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1989 Revolutions

China: Tiananmen Square

Protests by students in China began with the death of disgraced Communist Party chairman Hu Yao-bang (Hu Yoa-pang) (1915-89), a liberal reformer ousted in 1987 for not halting student demonstrations for democracy and human rights. In Beijing, university students eulogized Hu as a symbol of "modernization" and made peaceful daily marches of protest to Tiananmen Square, where they openly danced and debated over politics and corruption.

Fearing their communist legitimacy threatened by the pro-democracy movment, the government leaders under Deng Xiaoping (1904-97) ordered military forces to disperse the crowds and regain control. Supported by tanks and other armored vehicles, helmeted soldiers moved into Tiananmen Square and other Beijing neighborhoods late Saturday night June 3, 1989, and in the early morning hours the next day began throwing tear-gas shells and chasing students and others from the square. Some protesters held fast behind barricades, fighting with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Troops began firing their AK-47 assault rifles at the mobs, while tanks fired their cannons indiscriminately down thoroughfares.

Within hours on June 4, the square was virtually emptied of all protesters, and hundreds of wounded were hustled away among smoldering vehicles and debris. The Chinese government proclaimed a great victory over "counter-revolutionary insurgents," and later issued harsh martial laws ordering the arrest of pro-democracy leaders and dissidents, similar to the practices in the Chinese "Cultural Revolution." It is estimated Tank Manthat thousands of citizens were killed that day in Beijing. Chinese leaders since have largely silenced democracy and human-rights advocates, many of whom have been jailed or exiled.

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