Tiananmen Square Protest – A Democracy Movement

Tiananmen Square Protest – A Democracy Movement

Author: S. Shaalini, VITSOL, Chennai.


There are many countries in the world which follows the Unitary One socialist republic.The Communist party is ruling as the Unitary party in countries such as China, Cuba, Vietnam etc. In many of these countries, fundamental rights of citizens were denied though the constitution guarantees the same. In China, as an effort to get the fundamental rights and democracy, a movement initiated by the young students in Beijing and gained momentum within no time. The culmination of this movement held at the TIANANMEN SQUARE. This article talks about the overview of the protest, the way the protest was carried on, how the government handled the situation, international nations reactions to the protest and finally concluded the democracy movement.


China which is popularly known as Republic of China is a country in East Asia, which follows Unitary one-party Socialist Republic[1]and is one of the few existing socialist states.It is the world’s most populated country, with a population of around 1.4 billion in 2019.Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises power over 22 provinces,5 autonomous regions, 4 directly controlled municipalities such as Shangai,Tianjin, chongqing and Bejing which are together known as “Mainland China”. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states that the “fundamental rights” of citizens include freedom of speechreligion, the press, the right to a fair trial,universal suffrage, and property rights. However, in reality, these provisions do not afford noteworthy protection against criminal prosecution by the state. Political rebels and human rights groups have accused and criticized the Chinese government for widespread human rights abuses, including suppression of religious and ethnic minoritiescensorship and mass surveillance, and cracking down on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.



The Tiananmen Square protests was calling for democracy and it was student-led demonstrations for free speech and press in China. The protesters (students), who were fighting for democracy, originally marched through Beijing to Tiananmen Square following the death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party Leader who had worked to introduce democratic reform in China. His advancement of the ideas on freedom of speech and press greatly influenced the students joining in the protests. In bereavement of Hu, the students called for a more open, democratic government. Finally, thousands of public joined the students in Tiananmen Square, with the protest’s numbers increasing to the tens of thousands. The Tiananmen Square protests is commonly known as the June Fourth Incident and also called the ’89 Chinese Democracy Movement.



Student leaders were put under close observation by the authorities. Traffic cameras were installed all over the area and it was used to accomplish surveillance on the square and the restaurants in the nearby area and where students gathered were monitored. This surveillance led to the identification, detention and reprimand of participants of the protest. After the massacre, the government did thorough interrogations at work units, institutions and schools to identify who had been to Tiananmen Square protest.


On May 11, Mr.Yang Shangkun, the President of China met with Leader of People’s Republic of China, Mr. Deng secretly to discuss the reasons of the student movement, the widespread support it was receiving and why it was tough to halt. The protester’s demand was explained by Deng and mentioned that it was against official corruption. He further states that the demand was acceptable but the motive of some people using this demand as a pretext to overthrow the Communist Party was not. He added that the Party must use nonviolent means to resolve the student movement but the Politburo must be prepared to act conclusively.

On May 13, the student protesters in huge number initiated a hunger strike, which encouraged other similar strikes and protests across China. As the movement gaining momentum, the Chinese government became increasingly uncomfortable with the protests, particularly as they upset a visit by Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union on May 15.The Chinese government declared Martial Law on May 20, the order, declared pursuant to article 89, section 16 of the Peoples Republic of China’s constitution and mobilized at least 30 divisions of armed force from five of the country’s seven military regions. At least 14 of People’s Liberation Army ‘s 24 army corps contributed troops. Over 250,000 troops were eventually sent to the capital to control the protesters and martial[2] law was imposed.

The army’s entry into the city was blocked at its suburbs by masses of protesters. The demonstrators surrounded military vehicles, foiling them from either progressing or withdrawing. Protesters addressed soldiers and requested them to join with them and support the protest. They also offered food, water, and shelter to the soldiers.Sensing that there is no way forward, the authorities ordered the army to pull out on 24 May. All government forces withdrew to bases outside the city.While the army’s withdrawal was initially seen as ‘turning the tide’ in favour of protesters, in reality mobilization took place across the country for a final assault.

When Army’s withdrawal was taking place, the internal divisions intensified within the student movement itself. By late May, the students became increasingly unsystematic with no clear leadership or integrated course of action. Protester’s Leaders, apparently sensing the impending military action and consequences, and advocated for a temporary withdrawal from Tiananmen Square to re-group on campus, but this was opposed by ‘hardliner’ student factions who wanted to embrace the Square.

The pronouncement to impose martial law in Beijing was finally made by China’s chief leaderDeng Xiaoping, with the support of tyrants, who ruled out concessions to the students and wanted to use the military to end the protests. Liberal party leaders, who opposed the use of force and favoured a political answer to the crisis, wereside-lined. The decision also created some opposition within the military though the order to use force was finally executed.


  • The authorities carried out mass arrests. Many of the workers were abruptly strained and executed. In contrast, the students-many of whom came from relatively affluent backgrounds and were well-connected with Chinese Government received much lighter sentences.
  • Government also tightened control on some social and religious groups whose broadening membership could metastasize into political movements



The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China proclaims that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of the press, speech, assembly, procession, and of demonstration. However, in practice, these rights were tightly prohibited, generally under the pretext of maintaining “social stability.” This is a major violation.

Poorly drafted anti-subversion laws, such as article 105 of the criminal code, were used to criminally prosecute individuals seeking to exercise the rights of assembly, free speech, or demonstration. Human Rights violations pertaining to the event were surfaced and they expected the government should:

  1. Respect the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly and cease the harassment and random detention of people who encounter the official.
  2. To make necessary compensation for the families of the victims.
  3. Examine all government and military officials who planned or ordered the unlawful use of fatal force against peaceful protestors, and suitably prosecute them.


Till today The Chinese Communist Party(CCP) is having more power than government bureaucracy and the country is under the Unitary one-party Socialist Republic in power.

In view of the above, even after 30 years of the Tiananmen Square massacre, no agreement in written form between government and democracy movement protesters in the form of a treaty or convention.



  1. Requests the Secretary-General to transmit to the Commission on Human Rights information provided by the Government of China and by other reliable sources;
  2. Makes an appeal for clemency, in particular in favour of persons deprived of their liberty as a result of the above-mentioned events


The External Affairs Minister defined the episode as “inexcusable” and issued a statement: “We can only express horror and barbarity at the senseless violence and disastrous loss of life resulting from the ruthless use of force against students and civilians”.


The GOI responded by ordering the state television to trim down the reporting to the barest minimum as Chinese action was against the constitutional rights.


200,000 people protested against the Chinese government’s response, with the Chinese Government considering the protests as “subversive”.[3] The people of Hong Kong hoped that the confusion on the mainland would weaken the Beijing Government and thus avert its amalgamation with the rest of mainland China.


The US Congress and media criticized the military action.. Large scale protests against the Chinese government took place around the country.  U.S. public opinion of China fell significantly after the Tiananmen Square protests, from 72% having favourable views of China before the Tiananmen Protests to only 34% in August, 1989



Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests are being regarded as the biggest test to Beijing since the 1989 Tiananmen movement

There are some resemblances between the protests twenty-five years ago and the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong which are regarded by some as a new test to Beijing’s authority in the special administrative region. Several Hongkongers are fuming at Beijing’s refusal to allow genuine universal suffrage in the 2017 election of the city’s Chief Executive.

The main differences between the 2 in terms of their requirements is that in 1989, students in Tiananmen Square asked for more democracy, but they were ambiguous about what that meant? Freeing media and public expression? Having Communist Party members elect the party leadership? very few students thought that the existing system of Communist Party leadership for China would be substituted by universal vote, open candidates, and competitive elections

Hong Kong protestors are demanding for the special administrative region. Hongkong protesters want transparent, free, and competitive elections for leadership posts in the territory, instead of a system in which Beijing will screen candidates, discard most of them, and have a small group of top supporters in Hong Kong,spot the approved candidates as the only allowed nominees.


Though the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states that the “fundamental rights” of citizens can be exercised , in actual, the people of China are deprived of the same . The voice raised for the fundamental rights were suppressed by the force in an in inhuman way. The massacre at Tiananmen Square had a long-lasting impact on the democratic progress in China. Even after 3 decades,the Republic of china never took any initiative to make the country a democratic one and power still lies in the hands of the communist party of china (CPC).



2. https://www.history.com/topics/china/tiananmen-square

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protest_and_dissent_in_China

4. Socialist republic- A  a sovereign state constitutionally dedicated to the establishment of socialism

5. Martial law- Martial law is the imposition of direct military control

6. Mansfield, Y. &Pizam, A. Tourism and safety in the PRC. Tourism, Security and Safety: From Theory to Practice. 2006. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-7506-7898-8.


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