There has never been a repeat of the student protests that became internationally known as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Although Thursday marks 26 years since China’s brutal crackdown, visitors to the square today would be hard pressed to find signs or memorials that a mass uprising took place in the iconic public square.
That’s because the Chinese government has been unrelenting in its quarter-century-long effort to criminalize public memorials and demonstrations for the thousands killed by the government crackdown, according to experts and multiple media reports of on the subject. On the anniversary, Tiananmen Square can seem like an ordinary tourist attraction or meeting place.
However, massive demonstrations calling for democratic reform were started in the square April 1989 by Chinese students, following the death of a liberal member of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, who favored reforms. The students gathered in the square and remained there for three days after Hu’s death. The crowd eventually grew to 100,000 for the leader’s state funeral.
The following month, the crowd in Tiananmen Square reached 1.2 million people. After failing to get protesters to obey orders to disperse, the Chinese government, led by Premier Li Peng, instituted martial law May 19, 1989. Li also stopped foreign media outlets from reporting about the demonstrations beginning June 1 of that year.
The massacre of hundreds to thousands of protesters by troops and tanks came June 3 and 4, or what is most commonly referred to as the June Fourth Incident. There have never been any reliable reports of the amount of casualties. Even today, the Chinese government will only acknowledge the crackdown as an attempt to quell “counterrevolutionary rebellion” in the country.
The following day -- June 5 -- a protester famously faced-off with a column of Chinese tanks. A photo of that moment has come to represent the Tiananmen Square uprising.
The only sign of June Fourth’s lingering effects were the swarms of state police officers patrolling the square in Beijing, the Washington Post has reported. Last year, the government’s tactics ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary were more extensive, a sign that the ruling Communist Party continues to view the event as a threat to its power.