slice of life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2004, 12:00am

From the South China Morning Post this week in 1989

May 30: Hong Kong supporters of the democracy movement in China were contemplating how to spend or distribute the $26 million which had flooded in to help student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. They were worried that Beijing might regard funding the students' activities as 'counter-revolutionary'.

The 'Statue of Democracy' was carried into the square, giving students a semi-permanent symbol to rally around. The flagging student movement was reportedly divided about whether to quit or continue the sit-in.

The students' ranks had thinned, with those from the provinces outnumbering those of Beijing universities. Several of the leaders who played an important role in the formation of the unofficial student union had been relieved of their positions when their more moderate stand was rejected.

May 31: Protesting students joined workers to confront the police over the fate of three missing union leaders of the unofficial Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation, which backed the students.

June 1: Thousands of farmers and workers marched in support of the hardline policies of premier Li Peng in government-backed rallies opposing democratic reform. Student protesters were demanding Mr Li resign for imposing martial law on Beijing on May 20 and ordering a crackdown on the democracy movement.

Hong Kong students stationed in Tiananmen Square were instrumental in providing financial and material support to the pro-democracy demonstrators. Corruption charges among student leaders made donors reluctant to hand cash over to individuals. Their Hong Kong counterparts spent money on food, shelter and other essentials that they distributed, based on need.

June 2: Troops edged closer to Tiananmen Square as the central government warned foreign journalists against reporting on the six-week-old campaign.

About 300 People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops marched to within a block of the square, while hundreds of others were seen on national television marching out of the city's railroad station about 2km away.

It was the clearest indication yet that the government was preparing to move against the students, whose numbers on the square had fallen to less than 10,000, compared with 200,000 at the peak of the protests.

Authorities hardened martial law restrictions in Beijing by declaring an almost total news blackout on foreign media, even banning interviews with Chinese citizens.

No action had been taken against the students up to that point, but analysts believed the Martial Law Authority of Beijing would soon mobilise the army and police to clear the square.

June 3: More than 1,000 PLA troops appeared in front of Beijing railway station in a show of force. The helmeted troops jogged through the surrounding neighbourhood before returning to the station, where they camped. It was the third straight day that troops had appeared on the city streets, reinforcing government announcements that the PLA was poised to carry out martial law orders.

June 4: The 6am and 8am editions of the Post carried the banner headline: 'Beijing Bloodbath, 57 killed by troops'.

The dead were bayoneted or shot dead as tens of thousands of soldiers smashed their way into Tiananmen Square to crush the student protest. Tanks rolled into the square at dawn, crushing the students' flimsy tents and shooting pro-democracy demonstrators, witnesses said. Machine-gun fire raked the square and explosions could be heard in the distance. The death toll mounted as ambulances and bicycle-pedicabs went back and forth hauling away the dead and wounded.

More than one million people defied martial law authorities' warnings to stay at home and avoid 'unnecessary losses'. Many died in ugly confrontations with the troops as they poured into the streets, building barricades in a vain attempt to block the army's progress towards the centre of the capital.

Tear gas was used for the first time in seven weeks of unrest.

The full horror of what happened was mirrored in the headlines: 'We have lost too much blood ... Power through barrels of guns ... Day of blood, death and wrath'. Graphic photos of the bloodshed accompanied them.

June 5: The death toll was feared to have reached at least 1,400, with 10,000 wounded, as the true picture of what happened began to emerge. One poignant headline read: 'My heart is bleeding, they killed my people'.

In London, some members of parliament suggested the handover of Hong Kong to China should not go ahead as other nations expressed shock and disbelief at the bloody suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing.

In Hong Kong, more than 200,000 took to the streets to show their anger and mourn those killed.

A similar march was held by 100,000 in Macau, where a run on the Bank of China emptied all its cash dispensers.

The editorial for the day sounded a note of caution: 'Calls for the deal returning Hong Kong to China to be scrapped are ... simply wishful thinking ... Britain is in no position to tear up the Joint Declaration, even if it wanted to.' It ended: 'There are still eight years to repair the relationship.'