China Beat Archive



Date of this Version


Document Type



May 8, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 8, 2009. Used by permission.


Wang Chaohua is an independent scholar who received her doctorate from UCLA last year, has written political commentaries for periodicals such as the New Left Review, and is the editor of One China, Many Paths. A leader of the Tiananmen protests of 1989, she wrote the following essay reflecting on the events of twenty years ago for Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper, which will run the original Chinese language version soon. Dr. Wang has been good enough to provide us with an English language translation to publish here.

We all know that the large scale, student-led pro-democracy movement that took place in China twenty years ago was triggered by the April 15, 1989, death of Hu Yaobang, the former General-secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After a stalemate between the government and the protesters that lasted for almost two months, the Party eventually gave the order to open fire at the masses, resulting in the June Fourth Massacre that saw many peaceful protesters killed or injured by military forces. To this day, there has not been an independent investigation into the crime, nor any open, reliable counting of the victims. Some facts, though, are clear, such as that the majority of victims were not students but ordinary urban residents of Beijing, the capital city.

However, a careful look at the actual development of events reveals that, in the first ten days or so, the great majority of protesters were students. When Hu Yaobang’s funeral was held on April 22 and the casket was carried from the funeral site, the Great Hall of People by Tiananmen Square, to its final resting place in west suburban Beijing, there were not many people spontaneously lining up the big thoroughfare to pay their final tribute to Hu – at least, far fewer than had turned more than a decade earlier, when there was a massive showing at the funeral of former Premier Zhou Enlai in January 1976. Those mourning crowdssent political shock waves through the capital.