Tiananmen Square Remembered: Three Participants Tell Their Stories

June 1, 2009 4:51 pm Last Updated: June 5, 2009 6:34 am

On April 14, 1989 in Beijing, students began gathering to honor the death of Hu Yaobang, the reform-minded former general secretary of the Communist Party. The students began calling for a number of reforms of the Chinese Communist Party, and received wide support in Beijing and around the country. Similar protests spread to 400 cities throughout China. On June 4, the Chinese regime used the People’s Liberation Army to put down the protests. No accurate accounting of the number killed has been possible. Thousands are believed to have died on Tiananmen Square and in surrounding neighborhoods in Beijing.

On this, the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, The Epoch Times has asked three participants in the events to tell their stories: Nian Hu was a journalist who was there when the soldiers attacked; Yuan Tien was a University lecturer in Xi’an; and Chen Yonglin, who would go on to a career in China’s diplomatic corps before defecting, was a student doing an internship in Beijing with NBC. All three are now living in Sydney, Australia, where they met with Epoch Times reporters.

Former Chinese journalist Nian Hu (Don Robertson/The Epoch Times)
Former Chinese journalist Nian Hu (Don Robertson/The Epoch Times)

Nian Hu: Witness to Slaughter

Former Chinese journalist

By Don Robertson/Epoch Times Staff

Before June 4, I was a magazine journalist. In the early months of 1989 I took part in a lot of political forums. There were so many things going on that the government had no hope of controlling it all. There were big parades attended by all kinds of influential people, from celebrities to journalists from China Central Television (CCTV).

As the Tiananmen Square movement developed, the students formed picket lines with their bodies and huge banners, and you had to pass through checkpoints. They were hunger striking, this was their stronghold, and they were concerned government agents would infiltrate into the square. I had a media pass so I could go right into the middle of Tiananmen Square to the Hero’s Memorial Hall, where the student leaders were.

People from all over Beijing were supporting the movement by bringing food and water. So the people on the outer security layers ate very well, and food was also delivered to the middle for the leaders, but people in between went pretty hungry. They were so young, it was impossible for them to get everything right!

The government soon hardened its stance. There were announcements that the movement was irrational, controlled by foreign powers, against the government. They demanded everyone return to school and stop participating, and gave a time limit of one month to comply. Martial law was enacted, but they had no way to enforce it.

Students from far and wide were flooding into Beijing and a lot of people didn’t know what to do once they got there. The system of security lines fell apart and things were soon beyond the control of the student leaders.

The student leaders also didn’t know where to take it, what they should be aiming for.

Soldiers and army vehicles were also arriving into the capital, but the city residents blocked off the surrounding streets and wouldn’t let them through. So they started coming in casual dress with loose orders to find their own way to Tiananmen. The city residents could tell at a glance who they were and continued to stop them. We didn’t have mobile phones back then, but information was passed back to the student leaders and orders were given, such as “there are lots of soldiers arriving from this direction” so they would send extra people over there.

In the first days of June I learned from well-connected friends that something big was going to happen. I told the student leaders that the CCP was planning something big and blood would be spilled.

By now the square was almost empty during the day, as most of the students were going to the roadblocks and came back to the square to eat and sleep. Camping tents had been brought in from Hong Kong, and there were portable toilets.

On the evening of June 3, waves of students returned to the square for dinner and a rest. The army had surrounded the square, and soldiers were carrying machine guns. The student leaders passed on the message to stay in the square and not return to the roadblocks, so there would be strength of unity. But a lot of the students didn’t believe that something big was coming. Some had colleagues waiting for them back at the roadblocks and didn’t want to be seen as backing out. It was also hard to pass the message onto everybody.

The student leaders themselves were having heated arguments about what to do. Some thought they should be willing to shed blood, and not be afraid of death. Others wanted to meet with the government and hold discussions. A lot of people thought the army would move in, but few believed the government would shoot to kill.

But I never doubted it. I was a little older than they and I knew the CCP was capable of horrible things.

Around 10:30pm on the evening of June 3, I went to Muxudi, a place near Tiananmen Square within the student barricade. Because of its tactical position, there was talk that it was the first place where guns would be fired. It is at the mouth of Chang’an Road, a wide street that leads straight to Tiananmen Square.

A man about two meters from me was standing on a bike and looking out over a barricade of bicycles, across the thousands and thousands of troops that had gathered. A gunshot sounded out, and he fell to the ground.

“Whoah, a gun just fired!” I heard someone say. “No way, he’s just fallen” said another. “No, he’s bleeding, he’s hurt!”

More gunshots started sounding out. They must be rubber bullets, people speculated. “Don’t stand so tall, you might get hit”, someone said. Somebody played it down, “it’s just his arm, he’s ok, don’t worry!” Nobody really believed what was happening.

The gunshots continued, but it was hard to know what was happening up front. We were all standing at the same height and it was dark. But soon body after body was being carried past, others were limping or being helped along.

I clutched my camera and was about to start snapping when a man grabbed me and looked me in the eye. “Miss, do you want to die?” I told him: “I want to take photos!” “No, it’s too dangerous!” he said.

He beckoned over to a patch of old trees with thick trunks by a nearby canal. Behind each tree was a line of people shielding themselves from the flying bullets. One would fall, and be carried away. Then another. Then another. Non-stop. Wherever someone yelled “fascists!” or “destroy the CCP!” or wherever there was a camera flash, that’s where the bullets would fly. “See that?” said the man. “If you take a photo, aren’t you harming everybody?”

We heard the sound of crunching bicycles as tanks rolled over the barricade. The soldiers picked up the bikes and cast them into the river. Bullets were ricocheting off the concrete walls of the canal, and they weren’t made of rubber. A spark lit up as a bullet struck a meter from my foot.

At about 2.30am I left Muxudi. I took some photos of the injured and the dead. The cursing had stopped, and there were no camera flashes, there was only the sound of gunfire and muffled sobs. Everywhere people were silently watching. The canal was full of smashed bicycles, some army vehicles had been attacked and set alight, and the air was filled with the smell of burning rubber.

I couldn’t bear to watch. What happened to my friends? What was happening over in Tiananmen Square?

When daylight came, planes flew over the area with loudspeakers hailing government announcements: “Martial Law has been enacted. Don’t be duped by the Baotu (a reference to the protesters, literally: “followers of violence”).

On the ground, the soldiers were charging into Tiananmen Square. “Strive forward with courage!” boomed loudspeakers to the troops. “Don’t be afraid! Complete your orders! The government is proud of all of you!”

Nian Hu was arrested, questioned and held for 20 days. There is a lot more to tell of her story, such as how she managed to evade a prison sentence. In June 1990 she fled China and came to Australia, where she has lived ever since. Her pen name means “Remembering Hu”, in reference to a deceased friend who helped her during her arrest.

Former university lecturer Yuan Tieming (James Burke/The Epoch Times)
Former university lecturer Yuan Tieming (James Burke/The Epoch Times)

Yuan Tieming: Rejecting the CCP

Former Senior Lecturer, North West University of Political Science and Law in Xi’an, China

By Don Robertson/Epoch Times Staff

I used to be critical of the CCP but I still believed it could change for the better. I thought if they had a good leader, like Hu Yaobang or Zhao Ziyang, they could reform and follow a democratic path.

I was devastated when Hu Yaobang died: I thought that China’s greatest hope was gone. When students remembered him with big posters, poems, and flowers at the local government offices, I was very supportive of what they were doing. That was April 1989.

At first they were just remembering Hu Yaobang, but soon the Beijing students were holding marches criticizing the CCP for its corruption and demanding change. Students in Xi’an held similar marches. The university leaders were very supportive and I’d say about 70 percent of the teachers took part. The TV stations all reported it.

Our banners were all supportive of the CCP. We called for change, improvement, stamping out corruption. But our attitudes changed when they enacted martial law on April 25. We started losing hope in the government. Our slogans started to attack Deng Xiaoping. He was the leader; he was the dictator; it was his fault.

A lot of card-carrying CCP members, myself included, started protesting openly as CCP members. We thought it would put more pressure on the government. We sent telegrams to Beijing and signed with our membership identities.

The university’s Communist Party Commission began efforts to stop students and teachers from participating in the marches. They even locked the university doors and wouldn’t let people out, but the students broke through and took part anyway. I continued to take part.

When the massacre happened in Beijing on June 4, we all completely lost hope in the CCP. For the next eight days we held daily rallies. Each day we went out we were prepared to die; we knew we might not come back.

But no guns were fired in Xi’an. The government sent out a notice that if anybody participated again, they would be arrested. The students all fled to their hometowns. I also fled to my relative’s house.

A team of 11 police was stationed permanently at NW University, and several people were sentenced to jail or labor camp terms. Every student and teacher had to write a report about what they did during the months prior. For two weeks the police came to my house every day and threatened me. They told me that if I didn’t give them names I would go to jail. But I only told them what happened out in public, not what happened behind the scenes.

I wrote three reports, each about 7000 words. I said I was deceived by Zhao Ziyang and tricked by the newspapers. I criticized market liberalization and criticized myself. I heaped praise on the CCP. It was all lies. It was very hard for me to write. I had to show that I had changed my thinking.

In the end the party commission stopped bothering me. The school leaders also did their best to protect us.

There is potential for it to happen again today. There is a much greater democratic awareness among people in China now, and there are a lot more protest movements. But the CCP also controls everything much more closely.

Now I really understand that if China wants to change it must totally reject the CCP. Whenever I call people in China I always tell them not to hold any hope in the CCP, and to quit the CCP.

For the many people in Western countries who sympathized with us at that time, I thank you deeply. June 4 didn’t affect you, but you still cared about it. Thank you.

Former consulate official Chen Yonglin (James Burke/The Epoch Times)
Former consulate official Chen Yonglin (James Burke/The Epoch Times)

Chen Yonglin: To Tiananmen Square and Back

Former first secretary of the Sydney Chinese Consulate-General

By James Burke

For the month leading up the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4 1989, Chen Yonglin was a college student doing an internship as a translator with the American television broadcaster NBC.

The NBC news crew he assisted was initially covering the visit of the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. However Mr. Chen and the news crew became immersed in the bigger story about the massive student led pro-democracy movement at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

In the lead up to the massacre Mr. Chen said he witnessed many things such as the student hunger strike and evidence of early attempts by Chinese authorities to clear the square of democracy activists.

On the night of June 3 he went to the square to show his support for the activists and listened to a democracy lecture at the first and last session of the “Tiananmen democracy university.”

“While we listened to his speech the guns had started firing in the suburbs,” Mr. Chen told The Epoch Times. At 11pm Mr. Chen said a group of 20-30 soldiers emerged from a nearby railway station and he joined students, civilians, and demonstrators by holding hands in an effort to block them going any further. The soldiers stopped, but he said it was obvious they were awaiting further orders.

Before returning to the Palace Hotel where he was staying with NBC, he said he saw large numbers of military and anti-riot police had been deployed and were ready for action.

Not long after, troops and tanks of the People’s Liberation Army violently crushed the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen.

Mr. Chen’s first sight of the square on June 4 was early in the morning from the roof of the Palace Hotel.

“Smoke was everywhere and in Tiananmen Square it was cleared, there were only tanks,” he said.

The Chinese authorities cancelled his internship on June 5 and sent him back to his college.

“After June 4 … when I was back at college campus, I could still hear more shooting,” he said.

Following “re-education” Mr. Chen joined the Chinese diplomatic corps and was eventually assigned as Chinese consul for political affairs to the PRC consulate in Sydney.

Disillusioned by consulate activities against peaceful groups, such as Falun Gong, he sought political asylum in May 2005. On June 4 of that year he came out of hiding to attend a Sydney rally commemorating the 16th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings and made media headlines with a public speech describing espionage activities by Communist China inside Australia.