The Relevance of the Western Left
Henry C.K. Liu
hliu at SPAMmindspring.com
Fri Feb 16 22:51:05 MST 2001
PARTIAL CHRONOLOGY FOR THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE
PART ONE: PRE-1989
Beginning on May 4th, college students staged a series of
demonstrations to protest the terms of the Versailles Treaty,
German territories in China to Japan rather than returning
them to China
after World War I. These demonstrations inaugurated a new
national consciousness in China, and the term "May 4th
came to symbolize the spirit of patriotism among youths. In
Chinese history, the term "May 4th Period" signifies an era of
intellectual debate concerning the roles of traditional
modern science, and Western style democracy.
Atop Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) on October 1, Mao
proclaims the establishment of the People's Republic of China.
A ten-year period which Mao calls "the Cultural Revolution."
Mao's death, it has often been referred to as "the ten years
The period is characterized by power struggles among the
leadership, by the rise of "Red Guards" and "revolutionary
the populous, and by extensive political persecutions
sectors of Chinese society. Deng Xiaoping and many other high
leaders fall from power.
Premier Zhou Enlai dies on January 8. In April, thousands of
gather in Tiananmen Square to commemorate him and criticize
closest associates. Clashes between mourners and police result
"Tiananmen Incident," which the government brands as a
Mao Zedong dies on September 9. On October 6, Mao's four
associates--including his wife, Jiang Qing--are arrested. Deng
rises to power once more, and the official verdict of the
Incident" is overturned.
Deng Xiaoping launches economic reforms and proclaims the
Modernizations," in industry, agriculture, science and
A stretch of construction wall near a busy commercial district
attracts nation-wide attention as the "Democracy Wall," a
people put up posters to voice their criticism of the
On January 1, the United States and the People's Republic of
formally establish diplomatic relations.
Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping arrives in the U.S. on January 28,
official visit ever by a senior Chinese Communist leader.
The government suppresses the "Democracy Wall" and arrests
activists, the most famous among them being Wei Jingsheng. Wei
sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
In June, Hu Yaobang is appointed as the Party General
In late fall, college students in several cities stage
demand political reform.
In January, Hu Yaobang is accused of being soft on the student
and on "bourgeois liberalism," and is forced to resign. Later,
Ziyang becomes the General Secretary of the Communist Party,
Peng the Premier.
The Central Committee endorses Premier Li Peng's policy to
pace of economic reforms, a setback for Zhao Ziyang.
PART TWO: 1989
Former Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, deposed in 1987,
dies of a
massive heart attack. People began to gather in Tiananmen
commemorate Hu and voice their discontents.
The official memorial service for Hu Yaobang is held in the
of the People. Demanding to meet with Premier Li Peng, three
representatives carry a petition and kneel on the steps of the
Great Hall in
front of the 100,000 students who have gathered in the Square
before. Li Peng does not respond, and the students refuse to
officials pass on the petition. Angered by official apathy,
The Communist Party newspaper People's Daily publishes an
accusing a "small handful of plotters" of stirring up student
creating turmoil in order to overthrow the Communist Party and
Ignoring warnings of violent suppression, students from more
universities march to Tiananmen in protest of the April 26th
Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, in a meeting with foreign
makes a speech which in essence contradicts the April 26th
Several hundred students begin a hunger strike at Tiananmen
Second day of hunger strike. In the afternoon, elected student
representatives charged with the responsibility for dialogue
government begin formal talks with the government. The talks
down because the promised broadcast does not materialize. In
evening, twelve of China's most famous writers and scholars
their emergency appeals at the Square, calling on the
acknowledge the movement as a patriotic democracy movement and
calling on the students to end their hunger strike. Their
Third day of hunger strike. Gorbachev arrives in Beijing for
Sino-Soviet summit since 1959. The government cancels plans to
welcome Gorbachev at Tiananmen Square.
Sixth day of hunger strike. Li Peng summons several student
a televised talk at the Great Hall of the People. Nothing is
[Full transcript of this televised meeting available.] The
prepares to declare martial law.
Seventh day of hunger strike. The government's plan for
martial law is
leaked to student leaders, who call off the hunger strike and
The Independent Workers Union (IWU) is founded at Tiananmen
In an evening speech, Premier Li Peng calls for "firm and
measures to end the turmoil swiftly." [Full text of speech
The government formally declares martial law in Beijing, but
advance towards the city is blocked by large numbers of
The troops pull back to the outskirts of Beijing.
The Alliance to Protect the Constitution is set up in order to
the actions of the various groups involved in the movement.
The Defend Tiananmen Square Headquarters is set up. Chai Ling
The Alliance to Protect the Constitution decides by a
unanimous vote to
recommend that the students end their occupation of the Square
30th. The resolution is announced at a press conference in the
The Defend Tiananmen Square Headquarters rejects the May 27th
resolution to end the occupation of Tiananmen Square.
[Read an account of the above events in Black Hands of
George Black and Robin Munro.]
Chai Ling gives a long interview to Philip Cunningham, an
journalist. A transcript of the complete interview in its
The ten-meter-high Goddess of Democracy is unveiled. [Read
about the Goddess in Wu Hung's "Tiananmen Square: A Political
History of Monuments" in Representations 35, Summer 1991.]
At 5:00 pm, Liu Xiaobo, Hou Dejian, Zhou Duo and Gao Xin start
hunger strike in Tiananmen Square.
Troops receive orders to reclaim Tiananmen Square at all cost.
10:00 pm, soldiers open fire on people who try to block the
advance, as well as on those who are simply shouting at the
Tanks and armored personnel carriers move toward the center of
Many people in the streets are killed or wounded, including
Around 1:00 am, troops surround Tiananmen Square and await
Around 4:00 am, the four men who began a hunger strike on June
negotiate with the troops to allow the students to leave the
Around 5:00 am, several thousand students, and their teachers
supporters leave the Square at gunpoint.
[Read a detailed account of the night of June 3-4 in Black
Beijing, by George Black and Robin Munro.]
Deng Xiaoping, in a nationally broadcast television
appearance, speaks to
the commanders of the martial-law units. [Full transcript of
The Gate of Heavenly Peace focuses on the events of April-June
as they occurred in Beijing. The protests that spring,
however, were not
isolated to the capital; while time did not allow the film to
events in other cities, additional readings on this topic are
this site. See The Pro-Democracy Protests in China, edited by
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