China Beat Archive



Zhang Lijia

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June 4, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright June 4, 2009 Zhang Lijia. Used by permission.


Whenever “1989” is mentioned, people in the West instantly think about the protesting students in Tiananmen Square. In fact, although it started in Beijing and was led by the students there, the democratic movement was a nationwide event, drawing together people from all walks of life.

Twenty years on, I remember vividly every detail of that day when I organized a demonstration among the workers from my Nanjing factory in support of the movement. It was Sunday, May 28, a week before the crackdown in Beijing.

The death of Hu Yaobang had triggered the spontaneous democratic movement. The popular former Communist Party secretary-general had been ousted, in part for his sympathetic view towards students’ protests. When the government rejected their request for his rehabilitation, Beijing students marched towards Tiananmen, demanding greater freedom and democracy. Like a match thrown onto kindling, students from all over the country took to the streets. They were soon joined by ordinary citizens who were disgusted by widespread corruption, rising inflation, and lack of personal freedom.

By then I had been working for a factory, a missile producer, for nine years in Nanjing, my hometown. The factory was a mini-Communist state, housing us in identical block buildings, feeding us at dining halls, indoctrinating us at meeting rooms and controlling our lives with strict rules: no lipsticks; no high heel shoes or flared trousers; no dating for the first three years at the factory. Every month, all women had to go to the hygiene room to show blood to the so-called ‘period police’ to prove that we were not pregnant.