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It shows the savage brutality that lurks under the surface of the country’s self-aggrandizing regime, and it shows the quiet, longsuffering strength of the nation’s people.
The “June Fourth Incident,” as it is known in China, began with the student-led “1989 Democracy Movement” protests held in Tiananmen Square, the iconic, 109-acre central gathering place in Beijing. Peaceful demonstrators came to the square to demand expanded freedoms.
The protests were enormous.
More than a million people came to Tiananmen Square in May to rally around 100 students staging a hunger strike there, and CNN cameras broadcast the images of hope to the world.
St. John Paul II would later write extensively about the “radical transformations” that took hold in Communist countries in 1989, when people rose up in protest — inspired, in no small part, by the crowds he had gathered in Poland in 1979.
Faced with overwhelming opposition, many hardline regimes crumbled. But in China, the regime didn’t crack; it cracked down. The government shut down CNN’s broadcasts, imposed marshal law, and ordered the military to advance on the protesters.
In the early hours of June 4, the unarmed demonstrators mobilized to block troops from entering the square. The troops opened fire. The demonstrators didn’t yield. The troops kept up their assault for hours, killing anywhere from hundreds to thousands of civilians.
No one knows how many died, because the government immediately began covering up the incident, the facts of which it denies to this day. But after a day of killing, the military had won, and tanks began moving into Tiananmen Square.
June 5 was the day that produced the most famous image of the incident.
One row of tanks was stopped by a man with two shopping bags standing alone in the square, blocking their progress.