China's Tiananmen protests: From reform hopes to brutal crackdown

The event remains a taboo topic of discussion in mainland China. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Thursday (June 4) marks 31 years since China bloodily suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations in and around central Beijing's Tiananmen Square, when Chinese troops opened fire on their own people.

The event remains a taboo topic of discussion in mainland China and will not be officially commemorated by the ruling Communist Party or government.

Here are some landmark dates leading up to the demonstrations and the crackdown that followed:


China slides into economic chaos with panic buying triggered by rising inflation that neared 30 per cent.

April 15, 1989

A leading reformer and former Communist Party chief, Mr Hu Yaobang, dies. His death acts as a catalyst for unhappiness with the slow pace of reform, as well as corruption and income inequality.

April 17

Protests begin at Tiananmen Square, with students calling for democracy and reform. Crowds of up to 100,000 gather, despite official warnings.

April 22

Some 50,000 students gather outside the Great Hall of the People as Mr Hu's memorial service is held. Three students attempt to deliver a petition to the government, outlining their demands, but are ignored. Rioting and looting take place in Xian and Changsha.

April 24

Beijing students begin classroom strike.

April 27

Around 50,000 students defy authorities and march to Tiananmen. Supporting crowds number up to one million.

May 2

In Shanghai, 10,000 protesters march on city government headquarters.

May 4

Further mass protests coinciding with the anniversary of the May 4 Movement of 1919, which was another student and intellectual-led movement for reform. Protests coincide with meeting of Asian Development Bank in Great Hall of the People. Students march in Shanghai and nine other cities.

May 13

Hundreds of students begin a hunger strike on Tiananmen Square.

May 15-18

To China's embarrassment, protests prevent traditional welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People for the state visit of reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Students welcome Mr Gorbachev as "The Ambassador of Democracy".

May 19

Party chief Zhao Ziyang visits students on Tiananmen Square, accompanied by the hard-line then Premier Li Peng and future premier Wen Jiabao. Mr Zhao pleads with the students protesters to leave, but is ignored. It is the last time Mr Zhao is seen in public. He is later purged.

May 20

Mr Li declares martial law in parts of Beijing. Reviled by many to this day as the "Butcher of Beijing", Mr Li remained premier until 1998.

May 23

Some 100,000 people march in Beijing demanding Mr Li's removal.

May 30

Students unveil the 10m-high "Goddess of Democracy", modelled on the Statue of Liberty, in Tiananmen Square.

May 31

Government-sponsored counter-demonstration calls students "traitorous bandits".

June 3

Citizens repel a charge towards Tiananmen by thousands of soldiers. Tear gas and bullets used in running clashes a few hundred metres from the square. Authorities warn protesters that troops and police have "right to use all methods".

June 4

In the early hours of the morning, tanks and armoured personnel carriers begin their attack on the square itself, clearing it by dawn. About four hours later, troops fire on unarmed civilians regrouping at the edge of the square.

June 5

An unidentified Chinese man stands in front of a tank convoy leaving Tiananmen Square. The image spreads around the world as a symbol of defiance against the crackdown.

June 6

Chinese State Council spokesman Yuan Mu says on television that the known death toll was about 300, most of them soldiers, with only 23 students confirmed killed. China has never provided a full death toll, but rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into the thousands.

June 9

Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping praises military officers, and blames the protests on counter-revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the party.

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