Once upon a time, China was going through a bit of a democratic revolution. Or rather...there was a brief uprising to fight for democracy. It didn't necessarily go all that well though. The largely student-based (but all-encompassing) protest was met with famine, and military force.
The Chinese forces encircled the protesters in Tiananmen Square, a very symbolic location for the demonstration...and then they opened fire, drove people over with tanks, and beat them to death. The death tolls range in estimate from several hundreds, to even thousands. It was a very frightening time to be in China. The Communist regime of that time was overwhelmingly fierce, and unnecessarily violent.
What's most chilling about the whole incident is that, after weeks of protest, and one day of massacre...the aftermath was not what people had hoped for. There may be monuments and memorials to those who died there that day in 1989...but none of them are in China. The Chinese are barely allowed to talk about the whole ordeal. Here are some chilling photos from that time.
15 Face To Face Before It All Broke Loose
To the right of the line are the everyday citizens of Communist China, sitting in protest as they did for weeks. Their aim was to bring about political reform, in order to try and get some degree of democracy for themselves, and future generations. To the left of the line are the People's Liberation Army. Now they may sound fairly democratic. After all, their name suggests that they want nothing more than to free the people. That's not the case at all. They were the Communist regime's hammer fist, essentially. And this little gathering was nothing more than a demonstration of power against the protesters. Perhaps just a little warning to remind the people to stay in line, not act out, and maybe go home soon. After all, it's not like the Chinese authorities at the time had any inclination towards democratic reform.
14 Firing At Civilians
That fateful night in June of 1989, when all Hell broke loose in Tiananmen Square, it was very easy to find some sort of atrocity happening somewhere. And "the whole world [was] watching", to quote a powerful sentiment from American unrest in the 60s. In case you're not sure what you're seeing in this photo, this is the People's Liberation Army, roaming the streets near the square. What are they doing? Let's just say that they were liberating people of something rather important...their lives. They were actually strolling the streets, ready to fire on anyone who continued to speak out, or act out against the Chinese government. The PLA were basically nothing but government thugs with automatic rifles. A single terrorist firing at people in a public setting is scary...but imagine your own military gunning you down in the street.
13 Hiding From The Military
It was not uncommon to see the tanks of the People's Liberation Army kicking around town in the lead up to the massacre at Tiananmen Square. They had to, of course, flex their muscles and scare the sh*t out of citizens. This couple, cycling through town, wanted nothing to do with the authorities that day, and who could blame them. Rather than be spotted by the tank patrol above, they waited in hiding underneath the bridge. It's pretty sad, and terrifying to think about going into hiding in your own hometown when all you want to do is get to work, or go to the store, or visit a friend. What's interesting is that while there isn't such military oppression in China today...there still sure isn't any democracy. Which makes it seem like all of the suffering and fear was worthless.
12 Hunger Strikers Days Into Protesting
As part of the protest against the Communist regime in China, many underwent hunger strikes. Unfortunately, the government did not in any way care about these people before or during their specific strikes. So instead, medical students, and doctors and nurses from the community came out to tend to those who were ailing from malnutrition. These people were willing to starve themselves in order to attain democracy. Hell, they were willing to die to attain democracy. And indeed, when the government finally did step in with its military force against largely unarmed citizens who were half starved...the people did indeed pay with their lives. Imagine being those weakened individuals who just couldn't get up to avoid being run over by an oncoming tank. What would your last thoughts be?
11 The Military Blockade Tiananmen Square
The protests in China went on for weeks in the spring of 1989. It was not until June that the government deployed the military to deal with the nonviolent demonstrators. And what was the first thing the military did? They completely closed of Tiananmen Square. They clearly knew full well that they were going to do once they had all of the protesters surrounded. Understandably, the citizens must have become extremely terrified when they saw lines of tanks blocking any exit from any side of the square. And then watch as the soldiers filed between the tanks to meet the protesters face to face, just before crushing the dissent amid the people of China. It didn't take long to crush it either. One night of massacre, and the unarmed, democratic people were all but spent.
10 Personnel Carrier On Fire
The scene got pretty grizzly in the square during the crushing of the protest. But it's not as though the protesters didn't fight back. They were largely unarmed, but it didn't take long for them to grab whatever they could in order to resist the aggression of the People's Liberation Army. It can be pretty easy to find your way to something flammable, or explosive. And in this case, a personnel carrier was one of the targets of some explosives. Of course when the people inside have automatic rifles, it seems useless to fire bomb an armoured vehicle. In spite of that, it must have felt like a win for the protesters who were clearly fighting a losing battle. This is made even more obvious when you see the blood running down the man's hand to the left of the photo.
9 Holding Back The Wave
Before things really got chaotic, the People's Liberation Army did their best to just hold the line of people from getting too rowdy. They simply wanted to march the symbolic square, and make known their desire for democracy. But the army would not have any of that. Weeks of hunger striking, and making China look bad was enough for them to go out and physically hold the people back from demonstrating. This of course didn't work. The people were ready to march, and would not be held back by anyone. Not even officers of the Chinese government's goon army. This of course directly led to the army responding with beatings, bullets, and tanks. And that, in turn, led to the almost eerie silence of the people on the matter of democratic reform.
As the tanks rolled through the square, and the outlying areas where the fighting radiated out to, they left plenty of destruction, and carnage in their wake. They rode over pedestrians, and cyclists seemingly without a care. Thankfully they didn't ever seem to fire the tanks themselves onto the mass of protesting citizens. But that didn't stop them from firing rifle rounds at them. Imagine bringing a bicycle to a tank fight. Or bare fists to a gun fight. Those were the odds stacked against the protesters in China at that time. They weren't looking for a violent solution. They wanted to hold a peaceful demonstration that would hopefully lead to some form of democracy. But what they got was a disgusting display of government power over the already powerless.
7 Three Weeks Into Protest
This photo was taken some three weeks into the protest at Tiananmen Square. It might be pretty noticeable that many of the demonstrators had been there for quite some time. They did not leave the area, at all. They stood fast for their beliefs. They pitched crude tents, lined the ground with newspaper and bags for slightly comfier sleeping. They went to the protest with essentially nothing. And the ultimately sad thing is that they left the protest with even less. They lost somewhere between 500-2600 people. Not to mention the injuries that survivors walked away with. But as you can see from this photo, this demonstration was not one of violence. It was one of hope, and yearning. One of peace. But the government would not allow it to continue.
6 The Tank Man
This is perhaps the most iconic photo taken from the protests and demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. This lineup of tanks is stopped by a single man who stands in solidarity with the rest of the citizens who are starving themselves for democracy. A lot of people, when they see this photo wonder just what happened to this man. Especially considering that there were certainly several people who were run over by tanks during the massacre. Well, surprisingly, this man did make it out alive. But that is thanks only to a passerby who ran out into the street to pull him out of the way as the tanks began to continue on their journey. Moments from death is what that man was. But he was one of the lucky people...in a manner of speaking. Surely none of them can be seen as lucky.
5 Tensions Rise
Alright, this photo does admittedly look bad for the citizens. It seems that the man in the white dress shirt is trying to collapse the wind pipe of the woman falling into the arms of PLA soldiers. I promise that is not the case. In actuality, the soldiers are attempting to remove this woman for her involvement in the protests, and the man in white is really trying to keep her from being taken away. It seems that the others behind him would rather not antagonize the soldiers, and seem to be trying to diffuse the situation...but as we all know, that didn't end up working out in the favour of the protesters. It's interesting to note the escalation through which the soldiers worked. They surrounded the square, the pulled certain people into custody, they attempted to hold a specific, and arbitrary line, then simply went on a killing spree.
4 2 Days After...Business As Usual
This is one of the most chilling photos of the events at Tiananmen Square, in my personal opinion. This was taken two days after the massacre. And while there are decidedly many fewer cyclists on the road headed to work, they are still riding out: business as usual. But as can be seen from above, the massacre hasn't even been cleaned up yet. The troop truck on the right has clearly been damaged. And there is still debris, and blood on the street. How horrifying must it have been to have survived the massacre...and then realize that the only thing that one could do is simply go about life as if nothing happened. Because the Chinese government, to this day, still makes arrests around the same time every year, as people try to remind the world about the atrocity committed by the Chinese government. It seems nothing has been learned.
3 Tiananmen Memorial...In Poland
Here is a memorial for those who died during the massacre at Tiananmen Square. It clearly depicts a broken bicycle, some carved up road, and some spattered blood. This is very evocative of the whole incident. Especially considering how many people were simply driven over by tanks while they were on their bikes. The most unfortunate thing about this memorial (aside from the massacre that led to its existence), is the fact that this memorial is nowhere near China. It's in Poland. You have to journey up into Europe to find yourself standing at a memorial for hundreds, if not thousands of people who died fighting for democracy in China. And fighting only because the military forced their hand when they opened fire. How pathetic.
2 Lost Son
There are few things I could think of that could be worse than losing my democratic rights...or my fight for those eventual rights anyway. And one them would have to be losing a child in that fight. The woman above lost her son during the massacre at Tiananmen Square, and there is nothing worse that she could possibly go through now. Her son was merely a student, standing up for what he believed in: a freedom for Chinese citizens. And for that belief, he was shot dead. And she, as a believer in what her son stood for, is under constant watch by Chinese officials. She is hardly able to speak to foreign journalists, and must be escorted when she goes to market, for fear that she (at age 76) may begin to work another demonstration for retribution over her son's death.
1 Twenty Years Later...
While the massacre at Tiananmen Square is not something that the Chinese want their citizens talking about too much...at any point in time, there were at least some who again rose up to take part in remembering the events of the 1989 incident. Most of the people who stood up were in other countries, but they still stood in solidarity. many of the protesters from the original demonstrations had been deported, and for the 20th anniversary of the massacre, were denied entry into China to attend candle light vigils or the remembrance march. There was a hunger strike in Times Square, and commentary from other Asian governments about how to face this part of history head on. Still, China has continued to detain, deport, and deny citizens every year around the time of the demonstrations.