Friday, May 22, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 22, BSAF Lost Control of Tiananmen Square

With the martial law troops blocked by still poised to enter the city any time, Tiananmen Square was in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. During the night of May 21, 1989, leaders of the hunger strike left the Square discreetly into hiding. Yet Wuer Kaixi, who had been banished from the leadership, returned to the Square after midnight. He too had heard "credible" rumors that this would be the night of bloodshed.

At two o'clock in the morning, Wuer Kaixi had to fight for his right to speak at the students' broadcast station at the Square. He eventually succeeded with Wang Chaohua's help. Then he screamed into the microphone to urge everyone to get out of the Square and move to the foreign embassy district for safety. His emotional and incoherent call was not heeled by the thousands of students. As he fainted, many thought he had lost his min

Although Wuer Kaixi had been expelled from the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation earlier for similar erratic behavior, most people still regarded him as the public face of that organization. Wang Chaohua had been working hard in the last couple of days to resurrect the organization as the student leadership. Her effort was now irreparably damaged.

During the day, former hunger strike leaders returned and Zhang Boli suggested that they needed to form a new leadership. He persuaded Wang Chaohua to take her Federation off-site for a reorganization and promised her that she would regain the leadership in 48 hours with a stronger Federation. Meanwhile, he engineered the formation of a "Provisional Headquarters" and installed Chai Ling as the Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, the new headquarters would look exactly the same as the defunct Hunger Strike Headquarters, with Li Lu, Feng Congde, and Zhang Boli acting as the main deputies to Chai Ling.

Wang Chaohua regarded the move as a coup. She left the Square dejected and disheartened. But nevertheless, she returned to Peking University to regroup and reorganize her Beijing Students Autonomous Federation and hope for a return in 48 hours.

Wang Juntao also spent part of this day at the Square observing the power vacuum. He reaffirmed his belief that the movement had gone beyond the students and maturer leadership was required. Yet he struggled with the thought of becoming the leader himself. As someone who was pessimistic on the eventual outcome, he was reluctant to step up and lead.

Days of 1989

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