Beijing Protesters Start a Hunger Strike
About 1,000 pro-democracy student protesters began a sit-down demonstration and hunger strike Saturday in Tian An Men Square, vowing that unless their demands are met, they will remain through the arrival here Monday of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
“Democracy--Our Shared Ideal,” a bilingual banner declared in Chinese and Russian.
The protesters, surrounded through the evening and this morning by thousands of supporters and onlookers, demanded that the government open a formal dialogue with students who since mid-April have staged a series of large demonstrations demanding freedom of the press, improved treatment of intellectuals and an attack on corruption.
“Whether or not our actions affect the Gorbachev summit is up to the government,” Wang Dan, one of the protest leaders, said at an outdoor press conference at the square in central Beijing.
Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong, who is viewed by students as favoring a relatively hard-line approach to dealing with demonstrations, went to the square this morning and attempted to address the crowd through a megaphone. He was shouted down and left after about 15 minutes.
The formal welcoming ceremony for Gorbachev is scheduled for Monday afternoon in front of the Great Hall of the People on Tian An Men Square, only a few hundred feet from where the protesters sat down. This will be the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years.
Gorbachev’s visit to China, which lasts from Monday through Thursday and will include a visit to Shanghai, will be immediately followed by the arrival Friday of U.S. Navy ships for a port call in Shanghai, the official New China News Agency announced Saturday.
This is the second U.S. Navy port call to China since the 1949 victory of the Communist revolution. The first was to Qingdao in 1986.
There had been widespread expectation that the three-ship port call would begin in Shanghai on Thursday, within a few hours of Gorbachev’s departure. The United States and China, although not allied, have friendly and growing military ties. The planned Navy visit has been viewed as an attempt by China to stress that Sino-U.S. ties will remain strong. It appeared Saturday that the visit was delayed to ease Soviet displeasure over the timing.
Chinese authorities are trying hard to calm the wave of student protests without resorting to force that might affect China’s international image and further alienate large numbers of the country’s most elite youth.
State-run television reported Saturday evening that officials had agreed to meet Monday with the students. This appeared, however, to be an offer that Wang and other student leaders said was made Friday evening but rejected by the students because too many conditions were attached.
The government, in an attempt to defuse the protests, has conducted a series of meetings with students, but these events have been organized through the official government-controlled student associations. Protesters are demanding that a new student organization that has organized the recent demonstrations be recognized as legal and allowed to choose representatives for talks with officials.
Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, in a speech reported on state-run television Saturday evening, issued an appeal to the students to call off their protests to help ensure a successful summit.
“The whole world is watching,” Zhao said. “I think every citizen who loves his country will think carefully. We must protect our international reputation and not do anything that would damage the summit meeting.”
Surrounded by Supporters
Throughout the afternoon and evening Saturday, the sit-down strikers were surrounded by two or three lines of highly disciplined student supporters, who formed a human barrier holding back a curious crowd of 5,000 or more additional onlookers and sympathizers.
At about midnight, a procession of another 1,000 to 1,500 students arrived at the square. “Unity is strength,” they sang, to the tune of a marching song, as they took up positions to lend support to the students.
A student named Xu from Qinghua University, who was in the line of supporters maintaining order around the strikers at around midnight, explained that his role and that of others along the perimeter was to try to ensure that police cannot clear the core demonstrators from the square before Gorbachev’s arrival.
“Students are coming to back them up so that--in case the police come to clear them out-- the students will be around them,” he said.