The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which towers over the huge square, has witnessed many important events of the largest and most populous country in the world.
Tiananmen Square, that is Squareof Heavenly Peace, located in the centre of Beijing, the capital city of China, is the biggest public square in the world (800x300 meters). From the Square through the Gate Supporting Heaven, Chengtianmen in Chinese, we can enter A Forbidden City, that is an Ancient Palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Gate and the Square were built in 1417, during the reign of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty. At first it was in a shape of a typical paifang, that is a traditional element of the Chinese architecture. It was destroyed and rebuilt couple of times, and its current form was shaped during the reign of the Qing dynasty in the 17th century and it was given name of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which is famous till today.
From a terrace on the top of the Gate on October,1st 1949 Mao Zedong announced the establishment of People’s Republic of China. During celebrations of public holidays the highest representatives of authorities sit there.
At the end of 1960s the Gate was in a very poor condition. On Prime Minister Zhou Enlai’s instruction, in 1969-1970 it was covered with scaffolding and disassembled in secret, and then it was rebuild with traditional techniques and materials.
Since 1949 a huge portrait of Mao Zedong has been hanging above the main entrance of the Gate. After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 a portrait of him was temporarily hung instead of the portrait of Mao, whereas after Mao’s death in 1976, in token of mourning a black and white photograph of him was hung instead of the portrait. There were couple of attempts to destroy the portrait – among other things in 1989 it was poured with paint, and in 2007 there was an attempt to set it on fire.
The tradition of hanging portraits and slogans on the Gate dates back to the times earlier than rise of the People’s Republic of China. From 1925 the portrait of Sun Yat-sen, the first President of China, a founder of Kuomintang and an actual leader to death, hung above the entrance of the Gate. Next, the portrait of Chiang Kay-shek (from 1945) hung there, however in the period of the Japanese occupation of Beijing the slogan „Let us build a New Order in the Eastern Asia” was placed under the roof of the Gate.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace towering over the huge Square was a witness of many important events of this biggest and most populous country in the world.
In the times of the Empire it played a role of a connector between the Forbidden City and an outer world. From its top a sculpted phoenix was put on a rope in its beak down, imperial edicts, results of state examination were announced there and military expeditions were bid goodbye. Once a year from the left part of the Gate an imperial official carried out a review of death sentences, which poured in Beijing; in case the death sentence had been approved, it was executed instantaneously. The Emperor himself appeared on the Gate very seldom; when he happened to turn up, he was accompanied by several thousand host.
Until 1911 China, that is the Middle Kingdom, remained the Empire. But throughout the 20th century it struggled with internal fights, and increasingly weak reign of last Emperors of the Qing dynasty could not ensure peace in this country of huge space, where not only the influences of the adjacent countries like Japan and Russia but also of European countries – France and Germany clashed. When in 1908, after the Guangxu Emperor’s death and then the Cixi Empress’s death, a 2-year old Puyi was seated on the throne everything started to fall apart. In 1911 an uprising in Wuchang broke out. This triggered the Chinese revolution. In Nanjing an assembly of representatives of revolutionized provinces proclaimed the People's Republic of China and elected Sun Yat-sen a provisional President. On February 12th, 1912 an edict on dethronement of the Qing dynasty was publicized and the Republic was proclaimed. With different turbulences the Republic survived as long as till 1945.
The following years were no longer kind to China, long-term reign of Mao Zedong, the cultural revolution, the Gang of Four, all of this left its mark on the people, on the Chinese economy as well as on the culture.
In 1950-1952 in China a land reform was performed. Within the frames of the reform 47 million hectares of land was divided among 300 million of peasants, property of Japanese and German Kuomintang’s bureaucracy and of foreign companies was nationalized. The property of the Chinese bourgeoisie was not nationalized. Chinese Communist Party, which governed the country, planned a smooth transition from capitalism to socialism. Within 15-18 years they intended to carry out preliminary industrialization of the country, collectivisation of agriculture and nationalization of industry and trade, but comrade Mao was impatient and wanted to do all of this much more quickly. In 1958 he initiated a policy of accelerated transformations, also known as "the Great Leap Forward”, but both an attempt to obtain substantial increase in production of steel by melting it in small, primitive furnaces and formation of people's communes resulted in rapid deterioration of the economic situation and famine. The government continued to manually steer the huge economy, but it only led to division in the management of Chinese Communist Party. The followers of the reforms focused around Liu Shaoqi, from 1959 a leader of Chinese Communist Party, and Deng Xiaoping, a Secretary General of the Central Committee and Deputy Prime Minister, contrary to the opponents who concentrated around Mao Zedong. In 1966 Mao Zedong`s followers gained vantage, announced "the cultural revolution", and Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping were removed from power. The reign in China was taken over by a small group of people focused around Mao Zedong and his nominated deputy marshal Lin Biao. The reign outside a built-up areawas taken over by the army. "The cultural revolution” disorganized the life of the country and caused massive casualties. Military clashes between Chinese and Soviet forces occurred on the Ussuri River in 1969.
After Lin Biao’s death in 1971 Prime Minister Zhou Enlai made an attempt to partially resign from the aims of "the cultural revolution", which was supported by Deng Xiaoping, who became a Deputy Prime Minister again in 1973. Their attempts faced objection of a radical faction of the party’s management. After Zhou Enlai’s death in January 1976, Hua Guofeng became Prime Minister. In April 1976 in Tiananmen Square there were first in People’s Republic of China mass people’s manifestation demanding abandonment of a policy of building communism and class struggle, put up by Mao Zedong. Deng Xiaoping was removed from power again.
After Mao Zedong’s death in September 1976 the fight in the management of Chinese Communist Party aggravated. The leaders of the radical fraction, gathered around Jiang Qing, a Mao Zedong`s widow, as well as the whole so-called Gang of Four, were removed. At Chinese Communist Party convention in 1981 people made a critical assessment of Mao Zedong’s achievements they also disproved of "the Great Leap Forward" and "the cultural revolution". Nevertheless, Chinese Communist Party management could not take the liberty of disapproving Mao totally, like it happened in the USSR after Stalin’s death. Except Mao Zedong there was nobody in China whose achievements could be referred to, therefore he remained an important ideological symbol in China. For the Chinese most of all his merits count: unification of the country after the series of civil wars and preventing China from being dependent on The Soviet Union.
In 1977 Deng Xiaoping returned to the position of Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-President of the Central Committee, the followers of departure from „the cultural revolution” gained vantage and most important positions in the country were held by Zhao Ziyang, who was in favour of the reforms, Prime Minister to 1987, and Hu Yaobang a leader and Secretary of the Central Committee ofChinese Communist Party. The cultural revolution was disapproved of, most people repressed at that time were rehabilitated, "opening to the world" was proclaimed and a socialist market economy was initiated. Family farms in the agriculture were restored, a private sector revived, special economic zones were created, and in 1979 investment of foreign capital was allowed in 14 waterside cities of China.
The internal reforms were accompanied by the reforms in foreign policy. As early at the turn of the 60s and the70s the People’s Republic of China started to gradually exit the isolation. In 1971 it took Taiwan’s place in the UN Security Council. In the 70s the contacts with the US revived and in 1979 both countries established diplomatic relations. In the 80s there occurred a normalization of relations with the USSR.
After 14 years the position of Secretary General of Chinese Communist Party was reactivated, this position was held by Hu Yaobang. A year later he was elected a leader of the Central Committee, and after liquidation of this position he was in charge of the party still as Secretary General. Very quickly he gained popularity as a follower of both the reforms and liberalization of social life. In 1986 he proposed separation of the state administration from the party’s administration. However, at the end of 1986 after the protests of students, who demanded democratisation of public life, the party’s management perceived him as the main culprit of the demonstrations. On January 16th, 1987 he was forced to resign from the function of Secretary General of Chinese Communist Party, yet he was allowed to keep a position in the Political Office of the party. Zhao Ziyang took up the position of Secretary General. Nonetheless, the inflation, the increase of costs of living and inhibition of the political reforms aroused the discontent of the society.
On April 15th, 1989 Hu Yaobang died from heart attack which he suffered a couple of days earlier during the session of the Political Office of the Party, in which the education reforms were being discussed. An official obituary presented him as a faithful and dedicated member of the Party, a prominent statesman, a political leader, etc. Despite the fact that at the time of death he was not a member of the supreme authority any more, under pressure from the public the government organized his funeral with all honours and participation of the supreme authorities of the Party. He was praised for restoration of political normality and for support of economic development after the cultural revolution. People demanded his rehabilitation, continuation of the political reforms, democratisation of the public life and cracking down with the increasing corruption. A rally of mourners was organized in the Great Hall of the People, and a line of mourners was 10 miles long. The reaction of the crowd surprised the Chinese leaders.
After the funeral crowds of people did no return home, though. In Square of Heavenly Peace there stayed tens of thousands students, and a couple of thousands of them started a hunger strike. Beijing workers supported them and after a few days the huge Square was occupied by several hundred thousand people. They demanded both further reforms and freedom of speech.
Press opinion pollof May 17th revealed that 75% inhabitants of Beijing supported the strike.
Zhao Ziyang was ready to talk to the protesters, but in the Party’s management circles an option to resolve the matter forcefully won, it was supported by most hardliners. Even Deng Xiaoping, actual leader of China, was in favour of using force. He disapproved of the protests which he found antisocialist, and referring to an example of Poland he stated that concessions led to further concessions. At that time a number of events followed: there was a fraction fight in the Party, public holidays on May 1st and May 4th, and from May 15th to May 18th Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, visited China.
On the following day after Gorbachev had left, Prime Minister, Zhao Ziyang, met the protesters in the Square, but they refused to cease the demonstrations. So, on May 20th the state of emergency was introduced in Beijing, but the attempts to disperse the students made by police and local military units failed. At night from June 3rd to June 4th 1989 a 300 thousands army brought in from the province at the authority`s behest that managed to disperse the participants of the protests with the use of tanks and fire from the machine gun. Most victims were killed in fights in Chang'an Avenue adjacent to Tiananmen Square. After the action had finished a communicate was announced that peaceable soldiers had been attacked by the students.
According to official data 241 people including the soldiers were killed, and 7000 people were injured. The Chinese Red Cross estimates the number of victims as 2600 people, and Human Rights Watch claims that approximately 30 people out of hundreds arrested at that time have still been imprisoned. Some protesters were sentenced to death.
The Chinese government disapproved of the protests as counterrevolutionary riots and banned all discussions about the events or commemorating the events. Due to shortage of information from that time from China, an exact course of events is unknown or unconfirmed, and the number of victims ranges from several hundred to several thousand. Even the participants of these events, who took part in the demonstration in Square of Heavenly Peace, were not able to tell an exact course of action of the protests due to the fact that their scale was so large. The protests did not have any shared leadership either, and different fractions of the Chinese opposition in those days own up to it, but they mainly stay now outside the reach of the Chinese jurisdiction.
In 2011 WikiLeaks revealed American telegrams, which indicated that the massacre actually did not occur in Tiananmen Square, which was also all the time denied by the Chinese, but at the Muxidi bridge, couple of kilometres westward. The assault of the army with the use of live ammunition ensued around 10.30 pm. The crowd gathered at Muxidi tried to escape toward s Tiananmen Square, but was stopped by barricades defending access to the very Square. The protesting people kept control over the Square as long as till the following morning, though.
Contradictory information reached the world, and one of most well-known pictures documenting the students’ protest was a photography taken by Jeff Widener from AP, which presented an unknown man called by the media an Unknown Rebel or a Tank Man, who on June 5th, 1989 barred way to a column of tanks returning from an action against the demonstrators. In 1990 the photographer was nominated to Pulitzer Prize for these shots.
On the next days the government carried out extensive arrests of the demonstrators and their followers, most foreign journalists were expelled and information on the course of events was strictly controlled in the national press, as the demonstrations took also place in several other Chinese cities. The police and security forces were reinforced. Officials who showed even a shadow of fondness towards the protesters were degraded or dismissed. Zhao Ziyang was substituted by Jiang Zemin. The political and economic reforms were withheld for couple of years, although Deng Xiaoping remained an actual leader.
The Chinese government revolted that the international public disapproved of the use of force towards the protesting people and it diminished both the scale of the protests and number of victims. Economic sanctions and arms embargo were imposed on China.
For a long time it was not allowed to carry out any discussions on the events or to commemorate them and attempts to organize either official or unofficial celebrations ended with repressions, and the international public received few mostly contradictory reports.
Yet a thaw within the frames of economic reforms ensued quickly. Even though Deng Xiaoping, their main advocate at the 5th Plenary of the Central Committee ofChinese Communist Party, in November 1989 resigned from all the public functions and retired, he kept a backstage influence on the state affairs. In 1992 he travelled to the south visiting Guangzhou (Canton), Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shanghai. During his journey, in numerous speeches he approved of the conducted reforms and repeatedly exhorted to intensify both the process of marketization of the economy and the reforms. Thanks to the meetings held by Deng, at the 14th session of Chinese Communist Party in October 1992 "hardliners" were removed and new authorities were elected with Jiang Zemin in charge of them. This triggered revival and acceleration of the reforms, which within the following couple of years brought quick economic growth. China became the world`s power and it starts to take the lead away from the United States. There is a growing standard of living, hundreds and thousands of smaller and bigger companies produce millions of necessary and unnecessary goods purchased all over the world. Magnificent modern cities have been erected, thousands kilometres of roads and highways connecting biggest agglomerations called megapolis in which tens of millions of people live have been built, the longest in the world bridge over the sea which is 42 kilometres long has been erected, it connects the port city of Qingdao with an island Huangdao on the Jiaozhou Bay. Furthermore, the Chinese scientists have been lately thinking of constructing a rail link between China and the United States in the tunnel below Bering Strait, over 4 thousand kilometres in total.
A we look at China today – it seems that impossible does not exist for it.
In August 2005 Hu Jintao announced plans of Hu Yaobang’s rehabilitation, and on the 90th anniversary of his birth there were celebrations in Beijing, as well as in the Hunan province, where he had been born, and in the Jiangxi province, where he was buried.
The situation of the Chinese dissidents after 2005 has also been slowly improving. The government quietly pays compensations to the victims` families and at least a few families confirm that. A group „The Tiananmen Mothers” confirmed that before the 22nd anniversary of the events the officials of the Public Safety Office privately discussed the matter of payment of individual compensations. Victims` relatives still demand both public rehabilitation of all the people, claiming responsibility of the Chinese authorities for the events, punishing the people to blame and compensations for the whole group. Reportedly the offer to handle the matter quietly and to pay to individual families of the victims was rejected. „The Tiananmen Mothers” also want to overcome the taboo of silence on the events taking place 25 years ago.
For a long time Chinese intellectuals and dissidents have been calling on to open discussion. Among the latter there is Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was imprisoned for 20 months for participation in the demonstrations, and then he spent three years in a labour camp and house arrest.
Victims of Tiananmen are commemorated in Hong Kong, where for many years tens of thousands of people with lighted candles have been participating in evening vigil in Victoria Park.
In the previous year Xi Jinping took power in China, so the dissidents again hope for another breakthrough in the perception of events of 25 years ago. Chen Xitong, a former mayor of Beijing, who is preparing a book about those events, claims that in Beijing this tragedy could have been avoided.
As I know the Chinese customs, reluctance to reveal the truth both in historical and in present-day times, I think the tragedy which took place in June 1989 in Square of Heavenly Peace will never be completely explained.
Wikipedia: Protesty na Placu Tian’anmen
The Telegraph: Tiananmen Square protesters: where are they now?
The Telegraph: Wikileaks: no bloodshed inside Tiananmen Square, cables claim
Wikipedia EN: Hu Yaobang
Wikipedia PL: Deng Xiaoping
Wikipedia: Historia Chin
This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl. Polish version of this article is available here