What happened at Tiananmen Square?


Quick Answer

In April and May of 1989, crowds of up to 100,000 protesters, mostly students but also workers and other people, assembled in Tiananmen Square to demonstrate for political reform. By early June, the government and protesters had reached an impasse, and on June 3-4, Chinese authorities sent troops to clear the square. Estimates of the number of protesters slaughtered by the army range from several hundred to several thousand.

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Full Answer

The protest began in April 1989 as a patriotic memorial gathering for reformist leader Hu Yaobang. The government reversed an official decision and accorded Hu a state funeral but refused to meet with a group of protesters. After the service, the crowd did not disperse, and party leader Deng Xiaoping wrote an editorial condemning the protesters. The protests spread to almost 250 other cities, and the students proclaimed a hunger strike to pressure the government into retracting the editorial. Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev arrived for an official meeting, and international media began to focus on the events in Tiananmen Square. On June 2, party leaders met and agreed to use the People's Liberation Army to clear the square by force.

Two divisions of the army moved into the square on foot and in tanks, throwing tear gas, bayoneting and shooting people, and crushing people and vehicles under the treads of their tanks. Anyone trying to enter the area was shot, including parents seeking missing children, doctors and ambulance drivers. The official government count of those killed was 241, but the initial count by the Chinese Red Cross was almost 3,000. Many students and others who survived were imprisoned or blacklisted. The United States and other countries denounced the Chinese government for the massacre, and the U.S. Congress imposed sanctions on China.

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