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Massacre in Tiananmen Square

By Patrick Mondout

In the spring of 1989, an estimated one million students, workers and others staged weeks of protests in Tiananmen Square, the political heart of China. The pro-democracy movement had gained strength with the death of former Communist Party boss Hu Yaobang, who had been relieved of his duties by Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping for being too lenient with the students.

With the protests growing larger and with the world starting to take notice, Chinese premier Li Peng declared martial law on May 20. This merely brought Tom Brokaw, CNN's Bernard Shaw, and the rest of the world's media elites to Beijing for the inevitable showdown.

By early June, some of the protesters felt emboldened by the presence of the the world's media and believed Xiaoping and his cronies would back down rather than commit any atrocities with the everyone watching. Meanwhile, hardliners in the Communist party were demanding action against the students.

On June 3, 1989, with the world watching, Peng and the hardliners got their wish. Army tanks were sent into the streets and an unknown number (on both sides) were killed in the resulting violence that lasted throughout the night.

Tiananmen Today

Tiananmen Square is still a scene of frequent demonstrations and arrests, as police try to silence protests by a banned meditation-and-exercise group. As recently as New Year's Day 2000, hundreds of Falun Gong supporters were arrested in the square. Human rights groups say dozens of members of the religious group have died in custody over the past year and thousands have been sent to prison camps.

The Latest

A new book claims China's late leader Deng Xiaoping ordered troops to crush a massive 1989 student protest because he feared it might topple the Communist regime or lead to his own arrest. The assertion is based on newly-revealed documents alleged to be transcripts of debates between reformers and hard-liners in China's top leadership. The book, compiled under a pseudonym by "Zhang Liang," and edited by two well-known scholars of Chinese affairs, shows that the leadership was embarrassed, angered and shaken by the peaceful-but-persistent demonstrations that attracted global attention.

In an alleged transcript, Paramount leader Deng complains that the 'anarchy' is getting worse daily. Eventually the Chinese leadership ordered troops to use tanks and guns to clear the square. Foreign estimates put the death toll in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, mostly on June 4th. Thousands more were arrested and many served long prison terms.

Chinese scholars have long said the crackdown was a result of reformers losing an intense power struggle within the small, elderly, secretive group that runs China. What is new here is the level of detail and insight offered by these purported transcripts.

The documents are said to have been smuggled out of China by a former senior Chinese civil servant, who asked not to be named publicly. He is described as being sympathetic to Communist Party members who are trying to resume political reform today. Columbia University scholar Andrew Nathan, and Princeton University's Perry Link say they worked hard to make sure the documents are authentic, but admit they can not be absolutely certain. The book is called "The Tiananmen Papers."

It has attracted an unusual amount of attention in the United States, with stories about it running on news services and airing on an influential television program called '60-Minutes.' China's leaders may have had reason for concern about the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. Seventy years earlier government suppression of a far smaller protest sparked a series of powerful political tides in China, including one that became the ruling Communist Party.

Note: By documenting the truth here on, we have upset the official censors in the brutal regime in charge of China. It is not possible to access this page from inside that country.



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One of the first books out on this massacre was from Harrison E. Salisbury. On assignment with a Japanese film crew, Salisbury found himself in a hotel room with a window on Tiananmen just as the student demonstrators and government troops slowly wheeled into position for their bloody confrontation. The book is out of print but might have it available used.

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