Remembering Tiananmen Square

Three former student leaders share reflection on China's 1989 pro-democracy movement.

cailing-xiongyan-305.jpg Chai Ling (R) and Xiong Yan (L) share their memories in a discussion hosted by RFA's Mandarin service.

Chai Ling was one of the best-known student leaders on Tiananmen Square, and has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. Chai, who joined the student movement relatively late, went on to lead organized pro-democracy protests, including hunger strikes, alongside Wang Dan and Wu'er Kaixi. She led the last group of students to leave the Square in the early hours of June 4. She later fled China with the help of overseas organizations.

"How I got involved with the student movement is very simple. Basically I went on April 17 to help the students on Tiananmen Square by taking them water and bread. Then the police were beating people up and shoving them around and I suddenly got angry. I thought that we have been driven [by the Chinese government] for so many years, that now we should stop running. So I decided to stand up to them instead, and to quit trying to run away."

"I hadn't participated all along because I was careful about the political implications. The reason I got involved was quite simple ... I thought that as a Chinese citizen I should do something for my country. What's more, back then, we were young and I don't think we really knew the reality of China ... For example, as soon as we took to the streets, they sent the police to beat us up ... So it was as if we had to dig up the truth about China. What was the truth about China? We wanted to see if this country was really worth being so devoted to. We pursued that until eventually it turned into a much deeper and broader movement."

"From the moment we heard the first shot fired on the night of June 4, the attitude of an entire generation to the Communist Party, to communism, ... to all the ideals of socialism that were held in our society, changed. It was a huge wake-up call for us."

"After we left the Square on the night of June 4, we didn't know where to run ... [Eventually] we spent 10 months in hiding in China before we finally managed to leave the country."

Xiong Yan was a student at the Law School of Beijing University at the time of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, and served a 19-month term in labor camp for his part in the protests. He fled in 1992 to the United States, where he studied theology and joined the U.S. Army, later being posted as a chaplain to Iraq. He is still active in the overseas Chinese democracy movement.

"It was an attitude that emerged of its own accord under very special conditions and atmosphere. Of course subjectively we believed that China was in the process of a political revolution, of political reforms, so we just stood up naturally for that."

"There was a very strong atmosphere in Beijing at that time. When I got there in '86, '87, all the discussions were focusing on the idea that while China had made some progress with economic reforms, we really needed political reforms, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and association. And particularly on the subject of officials making profiteering. The students were very opposed to corruption and profiteering on the part of officials."

"[As the protests developed] I kept saying to myself: 'There are so many people!' There weren't just a few dozen, a few hundred, a few thousands, or even tens or hundreds of thousands. It wasn't even just more than a million. This energy had touched millions. And all these people were so positive, so sincere and so passionate. I will never forget that as long as I live."

"I think that this was the Chinese people's first awakening. They wanted to be human; they wanted freedom. It was an inner state that had as its starting point the desire for some kind of dignity."

"Even though the dead [of June 4] have still to rest in peace, and even though their murderers have not yet been brought to justice, I think that there is a strength in the continued memories that we revisit, year after year after year. It has the ability to awaken powers that sleep deep inside people's hearts and minds, and that is a tide which will eventually prove irrepressible."

Bob Fu (Fu Xiqiu) was among the student leaders during the 1989 pro-democracy movement, having traveled to Beijing with a group of fellow students from Liaocheng University in eastern China's Shandong province. He was imprisoned by the authorities in 1996 for running an unofficial Christian church and bible study group, and fled China the following year as a refugee to the United States. Fu now heads the ChinaAid Association, which seeks to draw international attention to human rights violations against house church Christians in China.

"The greatest excitement was seeing Beijing university students get themselves organized ... I couldn't suppress it any longer, so one night I turned off the master switch in the study rooms. If the Beijing students were mobilizing, how could we just quietly get on with our studies? We didn't think it would be enough just to read out some stuff or write an article. The mood was pretty angry ..."

"By the time I got there, the universities had already started to try to wrap up the movement. It was mid-May, and we had already had the [People's Daily] editorial of April 27. We organized a group of people to go anyway. Some of the students just wanted a free train ride to Beijing to take a look, but at least everyone in the group I led wanted to go there to support the cause."

"We wanted to get on a train to Beijing, and there was a reporter from the Dazhong Daily News who saw that we didn't have any money, and he found a side-door for us to go through, and then he helped us onto the train by pulling us in through a window. It was extremely exciting."

Original reporting in Mandarin by Zhang Min. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Anonymous says:
Nov 10, 2010 05:44 AM

The former Stalinist government of China has indeed tried to hide their crimes. But the workers and students who died that day will not be forgotten.

Capitalism wil not save China. Only democratic socialism can. The Chinese Communist Party has betrayed the democratic ideals of Marx and Lenin. Mao and his gang abused Marxism Leninism for their own gains, just like Stalin did in the USSR.

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