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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 23:39 GMT 00:39 UK
Witnessing Tiananmen: Protests mount
27 April 1984 demonstration in Beijing (64.memo.com)
Students from dozens of universities joined the 27 April protest
Fifteen years ago, China witnessed huge protests and calls for change, before these were brutally crushed by tanks around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The BBC's Chinese Service has interviewed some of those who witnessed the protests and subsequent bloodshed.

Gao Wenqian was working at the Central Party Literature Research Centre in the Chinese capital at the time. He witnessed the 27 April demonstration sparked by student fury at an editorial in the People's Daily that said their gatherings in Tiananmen Square were aimed at stirring up unrest.

We had already heard from informed sources in our organisation about the number of troops the government was preparing to despatch for the occasion.

The 38 army unit, armed police forces and local security units were all called up to get ready.

Zhao Ziyang, 19 May 1989
15 April - Reformist leader Hu Yaobang dies
22 April - Hu's memorial service, thousands call for faster reforms
13 May - Students begin hunger strike as power struggle grips Communist party
15 May - Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visits China
19 May - Zhao Ziyang (pictured) makes tearful appeal to students to leave
20 May - Martial law declared in Beijing
3-4 June - Security forces clear the square, killing hundreds

The troops, it was said, were not necessarily to be used to suppress the student demonstration.

The prime concern and intention was to prevent the students from leaving their campuses.

Students would be stopped from coming out of their universities. "Stop them and block them!" - that was the order given. We were rather concerned about such tactics.

I remember very clearly the events on that day. I was on my way to the office. People kept coming up and telling me where the students were at any particular time.

Students had now broken out of Zhong Guan Cun [campus of Qinghua University].

In search of the march

And then after lunch I thought to myself: "This will not do - I really have to go and see it." I jumped on my bike.

First I reached Fu Xing Men and then I arrived at Li Jiao Qiao. There - I could see - the students were marching in my direction. On both sides of the road it was full of people. Students were marching in the middle of the road.

I remember very clearly that students from Qinghua University were marching in the front, carrying a huge banner. Several old professors in white hair were also part of the march.

I felt that the Chinese people had truly stood up

What caught my particular attention was that one of them was carrying a placard bearing the words: "We have kneeled down too long and are getting up to stretch our legs!"

As a research scholar of Chinese history I understood the implied meaning of the slogan on the placard.

Ever since the establishment of New China [Communist China, in 1949] the intellectuals were always the targets of criticism in political campaigns and were made to suffer their misfortune and maltreatment in subdued silence.

And now the university professors were walking at the head of the march and carrying such a placard.

For a moment I sank into deep and painful reflections. However, the atmosphere at the time was not yet very tense, because I knew at the time the authority in charge had not yet issued any other orders other than just blocking the routes of the students.

But students were trying to break through the roadblocks. Many ordinary citizens also got to the front trying to help the students get through. And suddenly, they did it! They had broken the cordons and were coming through!

Evocative words

And I was there witnessing the scene. I felt at that moment that the intellectuals had finally stood up. I felt that the Chinese people had truly stood up.

I recalled some months earlier there had been some sudden overseas interest in [Communist leader Chairman] Mao Zedong.

One of the much talked about achievements attributed to Mao was that it was he who had made it possible that "the Chinese people had finally stood up" - a sentence first used by Mao upon the city wall at Tiananmen Square on the first National Day [1 October] of New China in 1949.

But to me what he said at that time was not really true. Actually on 1 October 1949 Mao Zedong was the only person who had stood up. Millions of Chinese had since been stooping down and cowering low, and that included people like Zhou Enlai, the prime minister of the State Council.

Even Zhou had become only an obsequious "yes man" in front of Mao, let alone the ordinary Chinese people.

Ordinary people suffered so much in the political campaigns, particularly the intellectuals, who had always had to bear the brunt of blame.

And now on this occasion the professors held up a placard saying "We have kneeled down too long and are getting up to stretch our legs". It was heartrending for me to see the placard. Waves of painful thoughts surged through me.

I finally joined in with the march, but was paying much attention to all those banners and slogans. Many were very interesting, but it was the professors' placard that made the biggest impression on me.

Theirs' was the one which most plucked at my heartstrings, and also, I think, most truly reflected the inner thoughts of the Chinese intellectuals.


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