The Tiananmen Papers: the Chinese leadership’s decision to use force against their own people – in their own words
Edited by Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link
Ch.2: April 24-30: The April 26 Editoral
Student response to the editorial
Before the April 25 broadcast and the April 26 editorial, there were reports from around the country that students were growing tired after ten days of demonstrations and that organizers were seeking ways to keep the movement alive. But the editorial created an explosive reaction that pushed the student movement to a new high.
A 7.30P.M. State Security Ministry report from Peking Univ. said the editorial had been broadcast repeatedly throughout the campus from 6:30 P.M. on. Students debated its meaning, some fearing that the government would soon start arresting people, others insisting that the movement should be carried on at least until May Fourth. A 10:40 P.M. report said that students from People’s Univ. marched through the univ. district to other campuses calling for support to continue the boycott of classes, then returned to their own campus to avoid a clash with a group of eight hundred police. A 10:50 P.M. report noted that student leaders were meeting to decide how to respond to the editorial. Youth League leaders and professors were aquoted as saying the government line was too harsh, the label ‘turmoil’ was unfair, the reversal from the previously tolerant policy was too sharp, and matters would not have come to this extreme if the government had agreed to enter into some form of dialogue with the students.
April 26: Responses from the provinces
Each provincial-level Party Committee responded to the editorial and the telegram from the Central Committee and the State Council by holding an urgent meeting of its own standing committee and reporting back to the Center. These reports expressed support fro Deng’s position and described how the Center’s decision was to be applied in each locality.
April 26-29: Response in the Military
After the April 26 editorial was published, the General Political Department of the PLA distributed an urgent notice requiring all officers and soldiers to study the editorial carefully and instructing high-ranking officers conscientiously to “grasp the spirit" of Deng Xiaoping’s remarks…Although they backed Party Central in their responss, some units noted that officers hoped the Center would stick to the path of reform and resolve some of the problems the students were highlighting.
Response of higher education officials
In the three days after the publication of the editorial the state Security Ministry and Xinhua News Agency sent 36 reports to Zhongnanhai on the reactions of various social strata. Many citizens felt that the editorial was too harsh – that it “defined the nature of the incident at too high a level of seriousness" – and that it was not helpful to resolving the problem.
The reports described widespread sympathy and protective feelings for the students among univ. presidents and other high-ranking Party and admin. officials. Some of these officials were cited by name as stating that the April 26 editorial had exaggerated the danger of the demonstrations, widened the gap between the students and the government, and removed the basis for dialogue that might have led to a smooth resolution of the student’s grievances. One official revealed that on his campus, 2/3 of faculty members were refusing to attend meetings to study the editorial. Others pointed out that the blame for the demonstrations ultimately lay in the failing of the Party itself, without which the students would have no need to protest.
April 27: April 27 demonstrations
On April 27 huge student demonstrations in opposition to the editorial swept major cities. They occurred not only in cities where demonstrations had already taken place, such as shanghai, Tianjin, Changchun, Xi’an, Wuhan, Nanjing, Hanzhou, Hebei, Changsha, Chengdu, and Chongqing, but also in cities where demonstrations now broke out for the first time: Shenyang, Dalian, Shijiazhuang, Jinan, nanning, Kunming, Shanzhen, Yinchuan, and Guilin.
A State Security Ministry report to the Zhongnanhai described the April 27 Beijing demonstration. It said 50,000 students* from many campuses had marched through the city, maintaining good order throughout and creating a favorable impression among bystanders. Students carried banners, including one that bore quotations from Deng xiaoping and Lenin in favor of demoncracy. They sang the song “Without the CCP there would be no new China" and elicited tears from bystanders when they shouted, “Mama, we haven’t done anything wrong." In high sripits and under tight discipline, they avoided clashes with police and troops, and to minimize provocation, they returned to their campuses by way of the 2nd Ring road instead of passing through Tiananmen Square. Public Security Officials analyzed all this as part of a student strategy to seize the high ground and avoid charges of counterrevolution, which could land a person quickly in prison.
* According to another source: There were half a million people in Beijing alone that took to the street on April 27, 1989.