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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Witnessing Tiananmen: Clearing the square
Special unit soldiers storming the Hero's Memorial in Tiananmen Square, 5am , 4 June 1989 (64memo.com)
Troops began clearing Tiananmen Square early on 4 June
Fifteen years ago, China was rocked by 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.

Zhang Boli was deputy director of the students' hunger strike at Tiananmen Square. He then spent two years on the run before fleeing to the United States, where he now lives.

While we were making preparations news came from all sides saying that the troops had started to open fire.

I remember many students ran to the square with blood running down their faces.

The guns of the People's Army were pointing at (us) and they were loaded
Zhang Boli
In some places, troops were shooting and in some places there were clashes. Zhang Huajie had actually been beaten up. When he ran to the square his face was full of blood.

He grabbed the microphone and spoke into it: "Fellow students, they have really opened fire now. They are really shooting! They are using their guns and using real bullets!"

I couldn't believe it. We at the square at the time could not really believe it.

There was a speaker's platform under the statue of the Goddess of Democracy. It was at the time when Yan Jiaqi and I had just started to speak, the troops arrived. And they were moving into Tiananmen Square.

Under the floodlight I could see all those dark helmets moving like waves into the square towards us. I felt that the final moment must have come.

So I spoke to the students, telling them that we should still behave in the spirit we had adopted all along: "We will not fight back even if we are beaten up, and we will not talk back even if we are cursed upon."

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

We decided to retreat to the Monument of Heroes to wait there for instructions from our command centre. Finally we reached the Monument.

Later, Zhou Duo and Hou Dejian removed their white vests and, using them as white flags, they walked over to the troops to negotiate. After all, Hou Dejian was a famous singer of some influence. He couldn't be cast as an anti-revolutionary rebel.

When Zhou Duo returned he told the students: "They say over there 'We'll give you only half an hour to leave, to evacuate. If you don't, you will have to bear the consequences.'"

So a very important decision was to be made at the time. What are we going to do with the several thousand students here? To leave, to evacuate, or not? Actually it was quite obvious at the time that it was time that we should leave. So when Feng Congde took over the microphone he knew that a heavy burden of history was handed to him.

Finally, the lights (at the square) were switched off. When the lights were out the students thought the troops would start shooting. So, many students huddled together. When the lights were out the microphone was also cut off.

Feng Congde then used a loud-speaker to speak to the students: "Fellow students, we have two opinions here. One says we should leave now. Another says we should stay put. As I can't see you, please speak aloud to respond. I will first say " WE WILL NOT LEAVE ". If you agree, please say aloud WE AGREE. Then I will say " WE WILL LEAVE ". If you agree, please say " AGREE ". I'll see which response is louder."

Actually it was not easy to tell which response from the crowd was louder.

Feng Congde quickly made a wise decision: " I am standing here. This is the highest place. I could hear the response for us TO LEAVE was louder. So the command centre have now decided WE SHOULD LEAVE."

After it was decided that we should leave, they left only a very small gap for us to leave - just about as wide as this room. But nobody dared to move first.

After all, the troops were still in the distance. They had not met us face to face yet. We could only see the helmets. Whoever was first to move and leave [might be mistaken by the troops in the distance as a move of challenge to them.] And if the troops were to fire, those in the front would be the first to be killed, wouldn't they?

A speeding tank came upon us like a gust of wind trying to cut through the lines of people
Zhang Boli

But there was nothing else the people at the command centre could do, so they led the way to leave first.

All the people at the command centre formed a line. They included students who were protecting the command centre. These were students from the Beijing Sports College and were called the pickets.

All those in the first three rows to come out were later listed as the most wanted criminals by the Communist Party.

I think of the 21 student leaders on the government's most wanted list four or five were there. When we - the first row of people - came out to meet the troops our hearts were really jumping and beating hard.

The guns of the People's Army were pointing at [us] and they were loaded. They were holding machine guns. With one pull of the finger they could fire on us.

Hou Dejian went over to say: "Would it be OK for you people to raise your guns a bit higher and point at the sky?"

It was quite a painful experience. But we came out of the Square. And they didn't fire on us. I think that was because they also had to consider the opinions of the people of the nation and of the whole world.

If they were rash enough to decide to finish the lot of us on the spot, they could, but it would not do them any good at all. So it was still quite peaceful when we left Tiananmen Square.

But when we reached Liulukou suddenly there was trouble.

It was already dawn. A speeding tank came upon us like a gust of wind trying to cut through the lines of people. It was not just trying to run over people, it was also throwing out tear gas.

I remember we were all choking and couldn't open our eyes. We just heard the loud rumblings of the tanks.

About a dozen metres behind me people were crying in hysteria. I think more than 12, or 20-odd people were in a mess of blood and flesh.

It was said later that 11 people were killed there.

This is the last in a series of interviews published in the run-up to the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4. The other articles in the series can be seen here:


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