The Tiananmen Square How since the revolution of 1989 the tiananmen square became emblematic ?


Tiananmen (Chinese: 天安门 means "Gate of Heavenly Peace") It is a famous monument in Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China. It was built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and was the nation symbol as it was referred to the front entrance of the Imperial.


China is a big country and succeeding in ruling it perfectly has never been easy. After the 9th of September 1976, the death of Mao Zeddong known as the “grand Timonier” who has instaured the people’s republic of China, the future of the country takes a new turning point. News policies are put in place in order to modernize the country it’s called “the 4 modernisations”, in the four fields: farming, industries, creation of ZES (special free zones of export) and military. It’s also in this period that the one-child policy is launched.

In the middle of 1980s, the reforms reach their limits (degradation of the situation of the countryside, irrational system of the industrial prices which generates corruption).

Zhao Ziyang (the first minister) and Hu Yaobang (General Secretary of the party) suggest intensifying the reforms (to liberalize the prices, decrease the planning), and support an evolution towards the democracy and criticize the Chinese policy in the Tibet.

Others propose a strengthening of the control of the State.

In 1987, Hu Yaobang is dismissed. It is the authoritarian option which seems to take him.

The death of Hu Yaobang, on April 15th, 1989, activates a democratic protest movement of the students of Beijing which spreads in all the country. The youth expressed their « thirst for freedom and independence ». Beyond the demands for political reform, the main demands concern freedom of association, social equality, freedom of expression, freedom of the press (creation of independent student unions) and transparency (notably on the incomes of managers and their families).

This same year, several events across the world lead the Chinese population to revolt against the authoritarian regime. In the Eastern Europe, in the URSS, Gorbachev leads the Glasnost and the Perestroika, the liberation of the country of the communism rude rules such as take-off of censures on books, movies, rehabilitation of victims of Staline’s repressions and permission of having not only one party for the elections. Moreover, 1989 signs the end of the Cold War and the end of communism with the fall of the Berlin wall.

How did the events of Tiananmen massacre in 1989 take place?

In April 1989 a pro-democratic movement was provoked by the death of Hu Yaobang. This man was an emblematic figure of the liberal communist party. People from across China gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to mourn this death and also shared their frustrations about the slow pace of promised reform. The choice of place is symbolic because on the one hand Tiananmen Square is located near all-important places of communism power, on the other hand Tiananmen means “gate of heavenly peace”. Then, the largest nonviolent political protest in China’s history began.

In fact, a million demonstrators joined the students. There were no confrontations, the million of demonstrators shouted democratic slogans and denounced corruption of politic power in festive atmosphere.

From May, the movement grew. The crowd was huge; we talk about more than 400 000 people. Demonstrations spread in Beijing, and others are organized in Shanghai or Canton.

On may 13th, more than 100 students begin a hunger strike to defend their ideas in Tiananmen Square. The number increases to several thousand over the next few days.

The May 19th is a real change, the government decided to react. A gathering of 1.2 million people pushed the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (Zhao Ziyang) to appears at the rally and plead for an end of hunger strike and end of demonstrations.

“I say you only one thing. If you stop hunger strike, the government will not take advantage of it to end the dialogue, certainly not!”

Then the martial law was decreed. The martial law is the law that authorizes the recourse of the army force in some situations.

In the wake of this law, soldiers tried to evacuate the Tiananmen place, but they preferred to stop before using violent acts.

It’s important to note that on June 2nd, China prohibited reporters from photographing and videotaping any of the demonstrations or Chinese troops.

Demonstrations took a turning point overnight on 3 to 4 June. In fact, the government sent tens of thousand of armed troops and hundreds of army tanks to enforce martial law and clear the streets of demonstrators. Government wanted to restore order in the Capital.

Students were armed with Molotov cocktails and they fought against army. Throughout the day, Chinese troops fired on civilians, students and lookers. It was a real massacre. The death poll of this massacre was never known.

On June 5th the image of the action, of a brave man will travel around the world. He faced alone an imposing column of military tanks. A shot taken by a photographer who was looking at the scene will mark this events, these demonstrations.


China is a dictatorship, the political system in which the power is held by a person or by a group of people who exercise it without control, in an authoritarian way. Censorship is set up to exercise a control over the population. Medias, television, journalism, music, books, internet, everything is under control of the government which is divided in several “offices” which are specialized in the control of one of the media, for instance:

“The Center of recording of the illegal and improper information on the Internet of the Ministry of Industry of the information (MII)”.

The information about Tiananmen were given to the medias by foreign journalists who took a huge risk. The famous picture of “the tank man” was taken by 4 photographers: Jeff Widener of the agency Associated Press, Stuart Franklin of Magnum, Chris Cole of "Newsweek Magazine" and Arthur Tsang Hin Wah of Reuters.They were in the 6th floor of the hotel Beijing on 5 of June 1989.

There testimonies are harrowing:

Chris Cole :Having taken the photo, I worried about the surveillance of the PSB (the office of the law and order) about our activities on the balcony. I had three films there, with two cameras.

He tells that as soon as the man was taken away from Tiananmen, he immediately wanted to hide the film containing photos, leaving in the device a film that contained some images of the day before where we could see wounded people.

At the time, he said to himself that if the CBS discovered an empty camera, they were necessarily going to continue to look for. Having hidden at best its camera, the CBS unloaded. They needed five minutes to discover the hidden place and seize his passport.

Stuart Francklin : He tells how his photo was able to be passed on in time.

"The film was taken out in secret, hidden in the package of tea, thanks to a French student who then delivered it to the office Magnum in Paris".

But except this iconic picture, few images stay of this repression.

Beijing, the end of May, 1989. Jeff Widener (on the left) and Liu Sheng Hueng, two photographers of the AP, rest in front of Forbidden City, a few days before the military repression.

Every year, Beijing tries to erase the memories of this period; so arrests multiply at the approach of the date of birthday of the "massacre" of the place of Tiananmen. It pulls a strengthening of the security in streets with riot-control units. In May, 2014 operations were administered, involving military means as armored cars, helicopters, … Furthermore, Chinese was able to notice that their internet connection is slower and slower in June, 2014: signal of the permanent presence of censorship.

The social medias are closely watched and often blocked by the Chinese authorities: it is enough to bang a keyword as “freedom” or “democracy” so that the site of search is blocked.

Moreover, In China, it is still formally forbidden to evoke these events and even more of to show images. Nevertheless, with the appearance of Internet, young Chinese found a good way to by-pass this censorship and to commemorate these events. Their trick? Replace tanks by … ducks. Today, thus the search "big yellow duck" is also blocked in China.

On the Chinese social network Weibo, others preferred to recreate the scene by means of Legos, and to change subtly the date. This allows them to speak, on the Web, about this repression.


Tiananmen and the 1989 crackdown remain an official taboo topic in China. Tiananmen’s aftermath and repercussions have shown many impacts on many fronts.

In China:

Tiananmen Square was followed by a period of repression marked by mass arrests and executions. After the Tiananmen events, lots of reformist supporters or demonstrators were eliminated either put under arrested or killed. It was a way to eliminate any threats for the Chinese government. It has become a taboo subject in China, and Chinese civilians have been forbidden to discuss it in the public.

Unfortunately, for the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, a major event that changed the country’s direction, one won’t find any discussion or reflection in the Chinese media. In fact, Chinese government used their power to suppress the press in an attempt to eliminate any trace of this violent event. The government took control of all forms of media and set up what became known the “Great Firewall of China”.

The search engine of every Chinese individual were regulated and inspected, and phrases such as “human rights” or “Tiananmen square” were blocked.

Chinese government also made an unusual decision. They abandoned their will of balancing their economic and political reform decided during Chinese reform. For the economic reform they turned to the « liberal » (opening of the economy with the globalization), but for politics, they stay conservative (very extreme). In other words, they maintained a tight political control while allowing a fast economic growth. This is the “1989 choice.”

Towards population:

After the Tiananmen Square Protest, the attitudes towards the without political involvement and values in life between the youth during the incident and the current Chinese youth are growing apart. Nowadays, “youth are realistic and more pragmatic while Youth in the 1980s were full of fears and a conflict of values that caused turmoil inside and outside of campus.

Youth in China today has gradually distanced themselves from politics since many youth are not interested (global and mail), and they believe that their life would be better without the politics involvement since China is having an on going economic reform and the Chinese citizens could benefit from the rapidly growing economy as long as they do not rebel against the government or cause any disturbance. “Westerners may view this as the inevitable result of an authoritarian regime using fear to kill political expression”.

On the global stage:

Although Chinese government tried to suppress the events, scenes of the brutal crackdown were broadcast throughout the world. These images revolted the international public toward the Chinese government.

China received criticism, mainly from Western countries in North America, Europe, and some Asian countries. The US President George Bush said

“he deeply deplored the use of force”,

the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said she was

“shocked and appalled by the shootings” (BBC News, 2010).

While the international press reported that the Chinese government had demonstrated the regime’s brutal suppression of freedom and had violated human rights, some communist states such as Eastern Germany, North Korea, and Cuba supported China’s actions in handling the situation.

In addition, the Tiananmen Square incident had certainly damaged China’s international image in the world.

In 1990, an America newspaper, Washington Post, reported the majority of Americans though American government should boycott China in their foreign policy because of their human rights violations.

Moreover, in 2000, International Olympics Committee received many complains that opposed Beijing which would organize the 2000 summer Olympics Games.

In 1993, International Olympics Committee announced Sydney as the year 2000 Summer Olympics Games host city. International audience had decided, and because of its lacked of political freedom and human rights China lost its chance to host Olympics Games.

Until today, many countries around the world still continue to urge the Chinese government to reveal the truth of incident and release hundreds of people who are still imprisoned because of the Tiananmen Square protest.

In 2009, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, released a statement to

“urge Beijing to account for those killed in a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago” (Branigan, 2009).

Meanwhile, the Chinese government refuses to apologize to the civilians who were killed in this incident, and the government hasn’t set a memorial day for those who lost their lives in the event.

To conclude, the Chinese government still refuses to assume its responsibilities about the massacre or to detain criminals responsible of these murders.

Became a symbol

Tiananmen square was already known before 1989 to receive big events such as government changes or other students’ movement for instance in May 4th 1919, against the exclusion of Chinese Republic from Versailles treaty. But the incident of 1989 had become a global symbol and was considered one of the most terrifying events in the modern China history. Tiananmen Square will forever be remembered as a political rally that turned into a bloody massacre viewed on live television. Tiananmen Square will stay a place of demonstrations and revolutionary events.

By the way, 1989 events inspired other foreign citizens to enlist in making change to better their own and their fellow people’s lives. For instance, the 1990 rebellion in the Soviet Union which saw the death of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Tiananmen square received also other events after 1989. We can talk about 5 members of The Falun Gong, a banned Chinese spiritual community, who committed suicide by immolation according to Chinese government. This story was disputed by Falun gong community and joined Tiananmen Square stories.

Tiananmen will stay in people's minds.

Written by Cloé Escudero and Pauline Goncalo


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