BEIJING — "Beware of the consequences to yourself, your parents and your family." -- Official warning broadcast to protesting students at Beijing University
Tuesday, April 18, dawn, Tian An Men Square. A young man rose to proclaim the students' demands to 1,000 fellow protesters and to the massive, shadowed public buildings surrounding the square.
Hu Yaobang's reputation must be restored, he demanded. The party must apologize for the excesses of the recent reform campaign. The nation's senior leaders must resign.
The young man gave voice to a vague but powerful idea. He demanded that the Chinese people be granted democracy and freedom.
The concept was not entirely new. It had been central to the Democracy Wall movement of the late 1970s and to the protests of 1986 and 1987.
In late 1986, Beijing students carried placards quoting American Revolutionary War patriot Patrick Henry. Henry's renowned slogan--"Give me liberty or give me death"--appeared on banners in Beijing this spring.
This time, China's rulers would emphatically make their choice.
As daylight spread across the ancient square, about 200 students moved to the sidewalk in front of the Great Hall of the People, which faces the plaza, to stage a sit-in to press a new catalogue of demands. They called for disclosure of government leaders' income, for a formal rejection of anti-liberal political crackdowns of the 1980s, for more spending on schools, for legalization of street rallies. For freedom of speech and of the press.
By Tuesday night, the crowd had swelled to 5,000.
"Long live freedom! Long live democracy! Down with corruption!" the students chanted as they moved from Tian An Men Square toward the ornate, red-columned gate of the nearby Zhongnanhai compound, where many of China's top party and government leaders live and work.
A line of police blocked the 15-foot-wide gate. The students made no effort to breach the line. They silently laid wreaths in memory of Hu and began a peaceful sit-in at midnight.
The students and police faced off for more than four hours. Just before dawn on April 19, about 1,000 police officers appeared and cleared the area. One student who resisted was manhandled, but the crowd generally moved away quietly.
Wednesday evening, April 19, Tian An Men Square. The protesters reappeared, a crowd of 20,000 or 30,000 demonstrators and onlookers, China's biggest pro-democracy rally in more than a decade.
As darkness fell, about 8,000 of the protesters marched from the square to the boulevard in front of Zhongnanhai.
The police again broke up the demonstration, this time using more force and briefly detaining about 150 protesters, who were forced onto buses and later driven back to their campuses. The operation took nearly four hours; officers were seen slapping, beating and kicking several protesters, who were then allowed to flee.
Students later said that as many as 200 were beaten during the police action, with about 30 students suffering injuries.
Wednesday, April 19, provincial cities. Simultaneous protests broke out in Shanghai, China's biggest city, with 3,000 students rallying at Fudan University. Smaller marches were staged in Tianjin, Nanjing, Wuhan and Hefei.
Thursday, April 20, Beijing University. Students resumed their action with a midday rally, protesting the police breakup of the previous night's rally. About 3,000 students, marching behind a banner proclaiming "peaceful petition," began a procession from the campus to Tian An Men Square.
This time, the weather intervened. An unseasonably cold rain sent most of the marchers home. Only about 1,500 made it to Tian An Men to gather around the Monument to the People's Heroes to hear pro-democracy speeches.
"Heaven must be on the side of the Communist Party," said one rain-soaked marcher.
Clear leaders among Beijing's students had begun to emerge. Wuer Kaixi stood up in the middle of a throng of Beijing students and workers confronting police during the pre-dawn April 20 protest and urged his fellow protesters to begin a nonviolent sit-down strike. "We are in a struggle," he said. "We need to carry on firmly."
The pudgy, bespectacled student's leadership and defiance were noted by plainclothes police. A few weeks later, he was one of China's most-wanted men.
Other student leaders imposed a remarkable discipline on the huge crowds that faced police and troops despite threats of violence from authorities. Among them was Wang Dan, from Beijing University, who for months had been organizing "democracy salons" on campus to discuss how to open China's political system.
Protesters formed one group to supervise the use of the student-operated loudspeaker at Tian An Men Square, and another to seek a dialogue with top government officials. But ultimately, the numbers of protesters outstripped the ability of the students to control them.