Beijing Spring, 1989: Confrontation and Conflict: the Basic Documents

By Michel Oksenberg; Lawrence R. Sullivan et al. | Go to book overview

VI
The Political Struggle for Tiananmen

The hunger strike had an extraordinary effect. Public sympathy went overwhelmingly to the students, who, by risking death, had captured the high moral ground from a political leadership that seemed more concerned with preserving their power and providing business opportunities for their relatives than with "serving the people."1 Order in the city was disrupted as traffic around the square was halted and some cars and buses were commandeered. Support for the hunger strikers was also expressed in other cities, where some hunger strikes were also initiated.2 The government was under great pressure to ensure that no harm would come to the hunger strikers, as the Central Committee ordered the Beijing Party Committee to mobilize hospital staff against such a possibility. But the divided leaders confronted a massive problem: how to terminate the hunger strike while reestablishing their authority, which was now rapidly eroding, even among workers. The latter now joined the demonstrations in force.3 From the start of the hunger strike, conservative leaders worked behind the scenes to decide upon a response, which soon included a decision to impose martial law and send military forces into the capital (see part VII).

____________________
1
This phrase, emblazoned on the entrance to Zhongnanhai, is Mao's old dictum to cadres, which the pervasive corruption of recent years had blatantly violated. Some protesters thus nostalgically carried pictures of Mao and Zhou Enlai.
2
Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province, witnessed a supportive hunger strike by local students. Keith Forster, "Impressions of the Popular Protest in Hangzhou, April/June 1989," The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, no. 23 ( January 1990): 103.
3
See Suzanne Ogden et al., eds., China's Search for Democracy: The Student and Mass Movement of 1989 (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, forthcoming), for a full discussion and analysis of worker involvement. Participation of party cadres and even some elements of the army in demonstrations also undoubtedly frightened the leadership, which relies on these institutions to maintain their power.

-267-

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