THE POPULAR PROTEST IN HANGZHOU
The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the
Provinces, edited by Jonathan Unger (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.,
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
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
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
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
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
A partial but frank report of the encounter appeared in
on 3 May. (3) For example, the newspaper reported one student as
comparing the 26 April
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 (
) 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 (
) 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
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
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.
. 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
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
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
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)
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 (
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
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
). 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 (
) 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 (
). (14) The speech signified that the Zhejiang authorities,
however reluctantly, were toughening their response to the
disorder in the provincial capital.
. 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
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 (
). 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
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
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.
carried the provincial Party committee's telegram of support for
Li Peng and Yang Shangkun's speeches of 19 May. (17) The
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 (
) 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
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
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
), advocating non-interference (
) 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
. The movement by students to clear out of the campuses (
) 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
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
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
) and the Joint Student Autonomous Association of Tertiary
Institutions of Hangzhou (
Hangzhou gaodeng xuexiao xuesheng zizhi lianhehui
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.
. 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
. 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
. 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
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.
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 (
) 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
) 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
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
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
) 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
began carrying a page-one column of readers' letters called the
'Voice of the People' (
). (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 (
) 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
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
2 See Keith Forster, 'Li Tze-min - Secretary of the CCP Zhejiang
Issues & Studies
, vol.26, no.3, (March 1990).
], 3 May 1989.
, 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
, 23 April 1989 in
, 24 April 1989,
, 25 April 1989 in
, 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
editorial of 26 April
denouncing the disturbances and their perpetrators.
[The Nineties], June 1989, pp.71-73.
Zhongguo Tongxun She
(HK), in BBC,
Summary of World Broadcasts, The Far East
, 18 May 1989.
, 18 May 1989.
, 19 May 1989.
, 19 May 1989.
, 19 May 1989.
, 20 May 1989.
, 21 May 1989.
, 23 May 1989.
, 24 May 1989.
, 25 May 1989.
, 26 May 1989.
, 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
, 30 and 31 May 1989, 2 June 1989.
, 28 May 1989.
, 29 May 1989.
, 30 May 1989.
, 1 June 1989.
, 6 June 1989.
, 16 June 1989.
, 8 June 1989.
, 9 June 1989. The article was actually written on 6 June.
reports of 21 and 25 June 1989;
, 23 June, 24 June 1989;
SWB/FE/0487/B2/13-14; SWB/FE/0488/B2/11; SWB/FE/0500/B2/5-6;
, 10 June 1989.
, 7 June 1989.
, 9 June 1989.
, 11 June 1989.
, 10 June 1989. On 8 June the gates of Hangzhou No.1 Cotton Mill
were blockaded to stop workers getting into the mill. See
, 17 June 1989.
, 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
, 15 June 1989.
, 19 June 1989.
, 27 June 1989.
, 9 June 1989. For earlier reports of demonstrations in Ningbo,
, 23 July 1989.
, 11 June 1989.
, 13 June 1989.
, 23 June 1989;
, 20 June 1989.
, 24 June 1989.
45 ZPS, 21 June 1989,
, 27 June 1989;
, 1 July 1989.
, 11 June 1989.
, 13 July 1989.
49 ZPS, 7 July 1989,
, 26 July 1989.
, 9 August 1989.