Twenty five years ago, thousands upon thousands of Chinese citizens stood up to their government and declared that they had had enough of the country’s command economy. In a large square in central Beijing, thousands of people gathered to voice their displeasure with the ruling government. Across the country, in as many as 400 other cities, protesters also took to the streets to push for change.
China: Protests met with violent reprisals
At protests were largely peaceful, indeed protesters even gave water and food to the soldiers sent to break up the demonstrations. As time wore on, however, China’s government grew increasingly frustrated with the protests.
On the evening of June 3rd, protestors once again took to the streets of Beijing in violation of a declaration of marshal law, but this time the military decided to intervene. That evening, the military “invaded” the square and its surrounding neighborhoods from every directly and quickly came into contact with the protestors.
The Chinese military stunned both the protestors and watching members of the international media by opening fire on the crowds. Across the city, the once peaceful protests quickly morphed into violent confrontations with soldiers, many of whom were also killed in the confrontation.
The total death toll remains unknown. Many experts believe that between 400 to 800 people were killed in the confrontation, but others claim that the true death toll actually numbers in the thousands. So far, the Chinese government has kept rather tight lips when talking about the confrontation.
Tank Man among most influential people of the century
By the following morning, the harsh crackdown on protesters and enforcement of martial law had largely succeeded. The government gained control of the streets and the protests were all but crushed. The most memorable moment of the protests, however, was yet to come.
In the most iconic moment of the protests, and one caught by western cameras, a long man carrying bags of what are presumed to be groceries, stood down a line of tanks. As a column of tanks rumbled down a road outside of the mains square, a nearby pedestrian walked into the middle of the road and blocked their progress.
The lead tank tried to drive around the man but he refused to budge. Finally, someone else ran into the street and ushered the man off the street. The identity and fate of the man remains unknown, at least to the general public, and has been the source of many different theories.
Was Tiananmen Square ultimately a victory
The Tiananmen Square protesters may not have toppled the communist party nor forced a move towards democracy. They did, however, secure major economic and social reform. In the months and years immediately following the protests, the Chinese government realized that it would need to embrace change or risk being thrown from power.
The 1990’s would see China open up to the world and a period of stunning economic growth. The government has focused on improving conditions for China’s middle and working classes, even if much progress remains to be realized. The government recognizes that it needs the support of the people if they wish to stay in power.
In order to keep people happy, or at least content enough to stay off the streets, the government recognizes that it must maintain economic growth. So long as the general population is enjoying generally improving conditions, it is unlikely that the government will have to deal with massive protests.
Indeed, the last few years have seen the Chinese government greatly expand its social safety nets and other measures meant to preserve harmony. Whether or not the Communist Party will continue to rule unchallenged remains to be seen, but for now most Chinese citizens seem to be content.