Tiananmen, 15 Years On
Where Are Some of the “Most Wanted” Participants Today?
What makes it so difficult to forget the events of June 3-4, 1989? That night, the Chinese government turned its troops and tanks against its own citizens, slaughtering hundreds to stop a coalition of students, a handful of workers, and a few academics, writers, and journalists from seeking more control over their own lives and for a pluralistic political system. Pressure for far-reaching reform had been building for years and there was a real sense that Chinese history might again take a dramatic turn should the students succeed. Instead, hundreds of civilians, massed in the streets of Beijing to stop the army from reaching Tiananmen Square, lost their lives. In the Square, the students waited and negotiated. Would they be allowed to leave alive? Did they prefer martyrdom? What message did they want to send the waiting world?
In the end, the students,
who had occupied the Square for close to two months, chose to leave in an orderly
and responsible fashion. The authorities would not let that happen. In no time
they had to scatter, only to be hunted down by a government determined to prove
it had a lock on truth and virtue. It claimed that those involved had instigated
a “counterrevolutionary rebellion” and deserved punishment. That official government
verdict remains unchanged today. It denies redress and public acknowledgement
of their losses to those whose sons, daughters, wives, husbands were killed.
It prevents those who escaped from returning to China to visit their families,
to mourn parents, even to be reunited with their own children. For those who
stayed in China, the intervening years have been harsh. Authorities refused them
permission to return to their studies, employers fired them after security personnel
came calling, banks refused them loans to start their own companies. Some were
rearrested for continuing to call for human rights, political pluralism, and
their right to speak out.
February 2004, 72-year-old Dr. Jiang Yanyong sent a private
letter to the National
People’s Congress (China’s Parliament) and other Chinese leaders
asking for an official reassessment of the events leading to the Chinese government
crackdown on June 4, 1989. The letter found its way into the public arena and
is rapidly being signed by hundreds of Chinese dissidents, academics and others,
On June 1, 2004, three days before the fifteenth anniversary of June 4th, Dr.
Jiang and his wife went missing. They had left home in transportation provided
by the Beijing 301 Military Hospital to attend to some matters that should have
taken no more than two hours. As of June 3, they had not returned home. Their
children were unsuccessful in their attempts to reach them or to trace them through
the hospital, where Dr. Jiang
works as a semi-retired surgeon.
Beginning on June 12, 1989, the Chinese government issued “wanted lists.” Human
Rights Watch has copies of three: “Wanted List 1: The 21 Beijing Student Leaders,” “Wanted List 2: Three Workers Leaders,” and a “Ministry of Public Security Compilation No. 2” in which sixty-two people are listed. We asked a sampling of people from the lists to tell us about their involvement in what has come to be known as the “pro-democracy movement,” the
immediate aftermath of the crackdown, their lives subsequent to June 4, 1989,
and their assessment of what June 4, 1989 meant to them and what they believe
it has meant and will continue to mean for the future of China. We believe the
stories taken together tell a story that speaks to the indomitability of the
human spirit and to what a few can accomplish if they stand together and do not
Human Rights Watch salutes all those who on June 4 stood up to assert their rights. On their behalf we urge China to overturn the official verdict, to allow for a full and public account of the events leading to the crackdown, and to end impunity for those responsible. Beijing should launch a full investigation by an impartial body to uncover what happened in Beijing and in all other cities where there were crackdowns on pro-democracy protestors in 1989. It is equally urgent that the Chinese government make known the names of all those dead and injured during the crackdowns.
China’s “Most Wanted,” 15 Years Later
“ The future for democracy in China is dependent not just on political institutions
but on the growth of a vibrant civil society.”
—May 25, 2004
“Tiananmen was the beginning of the end of the communist camp. It was a wake-up
call to Chinese inside and outside China.”
“1989 stands out as a beautiful moment. We stood up. It wasn’t easy.
Overturning the government’s official verdict isn’t important; what’s important
is what we did. History will judge us properly.”
—June 2, 2004
“We didn’t failfailure is the mother of success. There’ll be more chancesand
we have more experience.”
Zheng worked with other intellectuals to craft statements of
support for the students including the famous “Declaration of May
“I jumped into the center of the movement. I thought I could
make a decision for myself....But this...decision had repercussions
for others, including ones I love dearly.”
—May 26, 2004
“Once in [Tiananmen] Square you did anything and
everything that needed doing.”
“Within the movement we consistently adhered to the
principles of peace, reason and nonviolence.”
—1993 “Peace Charter”
of inciting subversion and attempting to overthrow the socialist
system, Zhang was sentenced in January 1991 to a three-year term.
“We believe, no matter whether the government does or does not, that history
will recognize this movement as a patriotic and democratic movement….”
“Tiananmen changed Chinese history. It was a benchmark in Chinese
political development, furthering the liberal trend of the 1980s and
destroying the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Ma Shaofang, the former Beijing Film Academy student who
was No. 10 on the most wanted student list, has remained politically
active in China.
“The development of a democratic system is crucially
important. Democracy is the only way to avoid a second Tiananmen.”
Authorities charged Yang Tao had been an instigator of a “counterrevolutionary
rebellion,” had “advocated bourgeois liberalism,” and “wantonly
“1989 was the very first time the Chinese people themselves directly
faced the regime. Before that time, there was only hope.
“It was the one time I experienced the beautiful
character of the Chinese people longing for a democratic China
where we could freely speak our minds.”
Zhang Zhiqing, No. 16 on “Wanted List 1,” disappeared from view shortly
after June 4, 1989. None of the other students on the most wanted list
has heard from him since.
By the time the 1989 protests came to a head, Yan Jiaqi had
years of experience in reform politics, working both inside and
outside the system.
“Tiananmen 100 percent changed my life. Even since ’89, I’ve tried
to make people understand what life without human rights is really
—May 24, 2004
“June 4, 1989 was one of the most important events of the
Chinese dissident Wang Dan addresses fellow students during a demonstration in
Beijing's Tiananmen Square in May 1989. The Chinese characters on his headband
read "Hunger Strike" (AP Photo).
Nipped in the Bud: The Suppression of the China Democracy Party
Slamming the Door on Dissent: Wang Dan’s Trial and the New “State Security” Era
Leaking State Secrets: The Case of Gao Yu
China: Enforced Exile of Dissidents" Government "Re-entry Blacklist" Revealed
Chronicle of a Crackdown:
Selected Human Rights Watch Updates on Arrests and Releases in China after
Tiananmen (.pdf files)
June 12, 1989
June 15, 1989
June 24, 1989
Jan. 2, 1990
Jan. 27, 1991
Feb. 27, 1991
March 11, 1991
April 1, 1991
July 25, 1991
Chinese Scholars Detained
Human Rights Watch Campaign Document
Jiang Yanyong’s Letter and Petition