Additional Readings and Links

Keith Forster

From The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, edited by Jonathan Unger (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1991)

Over the past decade or so I have witnessed dramatic changes in Chinese politics and society from the lakeside city of Hangzhou. In July and August 1977 my wife Margaret and I, then English teachers at Hangzhou University, had participated in government-sponsored street parades in the city to celebrate the return to power of Deng Xiaoping and to express support for the expulsion of the Gang of Four from the Chinese Communist Party. Twelve years later, in May 1989, my colleague Dan Etherington and I followed demonstrating students along the streets of the same city. In contravention of statutes requiring prior permission to hold public gatherings, the students were protesting against the failures of the leadership under the same man who had been hailed as a returning hero twelve years earlier.

In the democracy movement of spring 1979, when I had also been in Hangzhou, big-character posters on the streets had raised many issues pertaining to the performance of local Party leaders and gave vent to personal grievances concerning harsh or unjust treatment at the hands of the bureaucracy. In May 1989 there was little evidence of such parochial or individual demands. The raison d'etre of local activities was to mobilize support, both financial and moral, for the students in Beijing. And unlike the Cultural Revolution there were no outbursts of xenophobia, in fact quite the reverse. Students and non-students alike were keen to discuss the political situation, to solicit our views and, after the dissemination of official propaganda post 4 June, anxious for us to report back home what had happened.

During the almost daily demonstrations I found the orderliness and self-control displayed by the marchers and their cooperation with the police impressive. Some of the marshalls and student activists, however, were obnoxiously officious and filled with self-importance. They ensured that ropes separated the demonstrators, comprised overwhelmingly of tertiary students with a leavening of teachers and secondary students, from the crowds of onlookers. (1)

As a frequent visitor to Hangzhou, I had also been there on a research trip a year earlier, between July and October 1988. Now I was back, from February to early April 1989 and again from mid-May until mid-June 1989. Most of this time was spent in Hangzhou.

Hangzhou, 1988

It had already become clear to me during my 1988 stay in Hangzhou, and visits to Shanghai and Wenzhou, that China was facing a crisis with a potential for social and political upheaval of great dimensions. The lack of faith, trust and confidence in the Party leadership by people of all ages and occupations would have alarmed the authorities of any regime. There was a widely-held view that the Party and government leadership was incompetent, corrupt, and completely out of touch with the interests and wishes of the population over whom they ruled.

Individualism had appeared in an extreme form, particularly among the youth, as a reaction to its almost total suppression in the past. Materialism was rampant, as was worship of the West in proportion to ignorance about life in Western capitalist democracies. Political propaganda, as half-hearted and perfunctory as it was, was derided, and moral and ideological injunctions ignored. A generation gap was fracturing an already polarized community, divided by the fallout from past political campaigns, a decline in public spirit and everyday squabbles arising from cramped and sub-standard living conditions, traffic congestion and inadequate supplies of basic consumer items at affordable prices.

The deterioration in the provision of basic public amenities matched the tears in the social fabric. For example, in Hangzhou in February/ March 1989 electricity supplies to households in certain districts were commonly cut three days a week from about 8 am to 5 pm. Water supplies were polluted and insufficient. Roads in the main were poor, narrow, and dangerous due to the failure of cyclists and drivers to observe traffic rules. This was particularly true of the thousands of out-of town peasants and itinerants who thronged the streets of large cities such as Hangzhou seeking jobs on construction sites, as maids and nannies in the homes of the affluent and as employees of the private entrepreneurs who have sprung up over the past few years.

The effects of inflation were being felt by people living on fixed incomes, such as pensioners and many white-collar employees. Corruption was pervasive. Networks of contacts had become essential for obtaining such desirable items as passports and the various goods in short supply and for short-circuiting the myriad rules and regulations with which the average citizen must contend. Privilege enabled the chauffeurs of senior members of the provincial Party leadership to drive anywhere in the city. The vehicles were identified by special stickers which permitted their drivers to travel the wrong way up one-way streets, to drive where motor traffic was forbidden, to take short cuts through factory grounds and to park wherever they desired.

The zeal to escape China (chuguore), particularly among the young and educated, was phenomenal, but it was not confined to them. People of diverse walks of life, be it private entrepreneurs in Wenzhou in southern Zhejiang, taxi-drivers in Shanghai or office workers in Hangzhou, were afflicted with the bug.

In late 1988 popular resentment had centred on the state of the economy, price inflation in particular, and official corruption. By April 1989, with economic reform stalled and the inflation rate showing no signs of falling, there was a feeling among acquaintances that implementation of political change was the only way out of the impasse. The awareness that the Chinese Communist Party had shown no inclination to reform the political system heightened tension over the backlash that might occur if the stability of the country was threatened. The National People's Congress was convened amidst this mood of apprehension and pessimism. I returned briefly to Australia in April fearing that an explosion of some kind could occur at any time. One month later, on my return to Hangzhou, I found society in a high state of excitement mixed with uncertainty as to where the dramatic events then unfolding would lead.

This review of the student movement in Hangzhou will trace its course from April to June 1989 and analyse the reaction of the local government to the unprecedented challenge to authority. At first, the Zhejiang provincial leadership tried to appease student grievances and to defuse a potentially explosive situation by a moderate and conciliatory approach to the young demonstrators, in the hope that concessions made in Beijing would end the movement. But with obvious splits in the central leadership and the resultant paralysis of decision-making, a tense waiting-game ensued. When the response at the centre finally came, in the form of the 3-4 June slaughter in Beijing of students and civilians, the situation in Hangzhou deteriorated. The most violent and disruptive incidents occurred after the Beijing massacre and brought the city to the brink of disorder, with the movement of people and supplies stopped for four days as rail and road links were cut to surrounding areas.

Protest, April-June 1989

The student protest in Hangzhou may be divided into five phases. I witnessed much but not all of it from 14 May until 11 June. We arrived in Hangzhou the day before Mihkail Gorbachev's historic visit to China and the day the hunger strike began in Beijing. The student movement which had commenced in mid-April with the death of Hu Yaobang was moving into top gear.

Stage 1. Sporadic marches from 27 April until the start of the hunger strike in Beijing (14 May). Since I did not witness these events I will describe them briefly, relying on an article published in Hong Kong and information from the local press and friends.

On 27 April the first demonstration in Hangzhou occurred in response to the People's Daily editorial of the previous day denouncing the 'turmoil' which the students were supposedly causing in the capital. But in stark contrast with the refusal of the central authorities in Beijing to engage in meaningful dialogue with students (Premier Li Peng did not meet with students until 18 May - prior to that encounter officials from the State Council had unsuccessfully conducted negotiations on 29 April), in Hangzhou the Zhejiang authorities made some effort to solicit the students' views. CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang's return from an official six-day trip to North Korea on 29 April undoubtedly gave heart to those elements of the leadership who were willing to open a dialogue with the students. On the afternoon of 1 May provincial Party Secretary Li Zemin, a relative newcomer to his post and the province, (2) propaganda chief Luo Dong (formerly a researcher at Zhejiang University), and Deputy Governor and Vice-Chairman of the Provincial Education Commission Li Debao went to Zhejiang University, the largest and most prestigious tertiary institution in Hangzhou, for a three-hour dialogue with a select group of mainly post-graduate students. The university president was also present.

A partial but frank report of the encounter appeared in Zhejiang Daily on 3 May. (3) For example, the newspaper reported one student as comparing the 26 April People's Daily editorial with that issued under the supervision of Yao Wenyuan after the 5 April 1976 incident in Tiananmen Square. Secretary Li, in response to a question, agreed that the pace of implementation of democratic political reforms had not been fast and admitted to errors and insufficient work on this front. He stated that the students' criticisms were timely ( zhengdang ) and that he agreed with them. Another questioner, referring to the approaching 70th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, expressed the view that the significance of the event related to its role in enlightening ( qimeng ) the people. He suggested that the University should organize students to go among the people in the way that their predecessors had done. The remarks's tone of elitism on the one hand and its expression of submissiveness to paternalistic guidance on the other was extraordinary. In reply Li pointed out that the level of consciousness of the people in 1989 should not be underestimated.

If the purpose of this visit was to contain the students it proved unsuccessful. On 4th May, a further demonstration was mounted. (4) Four thousand tertiary students from institutions such as Zhejiang University and Hangzhou University chanted slogans such as 'support the CCP', 'support the 4 basic principles', 'introduce a press law', 'oppose beating, smashing and looting' (a reference to events in Xian and Changsha in late April), (5) 'expand and foster democracy' and 'weed out corruption'. The demonstration was unauthorized and some disruption to traffic occurred but the slogans suggest that this march was led by representatives of the official student union, anxious to guide the movement along the path of non-confrontation. An observer from Hong Kong visiting Hangzhou around this time witnessed elaborate group marriage ceremonies being celebrated on May 4th beside the West Lake, a ploy by the Communist Youth League and the local government to take the spotlight off the planned student demonstration. (6) According to the writer no big-character posters were visible on the campus of either university.

The local propaganda department issued a five-point set of regulations for Party members to observe. These included injunctions against supporting or participating in student activities in any way, assisting students by providing drinks or food, or engaging in debates with the people. The regulations also demanded that Party members prevent their children from joining in parades. That the Party felt it necessary to issue such an edict illustrates the extent of attention and community support that the students had aroused. An emergency meeting of Party cadres had been held at tertiary institutions on the morning of 4 May in order to stop students leaving campuses. Having failed, with one notable exception, to dissuade students from going ahead with their planned march, university leaders accompanied the students so as to maintain some control over their behaviour. Only at the Zhejiang Medical College, located in downtown Hangzhou did the authorities succeed in keeping the college gates shut and the students off the streets. (7)

The students were not yet ready to cooperate with potential supporters. They marched arm in arm both to keep order in their ranks and to keep 'undesirable elements' at bay. A saying was circulated to the effect that 'the students are afraid of hooligans, the hooligans fear the police, who in turn are afraid of the students'. The students' movement had now become the major topic of conversation in the city. From this point onward official student bodies lost control of the movement as it veered in a more militant direction.

Stage 2 . Daily marches from 14 May, together with a hunger strike and sit-in in sympathy with Beijing, beginning on 16 May. (From 4 May to 14 May a lull descended over the student movement as it took stock and planned further action. To my knowledge there were no marches in Hangzhou during these ten days.):

On the afternoon of Tuesday 16 May, we were in a teashop in downtown Hangzhou when we heard a commotion outside and going to the window of the second floor saw people rushing down the street toward what turned out to be a demonstration. Its organizer was the Post-graduate Student Association of Zhejiang University. About 2,000 students demonstrated their support for the students in Beijing and what they had come to represent. Banners called for freedom of speech and freedom of the press and denounced bureaucratic profiteers. One banner stated that if education did not flourish then the country had no prospects (jiaoyu wuxing, guojia wuwang).

Many people rushed out of their shops and offices to observe the protest. Some accompanied the marchers along the pavement while others joined in at the rear. But there was very little expression of support by way of clapping or other signs. On hearing the chanting students approach, many shopkeepers hurriedly boarded up their shops fearful of a repetition of incidents that had occurred in Changsha, where shop windows had been smashed.

During the march the students made a surprise left-hand turn for which the police were clearly unprepared. The police panicked and rushed ahead along the street to clear vehicles and citizens out of the way. The police seemed worried that the students would sit down on the road and cause an enormous traffic jam. Overall, however, the police escorting the march had been unusually courteous and the atmosphere had been relaxed and almost carnival-like. The chanting of slogans erupted frequently and loudhailers were used to read out statements and demands.

When the marchers reached Wulin Square, the Hangzhou mini-equivalent of Tiananmen and the scene of large Red Guard rallies during the Cultural Revolution, a lot of people were milling around. For a moment the crush among the several thousand people became quite severe, with people pushing and shoving. No one seemed to know what would happen next. There were no speeches and little activity. A voice over the loudspeaker appealed for calm and order. Then about forty students sat down to begin a hunger strike. By 8 pm that evening most of the students had left the square, but many citizens had gathered at the intersection to the south of Wulin Square to discuss the day's events.

By the following day several hundred students were on hunger strike. That morning we had ridden through Zhejiang University and Hangzhou University and had seen students massing for the afternoon's rally. Students from the Zhejiang Fine Arts College had gathered at the front gate of Hangzhou University to join their comrades.

The slogans of the demonstrations had become more radical. These called for 'support for the Beijing students on hunger strike', for further democracy, 'deepen reform', 'prosecute official profiteers', 'clear up corruption', 'revitalize education' and 'truthful news reporting'. Tertiary teaching staff, secondary school teachers, and the research and office staff of research institutes also joined the marches. Food and drink was handed to the students by residents and stallholders. Students at Zhejiang Fine Arts College lit a paper effigy of an official profiteer. In the evening more students came to the square to join the sit-in. Other students preferred to continue their protest on campus. By midnight 500 to 600 students remained in the square with some on hunger strike and surrounded by 1,000 onlookers. (8)

At 3 am on Thursday 18 May, Li Zemin, Governor Shen Zulun, Luo Dong, Hangzhou Party Secretary Wu Renyuan and Hangzhou's Mayor Lu Wenge visited Wulin Square to see the students, now on the third day of their hunger strike. (9) China Daily reported that more than 100,000 people from all walks of life marched in different demonstrations later that day. Shen and Li promised that a telegram would be sent to Beijing urging central leaders to hold direct talks with students. (10) This gesture is somewhat surprising given that Zhao Ziyang had been decisively defeated by hardliners at a politburo meeting the previous evening. Thousands of teachers and students remained in Wulin Square on a sit-in and petition ( qingyuan ).

After returning from a day's fieldwork on the tea industry I rode to Wulin Square to see the situation for myself. The demonstration had grown considerably in size since Tuesday; the momentum of the past few days had not flagged and enthusiasm was high. I heard expressions of quiet determination and strong opposition to the government for failing to negotiate sincerely or make any concession. In retrospect how naive we were in expecting that the authorities would crack before the resolve of the students.

Among the delegations who went to the square to express support were office cadres, journalists, writers, secondary and primary teachers, workers, researchers and members of puppet 'democratic parties' in the CCP dominated United Front. Slogans carried by marchers proclaimed 'Support the students morally and financially', 'Save (jiujiu) the students', 'To love the country is no crime', 'Long live democracy', 'China's way ahead is reform of the political system' and 'Accept the conditions and conduct equal dialogue'. By midnight six hunger strikers had fainted and been sent to hospital. (11)

At 1 am on 19 May, Wu Minda and other vice-chairmen of the Zhejiang People's Congress went to the square to see the students and to affirm the patriotic spirit of the student movement. (12) On the same day Li Zemin visited sick students in hospital. But that afternoon the provincial and municipal party and governments issued an open letter to the students on hunger strike urging them to call it off and return to class. There were instructions to office and enterprise staff not to demonstrate again and to keep away from the square. (13) Clearly, fresh directives had been relayed from Beijing calling for a toughening of the authorities' response to a situation which had now dragged on for over a month.

At 5 pm I returned to the square and spoke to more students. It was a very hot and oppressive day. Those on hunger strike seemed under considerable stress in the heat and humidity. The protests seemed to be losing momentum. But by 7ÿpm more students and citizens arrived in the square to bolster morale. During the afternoon a person who looked like an old worker had caused a sensation by arriving in the square proudly carrying a placard displaying the official photographs of three leaders - Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Hua Guofeng. He deposited it among the banners and messages of encouragement that formed a colourful backdrop to the grim sight of fasting students sitting on rugs surrounded by the debris of the past few days.

That evening a meeting of provincial and municipal-level cadres was held by the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee at which Li Zemin spoke. Li reaffirmed the policy of stabilizing the situation by seeking views directly, dissipating conflict, avoiding clashes and safeguarding order ( zhengmian shudao, huaxie maodun, bimian chongtu, weihu zhixu ). Obviously forewarned of the imminent declaration of martial law in Beijing, Li hinted that the situation could perhaps worsen, a prospect which, he added, worried and alarmed the Zhejiang leadership. In his speech Li claimed that the leadership had no basic conflict of interests ( lihaide chongtu ) with the students and that there was no need for them to take steps which would exacerbate the crisis. He called on blue- and white-collar employees to remain at their posts. Students were forbidden from going to factories to make contacts with workers, and secondary and primary students were not allowed to demonstrate. Li warned that the authorities had to be prepared for two possibilities - minor problems or a major upheaval ( zhongdade luanzi ). (14) The speech signified that the Zhejiang authorities, however reluctantly, were toughening their response to the disorder in the provincial capital.

Stage 3 . Between 20 May (from the implementation of martial law in Beijing) to the end of the month, frequent marches during which calls for the overthrow of Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping featured prominently:

We spent the fateful day of 20 May at the Tea Experimental Farm in Yuhang county north of Hangzhou. It was difficult to carry on normally with our work as we listened to radio broadcasts from the BBC announcing martial law. Our Chinese hosts were at once bemused and fearful for the fate of the protesters. Rumours abounded. We heard that Zhao Ziyang had quit or been sacked and that the commander of the 38th army had resigned rather than send in his troops to clear the demonstrators out of Tiananmen Square. Returning to Hangzhou that evening, we saw posters up on the street calling for a city-wide strike ( bashi ). Students were still demonstrating and marching in the streets.

Over the previous week people very evidently had felt they had liberated themselves from the many forms of social control that characterize daily life in China. An ill-defined feeling of camaraderie was in the air. The police had left the streets to the students and an air of excitement and anticipation prevailed. Traffic regulations, be it observing stop lights or the ban on carrying girlfriends on bicycles, were being ignored.

The rule of the one-party state had almost become irrelevant. I could almost imagine this outwardly ordered society falling into anarchy, as it had done twenty years before. Contempt for any form of authority, particularly among the young, was uninhibited and open. The defiance, though, contained a trace of desperation and bravado.

Politics had returned to dominate citizens' lives. The student movement had become the principal topic of conversation among everyone I spoke to, and I only encountered two people who either opposed or expressed reservations about it. Everyone, including foreigners, was expected to show support for the students in any way possible.

That evening, on the way out to a friend's home for dinner, before 7 pm there were not many people in the square but by the time we rode back after 9 pm it was packed. The intersection adjoining the square was again impassable for motor traffic. People had gathered in groups to discuss events and listen to the latest news on the grapevine. Or else they gathered around light poles displaying notices with the latest news from Beijing.

On Monday 22 May the number of students in the exhibition building on the north side of Wulin Square was holding steady but the number of citizens out on the streets had fallen because of torrential rain. Demonstrations were continuing, however. (15) On Tuesday, 23 May, better weather brought more students out onto the streets. Short-wave radios that had been gathering dust on shop-shelves had all sold out. (16) The return of the press to its customary docile state, after the two weeks or so of accurate reporting of the movement, meant that access to foreign broadcasts was crucial. I returned to the square at 6 pm. The numbers were building again after office hours and there was no sign of the movement abating. Students and workers chanted slogans such as 'Down with Li Peng'.

On Wednesday 24 May student numbers in the square remained the same but the number of demonstrators and people coming to the square was less than the previous day. Zhejiang Daily carried the provincial Party committee's telegram of support for Li Peng and Yang Shangkun's speeches of 19 May. (17) The Zhejiang Daily message was virtually the same as Li Zemin's speech of 19 May but with important omissions which stripped Li's speech of some of its conciliatory tone. Li's reference, accurate as it eventuated, to the possibility of a major upheaval, was excised as was his claim that there was no basic conflict of interest between the leadership and the students. The time for concessions and conciliation had passed.

On 26 May the newspapers carried an Urgent Appeal ( jinji huyu ) from the Provincial Education Commission, dated 24 May, calling on students to return to class. Since early May, it stated, the student movement had spread to a small number of secondary and specialist schools. (18) Riding to the Zhejiang Agricultural University that day we met students from the university and secondary schools setting out on marches. The Appeal was obviously having little impact. At 5 pm that afternoon, riding along Yan'an Road we encountered another big demonstration - the biggest and most disruptive we had seen. Trolley buses were banked up in a long line along this main thoroughfare, and a traffic jam of monumental proportions was in the making. The police appeared to be doing little to sort things out as students continued marching. In fact many traffic control boxes had been deserted for several days. The police had abdicated all responsibility for traffic control, either out of sympathy for the students or out of fear of provoking confrontation if they attempted to uphold regulations that were so clearly being flouted.

On Sunday 28 May, a meeting of city and district Party secretaries of Zhejiang was held in Hangzhou and addressed by Li Zemin. Li revealed that on 27 May local Party and government leaders had met to study important speeches by central leaders and had reaffirmed their own strategy for dealing with the situation. They had endorsed once again the patriotic nature of the students' movement but did not support its methods. The means to stabilize the situation, they resolved, was to 'be even more steadfast in thinking, even more resolute in attitude, more clear-cut in stand, more meticulous in work and more cautious in action'.

The meeting issued a ten-point declaration. It claimed that responsibility for the disturbance resided with a few people in the highest leading echelons of the Party [Zhao Ziyang]. Point 2 of the declaration stated that to stabilize Zhejiang, the key factor was Hangzhou and in Hangzhou the key factor was the tertiary institutions. The previous policy of seeking out views remained operative but was not to be misinterpreted as being unprincipled ( qianjiu ), advocating non-interference ( fangren ) or failing to take a clear-cut stand. Students were called on to stop all demonstrations, parades, petitioning, and sit-ins immediately and to make known their opposition to speeches which contravened the four basic principles, and to the dissemination of handbills, cartoons and wall posters which attacked and satirized central leaders. No unofficial organization would be recognized or given any assistance and it was forbidden for students to take the campaign to factories and villages or secondary and primary schools. There was a strict prohibition against occupation of campus broadcasting stations and orders for an unconditional return to class. A call was made to factory Communist Youth League and Trade Union branches to ensure that order at work-places prevailed and that employees, the young ones in particular, did not join the movement.

Point 4 admitted that office cadres had joined marches and had spoken out in support of the students. Point 5 admitted also that provincial people's congress representatives and provincial political consultative committee representatives, as well as members of democratic parties held differing views on the nature of the struggle and toward martial law, due allegedly to an incomplete comprehension of the situation. Point 8 stated that all news reporting must help stabilize the situation and forbade the use of the media as a vehicle for reporting words and ideas not conducive to this end. Li added that if the reasonable demands of the students for cleaning up the government and punishing bureaucratic profiteers were not taken on board and not acted upon conscientiously, the confidence of the people would be lost. (19) The declaration was thus a combination of conciliation and threats. As such, it most probably reflected intense debates within the provincial leadership as to where the crisis would lead.

Stage 4 . The movement by students to clear out of the campuses ( kongxiao yundong ) from the end of May until early June:

At this juncture the students I spoke to seemed dejected and told me of corruption within their ranks, with certain individuals misappropriating money donated by people of the city. This would not have been difficult given the way in which donations were collected. Divisions had emerged within their ranks and one particular leader had tried to trick students into returning to class.

By Saturday 27 May students at the Medical College and the Agricultural University were reported to be returning to classes. Another report stated that most students had left the Exhibition Building by 5.30 pm and had returned to college. Over 20,000 yuan had been collected by the students in less than two weeks, of which 70 per cent was given to the Red Cross, 25 per cent to the Provincial Education Foundation and 5 per cent toward cleaning up the building. (20) On Sunday 28 May, in a symbolic gesture of defiance, students bought kerosene and, despite attempts to dissuade them, burnt their banners and flags inside the hall. (21) It appeared that the movement had collapsed through sheer exhaustion and lack of direction.

While it was reported that some colleges now had up to 95 per cent of their students back in class, at Hangzhou University the figure was only 30 per cent. (22) All students had reportedly left Wulin Square and the Exhibition Building and returned to their colleges. On Wednesday 31 May the Provincial Education Commission issued another urgent appeal for the resumption of classes. (23) But the college students were not going to admit defeat and had decided to defy these orders by staying away from class.

On the afternoon of Thursday 1 June Li Zemin went to the Agricultural University and the Fine Arts College to speak to teachers and Party political workers. He said that over the past several days some people [students] had come to Hangzhou to incite students to leave their colleges, just when these were on the point of returning to normal. Students who had returned to class had been ridiculed and mocked by their classmates.

On Saturday 3 June, at a meeting of tertiary institution presidents, Li Zemin stepped up his attacks on the 'empty the colleges' movement. He also called for the immediate dissolution of various illegal organizations on campuses and an end to the dissemination of various sources of unofficial news (a reference to the use of fax and telex machines to get access to foreign press reports). A joint announcement of twenty-one college presidents condemned the Organization Committee to Empty Colleges ( kongxiao zuweihui ) and the Joint Student Autonomous Association of Tertiary Institutions of Hangzhou ( Hangzhou gaodeng xuexiao xuesheng zizhi lianhehui or Hanggaolian for short) as illegal organizations. There was no evidence of students in the square on this evening as we prepared to leave for Shanghai the next day, Sunday 4 June.

Stage 5 . Blockading the city and cutting transport links after 4 June:

What had occurred in Hangzhou after our departure on the morning of 4 June? While in Shanghai we had remained in contact with friends over the telephone and after my return I could supplement what they had told me by reading Zhejiang Daily . It became clear that the most active and extreme protests occurred after the Beijing massacre. On Monday 5 June the Hangzhou city government issued an urgent appeal to protect transport and communications. It stated that residents of the city fully understood and sympathized with the students' patriotic fervour and that up until then order had basically been maintained with production continuing normally and supplies flowing. But since the morning of 5 June the main roads in the city had been blocked with resultant traffic jams, and vandalism of vehicles and attacks on the rail system had occurred. Many employees had been unable to get to work on time, thus affecting production. Supplies of grain, oil and coal were unable to reach the city. (24)

Attacks on the railway station had begun at 2 pm on 4 June and disrupted traffic for 45 minutes. At 10 am on 5 June, wood, rocks and steel were placed on the tracks and students sat down and stopped all movement for 52 hours. (25) The service reopened for two hours on 6 June but was cut once again and trains halted en route . Hangzhou railway station finally re-opened on Wednesday 7 June, with the first train in four days leaving Hangzhou at 3:15 pm for Shanghai. (26)

An incident widely reported in the West concerned the lowering of the national flag to half mast on the Zhejiang provincial government office building. It occurred on 5 June. About 300-400 students from the Fine Arts College marched past the building and demanded the flag be lowered in sympathy for their dead comrades in Beijing. One student climbed onto the roof of the gatehouse and pulled down the flag. Another student then rang Voice of America and stated that the government had lowered the flag in response to student demands. (27) One student was arrested for ringing VOA and another in Nanchang on 20 June for lowering the flag. The former was sentenced to nine years in jail for counter-revolutionary propaganda and sedition. (28)

The Students' Autonomous Union was held responsible for many of the incidents that occurred after 5 June, such as the 10 am attack on the railway station and sit-downs at major intersections. As a result of the paralysis of the railway system the Hangzhou Iron and Steel Works could not bring in coal, causing production stoppages. Public transport (trolley-buses and buses) stopped completely for nearly four days and days later some routes were still not operating. There were queues in the streets for grain, and a rush to withdraw deposits from banks. Some of the Autonomous Student Union's members had attempted to close the docks at the terminus of the Grand Canal and nearly a thousand people had attempted to tear up railway tracks. Students also surrounded the offices of Zhejiang Daily and the provincial TV station. The organization allegedly spread rumours that the military would occupy Hangzhou and suppress the students. (29) A speech by a provincial Party and government spokesman on the evening of 7 June claimed that the railway station had again been attacked and all trains stopped. Main roads into the city were blocked and traffic control boxes occupied. There were assaults on factories to incite workers to strike, attacks on media units and widespread dissemination of 'demagogic rumours'. Fliers were circulating calling on citizens to storm the city airport, powerstations and waterworks and to turn over rail tracks. The spokesman stressed that bloodshed had to be prevented.

On 6 June the Provincial Education Commission had issued an urgent appeal to students to dismantle roadblocks so as to let through supplies to their fellow-students on campuses. The Commission claimed that ten tertiary and secondary schools had only one day's supply of grain and others had only two to three days' supply of grain and coal. Supplies of other foods had been cut off and prices were soaring. (30)

On Thursday 8 June the Provincial Education Commission sent letters to heads of households, calling on them to prevent their children from participating in attacks on Party and government offices, stirring up strikes or shop closures or holding unauthorized parades and demonstrations. Secondary and primary students were ordered to stay at home. (31)

It was not only students who were making it difficult for the authorities. The Hangzhou Workers' Autonomous Association ( Hangzhoushi gongren zizhihui ) had been established on 5 June and its members had been highly visible at the intersection on the south side of Wulin Square. Speakers had denounced the Party and government and called on foreign businesspeople to withdraw their investments and bank deposits from China. The leaders of this organization came from the provincial clothing research institute's fashion workshop. (32)

The endeavour, then, to involve industrial workers in the protest seemed to score some success only after 4 June. Students went to factories, gathered at entrances, made speeches, and stopped workers going to and knocking off from work. The day shift at the No. 1 Cotton Mill was prevented from going to work on 8 June and on the same day production stopped at the Zhejiang Hemp Mill. Disturbances of varying degrees were experienced at factories in the industrial district of Banshan and the light industrial and textile district. (33)

On 5 June the Hangzhou Iron and Steel Mill organized over 200 employees as a security squad ( huchangdui ) to keep students activists away from the factory. Later, on 11 June, Governor Shen Zulun went to the mill to commend the workers for sticking to their posts. Shen praised the activities of similar squads organized to secure factories, shops and streets. By mid-June three districts had organized 10,000 people into such teams. (34) A letter from an employee at the Hangzhou Glass Factory stated that on the morning of 6 June, sixty students had arrived at the factory gate to call out the workers on strike. There were production problems for three days from 6 to 8 June due to the roadblocks preventing supplies and employees from reaching the factory. (35) On 7 and 8 June people formed a human wall ( zhuqi renqiang ) at the front gates of the Hangzhou Oxygen Generator Factory. Factory leaders mobilized workers to get to work early to foil the protesters. (36)

Hangzhou After the Beijing Massacre

On arriving back in Hangzhou on 8 June I had to take a circuitous route back to the hotel. The main roads were still blockaded. Slogans painted in black on buses and trucks called for the overthrow of the 'reactionary government'. On Ya'nan Road students had remained in control of a traffic control box and were broadcasting tapes of recorded speeches condemning the government. The West Lake was deserted and serene in the absence of domestic and overseas tourists. The Hong Kong managers of the joint-venture Dragon Hotel had departed for home, leaving behind only a handful of guests. The Hangzhou Shangri-La Hotel, where I was staying, had very few guests, and all tourist group bookings to the end of the year had been cancelled. The hotel was having trouble obtaining supplies of rice but otherwise was operating normally.

On the following day, 9 June, after breakfast in an almost deserted dining-room I rode to Hangzhou University. Students were justifiably worried that they would have to serve another term with the army as they had done after the 1986-87 demonstrations. There were very few students on campus. I returned to Wulin Square, only two weeks before the focal point of so much enthusiasm and energy - now dashed in such a tragic and brutal fashion. The square was almost deserted but for a wreath suspended from the front door of the Exhibition Building in memory of the slain students and citizens of Beijing. The hopes of May had turned into the ashes of June. I spoke to people who begged me to tell the truth when I returned home. They told me that workers had been offered enormous payments (up to 300 yuan) not to go out on strike or join the demonstrations. They had been warned that if they did join the marches they could expect severe financial penalties.

The provincial leadership, according to one friend, outwardly expressed compliance with the Centre but had been basically sympathetic with the demands of the students. Negotiation rather than force had been their approach. I learned from a Party member that in the days immediately after the massacre the local authorities had concluded a pact with the students allowing them the run of the streets during daylight hours, and only at night sent police to clear away barricades for the removal of rubbish from the city and the bringing in of food supplies.

One friend expressed pessimism about the future of the country and in particular academic and other exchanges with the outside world. He believed that the local authorities had been quite enlightened ( kaiming ) in dealing with the student protests, a tolerance for which they could possibly pay dearly later on when the central leadership had sorted out its own problems. That evening Chinese TV showed film clips of 'counter-revolutionary' incidents and riots in Beijing, Guiyang, Chengdu and Haerbin.

In Zhejiang the movement was certainly not confined to the provincial capital. The disturbances had spread from Hangzhou right across the province. (37) In the coastal city of Ningbo there were attacks on public security offices and government buildings on 5 and 6 June. (38) At a meeting of tertiary institutions on 22 July, Li Zemin stated that in Zhejiang provinces as a whole 40 tertiary institutions and 300,000 people had participated in the demonstrations. Most of the demonstrators, he said, were tertiary students, while most illegal organizations and all illegal publications originated from tertiary institutions. (39)

The crack-down in the province was launched once the local leaders realized that the centre had reasserted its authority. However unwillingly, they had no option but to go along. A notice of the provincial government dated 10 June banned the Autonomous Students Association and other organizations including the Hangzhou Workers' Autonomous Association. Seven of the leaders of the workers' organization were detained for investigation by the public security bureau. (40)

Crack-downs were carried out against eighteen illegal organizations. A public security bureau notice of 12 June requested leaders of banned organizations to turn themselves in within a stipulated period. (41) One hundred and fifty one leaders, including secondary and tertiary teachers and students, workers, peasants and unemployed, complied. (42) Others were turned in by workmates or neighbours. (43) A further public security bureau notice of 23 June defined four types of people who were given seven days to surrender: publishers of illegal and henceforth banned publications, plotters and 'advisors' to illegal organizations, organizers and ringleaders of attacks on public facilities, and people responsible for disseminating 'counter-revolutionary' propaganda from abroad. (44) Provincial judges were directed by Party leaders to punish harshly and expeditiously those brought before the courts. (45) At an enlarged plenum of the provincial Party committee secretary Li Zemin announced that by 29 June, 33 illegal organizations had been dissolved, but certain incidents, and the people behind them, had not been completely cleared up. (46)

To drum up popular support for the suppression, from 11 June Zhejiang Daily began carrying a page-one column of readers' letters called the 'Voice of the People' ( renminde husheng ). (47) A month later this was superseded by a column entitled 'Speak out Your Mind to the Party' ( xiangdang shuoshuo xinlihua ). (48) The dreary mindless propaganda barrage was in full swing. 'Enemy agent Ngaas' and 'overseas hostile forces' were singled out for attention, and accused of taking advantage of the disturbances to cause trouble. (49)

Late in July, at a cadres' meeting of units directly under the provincial Party committee, it was revealed that grave misunderstandings were still held about the nature of the student movement, the wisdom of the action taken in Beijing and the nature of former Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang's mistakes. (50) In a ludicrous move, ostensibly designed to reduce the generation gap and the chasm separating Chinese youth from the authorities, a Zhejiang provincial association for looking after the younger generation ( Zhejiangsheng guanxin xiayidai hui ) was established on 8 August in Hangzhou. (51)

Postscript, August 1989

On 11 June I had left Hangzhou pessimistic about China's future. For ten days at the beginning of August I made a brief trip to Beijing and Hangzhou to reassess the situation. In Beijing the atmosphere was oppressive and the people seemed to express a sullen defiance toward the regime which had turned on them so brutally only two months before. Soldiers were present at major intersections and overpasses, armed with automatic rifles or sub-machine guns. Tiananmen Square was empty of people. Only bicycles and automobiles passed across Chang'an Avenue. The people's square now belonged to chaperoned foreign tourists and workmen repairing the damage which had been inflicted in June.

In Hangzhou I found the city much the same as when I had left in June - quiet but uneasy. Universities were still on summer vacation and teachers, it seemed, were bracing themselves for a witchhunt when they returned for the new academic year. Business was flat and suspicion hung over everyone's head as the authorities began an inspection of business accounts ( chazhang ) as part of the renewed anti-corruption campaign.

The tourism industry had been devastated in both cities. Boatmen on the West Lake in Hangzhou scrambled desperately for business. Trishaws sat outside the gate of the Hangzhou Hotel and the drivers smoked and chatted to pass the hours. Inside, the dining-room was empty and the Chinese restaurant upstairs had been closed, together with one wing of the hotel. The losses for the joint ventures and the central and local budgets would run into many millions of dollars. China Air was offering a 20 per cent discount on all domestic fares and a substantial discount for flights from abroad.

Friends understandably seemed reluctant to talk about recent events. One certainty was that the relative freedom of 1988-89 had been replaced by an uncertainty and foreboding for the future.

In my estimation the younger generation has been lost for good to the Chinese Communist Party. This was already true before the student movement of May-June 1989 but the disaffection has now spread through most other strata in urban China. If the Chinese government opened the country's doors today an East German-type exodus of the educated and the young would surely occur. In the meantime these people must wait for some sanity to prevail and the worst of the repression to pass. How long this will be and how long it will be before the verdict on the events of the past months is reversed, as happened with the 1976 Tiananmen incident, is anybody's guess. But today the Chinese Communist Party stands virtually alone in a world of 'Western bourgeois liberalism' and Eastern European reform and totally isolated from the people whom it has betrayed so brutally.


*Appreciation is expressed to the Exchange Research Grant from the Australian and Chinese Academies of Social Sciences and to the Research School of Pacific Studies for funds to undertake research in Hangzhou from July to October 1988 and February to April and May to June 1989. Thanks are due to anonymous readers and Jonathan Unger for their suggestions to improve the manuscript, and above all to my Chinese friends who helped me during my stays in Hangzhou.

1 To me, this division of marchers from bystanders contrasted graphically with the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in Melbourne of the 1960s and 1970s where chants of 'join us' were directed at watching crowds.
2 See Keith Forster, 'Li Tze-min - Secretary of the CCP Zhejiang Provincial Committee', Issues & Studies , vol.26, no.3, (March 1990).
3 Zhejiang Daily [hereafter ZD ], 3 May 1989.
4 ZD , 5 May 1989.
5 On 22 April a demonstration in Changsha resulted in the smashing of shop windows and the looting of goods. For official contemporary accounts of the Changsha incident see Xinhua , 23 April 1989 in ZD , 24 April 1989, Xinhua , 25 April 1989 in ZD , 26 April 1989. Also on 22 April a bloody confrontation between demonstrators and police took place in Xian. See the chapter by Joseph Esherick . Both incidents were mentioned in the now infamous People's Daily editorial of 26 April denouncing the disturbances and their perpetrators.
6 Jiushi niandai [The Nineties], June 1989, pp.71-73.
7 Zhongguo Tongxun She (HK), in BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, The Far East (hereafter SWB/FE ) 0452/62/8.
8 ZD , 18 May 1989.
9 ZD , 18 May 1989.
10 China Daily , 19 May 1989.
11 ZD , 19 May 1989.
12 ZD , 19 May 1989.
13 ZD , 20 May 1989.
14 ZD , 21 May 1989.
15 ZD , 23 May 1989.
16 ZD , 24 May 1989.
17 ZD , 25 May 1989.
18 ZD , 26 May 1989.
19 ZD , 31 May 1989. At meetings convened by the Provincial Advisory Commission, the Provincial People's Congress and the Party Committee of the Provincial Military District, delegates took a tougher line, echoing sentiments expressed at this time by central leaders such as Peng Zhen, Chen Yun and Li Xiannian. See ZD , 30 and 31 May 1989, 2 June 1989.
20 ZD , 28 May 1989.
21 ZD , 29 May 1989.
22 ZD , 30 May 1989.
23 ZD , 1 June 1989.
24 ZD , 6 June 1989.
25 ZD , 16 June 1989.
26 ZD , 8 June 1989.
27 ZD , 9 June 1989. The article was actually written on 6 June.
28 See Canberra Times reports of 21 and 25 June 1989; ZD , 23 June, 24 June 1989; SWB/FE/0487/B2/13-14; SWB/FE/0488/B2/11; SWB/FE/0500/B2/5-6; SWB/FE/ 0547/B2/5 .
29 ZD , 10 June 1989.
30 ZD , 7 June 1989.
31 ZD , 9 June 1989.
32 ZD , 11 June 1989.
33 ZD , 10 June 1989. On 8 June the gates of Hangzhou No.1 Cotton Mill were blockaded to stop workers getting into the mill. See ZD , 17 June 1989.
34 ZD , 12 June 1989. Three thousand full-time cadres from the armed forces and 100,000 armed militia were mobilized across the province. See Zhejiang Provincial Radio Service (ZPS), 18 June 1989, SWB/FE/ 0487/B2/14.
35 ZD , 15 June 1989.
36 ZD , 19 June 1989.
37 ZD , 27 June 1989.
38 ZD , 9 June 1989. For earlier reports of demonstrations in Ningbo, see SWB/FE / 0462/B2/11.
39 ZD , 23 July 1989.
40 ZD , 11 June 1989.
41 ZD , 13 June 1989.
42 ZD , 23 June 1989; SWB/FE /0500/B2/5-6.
43 ZD , 20 June 1989.
44 ZD , 24 June 1989.
45 ZPS, 21 June 1989, SWB/FE /0489/B2/4.
46 ZD , 27 June 1989; ZD , 1 July 1989.
47 ZD , 11 June 1989.
48 ZD , 13 July 1989.
49 ZPS, 7 July 1989, SWB/FE /0509/B2/14.
50 ZD , 26 July 1989.
51 ZD , 9 August 1989.


From The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces , edited by Jonathan Unger (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1991).
Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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