameras. He rumbled through begging students to stop the hunger strike but offered nothing other than the famous farewell-ish line, "I am old, I really don't care any more..."

The student leaders near the center of the Square did not get a chance to meet these leaders, who disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they showed up. They poured through some notes taken by students at the scene and could only imagine what Zhao Ziyang had personally gone through. They knew bad things were on the way.

Indeed, throughout the day, rumors about an impending martial law were coming from all directions. (In the aftermath, Zhao Ziyang, along with his aid Bao Tong, was accused of leaking state secret including the martial law. There were evidences that the information was quite widely available, even outside of Beijing.)

In their typical dramatic fashion, student leaders finally came to a decision to call off the hunger strike. Despite opposition of their messes, the fast was broken. Chai Ling was happy that their decision was announced hours ahead of the martial law. She regarded as a great tactical victory. As the hunger strikers were carefully removed from Tiananmen Square for treatment and rest, thousands other students came to participate a continued "sit-in" protest.

The martial law was formally announced late that evening in the Great Hall of People, where Li Peng addressed thousands of government cadres. The martial law troops would be entering the city that night while the martial law itself would take effect the next morning.

The students remaining at Tiananmen Square braced for a brutal and violent night. They expected to be forced evicted. They hoped that they could last until after daybreak.

Days of 1989

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