Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 20, Residents and Students Block Martial Law Troops

The martial law was supposed to take effect at 10am, May 20, 1989. The only sign of military in the city at that time was however a column of helicopters hovering over Tiananmen Square and dropping paper pamphlets from the air. Underneath, students and residents waved and shouted in defiance. They were more excited than angry.

Throughout the night, as martial law troops advanced, or tried to, toward the city from many directions, they encountered unexpected resistances from Beijing residents. Old ladies laid down their bodies. Truck drivers parked their vehicles in front of the military convoys. Residents came out at that night of full moon and surrounded every military column they could spot in the suburbs. Bands of motorcycle gangs, calling themselves the "Flying Tigers," circulated the city outskirts as scouts and information carriers.

By morning, every unit of the martial law troops was hopelessly blockaded on the streets. They were surrounded by students and residents, who emotionally and painstakingly lectured the soldiers.

At Tiananmen Square, students were emboldened by this latest development. The tone of the movement changed immediately. Beijing Students Autonomous Federation, the Hunger Strike Headquarters, along with a newly formed Workers Autonomous Federation, issued a joint statement calling for the impeachment of Premier Li Peng and President Yang Shankun. They also called for a general strike.

Students, who had previously forbidden residents mixing into their ranks for the "purity" of their movement, now openly appealed for support for workers and residents. Small groups of student delegations went to factories to talk to workers directly. One of these delegations was led by Xiong Yan, who had limited success at the biggest industrial complex in town -- the Capital Steels.

Similar statements came in droves from other organizations, established or new. Li Peng, the public face of the martial law, became the public enemy number one.

Days of 1989

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