The image of an unidentified man standing alone in defiance and blocking a column of Chinese tanks on June 5 remains a lasting one for much of the world of the events. He is now renowned as the “Tiananmen Square Tank Man.”
READ MORE: Who Was the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square?
While the events of 1989 now dominate global coverage of Tiananmen Square, the site has long been an important crossroads within the city of Beijing. It was named for the nearby Tiananmen, or “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” and marks the entrance to the so-called Forbidden City. The location took on added significance as China shifted from an emperor-led political culture to one that was governed by the Communist Party.
The Qing dynasty was the last dynastic power to rule China. It governed the country from the middle of the 1600s until 1912.
The Xinhai Revolution of 1911-1912 resulted in the overthrow of the Qings and led to the establishment of the Republic of China. The early years of the Republic were marked by political turmoil, however, and the country fell under Japanese rule during the lead-up to World War II.
During the Japanese occupation, some 20 million Chinese were killed.
As Japan faded in the aftermath of Second World War, China entered a period of civil war. At the end of the civil war, in 1949, the Communist Party had gained control of most of mainland China. They established the People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong.
A celebration to honor the occasion was held in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949. More than one million Chinese people attended. This celebration came to be known as National Day, and it is still observed annually on that date, with the largest events set in the square.
Mao Zedong, considered the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, is interred at Tiananmen Square, in a mausoleum on the plaza.
Today the June 4 and 5 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre continue to resonate worldwide. In 1999, the U.S. National Security Archive released Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History. The document includes U.S. State Department files related to the protests and subsequent military crackdown.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Yu Dongyue, a journalist arrested for throwing paint at a portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square during the protests, was released from prison.
On the 20th anniversary of the massacre, the Chinese government prohibited journalists from entering Tiananmen Square and blocked access to foreign news sites and social media. Still, thousands attended a memorial vigil in honor of the anniversary in Hong Kong. Ahead of the 30 anniversary of the event, in 2019, New York-based Human Rights Watch published a report detailing reported arrests in China of those associated with the protests.
The 1989 events at Tiananmen Square have also been highly censored on China’s tightly-controlled internet. According to a survey released in 2019 by the University of Toronto and the University of Hong Kong, more than 3,200 words referencing the massacre had been censored.
Tiananmen Square. Beijing-Visitor.com.
Tiananmen Square, 1989. Department of State: Office of the Historian.
Human Rights Activism in Post-Tiananmen China, Human Rights Watch
Timeline: Tiananmen protests. BBC.com.
Tiananmen Square Fast Facts. CNN.com.
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