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Tiananmen Square, 1989

Tiananmen Square, 1989

June 5, 1989, by Jeff Widener (The Associated Press).

Today is the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square, the student protest for democracy in 1989 in Beijing.  The protest actually started 7 weeks earlier as thousands of students gathered to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a government advocate of faster economic and political reforms.  The culmination of the protest came with the Chinese army’s intervention on June 4 and the tank incident on June 5.

I was on a trip to London and Singapore that week and arrived in London the evening of June 3.  After a few hours of jet-lagged sleep, I awoke and turned on the TV where the BBC and other television stations were broadcasting continuous news about the event.  While TV signals were generally blocked from China after June 1, word of the protest was reaching the global news media via phone and fax.  Some footage was smuggled out of the country and was played over and over on the BBC.  I was glued to the TV for the rest of the night. It was BIG news. The whole world was watching this historical event unfold.

Ming, my friend and colleague from my days at SAP a few years ago, was a University student at the time and joined his friends in Tiananmen Square in early June.  There, he camped out with other protesting students until he called home to tell his parents where he was.  Honoring his parents’ wishes and concern for his safety, he left the Square and returned home on June 2.  But he told me that the few days he spent in the Square were truly remarkable and exhilarating as the students grasped at their hope for democracy in China.  This experience changed his life and put him on a path to immigrate to America where he could experience democracy more fully.

The most astonishing thing is that today, 20 years later, hardly anyone in China knows of the student protest.   Inside of China in 1989, there was a complete black-out of the national news of the protest, as the Chinese government tried to control the crowds of students streaming into the square.  In well-documented reports, the Communist government censored or stopped internal communications and Chinese news reporters were taken into custody.  Basically, the Chinese people were never told what had happened in spite of the fact that about 250 people (according to Chinese officials) were killed and 7000 were wounded.  Many thousands were also jailed, while still others escaped the country.

China’s amazing development and economic growth since Tiananmen Square has marginalized some of the changes demanded by the students and pushed the memories of Tiananmen Square to the background.  In a way, economic prosperity has brought enormous freedom to the Chinese. A kind of capitalism has become a top priority and many opportunities for business and prosperity now exist.  This is the vibrant China we deal with today in sourcing and manufacturing….totally focused on making a profit.  The memories of June 4, 1989 however, still remain around the world and with some people in China.

If you are interested in more of the Tiananmen Square story, click here:




  1. Hi Rosemary–Thank you for the personal lens through which you shared this story!
    It’s an amazing thing, how far China has come. Unforgivable, though, the murder of protesters. The world needs to remember this. And care!

  2. Yes, and the world needs to tell the Chinese people what happened. Hardly anyone inside China knows what happened in Tiananmen Square because of a total news black out. When I see things like this, I always remember how precious our American media and right to free speech truly is.

  3. Hello,I am a Chinese,and I was born after 1989.That is why I knew nothing about things happened on that day.Throughout my school time,no teacher or a parent talk about it.
    I feel so curious about it.
    But when I get to know the truth,it was astonishing.What’s more,I feel a little sad.

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