Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tiananmen Square Crackdown

In the middle of Beijing is Tiananmen Square, leading to the Forbidden City and bordered by the Great Hall of the People and several museums and monuments. Chairman Mao's mauseleum sits in the middle. To the north is Tiananmen (Heavenly Peace Gate), leading to the Forbidden City.

Due to its size and location (both as the heart of the city, and outside the seat of power-- the Forbidden City being the Emperor's palace and now the closest gathering spot outside Zhongnanhai, where the current leaders live) it has long been a place for demonstration, both in revolution and in governmental might.

In April 1989, Hu Yaobang died. A popular leader (he was Party Chairman from 1981 to 1982, then as Party General Secretary from 1982 to 1987). Students gathered in the square to mourn him, but the gathering turned political as they demanded reform and freedom. By June, the government had had enough on late on June 3, early June 4, they declared martial law and tanks rolled into the square and the army fought street-level barricades that had been set up in Beijing's residential neighborhoods. Hundreds, perhaps thousands died.

In the West, when we say "Tiananmen" we usually mean this movement and this crackdown, not the square or the many other demonstrations that have taken place there. In China, saying the Tiananmen demonstration doesn't really narrow it down. They call it the June 4th Incident. When they're allowed to talk about it.


Who Will Shout If Not Us?: Student Activists and the Tiananmen Square Protest, China, 1989 by Ann Kerns. This book lays out the history of the protests, starting with an examination of Chinese society and politics at the time, why the demonstrations took place and how it got to the point where tanks were needed. It also looks at the effects Tiananmen has had in the decades since.

Tiananmen Square: Massacre Crushes China's Democracy Movement by Andrew Langley. This is a shorter introduction to the June 4th events, filled with many large, color photographs.

Almost a Revolution: The Story of a Chinese Student's Journey from Boyhood to Leadership in Tiananmen Square by Tong Shen and Marianne Yen. Shen was one of the leaders of the Tiananmen movement, and helped organize the dialogue delegation. This is his story, examining his childhood that led him to the square, and his account of the weeks leading up to June 4, as well as what happened next.


Chenxi and the Foreigner by Sally Rippin. After high school, before college, Anna moves to Shanghai to live with her expat father. In 1988, foreigners and Chinese live very different, very separate lives, but Anna's romance with a Chinese student brings the two worlds together. However, Anna's foreigner status also draws official attention to Chenxi, his art, and his politics, a devastating thing in the lead up to 1989.

Nine Days by Fred Hiatt. Ti'Anna is named for Tiananmen. Her father was an activist and dissident, forced to flee his country, although he still agitates from the safety of the US. After traveling to Hong Kong to visit some contacts, he disappears. Ti'Anna and her friend Ethan run away to Hong Kong to try to find him.

Forbidden City: A Novel of Modern China by William Bell. Alex's father is a cameraman for CBC. When he's assigned to Beijing, Alex jumps at the chance to join him. But it's 1989 and Alex and his father have to cover what's happening in the square, but in the chaos and violence, they get separated.

What do you recommend teens read to mark the importance of today?

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