Ongoing Struggles on the 11th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

by Zhang Kai

The following article appeared in the July 15, 2000, issue of the Hong Kong socialist publication, October Review, whose mailing address is: October Review, G.P.O. Box 10144, Hong Kong; e-mail address:

Although it is 11 years since the Tiananmen events in China, and despite the widespread repression of dissidents, the struggle against authoritarian rule has continued.

Over 100 families of people killed during the June 4, 1989, repression have launched a campaign under the name Tiananmen Mothers. In conjunction with other groups in China fighting for human rights, and similar groups from Argentina, Chile, and South Korea (the Kwangju incident), they have joined in an action called End of Impurity in which they demand that governments stop their acts of repression against the people.

The families also wrote an open letter to Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin and Chinese government head Zhu Rongji, demanding an investigation into June 4, explication of what happened, and compensation to the deceased and wounded.

Eight dissidents from Jilin Province and another prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo, have separately issued open letters to demand rehabilitation of June 4, release of detainees, compensation to the deceased, political reform, and instituting democracy.

In Sichuan, Henan, and Hebei provinces, as well as in the United States, dozens of democratic fighters went on a 24-hour hunger strike to commemorate the dead. On the day of June 4, at least 15 persons are known to have been arrested for their commemoration activities, including two students from Peking University who lit a candle in a vigil.

At Tiananmen Square, which was under heavy surveillance, Shen Zhidao, a supporter of the Democratic Party of China, took an action similar to what he did last year. In 1999, also on June 4, he was arrested carrying an umbrella with the words “Democracy” and “Human Rights” written on it. This year, he wore a shirt with the words “Down with Authoritarian Rule” and “Freedom, Democracy, Equality, and Human Rights” written on it, and was again arrested.

In Hong Kong, 2,000 people participated in a protest march, and 45,000 people participated in a candlelight vigil the night of June 4. The theme this year was to educate the next generations on democracy. In Taipei, the biggest candlelight gathering since 1989 was held, with people from different parties participating. Gatherings also took place in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. It was reported that in many parts of the United States, such as the Boston area (Harvard University), New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, more people turned out than last year.

Causes of Mass Protest in 1989

Back in 1989, the movement for democracy was prompted by massive discontent from various sections of society over inequality, social injustice, corruption, graft, and the growing hardships of life. The demand for political reform was rejected by the party and state leadership, and the army clamped down. However, the underlying problems prompting the eruption of protest in 1989 have only become more aggravated since the crackdown. The privately accumulated wealth of big and small bureaucrats has also increased. This shows the necessity and importance of the movement for democracy in 1989.

Social polarization and impoverishment caused by the policies of the ruling bureaucracy have prompted more and more protests and struggles. Here are some concrete data.

1. According to internal statistics of the government, in 1999 at least 100,000 cases of demonstrations and protest marches took place all over China. This meant an average of 270 cases everyday, a 70% increase over the preceding year. As recently as June of this year, in Beijing and Shenyang, there were reports of the people taking to the street to protest over issues relating to their livelihood, and they usually blocked traffic (Apple Daily, June 12).

2. In 1999, labor disputes in China amounted to 120,000 cases, 14 times as many as in 1992, and an increase of 29% compared to 1998. Collective labor disputes, including rallies and marches, were 6,567 cases in 1999, with 251,268 workers involved. This was nine times the figure of 1993. In Beijing, in the first half of 1999, the number of labor disputes doubled from the same period in 1998 and were four times greater than in the same period in 1998 (Washington Post, April 23).

3. There were 216,750 labour strikes in 1998, with 3.5 million workers involved. Of these, 627 cases involved direct assaults on party or state institutions, and in 459 cases violent confrontations with police occurred (China Labour Bulletin, March-April 1999).

Reasons for Continuing Discontent

The increasing discontent and protests by workers are due to several reasons: failure of the enterprises to pay wages; bad welfare or working conditions such as safety or sanitation inadequacies; infringement of worker rights; unjust compensation after layoff or retirement; sale at low prices of state-owned factories whereby the leadership pocket much money but workers get little compensation; layoffs at state-owned enterprises due to “structural readjustment” or privatization; resentment against corruption, graft, and the authoritarianism of party and government officials (“cadres”).

In February this year, in Liaoning province, troops were deployed to crack down on over 20,000 miners who had occupied the mines for three days, blocked the railroad, and burned cars. [For related articles, see the Spring 2000 issue of Labor Standard.]

Student Protests at Peking University

Students at Peking University also took to action at a time near the June 4 anniversary. About a fortnight before June 4, a student, Yao Qingfeng, was murdered on her way back to the main campus from another part of the university. Students wanted to hold an obituary ceremony for her, but this was refused by the authorities on the ground that this was “an ordinary criminal case that happened off campus.”

This ignited student anger, and led to student denunciations of the authorities for spending money on renovating offices while ignoring the safety of students. The authorities, they said, should also be held partially responsible for the student’s death.

Two thousand students rallied and marched in protest on the campus, the majority of them also attempting to march outside the campus. The university administration and the government then compromised, and allowed students to hold an obituary gathering on campus. Six thousand students participated, with students coming from other universities.

Thereafter, on the night of June 4, candles were lit and there were large-character and small-character posters on the campus demanding “rehabilitation” (that is, recognition of the just and legal character) of the mass demonstrations for democracy that were crushed by military force on June 4, 1989.