One of the pivotal events in the history of the People’s Republic of China, the protests in Tiananmen Square were student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing that took place from 15 April to 4 June 1989. It is also frequently referred to as the June Fourth Incident and the 1989 Democracy Movement. The demonstrations and the protesters were quelled by People’s Liberation Army, acting on orders from Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, on June 4th, 1989. The protests would later be internationally known as Tiananmen Square Massacre. Up to this day, the exact number of fatalities remains disputed, with estimates ranging from hundreds up to approximately three thousand, on top of thousands more that were seriously wounded, and an estimated ten thousand arrested. The Tiananmen Square Massacre is thus far China’s most significant democratic uprising, despite the bloodshed. In marking the thirtieth year since the protests and the ensuing inaction on the part of the Chinese government, it is noteworthy to construct a timeline leading up to the massacre, informally known as “64,” and “June Fourth Incident.”
15 April 1989
Hu Yaobang, a high-ranking Communist Party leader, dies of heart attack at age 73. Inspired by the Soviet reform and gradual move to openness under leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Yaobang’s commenced pro-reform stance would in no time serve as impetus for the student-led Tiananmen Square protests.
18 April 1989
The protests begin in Tiananmen Square, spurred by mourning citizens, comprised mostly of students. The protests snowball from mourning to raucous calls for a more open, more democratic system of government. The following weeks witness an exponential increase in the number of protesters, all voicing protest against China’s Communist leaders.
13 May 1989
Approximately a hundred students in Tiananmen Square begin to resort to hunger strike. The number of hunger strike protesters rapidly rise to a few thousand in the following days.
15-18 May 1989
The Sino-Soviet Summit takes place in Beijing, the first convention of PRC and USSR leaders since close diplomatic ties had been effectively severed from the 1950s until the mid-60s due to differences in the interpretation and implementation of Marxism-Leninism. Restoration of diplomatic ties takes place. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, while aware of the start of the Tiananmen Square protests, declines to comment on the ongoing demonstrations, citing that the Chinese government and the citizenry must take it upon themselves to reach a compromise. In the Soviet Union, perestroika (reform) and glasnost (openness) are in full implementation, thereby making Gorbachev sympathetic to the calls of the Tiananmen Square protesters, whose purpose is derivative of Soviet citizen issues earlier in the decade.
19 May 1989
The Communist Party’s General Secretary, Zhao Ziyang, makes an appearance at Tiananmen Square protests and appeals to end to demonstrations; Chinese Premier Li Peng declares martial law.
1 June 1989
The Chinese government starts prohibition of photos and videotaping of the protests by American news outlets.
2 June 1989
Taiwanese singer Hou Dejian, in support of the protesters, performs a concert, attended by an estimated one hundred thousand people.
4 June 1989
The People’s Liberation Army roll into Tiananmen Square. Tanks and soldiers open fire on protesters all throughout the day, quashing the entire movement.
5 June 1989
1 June 1999
In the United States, “Tiananmen Square, 1989” is published by the National Security Archive. The collection includes US documents relevant to the events at the height of the demonstrations and the ensuing massacre.
5 June 1999
An estimated seventy-thousand people take part in a memorial ceremony to honour the Tiananmen Square Massacre victims.
Two scholars from Mainland China publish “The Tiananmen Papers” in the midst of controversy. The documents are labelled as the compiled internal government papers including notes, speeches, meeting minutes, and eyewitness versions of the massacre. In response, the Chinese government denounces the material and calls it untrue.
Arrested during the Tiananmen Square Massacre for vandalizing the portrait of Mao Zedong, Yu Dongyue, a former journalist, is freed after a 17-year sentence. Yu Dongyue leaves prison with mental illness, attributed to torture during his imprisonment.
4 June 2009
Dozens of thousands of people gather in Hong Kong to commemorate Tiananmen Square’s 20th anniversary. In Beijing, all journalists are prohibited from Tiananmen Square; the Chinese government blockades foreign news outlets and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Freshly renovated, the National Museum of China, located in the eastern part of Tiananmen Square, opens to the public. The museum possesses no mention or exhibits of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
One of the most outspoken student leaders and chief organizers of the Tiananmen Square, Wuer Kaixi, turns himself in to the People’s Republic of China embassy in Washington, D.C. in an effort to return to China, but is turned down.
Wuer Kaixi repeats attempt to turn himself in to the Chinese authorities in Hong Kong, but is again ignored.
The United States State Department releases statement pleading for the pardon of all still serving prison sentences related to the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.
The last Tiananmen Square prisoner, Miao Deshun, is set to be released by the Chinese government. Sickly and weak, it is speculated that his release will be deliberately devoid of any attention from the media.
Thirty years after the incident, concrete details still have yet to surface. The Chinese government still has not acknowledged the gravity of the disaster, claimed responsibility, and shed light on the issue. Tiananmen Square’s memory is associated with the impunity of the Chinese Communist Party, and to this day remains one of the most censored, divisive, and sensitive topics in China.