1989 Tiananmen Square protests

1989 Tiananmen Square protests
Part of Chinese democracy movement in 1989, Revolutions of 1989 and the Cold War
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 1988 (1).jpg
Tiananmen Square in May 1988
Date15 April – 4 June 1989
(1 month, 2 weeks and 6 days)
Beijing and 400 cities nationwide

Tiananmen Square 39°54′12″N 116°23′30″E / 39°54′12″N 116°23′30″E / 39.90333; 116.39167
Caused by
GoalsEnd of corruption within the Communist Party, democratic reforms, freedom of the press, freedom of speech
MethodsHunger strike, sit-in, occupation of public square
Resulted in
  • Enforcement of martial law declared by Premier Li Peng in certain areas of Beijing executed by force from 3 June 1989 (declared from 20 May 1989 (1989-05-20) – 10 January 1990 (1990-01-10), 7 months and 3 weeks)
  • Protesters (mainly workers) and rioters barricading the People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops and nearby civilians shot by the PLA at multiple sites (excluding Tiananmen Square) in Beijing
  • Hundreds to thousands killed, thousands wounded
  • Deaths of an unknown number of protestors inside Tiananmen Square
  • Several soldiers killed, thousands wounded by rioters on 3 June and 4 June after civilians were killed on 3 June and 4 June
  • More protests across China in reaction to crackdown
  • Protest leaders and pro-democracy activists later exiled or imprisoned
  • Some rioters charged with violent crimes were executed in the following months
  • Zhao Ziyang purged from General Secretary and Politburo
  • Jiang Zemin, previously Party Secretary of Shanghai, promoted to General Secretary and paramount leader
  • Western economic sanctions and arms embargoes on the People's Republic of China
  • Market reforms delayed
  • Media control tightened
  • Political reform halted
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
Death(s)1,022 civilians; 10 People's Liberation Army soldiers; 13 People's Armed Police (official government figures)
180–10,454[2][3] civilians; ~50 soldiers and policemen (estimates and retracted Chinese Red Cross statement)[4]

The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, commonly known in mainland China as the June Fourth Incident (Chinese: 六四事件, liùsì shìjiàn), were student-led demonstrations in Beijing (the capital of the People's Republic of China) in 1989. More broadly, it refers to the popular national movement inspired by the Beijing protests during that period, sometimes called the '89 Democracy Movement (Chinese: 八九民运, bājiǔ mínyùn). The protests were forcibly suppressed after Chinese Premier Li Peng declared martial law. In what became known in the West as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the demonstrators trying to block the military's advance towards Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths has been estimated variously from 180 to 10,454.[2][5]

Set against a backdrop of rapid economic development and social changes in post-Mao Zedong China, the protests reflected anxieties about the country's future in the popular consciousness and among the political elite. The reforms of the 1980s had led to a nascent market economy which benefitted some people, but seriously disaffected others and the one-party political system also faced a challenge of legitimacy. Common grievances at the time included inflation, limited preparedness of graduates for the new economy and restrictions on political participation. The students called for democracy, greater accountability, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, though they were loosely organized and their goals varied.[6][7] At the height of the protests, about 1 million people assembled in the Square.[8]

As the protests developed, the authorities veered back and forth between conciliatory and hardline tactics, exposing deep divisions within the party leadership.[9] By May, a student-led hunger strike galvanized support for the demonstrators around the country and the protests spread to some 400 cities.[10] Ultimately, China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and other Communist Party elders believed the protests to be a political threat and resolved to use force.[11][12] The State Council declared martial law on May 20 and mobilized as many as 300,000 troops to Beijing.[10] The troops suppressed the protests by firing at demonstrators with automatic weapons, killing multiple protesters and leading to mass civil unrest in the days following.

The international community, human rights organizations and political analysts condemned the Chinese government for the massacre. Western countries imposed arms embargoes on China.[13] The Chinese government made widespread arrests of protesters and their supporters, suppressed other protests around China, expelled foreign journalists, strictly controlled coverage of the events in the domestic press, strengthened the police and internal security forces and demoted or purged officials it deemed sympathetic to the protests.[14] More broadly, the suppression temporarily halted the policies of liberalization in the 1980s. Considered a watershed event, the protests also set the limits on political expression in China well into the 21st century. Its memory is widely associated with questioning the legitimacy of Communist Party rule and remains one of the most sensitive and most widely censored political topics in mainland China.[15][16]


1989 Tiananmen Square protests
Literal meaningJune Fourth Incident
Name used by the PRC Government
Traditional Chinese1989年春夏之交的政治風波
Simplified Chinese1989年春夏之交的政治风波
Literal meaningPolitical turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese八九民運
Simplified Chinese八九民运
Literal meaningEighty-Nine Democracy Movement

In the Chinese language, the incident is most commonly known as the June Fourth Incident. Events named by date in Chinese are conventionally named by the number of the month and the date, followed by the type of event. Thus, the common Chinese name for the crackdown on the 1989 massacre is June Fourth Incident (Chinese: 六四事件, liùsì shìjiàn), literally Six Four Incident ( means six, means four, 事件 means incident). The nomenclature of the former is consistent with the customary names of the other two great protests that occurred in Tiananmen Square: the May Fourth Movement of 1919 and the April Fifth Movement of 1976. June Fourth refers to the day on which the People's Liberation Army cleared Tiananmen Square of protesters, although actual operations began on the evening of 4 June. Names such as June Fourth Movement (Chinese: 六四运动, liù-sì yùndòng) and '89 Democracy Movement (Chinese: 八九民运, bā-jiǔ mínyùn) are used to describe the event in its entirety.

Outside mainland China, and among circles critical of the crackdown within mainland China, it is commonly referred to in Chinese as June Fourth Massacre (Chinese: 六四屠杀, liù-sì túshā) and June Fourth Crackdown (Chinese: 六四镇压, liù-sì zhènyā). To bypass internet censorship in China, which uniformly considers all the above-mentioned names too 'Sensitive' for search engines and public forums, alternative names have sprung up to describe the events on the Internet, such as May 35th, VIIV (Roman numerals for 6 and 4) and Eight Squared (i.e. 82 = 64).[17]

The government of the People's Republic of China have used numerous names for the event since 1989, gradually reducing the intensity of terminology applied.[18] As the events were unfolding, it was labelled a "counterrevolutionary riot", which was later changed to simply "riot", followed by "political storm" and finally the leadership settled on the more neutralized phrase "political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989", which it uses to this day.[18][19]

In English, the terms Tiananmen Square Massacre, Tiananmen Square Protests or Tiananmen Square Crackdown are often used to describe the series of events. However, much of the violence did not actually happen in Tiananmen, but outside the square in the city of Beijing near the Muxidi area.[11] The term also gives a misleading impression that demonstrations only happened in Beijing, when in fact they occurred in many cities throughout China.[11] (Examples include Chengdu from the account of Louisa Lim's The People's Republic of Amnesia).[20]

Other Languages
Bân-lâm-gú: Lio̍k-sù sū-kiāⁿ
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Liuk-si Sṳ-khien
Bahasa Indonesia: Unjuk Rasa Tiananmen 1989
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Lĕ̤k-sé Sê̤ṳ-giông
Nederlands: Tiananmenprotest
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Tiananmen maydoni eʼtirozlari (1989)
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Protesti na trgu Tiananmen
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: 4-ىيۇن ۋەقە
吴语: 六四事件
粵語: 八九民運
中文: 六四事件