Tiananmen Square Massacre analysis



Introduction. 1

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Causes of students’ upheavals. 1

The Nature and Extent of the Massacre. 3

The Consequences of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. 4




The Tiananmen Square Massacre is an incident that took place between April 15, 1989 and June 4, 1989 in the People’s Republic of China. It occurred as a series of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations staged and by led by students together with other intellectuals and labour activists. Many hundreds of civilians were shot dead by the Chinese Army, with the death toll estimated at between one thousand and three thousand only in Beijing. The heart of the demonstrations was in Beijing though other demonstrations occurred in other cities of China such as Shanghai

Tiananmen Square was built in 1651; it is an open square in the centre of Beijing and is one of the largest public squares in the world. It expands to an area of forty and half hectares, where each flagstone is numbered for easy identification in assemblies. It derives its name from the Gate of The Heavenly Peace or the massive stone Tiananmen. It is a well and magnificently designed square for massive gatherings and has been a rallying point for student demonstrations for decades (Walder, &, Xiaoxia. 1-3).

Causes of students’ upheavals

According to Kristof, (112), after almost one and half months into the students’ demonstrations for democracy, the Chinese government ordered the People’s Republic Army to open fire on the protestors at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Deep in the night of June 4, the troops opened fire on unarmed assembled crowds, armed carriers rolled into the square with armoured vehicles crushing most of the students who were asleep in their tents within the square. The government underestimated number of casualties, although, several hundred to several thousand casualties were estimated.

Wright, (121–132) argues that there has consistent growth of resentment among university students and others in China for political and economic reforms. The country has had a remarkable growth in the economy and liberalization, with most Chinese people being exposed to foreign ideologies and standards of living. The remarkable economic growth was accompanied by much advancement in China coupled with many modes of prosperity for most citizens. These benefits in economic growth were accompanied by negative price inflations together with massive opportunities for corruptions within the ranks of the government officials. During the mid-1980s, the government had advocated for scientists and intellectuals to take more active roles in politics, though the students saw this as not enough, and their demonstrations called for more individual rights and freedoms. Between 1986 and 1987, this student-led demonstrations made the hardliners in the Chinese Communist Party and government to take a hard stance to suppress the bourgeois liberalism that had encouraged the pro-democratic reforms (Timperlake, 123).

The death of Hu in mid April was one of the major catalytic chains of events that led to the uprising in 1989. Hu had become a martyr because of his hard line stance in the promotion of democracy and his cause for political liberalization. Particularly, on the day of his funeral, many students gathered at Tiananmen Square demanding more democratic and political space. Many weeks succeeding the funeral of Hu in April the 22nd, the students continued to converge at the square in crowds of varying sizes. The students were eventually joined by other likeminded citizens such as individual seeking socio-political and economic reforms. Similar demonstrations cropped up in other major cities of China especially Shanghai, Xi’an, Nanjing, Chengdu, and Changsha. Beijing’s demonstration is the one that called for more international media attention. The many international journalists were present in Beijing partly because of the international visit by the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev which coincided with the rising demonstrations. During the last fortnight of May, martial law was declared in Beijing with the army troops surrounding the city, and made many attempts to reach the square which was thwarted by many citizens blocking their way and flooding the streets (Becker, 8).

The Nature and Extent of the Massacre

On April, the 15th, 1989, the vigil students gathered at the Tiananmen Square to commemorate the death of Hu Yaobang, who was a progressive reform minded leader, who sought freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the empowerment of the young generation. The prodemocracy movement was calling for change in government, political liberalization, and an end to corruption. The protestors displayed Lady Liberty signalling a desire for freedom and an open system of governance. The protest was largely non violent with very broad opposition to the government, and the situation was near a civil war. On the night of June 3-4, tanks and armed troops approached the Tiananmen Square, opened fire and crushed those who tried to block their way. When the soldiers reached the square, the few thousand of the remaining protestors chose to leave the venue rather than continue to continue to confront the military. There were intense sporadic shootings during the day, and the military forcibly moved in against the protestors. The military completely took control of the square by June the 5th

The movement earned commendable support for its agenda and sympathy abroad, as the incident received wide media coverage. This was the most potent challenge to the legitimacy of the Communist Party’s authority since the reign of Mao Tse Tung in 1949.  Hundreds of protestors were presumed dead, many wounded, and many more imprisoned. The military action was delayed by inside factional struggles among the leaders and fear of international shame.

The Consequences of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

The effects of the Tiananmen Square Massacre crackdown saw many civilians dead, inured or imprisoned. Many foreign governments became aware of what was happening in China. The United States sanctioned diplomatic and economic embargoes with many foreign governments criticizing the Chinese government handling of the protests. Most media houses in the western nations labelled the incident a massacre, and thousands upon thousands of protestors were suspected to be dissidents by the Chinese government. They received sentences of varying periods of time while others were executed. Many of the protest leaders escaped to other countries and seek political asylum in the western nations. Jiang Zemin replaced the disgraced Zhao Ziyang as the party secretary-general.

The Chinese government tried to downplay the incident and its significance, by labelling the people protesting as counter-revolutionaries. The government’s data released on those who died stood at 241 including government troops, and about seven thousand wounded. The government has tried effectively to suppress references to the incident; even public commemorations related to the incident have been banned. However, Hong Kong’s residents have continued to stay an annual vigil to commemorate the anniversary of the crackdown. President George W Bush acting on the premise of public outrage, imposed minor diplomatic sanctions, although, he subordinated human rights issues to United States business interests. Bill Clinton labelled Bush as coddling dictators, and his policies followed the pattern of engaging the Chinese government commercially, with the view that trade and openness would facilitate political reforms (Langley, 16).

Life in China changed after the Tiananmen Massacre, the government became very strict, and the university students had to take a test every year to sign that they totally agree with the government policies and strictly adhere to it. People all over the world were not happy with China’s government mode of response to the protests, and the freedom people were taken away. The incident brought to the fore the atrocities that the Chinese people were suffering under their government (Becker, 8).


The demonstrations in Tiananmen Square were the most challenging in the Communist state of China. The military offensive was the worst form of atrocities committed by the Chinese government on its people, when the demonstrators who were mainly students staged a peaceful demonstration at the Tiananmen Square for seven days.  Many were killed in the aftermath of the political violence that saw diplomatic sanctions imposed on the Government of China. The ferocity of the attack took many people by surprise including the protesting students and other citizens of the world’s countries. Army troops cleared the square not withstanding re assurances that there would be no violence, however, many were killed, maimed, exiled or imprisoned. The government of China was not sensitive to the freedoms that the people were yearning for, and the communist leader Deng Xiaoping could have personally ordered the shooting of the unarmed citizens to shore up his leadership.


Works cited

Becker, J. “Protests spread in China”, “Manchester Guardian Weekly”. 30 April 1989; p. 8

Walder, A & G Xiaoxia. “Workers in the Tiananmen Protests: The Politics of the Beijing   Workers’ Autonomous Federation.” Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, no. 29, January 1993. pp. 1–2. Print

Wright K. the Political Fortunes of the World Economic Herald, Australian Journal of Chinese     Affairs, nr 23, pp 121–132 (1990). Print

Kristof, N “A Reassessment of How Many Died In the Military Crackdown in Beijing“. The New   York Times. (1989).

Langley, A. Tiananmen Square: Massacre Crushes China’s Democracy Movement. Compass        Point Books, p. 16.(2009). Print

Timperlake, Edward. (1999). Red Dragon Rising. Regnery Publishing. Print


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