Tiananmen Square witnesses remember an air of celebration, and then ‘Orwellian silence’

Student protesters and journalists in 1989 recall the joy and hope before the crackdown

The Guardian
Date: 4 Jun 2020
By: Lily Kuo in Beijing

 A young unidentified couple pass the time in Tiananmen Square with a lively dance. Photograph: Mark Avery/AP

It was mid-morning in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 1 June, 1989. Someone had turned on a boombox playing 80s disco music, and people began to dance. A young couple spins in a small opening in the crowd. The woman smiles slightly, her eyes almost closed, as her partner in a loose dress shirt and blazer turns her. Around them, people are clapping.

It is a photo that captures a side of the pro-democracy movement often overshadowed by what came after – the brutal military crackdown on the evening of 3 June and morning of 4 June. There is no official death toll but activists believe hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed.

More than 30 years later, Zhou Fengsuo, a student leader in Beijing who was later jailed, remembers the scene. “There was a lot of celebration. For the first time, you see this freedom in the air, that inspired people to celebrate to be hopeful and be joyful in Tiananmen Square, the symbol of power in China. That’s the most inspiring story of 1989.”

Throughout the six-week occupation of the square, there were many lighter moments: protesters giving out birthday cake, people sharing breakfast and tea, someone giving another demonstrator a haircut. Unofficial weddings were held.

“Tiananmen was China’s Woodstock without mud but plenty of blood,” says Rose Tang, who attended the protests in Beijing as a university student. “It was the first time for the Chinese since 1949 to truly have a little taste of freedom as individuals and a taste of organic community spirit.”

But by the end of May, the protests had begun to wane and protesters were tense. Authorities had declared martial law on 20 May, to stamp out the weeks of marches, sit-ins and hunger strikes led by students who had inspired sympathy and support across the country. Troops had tried to move into the capital where they were blocked by civilians. There had been rumours the night before that the Chinese military would soon clear the square.    [FULL  STORY]