The inner city of this ancient capital used to be protected by a ring of city walls, in which various gates, or "men," were opened for controlled traffic. The city wall was now the Second Ring Road with clover-style overpass intersections replacing the gates. Chang'an Avenue, the main east-west thoroughfare passing through Tiananmen Square, ended before the intersection of Fuxingmen, the Gate of Renewal, in the west. But the road continued by the name of Fuxingmen Street. A block west of Fuxingmen was the Muxidi bridge where a traffic accident had ignited a frenzy the night before.
Muxidi was where most students from their campuses up north turned the corner on their way to Tiananmen Square. At the immediate northwest of the intersection was the Military Museum, the pride of the People's Liberation Army. Along the Fuxingmen Street was a mixture of high rise apartment buildings and traditional courtyards. Most of the courtyards were residences for military apparatuses. At this particular hour, mobilized students were arriving by the thousands. They were joined by many times more residents coming out of nearby apartments. They pushed buses and trucks onto the bridge as barricades and stood many layers deep behind them in defiance.
The civilians had no idea that they were facing the 38th Army, a legendary unit that had made its name during the Korean War. When martial law was imposed, its commander Lieutenant General Xu Qinxian had refused orders and was stripped of his duty. Now led by an acting commander, this army had something to prove for itself. The civilians did not know either that this army had already opened fire and killed residents as they approached the city from the outskirts.
Warning shots were fired immediately as the troops approached. Bullets sailed over the heads of the crowd. Nobody budged. Despite desperate pleas for non-violence, the crowd hurled bricks, bottles, and anything they could get their hands on at the soldiers. Another barrage of gunfire came. Machine guns mounted on the tanks also opened fire. This time, they were not warning shots. Bodies fell down in the streets. People were telling each other about rubber bullets until their attention was transfixed by the sight of blood. In a panic, they ran for cover.
Soldiers paused their shooting periodically. Brave residents rushed in and carried away bodies both dead and wounded. They used flatbed tricycles and everything else to carry the bodies to nearby hospitals.
Jiang Jielian, a seventeen-year old high school student, was forbidden to leave home by his mother that night. But he managed to escape from a bathroom window. The proud teenager told his mother that, on a night like this, "the important thing is not action, but participation." At Muxidi. he and a friend abandoned their bicycles on a grass lawn as gunshots broke out. Scared, they crouched down behind a flower bed. Amid the terrifying noise, Jiang Jielian's friend heard him saying softly, "I think I have been hit." He saw Jiang Jielian stand up slowly, stumble forward a couple of steps and collapse. His shirt was immediately soaked with blood. He had been hit from behind right in the heart. It would be more than a day later when his body was identified and his parents learned his fate.
Leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded, the army pushed through Muxidi. They continued eastward on Chang'an Avenue. On each side of the boulevard, students and residents ducked behind bushes but followed the troops. Along the way, they warned new arrivals that the soldiers were not using rubber bullets. They shouted "Fascists" in between rounds of fire. As they approached the inner city, more residents gathered on both sides of the boulevard. Soldiers kept firing to keep them at bay. Occasionally, machine guns sprayed bullets indiscriminately either at the crowd or into high-rise buildings. Several people were shot inside their apartments high above the street.
Shen Tong was at his home near Xidan, a bustling shopping district between Muxidi and Tiananmen Square. He had left the movement for good after being turned down by Chai Ling. At the American consulate, he was told that his student visa would be ready for pickup on June 5. But he also learned that his father had been hospitalized with leukemia. Feeling sad and guilty, Shen Tong promised his mother that he would stay home no matter what happened.
That proved impossible when gunshots could clearly be heard from his courtyard bordering Chang'an Avenue. As he ventured out, he saw bodies of dead and wounded all over the sidewalks. Then he heard a low rumbling noise and felt the ground quaking underneath him. An endless line of headlights approached from the west. Shen Tong saw hundreds of people rushing into the avenue to set up barricades only to be scattered away by the spray of machine-gun fire. He counted forty-six tanks and armored personnel carriers passing by in a hurry. Soldiers, with automatic assault rifles and clubs, marched along with the tanks. They were heading straight to Tiananmen Square. In an outburst of emotion, two men took a bloody shirt off a dead civilian and marched toward the soldiers. Shen Tong and others followed. They got close and questioned the soldiers about what they were doing. As the angry Shen Tong was lecturing, an officer approached and pointed a pistol directly at him. Shen Tong was pulled away just as the pistol fired. A girl who was standing next to him fell to the ground. Shen Tong remembered seeing her face becoming a bloody hole. The soldiers charged forward as the civilians ran in panic. Back at the sidewalk, Shen Tong saw a young man fallen down by the fence being surrounded by soldiers. As the young man looked up, the soldiers fired in unison, execution style. The young man's skull and brain tissue were splattered along the white fence.
At the same time when the 38th Army was advancing from the west, other troops met similar resistance in other directions. From east and south, soldiers encountered crowds made up mostly of factory workers. At Jianguomen, where Wang Dan had once proudly surveyed his parade, columns of military vehicles carrying soldiers armed with automatic assault rifles were surrounded. These soldiers did not open fire but sat hopelessly. Elsewhere, however, troops were able to push through toward Tiananmen Square amid bloody confrontations.
It was also about the same time, around ten o'clock, that people at Tiananmen Square were finally convinced of the gravity of this night. The orange glow in the western sky had grown intense, intermixed with tracer bullets shooting through it. A low rumbling sound could be heard getting closer and closer. People were sill pouring into the Square, many bearing news of shooting and dying. Wu Renhua estimated that there were at least a hundred thousand people present at this time.
Despite the dire situation, curious residents were still crowding around the Monument to People's Heroes and demanding to see Hou Dejian. They were kept at a safe distance by the now hundreds of student marshals sitting in a tight formation along the stairs surrounding the Monument. Other students gathered under the statue of the Goddess of Democracy where Zhang Boli opened the University of Democracy with Chai Ling cutting a ceremonial ribbon. As Zhang Boli described his plan for his new school, a third official announcement was broadcast over their heads. It was a lengthy and repetitive one and duly ignored.
Chai Ling gave a rousing speech. Echoing Mao Zedong on the eve of the communist victory forty years earlier, she proclaimed that "The closer to the dawn, the thicker the darkness. But after this darkness a brand new republic will be born!" Yan Jiaqi delivered the keynote speech. With the sound of gunshots now clearly audible, Yan Jiaqi droned on in his heavy accent for forty-five minutes on the concept of freedom and democracy. As soon as he wrapped up his speech, he and other intellectuals were whisked out of the Square.
Reports of death had already flooded the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square. But it was the news of the first student casualty, one of their very own, that hit them hard. All of sudden, it was all too real. The leaders went silent. Chai Ling started to cry. It was midnight when the student broadcasting station announced the name of the student who was from Beijing Normal University and killed near Muxidi. They had not had the foresight to prepare a tape of traditional funeral music. A student took the microphone and sang a moving rendition of Frederic Chopin's Funeral March.
Wuer Kaixi's familiar voice followed. He talked about the dead student whom he thought he knew. His voice broke up frequently and finally came to an abrupt halt. Noises came through the loudspeakers indicating that Wuer Kaixi had fainted, ..., "again!" The emphasise on the "again" was a knowing barb ridiculing his frequent fainting episodes. Wuer Kaixi was evacuated in an ambulance.
After the initial shock, students did not know how to react to the unfolding massacre. Most sat quietly, feeling numb. Some became hysterical. At the base of the Monument, a group of students and workers surrounded Chai Ling with knives and guns. They yelled at her not even to think about withdrawal. "So many people have already died for you students. If you dared to announce withdrawing, I would kill you first!" They screamed one after another. It took a while for student marshals to push the angry mob away.
Ma Shaofang and Shao Jiang, another student leader from Peking University, rushed into the headquarters with the idea of withdrawal in their minds. They told Chai Ling that students were asking whether it was time to leave. With tears streaming down her face, Chai Ling slumped in the tent looking completely helpless. Li Lu, however, maintained his composure. "What do you guys think?" he asked back. Ma Shaofang and Shao Jiang argued that, since the soldiers had already started killing, what they were up against was no longer anything rational. They should withdraw now. Too many lives were at stake.
Li Lu and Feng Congde were not sure if it was possible to get all the people out of Tiananmen Square at the moment. They figured that they were probably close to being surrounded from all directions, if indeed they were not already surrounded. It might be a safer choice to have everyone together than creating a chaotic mass exodus. Acting as a de facto commander-in-chief, Feng Congde instructed everyone in the Square to stand up, hold hands, and slowly approach the Monument.
Flags rose in the darkness and crowds followed. Slowly but in an orderly fashion, they came upon the base of the Monument and sat on the stairs and the adjacent ground. Wu Renhua surveyed the scene again. There were probably ten thousand students. More than half of them were sitting at the north side facing Tiananmen and Chang'an Avenue. Looking beyond, there were still tens of thousands of people remaining at the outer edges of the Square. They were mostly workers and city residents mixed with some students.
In the middle of Tiananmen Square, tents were still standing in their formations. It looked like a ghost town. Student marshals were going over them to check if anyone was still sleeping inside. Ma Shaofang went to the headquarters of the Workers Autonomous Federation on the northwest edge of the Square. Before he could persuade the workers to withdraw onto the Monument with the students, he saw groups of emotional workers rushing out toward Xinhuamen which the 38th Army had now reached. The workers shouted to him that too many of their buddies had already died for them to sit back.
Those at Tiananmen Square caught their first sight of the military at fifteen minutes past midnight. It came in the form of two charging armored personnel carriers. They roamed through barricades on Chang'an Avenue. Crowd scrambled away from their path but stayed within close range to throw rocks and metal rods at them. Before the vehicles could be trapped, however, they sped away and disappeared into the darkness to the east.
Before the cheers could die off, two other armored personnel carriers roared up from the south, signaling the approaching of the 15th Army from that direction. They sped around the perimeter of the Square, causing another round of havoc. At Chang'an Avenue, one of them came to an abrupt stop and was immediately surrounded by an angry crowd. Improvised Molotov bombs rained down on the metal beast along with cotton quilts soaked with gasoline. It burst into flames to a round of hysterical cheers. Three soldiers crawled out of the vehicle unarmed and frightened. They were promptly met by a barrage of rocks and sticks. People rushed in with their fists and boots. Blood was streaming from the head of one of the soldiers.
Zhang Jian was only eighteen years old. A student at Beijing Sports College, he was an athletic young man specializing in track and field as well as martial arts. Perhaps because of that background, he had been appointed to lead the student marshals after Zhang Lun's departure. Zhang Jian had been busy since midnight when he led a group of student marshals onto Chang'an Avenue in a feeble attempt to stop the advancing army. With many injuries, they fell back and ran into the scene of the burning armored personnel carrier. When they saw the peril of the three soldiers, they inserted themselves into the crowd without any hesitation. Once inside, they linked their arms tightly together to form a protective circle. A few students protected the soldiers with their own bodies. Together, they walked slowly toward a Red Cross station. Angry mobs rushed toward them throwing objects and punches, most of which landed on the students instead.
Tiananmen Square now resembled a war zone. There was not yet a clear sighting of the invading army but they were tantalizingly close. Group after group of students and residents rushed out under various flags to block the troops. But many more were pouring back in after their failed attempts. Some had followed the soldiers all the way from Muxidi and Xidan. They wanted to see what would happen at Tiananmen Square and perhaps make a last stand there for the students.
Just before one o'clock, numerous flares and tracer bullets shot up into the night sky from all directions outside of the Square, briefly illuminating the entire area. The tens of thousands of people at the perimeter looked back and saw thousands of students sitting motionlessly at the Monument to People's Heroes. Some became very angry. They charged in and cursed the students. With death all around them, they no longer accepted the students' principle of "peace, rationality, and non-violence." They accused the students of naivety, arrogance, and cowardice. People are dying for you out there, they shouted, are you just going to sit here and wait to die? The students sat silently in place.
Feng Congde had always had his eyes on logistical details. He had already set up a new broadcasting station on the top tier of the base of the Monument. He had a generator and enough gasoline to last through the night. He chose to place the station in the southeast corner, away from the main thrust of the military force from Chang'an Avenue. Loudspeakers were strung on the Monument itself. The station became the new site for the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square.
Chai Ling had been crying all night. She finally could not take it any more. She jumped up and grabbed the microphone and screamed for any able students to grab any weapons to defend the perimeter of the Square. Li Lu stopped broadcasting immediately and Chai Ling caught herself just in time. When she spoke again, she was calm and collected. She told a fable of ants. When a colony of ants faced the danger of a forest fire, she told her fellow students, the ants would clump together to make a giant ball and roll down the hill. Those ants on the outside shell would be burnt to ashes. But their sacrifice ensured the survival of their colony. Right here and right now, she preached, they were at the outside of the ant ball, facing the raging fire. Her hoarse voice resonated: "Classmates, we are offering a peaceful petition. The highest principle of peace is sacrifice. Classmates, only with our sacrifice, can our People's Republic achieve her new birth."
Amid the approaching gunshots, all the students at the Monument stood up to take their oath once again, led by Chai Ling:
I swear: I will protect the republic and Tiananmen Square with my young life. Heads can roll, blood can flow, but the people's square can not be lost! We are willing to fight until the last person.Then, they sang L'Internationale together.
The main thrust of the army finally showed up at Tiananmen Square at half past one. It was an overwhelming and determined force. An intensive barrage of gunshots dispersed the crowd at the northwest corner first. A large tent that housed the Workers Autonomous Federation there burst into flame. Tanks and armored personnel carriers followed in. They lined up on Chang'an Avenue facing south with their guns pointing to the Square.
Almost at exactly the same time, another contingent of the military arrived from the south. This was the 15th Army, the only paratrooper unit in the People's Liberation Army. Their approach through the Qianmen district was another bloody one, second only to the 38th Army's advance along west Chang'an Avenue. The 39th Army appeared next on east Chang'an Avenue. Going through Jianguomen, they had met only token resistance along the route. Either for tactical reasons or under restraints from their commanders, they held fire and were not the first ones to reach their target position in front of the Museum of Chinese History east of the Square. Finally, all the front gates of the Great Hall of People swung open. A flood of soldiers charged out and down the long flights of stairs. In just a few short minutes, all of Tiananmen Square was tightly encircled. Civilians were permitted to leave but not to enter the sealed off area. With the first phase of their battle plan accomplished, soldiers settled down and waited. Some troops sang army songs in unison to maintain their focus. Civilians outside countered with powerful renditions of L'Internationale. The atmosphere was surreal.
The official loudspeakers came alive again. It was yet a new announcement:
Tonight, a serious counter-revolutionary rebellion has happened in the capital. Rioters attacked the People's Liberation Army, looted weapons, set barricades, and kidnapped soldiers. They want to overthrow the People's Republic of China and overthrow the socialist system. The People's Liberation Army has tolerated them for days but now must fight back against the counter-revolutionary rebellion. The citizens in the capital must follow the rules of martial law, help the People's Liberation Army, defend the Constitution, the safety of the great socialist motherland, and the capital. For anyone who chooses not to follow this advice, their safety will not be guaranteed and they will bear all responsibilities for all consequences.It was the first time the term "counter-revolutionary rebellion" was used, meaning that the situation had been further escalated from "turmoil" or "riot." The martial law troops were now fighting against enemies of the nation. This latest announcement was broadcast repeatedly for a long time, raising the level of threat.
To withdraw or not to withdraw, the debate raged on among the student leaders at the Monument to People's Heroes. Chai Ling was crying again. Her tearful voice came through their own loudspeakers, "Classmates, please be calm! Classmates, please be calm! Those who wish to withdraw can do so now. Those who do not wish to withdraw can stay here with me. We will live and die with Tiananmen Square, ... This is the final moment! This is the final moment!"
The Four Gentlemen were only more than one day into their hunger strike. For most of the night, they had stayed quietly in their tent. But now they were worried. If part of the students took up Chai Ling's offer and left, it might create havoc among them in an already uncontrollable situation. Fortunately, very few did. Liu Xiaobo wrote a note that was broadcast to a round of applause. The Four Gentlemen pledged that they would not leave until after the last student had left.
Around two o'clock, gunshots erupted in Tiananmen Square. Bullets whizzed over the heads of everyone at the Monument. The warning shots were fired by soldiers in front of the Great Hall of People. Then, a louder barrage of gunshots was heard near Chang'an Avenue which sounded much more terrifying. On a balcony high up the Beijing Hotel overlooking the northern edge of Tiananmen Square, CNN's Mike Chinoy was frantically describing the scene over a telephone line:
The troops are firing directly at the demonstrators! People are now running down the streets, bicycling down the streets as fast as they can. People are sprinting down the street. It's absolute panic, it's absolute panic! They're turning into side streets now, they're absolutely terrified. I can see someone carrying an injured person. There's an ambulance immediately in front of where I am.After rescuing the three soldiers from their burning armored personnel carrier, Zhang Jian had made his way back at the northeast corner of the Square. There, he and hundreds of students and residents were in a standoff with soldiers on Chang'an Avenue. They were shouting slogans when a bus appeared from nowhere and charged into the no-man's land between the soldiers and civilians. Bullets immediately rained into the bus which came to a screeching stop. A bright search light illuminated the destroyed bus. Zhang Jian saw soldiers dragging a few people off. He recognized one of them as Guo Haifeng, the General Secretary of the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square.
There are bodies, injured and dead all over the place.
Guo Haifeng was one of the three students who had knelt down on the stairs of Great Hall of People during Hu Yaobang's funeral. On this night, he had ventured out to look for gasoline to make Molotov bombs. They found the bus and drained some of its fuel into a few bottles. They came under fire as they were returning to Tiananmen Square. He became the first captured student leader.
The soldiers tied down their captives and chained them onto a fence. The civilian crowd erupted with a chant, "let them go," "let them go!" Their appeal was answered by another round of gunfire. Several people fell onto the ground near Zhang Jian. Zhang Jian could no longer contain his anger. He tore off his shirt and stepped forward toward a commander and shouted. "We are all students. We have no weapons ... If you want to kill, shoot me first!" He was only thirty feet away when the commander pointed his pistol at him. Three shots were fired. Two of them struck Zhang Jian's legs. Zhang Jian was still standing, but barely. He stared into the commander's eyes and shouted "One more! You did not get me down. One more!" With that, he collapsed. As he was helped onto a truck, he saw three injured bodies already in it. Dozens of people pushed the disabled truck to a hospital where the other three were pronounced dead.
At the Monument, the Four Gentlemen knew it was time for them to assert some adult leadership. Liu Xiaobo came out to give a speech on the importance of non-violence. He was barely into it when he was informed that a machine gun was spotted within their own ranks. They rushed over to the southwestern corner and found the gun set on a stone fence and trained in the direction of the Great Hall of People. A ring of workers stood by with knives and clubs to protect the weapon. They declared that they had seen too many deaths first-hand. It was their right to fight back.
Hou Dejian used his famous name to get close to the emotional youngsters and calm them down. After much persuasion, the workers gave up the machine gun along with another automatic rifle they had been hiding. Liu Xiaobo summoned the few reporters still on site. With a video camera recording, he destroyed the guns by smashing them on stone fences.
It was past three o'clock. Shao Jiang found Zhou Dou and appealed to him to find a way for the students to withdraw. The Four Gentlemen had a quick meeting. Among them, only Liu Xiaobo was against the idea. But the other three talked him into agreement. The four of them then sought out Chai Ling, Li Lu, and Feng Congde and found the three still vowing never to withdraw. Too many people had already died for them to run away now, they argued. A student claimed that Zhao Ziyang and Yan Mingfu had passed in a message for them to stay till daybreak. Liu Xiaobo was angry. He shouted that they could not afford thousands of lives for a gamble based on a rumor.
Feng Congde told Hou Dejian that they could go ahead and seek a negotiation with the army. But they could not represent the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square. Even the Headquarters could not make the withdrawal decision anyway, he added, as it should be up to the student body.
Time was running out. The Four Gentlemen decided that they had to take the matter into their own hands. Zhou Dou volunteered to go out and seek a negotiation. He reasoned that he was the calmest of the four and could use his scholastic look. But he needed Hou Dejian with him. If there was a name that the young soldiers might recognize, it would be Hou Dejian. Two doctors volunteered to accompany the pair. Their hospital overalls could help to prevent troops from shooting indiscriminately at them.
So, at half past three o'clock, Zhou Dou, Hou Dejian, and the two doctors walked down the stairs at the base of the Monument. They waved white shirts as they slowly entered into the no-man's land. Several student marshals followed along. They had sworn to protect the lives of the Four Gentlemen. The small troupe spent some time in front of the Great Hall of People and then got on an ambulance and headed to Chang'an Avenue.
As they exited the ambulance and approached the military line, they heard the unsettling noise of rifles being loaded. They stopped. One of the doctors identified himself and shouted that Hou Dejian was with them. Hou Dejian could hear murmurs in reaction to his name. He could not decipher their meaning but he felt that it was not all hostile.
A commander walked out with a few soldiers. He was a man in his forties with three stars showing his rank. The commander shook hands with each of them and spoke in a calm and polite manner. He asked them to stop their hunger strike first, to which Hou Dejian and Zhou Dou replied they had already done so. The commander then told them that he had to consult his superiors and walked back into the troop formation.
It was an anxious moment. As they waited, Hou Dejian remembered that the commander's hand felt thick, soft, and warm. But suddenly, all the lights in and around Tiananmen Square were turned off. They were not sure if this was a signal for the military to take its final action. Even the soldiers on the other side were becoming restless. Some were yelling and others were posturing with their weapons. The two doctors stayed calm. They told everyone to stand absolutely still.
The commander walked out again after several tense minutes. He told the civilians that their request to withdraw had been granted. The commander gave them his name and rank and instructed them to lead the students out from the southeast corner. They had to be out of the Square by daybreak, one way or another. Shaking hands again, he told them that if they could successfully persuade the students to withdraw peacefully, it would be an honorable achievement. Hou Dejian thought the commander was sincere.
It was four o'clock when all the lights went out in and around the Square. In this moonless night, sudden darkness and terror gripped everyone. Almost spontaneously, students at the Monument to People's Heroes sang L'Internationale once again at the top of their lungs.
Arise, starving and freezing slaves,In all the glorious movies for generations growing up in the People's Republic, L'Internationale was played or sung whenever communist heroes were facing their martyrdom. For this new generation, now it was their turn although they were facing the tanks and guns of the very communist government. Regardless, they sang L'Internationale, the anthem of communism, loud and proud. The lyrics was ironically fitting.
Arise, all the suffering people in the world,
All our blood is boiling,
We will fight for the truth!
Let's totally destroy the old world,
Arise slaves, arise!
Don't say that we have nothing
We will be the masters of all!
This is the final struggle,The rousing chorus seemed to have defeated the fear that came with the darkness. Thousands of students sat on the stairs, holding hands together. They found peace and strength. A couple of small bonfires were lit with trash. The tiny flames, opposite the burning armored personnel carrier in the distance, created a ghostly image.
Let's unite till tomorrow,
Will become the reality!
In the darkness, Zhou Dou and Hou Dejian made their way back. They rushed over to brief Chai Ling, Li Lu, and Feng Congde. They urged the students to take the deal with the troops and withdraw immediately. The student leaders could not reach a decision.
The lights came back on as suddenly as they had gone out. It was now half past four o'clock. Wu Renhua surveyed the territory again. During the half hour of darkness, a great many people had left the area. Outside of the base area of the Monument to People's Heroes, there was not a single civilian in Tiananmen Square. The number of students at the Monument had also shrunk to half of its previous size. Wu Renhua estimated that five to six thousand students were still sitting on the stairs as determined as ever.
Over the official loudspeakers, a succinct announcement was broadcast:
The clearing of the Square will commence now. We agree with students' appealIt was followed by a lengthier announcement which ordered everyone to leave the scene immediately. It was the ultimatum.
to withdraw from the Square.
From a distance, platoons of soldiers with automatic assault rifles snaked through the tent formation toward the Monument as if entering a battlefield. Some stopped to examine the inside of the tents. Behind them, tanks and armored personnel carriers started their engines to push into the Square in a formidable row. It did not take long for the Goddess of Democracy to tumble down under the weight of a tank.
There was no more time to waste. Hou Dejian took the microphone himself and informed the students of their negotiation. He spoke apologetically and framed it as his own personal initiative. But because the bloody crackdown was continuing, he begged the students to withdraw for the purpose of preserving the seeds of China's democracy and future.
The reaction from the student body, who until now were unaware of the negotiation, was immediate. They erupted in anger with boos and curses. Some students rushed in and threatened to beat up and eject this traitor. Li Lu had to mobilize student marshals to keep the mob out of the little area reserved for the headquarters.
Liu Xiaobo and Zhou Dou followed up and each spoke to support Hou Dejian. The three of them took turns to painstakingly persuade the emotional crowd. All of them reaffirmed their own pledge that they would not leave until after every student had left. Shao Jiang read a statement in the name of Beijing Students Autonomous Federation calling for a withdrawal. He had scribbled the statement in a hurry himself as that organization no longer had a real presence. Someone who claimed to be from the Workers Autonomous Federation also spoke in support of withdrawal.
Critical minutes were ticking away. As speeches and debates raged on, advance soldiers were closing in. Within dozens of feet from students, they set up a row of machine guns on the ground. Another row of soldiers, half crouching, were right behind with their automatic assault rifles trained on students. The rest of the soldiers stood behind with their weapons ready to fire. Tanks and armored personnel carriers backed them up. A formation for a mass execution was in place. Facing so many gun barrels at such close range, students did not panic. They looked at the soldiers almost indifferently. In the front row, they raised their hands with V-for-victory signs.
The armored vehicles cranked up their engines to create an unbearable, intimidating roar. In an awkward display of force and impatience, soldiers in the far distance broke into a rhythmic clapping and chanting: "Hurry up Withdraw! Hurry up Withdraw!" The combined noise threatened to overwhelm the few loudspeakers the students had.
At the Headquarters for Defending Tiananmen Square, Commander-in-Chief Chai Ling remained quiet and incapable of making decisions. Feng Congde, the twenty-three year old graduate student, felt that it was his time and duty. He took the microphone and announced a voice vote. When he counted to three, he explained repeatedly, everyone should shout together, either "withdraw" or "stand fast." A decision would be made by the loudness of each response.
There were about six thousand present, occupying an area larger than the thirty thousand square feet of the Monument base. It was impossible to have everyone's voice heard, not to mention equally. Half of the students were on the north side facing the brunt of oncoming soldiers but far away from where Feng Congde was. Yet there were no alternatives. Feng Congde counted over the loudspeakers, "One, two, three," everyone screamed at once.
Over on the north side, Wu Renhua could hardly hear any "withdraw" voice, as students there proudly shouted their determination, "stand fast," practically in the face of heavily armed soldiers. At the opposite southeast corner, however, it was hard to discern any difference. Li Lu heard a stronger voice in "withdraw," while Feng Congde thought the two sounded the same. Without hesitation, however, Feng Congde announced that the "withdraw" vote had carried the day. In the cold morning air, his voice was clear and crisp, "Students, we have always wanted to learn and practice democracy. We now must obey the principle that the minority follow the majority. We will withdraw from Tiananmen Square in an orderly fashion."
It was already twenty past five. Dim morning twilight was peeking through the eastern sky. As the students in the southeast corner were standing up slowly to move out, those on the north side protested profusely. They believed that they were the true majority and they should hold on until after daybreak when they could effect a turning point in history.
The military was not going to wait. Bands of special force units charged into the student formation from several directions. As they advanced up the stairs, they fired their rifles into the sky and barked orders for students to remain seated and not move. No students did move. They sat there quietly, offering not a slight hint of resistance. Even so, some of them were hit by soldiers' rifle butts as the brigade cleared out a path leading to the top level. Once there, they shot up the loudspeakers on the Monument with a blast of bullets and smashed the broadcasting equipment. There would be no more speeches, debates, or votes.
Other than beating out their path, these soldiers left the students alone. They made no attempts to capture leaders or arrest anyone. When students shouted at them, they answered with rounds of warning shots aimed at the sky. With their headquarters destroyed, Feng Congde, Li Lu, and Chai Ling started to organize the withdrawal. Students in their vicinity gathered around various flags. Student marshals lined up on each side, hand-in-hand. Together, they slowly walked down the stairs toward the southeast corner. Everyone was crying.
As soon as the first contingent of students stepped outside they came to an immediate halt. Feng Congde, Li Lu, and Chai Ling rushed forward together. To their greatest horror, they found their path blocked by rows and rows of soldiers pointing their weapons right in the students' faces. Just as they approached to reason with the soldiers, however, the soldiers split apart and left an opening of a few yards wide. Underneath a forest of assault rifles and bayonets, the three leaders led their formation through. They decided to stay at the front to lead students back to the campus area.
After the departure of the student leaders, the Four Gentlemen came around the Monument to the north side. They found thousands of students still sitting tight and refusing to withdraw. Soldiers hit them with rifle butts and kicked them with army boots. Other than occasional excruciating screams of pain, students kept their silent defiance.
Wu Renhua found the commander of this brigade right behind him. The thirty-something captain was calm and collected. He never participated in the violent acts of his fellow soldiers. Rather, he kept talking to the students, almost begging them, "You guys hurry up. Get out of here. If you stay, there won't be anything good. We have our orders. We must clear the Square no matter what." Out of the corner of his eye, Wu Renhua caught a glimpse of another soldier who had tears coming down his face.
Daybreak was slowly coming. The twilight was struggling against a heavy cloud cover intermixed with smoke from burning barricades and debris. There was not going to be sunrise on this fateful morning. At the southeast corner of the Monument, withdrawing students were moving at a very slow pace. On the north side, hundreds of students still stood their ground as more and more soldiers came up the stairs. The beating and kicking intensified. Most students were forced to stand up. But they still remained where they were, refusing to move. Ma Shaofang found himself on the outside row with fellow student leaders Yang Zhaohui and Liang Qingdun. Soldiers came right up to them and placed bayonets directly onto their chests. Seeing that students behind them had not yet started their withdrawal, the three stood firm. They pressed their own chests into the tips of the bayonets and stared down the soldiers, who backed away.
Hou Dejian and Zhou Dou scrambled around and urged students to move. Taking advantage of his age and scholastic look, Zhou Dou was able to shout down screaming students and herd them into moving toward the southeast corner. All of a sudden, soldiers fired their guns in unison, again aiming at the sky. The barrage temporarily disabled the hearing of everyone. The remaining students finally started moving. They dragged and carried the few die-hard dissidents. It was an agonizingly chaotic process. They stepped onto each other and tumbled all over. Along their sides, soldiers continued firing into the sky to maintain the terrifying pressure. They also hit and kicked anyone who they deemed as moving too slow. In the midst of the student body, Zhang Boli felt a profound sense of humiliation. The Square they had occupied for fourteen days was now finally lost.
The opening at the southeast corner was too small to allow the thousands of students to pass through. Debris on the ground and bushes nearby made it a horrible exit. Yang Zhaohui fell down and was immediately trampled on by many passing feet. His feeble cry for help could not be heard in the mayhem. Just as he was losing hope of survival, Liang Qingdun spotted him and, with the greatest effort, halted the stampede to drag him up.
The students found open space after they rounded the corner of the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong, due south of the Monument to People's Heroes. Soldiers were everywhere. So were city residents who both greeted them as triumphant troops and comforted them as a retreating army in defeat. They took off their shoes and offered them to the many students who had lost theirs during the scramble. Several foreign reporters were dutifully recording this historical moment.
At the front, Chai Ling, Li Lu, and Feng Congde marched together, leading their contingent turning west at Qianmen then north behind the Great Hall of People. From there, they entered Chang'an Avenue at Liubukou. Behind them, the procession of students stretched as long as a mile. This was where police had used tear gas to take back a bus-load of weapons less than twenty hours earlier. Li Lu had heard many reports of horrific fighting between the army and residents along Chang'an Avenue merely hours earlier. But he could not spot much residue of that bloody battle.
As the main thoroughfare of the capital, Chang'an Avenue had four vehicular lanes in each direction. On each side, there was another wide lane designated for bicycle traffic. A green iron-bar fence separated the bicycle lanes from pedestrian sidewalks. Some of the fences had been taken off to make barricades but most were still intact. The student leaders led their procession across the avenue to the north side and then turned west. They chose to walk in the bicycle lane.
Near the very end of the procession, Wu Renhua was walking with some of his student marshals. As they finally turned west on Chang'an Avenue, they heard a threatening roar behind them. Looking back, they were stunned to see three tanks speeding toward them while shooting tear gas canisters. Once again, light yellow smoke filled the air. The orderly procession of students turned into a chaotic scramble. Yet the tanks did not slow down. One of them was right in the bicycle lane and plowed directly into the crowd. Dozens of students desperately scaled the green iron fence for the sidewalk. While most of them made it over to safety, some were left clinging onto the fence for dear life. As the smoke cleared and the tanks sped away, a most horrifying scene unfolded in front of their very eyes.
A section of the fence had been smashed into the ground and bent over under the weight of a tank. Several bodies were left sprawled over it. A couple of them were so badly mangled that they were barely recognizable as human remains. Red blood mixed with white brain flowed onto the streets. In that one instant, five had died and another nine were seriously injured.
One of the injured was Fang Zheng, a student at Beijing Sports College. The athlete was helping a female student who had fainted at the scene when a tank rushed in. At the last moment he pushed the girl away and barely had time to roll out himself. He did not get far when both of his legs were caught under the tracks of the tank. He was dragged forward a few yards when he grabbed the fence and pulled himself off the tracks and lost consciousness. Both of his legs had disappeared. He was rushed to a hospital and barely survived.
It was finally the morning of June 4. Tiananmen Square was a disastrous aftermath of a battle zone littered with destroyed tents and burning debris. Armored vehicles were parked side by side, sealing off the entire area. Helicopters hovered overhead. The only people remaining inside were soldiers dressed in combat camouflage. The traditional flag-raising ceremony commenced once again. To the rousing tune of the March of Volunteers, all the soldiers, who were the same age as the students they had just expelled, stood absolutely still, saluting the rising Five-Starred Red Flag.
Arise! All who refuse to be slaves!
Let our flesh and blood
Become our new Great Wall!
As the Chinese nation faces its greatest peril,
All forcefully expend their last cries.
Arise! Arise! Arise!
May our million hearts beat as one,
Brave the enemy's fire,
Brave the enemy's fire,
March on! March on! On!