Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Impact of the June 4th Massacre on the Pro-Democracy Movement

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Impact of the June 4th Massacre on the Pro-Democracy Movement

Article excerpt

China's military crackdown on student demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989 demonstrated the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) determination to wipe out any challenge to its rule. It showed that direct confrontation with the authorities would result in defeat because the forces at the Party's command could easily suppress the demonstrators. At the same time, it also highlighted the events that preceded the crackdownefforts by various segments of the Chinese population to bring about political change. As the demonstrations moved from Tiananmen Square to other areas of Beijing and then to other cities throughout the country in the spring of 1989, they became a grass-roots, multi-class movement (341 cities according to official sources) (l) calling for political reforms, including the reform of China's Leninist political system. This was not the first time that the Party had cracked down violently on a mass movement, but it was the unprecedented events precipitating the crackdown - the emergence of a multi-class movement calling for political reforms rather than the crackdown itself - that is the major legacy of June 4th.

Previous efforts calling for political reforms in the People's Republic had been carried out primarily by intellectuals. In the early 1950s, the writer Hu Feng and his disciples protested against the increasing restraints on freedom of expression. As a result, they were denounced in 1955 as "counter-revolutionaries" and were severely punished. Yet, shortly after the campaign against Hu Feng, Mao Zedong launched the most far-reaching liberalisation during his rule (1949-1976), the Hundred Flowers movement of 1956 and the first half of 1957, during which he briefly relaxed the Party's ideological controls and urged the expression of a variety of views.<2) In response, a number of well-known intellectuals and students demanded more freedom of speech and association and criticised the Party's repressive policies. As these demands spread and became more persistent, in June 1957 Mao abruptly crushed this brief ideological flowering with the launch of the anti-rightist campaign against intellectuals, their associates, and their families, as well as anyone whom Mao believed was conspiring against him. They were labelled "rightists" and were literally read out of society. The attacks on the rightists climaxed with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when Mao turned against members of his own party.

After Mao's death in September 1976, Deng Xiaoping, Mao's former Long March comrade, began to move away from his ideological policies, rehabilitated the rightists, opened China to the outside world, and developed the Chinese model of a market economy presided over by an authoritarian government. Despite the continuing political rule of the Communist Party, a number of demonstrations erupted calling for political reforms. In 1978-79, in what is now called the "Democracy Wall" movement, former Red Guards who had been exiled to the countryside returned to the cities, where they used the techniques they had learned in the Cultural Revolution-putting up wall posters, printing news sheets, and debating on street corners-to call for political reforms.<3) In late 1986, a number of demonstrations expressing similar demands occurred at Chinese universities. The demonstrations that drew the most attention were led by the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui. As these demonstrations spread to other college campuses, the Party abruptly cracked down on the demonstrators, and Deng and the elders dismissed then CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who had tolerated the demonstrations and had advocated political as well as economic reforms.

It was Hu's death of a heart attack on 15 April 1989 that sparked the most far-reaching and widespread demonstrations of the post-Mao era. They began in Tiananmen Square, the symbolical site of China's political power, and quickly spread to major cities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.