Chinese Savor a Pro-Democracy Celebration : Students in Beijing Square Sense Moral Victory, Declare End to Street Protests
Chinese students, ignoring police lines, Thursday turned Tian An Men Square in central Beijing into the scene of a festive pro-democracy celebration, then declared an end to nearly three weeks of protests.
“Today is a very big victory,” said a man in a crowd of about 150,000 that poured into the downtown square Thursday afternoon after police abandoned efforts to limit access to it. “To have such a big demonstration after the government tried to stop it is no simple thing.”
Thursday’s demonstration was spearheaded by about 40,000 students who approached the square in orderly columns from various directions and pushed through lines of police who offered only token resistance. The students were followed into the square by supporters and onlookers.
“Do the people understand us?” called out a young man with a megaphone, as groups from various universities paraded around the square in separate columns behind red school banners.
“They understand us,” shouted back hundreds of students gathered under the banner of Qinghua University.
“Do the people support us?” the chant leader asked again.
“They support us,” came the chorused reply.
“Thanks to the people!” the leader declared.
“Thank you, people!” echoed the students, to the applause and cheers of those standing by.
Such exultation permeated the crowd, but the students knew they had won more of a moral victory than any specific concessions from the government.
“Today is something good that is as large as the heavens,” declared a demonstrator, using an old Chinese phrase. “But it’s impossible for it to have specific results. The government can’t give any specific concessions. But this will speed up natural developments.”
Boycott of Classes Ending
Student leaders in Tian An Men announced that a class boycott launched on April 24 will now end. They said they will continue to seek legalization of independent student organizations free of government control, and some protest leaders said they will try to help set up independent newspapers.
In another sign of cracks in China’s system of intellectual controls, about 200 reporters and editors for state-run media staged a brief demonstration at the headquarters of the official New China News Agency, then joined the protest march. Many Chinese journalists have felt deep resentment at censorship controls that have prevented them from reporting very much about the recent demonstrations.
“We want to speak out but we can’t,” proclaimed a banner held by journalists.
Thursday’s protest marked the 70th anniversary of a 1919 student protest that developed into what became known as the May 4th Movement, a campaign for science and democracy that holds a place of honor in China’s 20th-Century history.
Students have dubbed their present efforts “the New May 4th Movement.” Their ultimate goals go far beyond what is immediately possible.
“Democracy is not something with tight limits,” an undergraduate explained as she marched back toward her campus late Thursday afternoon. “We want our nation to become a highly democratic country.”
An onlooker who graduated from college a few years ago said that the protests “have smashed the repression imposed on intellectuals since 1957.” The Communist Party launched an “anti-rightist campaign” in 1957 that terrorized China’s intellectuals.
But this man added that he believed Thursday’s student protest and celebration “is the highest point they can go to.”
“The people do not face a life-or-death crisis now,” he explained. “The people will not rise up. So the students can’t accomplish too much.”
Zhao Sees Similar Goals
Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, apparently endorsing a similar analysis, expressed the conviction Thursday morning that the student protests would soon calm down. Zhao also declared that the goals of the protesters and the Communist Party are not so very different.
“Though demonstrations are still under way in Beijing and some other big cities in the country, I still believe there will be no big riots and the demonstrations will gradually calm down. I’m very confident about this,” he said in comments to some delegates to the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank, which opened Thursday in the Great Hall of the People facing Tian An Men Square.
Smaller demonstrations took place Thursday in Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Xian and Changsha, according to reports reaching Beijing. It appeared that all the protests were peaceful, and no arrests were reported. Protests in Xian and Changsha on April 22 led to some rioting and looting, primarily by unemployed youths and young toughs, according to both the Chinese media and Western witnesses.
Zhao also offered a conciliatory analysis of the motives of the students, whose key demands have included press freedom, improved treatment of intellectuals and an attack on corruption.
“The students are satisfied with the achievements of China’s 10-year reform and economic construction and with the progress and development of the country,” Zhao said, according to a New China News Agency report. “What they are most dissatisfied with are errors and mistakes in the government’s work . . . . The students’ demands for correcting errors so as to march forward coincide with those of the party and the government.”