In video: Tiananmen remembered

Witnesses to the events of June 4, 1989, describe what happened.

File photo of a man standing in front of a convoy of tanks in the Avenue of Eternal Peace in Tiananmen Square in Beijing
A man stands in front of a convoy of tanks in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 5, 1989 [REUTERS/Arthur Tsang/files]

Decades have passed since hundreds of thousands of people flooded onto the streets of Beijing and into Tiananmen Square to demand democracy, freedom of speech and an end to corruption.

After a five-week standoff, the government ordered the military to forcibly remove protesters from the square.

The number of people killed remains unclear. The government’s official death toll stands at 241 but activists say thousands may have died.

In 2009, Al Jazeera spoke to some of those who were there.

Fang Zheng, student activist  

A senior at the Beijing College of Sports, Fang Zheng was leaving Tiananmen Square with other students when he was struck from behind by a tank. His legs were caught under the tank and severed.

“Many students’ lives were disrupted in different ways. I lost my legs, some of them had to flee China, some were imprisoned, others died. I was only one of them,” he says.

Jan Wong, journalist  

Canadian-born Jan Wong was working as a foreign correspondent in China. She crouched on the balcony of the Beijing Hotel, which overlooks Tiananmen Square, and watched as the army moved in.

“I saw the shooting and then the ambulances coming into the square. And I saw the man climb up onto the tank …. He’s become a symbol,” she says.

Wu’er Kaixi, student leader  

Wu’er Kaixi is one of the best-known student leaders of the protest. In a televised meeting he confronted Li Peng, the then Chinese prime minister, with the students’ demands.

“I was a representative, I wasn’t just a student. I was there because there are thousands of hunger strikers behind me … millions of Chinese people hoping I would speak for them,” he says.

Han Dongfang, worker activist  

Beijing railway worker Han Dongfang helped set up the Beijing Autonomous Workers’ Federation during the protests. After the crackdown, he was imprisoned for 22 months without trial.

“I thought they would come with wooden sticks to beat people up, so I told people ‘lets get ready, probably we will get… bleeding, broken legs or arms’. But I never thought they would be shooting bullets into people’s heads and chests,” he says.

Perry Link, academic  

Professor of Chinese language and literature Perry Link was in Tiananmen Square immediately after soldiers clashed with the protesters.

“It was an embarrassment, even humiliation, for the top leaders that their square was occupied by these protesting ragamuffins when the [Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev] … was coming to Beijing,” he says.

Source: Al Jazeera