TIAN’ANMEN PRODEMOCRACY MOVEMENT (1989)
TIAN’ANMEN PRODEMOCRACY MOVEMENT (1989). Triggered by the death of Hu Yaobang, a liberal-minded Communist Party leader who had been forced to resign in January of 1988 as the secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, the protest movement started with Beijing college students and intellectuals who were dissatisfied with the pace of the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. The movement quickly gained the support of urban industrial workers angry about inflation and government corruption. In large numbers, the students gathered in Tian’anmen Square in the center of Beijing, demanding that the party revise its judgment on Hu and political, not just economic, reforms be instituted to bring democracy to China. An editorial in the Renmin ribao (People’s Daily), the official newspaper of the government, which accused the protesters of “plotting civil unrest” and causing “turmoil,” sent the students into a hunger strike to demand that the newspaper retract its statement and that a dialogue between their representatives and the party leaders be held to address their concerns.
There were different opinions within the leadership as to how to deal with these demands. The liberal faction, represented by party secretary Zhao Ziyang, who made an appearance in the square to urge students to stop their hunger strike, preferred dialogue while the hardliners, represented by Premier Li Peng, pushed for military crackdown. Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader, and other party elders who feared that a lenient approach would encourage “bourgeois liberalism,” which would in turn challenge the Communist Party’s stranglehold on power, sided with the hardliners. Tanks rolled onto the square and soldiers fired at the protesters. The bloody crackdown was followed by a political cleanup throughout the country. The violent suppression of the prodemocracy movement outraged the international community and the Chinese government found itself the target of widespread condemnation. The leaders of the protest movement were either put in jail or forced to flee to the West. Many writers who expressed sympathy for the protesters or were protesters themselves went into exile, including most of the Misty poets. Except for a few who eventually returned to China to live, most of these writers have chosen to stay in the West but continue to write in Chinese. The experience of exile has no doubt enriched their understanding of life and literature, and furthermore, their presence in the West has helped broaden the appeal of Chinese literature in the West. See also BEI DAO; GU CHENG; YANG LIAN; DUO DUO; GAO XINGJIAN; MA JIAN; YAN LI; YO YO; ZHENG YI.