Spring 1989 in Shanghai – A Memory of the ’89 Student Movement
After some thought, I decided that the best way to write about 6/4 is to simply translate parts of the 20-year old diary for it truthfully recorded what a 22-year old student experienced, observed, heard, thought, believed and felt at the moment. Twenty years has gone by, the author, like most of the 6/4 students, has moved on and has since lived a more or less fulfilling life unrelated to 6/4. Along the way, he has learned a few things, has had opportunity to reflect upon the past, and his political views may have evolved along the way. But in memory of the 1989 student movement, I felt that the best thing to do is to trace back to the time as it occurred. I am sure that we will then have a discussion as to how we look at the events in Spring 1989 today.
So here is – Part I, from April 15th, the day Hu Yaobang died, to the day of hunger strike.
So here is – Part I, from April 15th, the day Hu Yaobang died, to the day of hunger strike.
Part 1. Pre Hunger Strike
On April 15th, 1989, Hu Yaobang （胡耀邦）, the former general secretary of Chinese Communist Party, died of a sudden heart attack. Hu was known to be the most liberal, most democratic-leaning Commuist Party leader. When the news broke, the whole nation was surprised. The shock was felt most strongly by students on university campuses.
It was well known that Hu Yaobang was a victim of the 1986 student movement, which university students in Shanghai took very active role in. He was sacked from his party general secretary position by 85-year old Deng Xiaoping, who was the chairman of the committee of Chinese army (军委主席). After Yaobang was forced to resign in 1987, the whole nation was swept by a so-called Anti-Bourgeoisie Liberalism movement. The people most impacted were the democracy-leaning elites such as scientist Fang Lizhi (方励之), and writers Wang Ruowang （王若望）, and Liu Binyan （刘宾雁）. They were kicked out of the party, had their freedom of speech and travel restricted. The No.1 party decree (一号文件) of 1987 was basically a reprint of Deng’s intra-party speech. My friends at University F and I had to sit through numerous study sessions, and to us he sounded like an emperor, a dictator, not someone who believed in reason. We realized how powerful the party and for that matter Mr. Deng was.
(Paragraphs not translated here include the author’s analysis in 1989 the domestic political reality and international environment. He also attempted to explain in terms of social issues such as corruption, inflation, perceived unfairness in wealth distribution which led to the eruption of the student movement in spring 1989, for which the death of Hu Yaobang acted as an ignition point.)
“There has never been any savior, we all have to rely on ourselves.” On April 15th, many posters (大字报) appeared on university campus, black letters on white paper, such as “Lao Hu, Tao Ah (老胡，痛啊！)”. The posters caught a lot of attention. People of all walks of life started to gather at Tiananmen square in Beijing. Over the next two days, the posters quickly changed tone and became more political, largely aiming at the dictatorship which people perceived to be the “killer” of Mr. Hu. On the evening of April 16th, at University F in Shanghai, a spontaneous gathering took place at the classroom where President Reagan once gave a speech during his visit to China. After the gathering, a parade (游行) around the campus followed. The peace on campus has been broken.
In the meanwhile, the situation in Beijing quickly developed. People were gathered on Tiananmen square, posters were all over the place, some of which making political demands. On April 17th, several hundreds of students from University of Politics and Laws, Beijing Normal University, and Beijing University held a sit-in at Xinhua Gate, which is near Zhongnan Hai. They published 7 demands: (1.) Re-label Hu Yaobang, re-label 1986 student movement and the anti-Bourgeoisie Liberalism movement. (2.) Cancel “Ten Restrictions on Demonstration”; (3.) Freedom of press – news media be allowed to speak truth; (4.) Recover the reputation of Fang Lizhi, etc.; (5.) Improve the standard of living of the highly educated (知识分之), invest in education; (6.) Tame inflation, curb corruption, prohibit profiteering on rationed goods 官倒; (7.) Promote democratic reform.
On campus of University F, after several days of spontaneous gatherings, finally a team of 20 was formed and volunteered to organize a off-campus demonstration. Among this team was Mr. Zhang Cai, a year 86 student at department of management. However, on April 19th, when over a thousand students were gathered on campus and ready to take off, Mr. Zhang Cai announced that the demonstration was being cancelled. He was under tremendous pressure from the university. It was a significant setback for the student movement in Shanghai.
My friends and I all participated in the gatherings, although not taking any organizing or leading role, as graduate students, we were the thoughtful bunch. As compared to the younger, more passionate undergraduate students, we tend to be more mature, more reserved. We thoroughly debated the politics and we had been paying attention to what has been happening in the communist world in East Europe. We thought that political reform was necessary, and also was unavoidable.
In Beijing, University Self-Rule Association (高校自治联合会) was formed. From the night of April 21th, seven thousands of students from Beijing Normal University and Tsinghua University departed their campuses, and headed towards Tiananmen square which is 30 LI away. Along the way, more students joined them. By the time they reached the square on the morning of April 22th, tens of thousands have joined them.
Many things happened in Beijing between April 22nd, and May 1st , and the student movement started to gain international attention. Hu’s funeral was held on April 22nd, massive street demonstrations were held on April 22nd, 27th. The news media is China started to show a more balanced view and much more open reporting from April 28th until May 19th. Internal politics within the two camps of communist party started to become more visible, with Zhao Ziyang and Hu Qili sounding moderate views. On April 29th, a historical dialogue between senior government officials and student representatives were held in Beijing and was later broadcasted on national TV. “Classroom boycott” was also initiated in Beijing around this time.
Under this favorable circumstance, Mr. Zhang Cai returned to University F after his trip to Beijing, and on the evening of May 1st, a gathering was held at classroom 3108, where they decided to go to street the next day, and a self-policing security team was formed to maintain order.
The next day, on May 2nd, finally a couple of thousand of students left campus, and their first stop is University T, where they met their counterparts. The students took the Si Ping Road, went through the world famous Bund, and arrived at the People’s Square, where many students from Hua Dong Normal students were already gathered. The total crowd was estimated at 8 thousands. The formation of Shanghai University Self-Rule Association was announced demonstration. Two most prominent demands of the students were: (1.) dialogue; (2.) Let the liberal newspaper World Economy (世界经济导报) publish. Let Mr. Qin Benli (钦本立), the editor-in-chief return to work. The newspaper was shut down a week ago by Shanghai Party Boss Mr. Jiang Zemin (江泽民). One of the slogans the students used was: “还我导报，导报无罪；还我本力，连本带利”。
I was in this demonstration from beginning to end, and I retuned to campus late at night physically tired but in high spirit. For this demonstration, and the next one on May 4th in Shanghai, the local press took a neutral stand, merely reported something like “activity was not pre-approved by police (Gong An)”.
Between May 4th and May 13th, things were kinds of in a holding pattern, Classroom Boycott started to spread at University F as well, usually by class. Department of Physics, class of 87 was the most visible – they had a on-campus parade which ended at the location where the university posted a large notice called “classroom boycott not permitted”.
The student movement also started to go beyond university, attracting many sympathizers across China’s society. Hundreds of reporters and others in news media took to the street and had their own demonstration in Shanghai around May 10th.
Fast forward to May 13th, Saturday. Several hundreds of university students in Beijing went to Tiananmen square and declared that they were starting a hunger strike, promoting another round of escalation. Their bottom line demands to end the strike were: (1.) Categorize the student movement as patriotic democracy movement; (2.) Dialogue with the senior officials in the government on concrete reforms.
Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Union communist party general secretary, was coming to Beijing, the first visit by any Soviet Union leader in 3 decades. It was a historical event, and 1200 reporters from all around the world were coming to Beijing for it. It was the best opportunity to attract international attention to the causes of the students.
Whatever happened Beijing in that week was historical, and all facts were well known because amazingly enough the news media for whatever reason had a free run to report anything they wanted during that week.
The whole nation, even a large part of the world’s attention was on the student movement in Beijing, and other cities across China.
On May 16th, in Shanghai, five thousands of university students, many of them from University F gathered at THE BUND to show their support for the students on Tiananmen square who were into their the 4th day of their 7-day hunger strike. At 10pm, 60 students put on white ribbon on their forehead, sat down in front of the entrance of Shanghai municipal government (the round top historical building, now occupied by AIG or HSBC bank?). They began their tough journey of hunger strike. Two of my good friends, one of whom my roommate were among them, along with student leader Zhang Cai.
On May 17th, I wrote a one-page “hunger strike declaration” which was supposed to be read by my parents in case something happen to me, and had a memorable lunch at the Professors and Teachers’ Dining Hall. I usually go to student dining hall to save money, but this meal would be a bit special, so I spent some extra money and feasted on my then favorite dish – a very sizable fried pork steak on rice, along with some vegetables. Back then I was dating an undergraduate student at the same university, we cared about each other quite a bit. I left her a note and left for THE BUND without saying goodbye. I knew that she would not have let me do it.
I joined my friends at THE BUND, sat with them and chatted for 3 hours, then I put on my own white ribbon which had “Life for Democracy” (“用生命换取民主“) hand written on it. The writing was later changed to “Hunger Strike to Survive” (绝食为了生存) after the original one was soaked by rain. This was the beginning of my 64-hour hunger strike.
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