Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Day in 1989: May 23, Mao's Portrait Defaced

On May 23, 1989, Wang Juntao put his vision of a new movement leadership into motion by rounding up all existing leaders and put them into a large conference room at the Institute of Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Zedong Thought a couple miles off Tiananmen Square. There, they formed a new coordination group that became known as the Joint Conference. Bao Zunxin was selected as the nominal leader but it was clear that Wang Juntao was running the show.

Among the many decisions they made to consolidate power and impose order to the chaotic occupation of Tiananmen Square, the most critical one was to endorse the provisional headquarters formed the day before and formally chastised it as the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square. Chai Ling and her lieutenants remained as the leaders of the new headquarters, much to the dismay of Liu Gang and others who resented her leadership styles.

It was also a hot day at the Square, as massive demonstrations continued. In the early afternoon, three men at the base of Tiananmen threw plastic shells filled with paint onto the giant portrait of Mao Zedong and left a few visible stains on the holy picture. Students, suspecting it as a government conspiracy act, detained the three men immediately. With most of their leaders absent from the scene, students made a quick decision to hand the three to police.

The three men, Yu Zhijian (余志坚), Yu Dongxiao (喻东晓), and Lu Decheng (鲁德成), turned out not to be government agents but from Mao Zedong's home Hunan Province. They were a teacher, a local newspaper art editor, and a truck driver, respectively. For their act of defacing the portrait, Yu Zhijian received a life sentence, Yu Dongxiao 20 years, and Lu Decheng 16 years in jail.

Shortly after the defacing incident, a severe thunderstorm mixed with sand and hail belted the Tiananmen Square.

Also on this day, Wan Li, the chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, cut short of his state visit in North America and returned to China. Wang Juntao, Hu Jiwei, and others had high hopes for Wan Li to open an emergency meeting of his committee to reevaluate the martial law. But Wan Li did not make it all the way to Beijing. He stopped, or was stopped, at Shanghai "for health reasons."

Days of 1989

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