Thirty years after the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, the Chinese government has been largely successful in suppressing public knowledge of it at home. But with each passing year, more information and images come into the open elsewhere.
In the last month alone, a former journalist for the Chinese military broke her silence and urged a national reckoning; a student witness revealed almost 2,000 photographs he took of the protests in Beijing; and a collection of previously secret party speeches and statements about the crackdown was published in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong.
“Everyone who took part must speak up about what they know happened,” said the former journalist, Jiang Lin.
Here is how The Times covered the crackdown in 1989, including work by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.
Upheaval in China
Biggest Beijing Crowds So Far Keep Troops From City Center; May 21, 1989, by Nicholas D. Kristof
Huge throngs, possibly amounting to more than one million Chinese, took to the streets today to defy martial law and block troops from reaching the center of the capital, effectively delaying or preventing the planned crackdown on China’s democracy movement.
Facing the People, the Soldiers Fall Back; May 21, 1989, by Sheryl Wu Dunn
When a small convoy of military trucks used to launch tear gas and to spray water on rioters rolled through eastern Beijing early this morning, the soldiers met their first unexpected challenge. An old woman street cleaner rushed up and lay down on the road in front of the trucks.
The Reasons Why; The New York Times Magazine, June 4, 1989, by Nicholas D. Kristof
The outlook for China’s immediate future is murky, but most Chinese seem to expect that whatever the near-term setbacks, the nation has been set on the road toward less control by the Communist Party. The uprising of the last six weeks, whether it is renewed or repressed, seems to mark a turning point, and it happened with startling, and seemingly inexplicable swiftness. No one predicted that the convulsions would happen when they did, and not even China’s most famous savants can safely predict what will happen next.
The same day his article appeared in the magazine, Mr. Kristof reported from Beijing for The Times when Chinese troops used bloody force to retake the center of the capital from pro-democracy protesters.
Crackdown in Beijing
Troops Attack and Crush Beijing Protest; June 4, 1989, by Nicholas D. Kristof
Changan Avenue, or the Avenue of Eternal Peace, Beijing’s main east-west thoroughfare, echoed with screams this morning as young people carried the bodies of their friends away from the front lines. The dead or seriously wounded were heaped on the backs of bicycles or tricycle rickshaws and supported by friends who rushed through the crowds, sometimes sobbing as they ran.
In the Streets, Anguish, Fury and Tears; June 4, 1989, by Sheryl Wu Dunn
As the crackle of automatic weapons filled the air today on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, tens of thousands of Beijing residents, even elderly men and women, rushed out to see what they could do to turn back the troops.
A day later, the amount of carnage was only a little clearer as “word-of-mouth estimates continued to soar, some reaching far into the thousands.”
Beijing Death Toll at Least 300; Army Tightens Control of City but Angry Resistance Goes On; June 5, 1989, by Nicholas D. Kristof
By ordering soldiers to fire on the unarmed crowds, the Chinese leadership has created an incident that almost surely will haunt the Government for years to come. It is believed here that after the bloodshed of this weekend, it will be incomparably more difficult to rule China.