Tiananmen Square massacre
Tiananmen Square massacre

Reliving horror of Tiananmen Square tweet by tweet

It is a quarter of a century since the People's Army put down China's incipient protest movement with shocking brutality. Michael Fathers, The Independent's then Asia Editor, was there. These were his dispatches from the atrocity

It will go down in the annals of China's Communist Party as The Glorious Fourth of June when the army that was founded for the people turned on the unarmed citizens of Peking to destroy a peaceful student-led democracy movement.

The killing around Tiananmen Square started soon after midnight. It was a different army from the unarmed one which had tried to enter the square on Friday night and failed.

This one was told to kill, and the soldiers with their AK- 47 automatic rifles and the armoured personnel carriers with their machine guns opened fire indiscriminately, in the air, directly at the huge crowds, at small groups, everywhere.

Lined up in rows across the Avenue of Eternal Peace, they advanced slowly, shooting all the while, then they would halt and kneel and fire directly into the crowd.

They did the same at the southern end of the square by Zhengyang Gate.

When both ends of the square were cleared, they switched off the lights and encircled the thousands of students who had crowded together on the Revolutionary Heroes' monument. Dawn broke and riot police moved in with truncheons.

Everyone expected the army. But no one expected such ferocity, such armour, such numbers. There were more than 100,000 soldiers.

I was at the southern end of the square at midnight, walking along the main boulevard to see the student barricades.

Suddenly, out of the night, two Armoured Personnel Carriers appeared from a side street and roared down the boulevard, one behind the other, smashing through the barriers.

They were followed by about 3,000 soldiers who positioned themselves near the square. One APC stalled and was set on fire by the mob.

I kept walking towards a barricade of buses a mile away, where four lorries with troops and two earth-moving vehicles were trapped on either side by buses and people.

Then flares and tracer bullets shone from behind me and the cracks of automatic gunfire could be heard.

The troops were advancing on the square. My colleague, Andrew Higgins, was behind at Qianmen Gate, the front entrance to the square.

He said the troops surged past the Roast Duck restaurant and were met with a hail of bricks and stones before they opened fire. Everyone fled but then regrouped.

To the north, more gunfire could be heard. I moved up a side street heading for the Avenue of Eternal Peace, where tanks had broken through a barrier of burning buses.

It was 1.30am and the start of a huge troop advance to the square. About 50 Chinese and I hid at the entrance to a tiny lane and watched them.

Other people were on the roofs of the houses. The armour was followed by troop trucks, scores of lorries, interspersed with petrol tankers, lorries with mesh trailers for prisoners and some stores.

Having successfully walked past the soldiers as they moved to the square in the south, I decided to leave the lane and follow this other army to Tiananmen, about half a mile away.

The Avenue of Eternal Peace was deserted. Cracks of gunfire mingled with explosions from two burning buses behind me, a military lorry and two Jeeps ahead of me.

Further towards the square, on the northern side of the avenue, was New China Gate, the entrance to Zhongnanhai, the compound of China's Communist Party leaders beside the Forbidden City.

I looked behind as I walked along the pavement on the opposite side.

A squad of army goons, waving pistols, electric cattle prods and batons were running towards me.

They jumped me, screamed at me, pointed a pistol at my head, beat me about the legs with their batons and dragged me across to New China Gate.

Several soldiers broke ranks and ran to me, punching me, kicking me with karate leaps in the back, thighs and chest. There was pure hatred in their eyes.

They pushed me down into a kneeling position and had another go at me, whacking me across the back with their rods and kicking, always kicking, until I fell over.

They pulled off my spectacles and crushed them into the ground. They screamed at me. Then they took me behind a stone lion guarding the gate.

Their first thought was that I was an American. One man who spoke some English realised I wasn't. They put two guards beside me.

If this is the People's Army, God spare China.

They behaved like the Red Guards, with a systematic and frenzied brutality. They were the very institution that was once called out to protect China from the Red Guard excesses. Now they are killing civilians.

The smooth face of the Chinese Communist establishment appeared two hours later, dressed in cream flannels and a pastel T-shirt, the very image of "moderation" that the Foreign Office has come to believe is the new China and whom it can trust over Hong Kong.

"You have committed an unfriendly act," he said.

I thought that was a bit much.

"You fell over, didn't you? That's why you have that bruise on your arm."

I also had boot marks and bloodstains on my shirt from a baton blow.

My right knee was swollen, my hips were aching, my trousers were ripped. He confiscated my notebook and gave me a receipt and a written pass to get beyond the army lines into a side street.

All the while the lorries kept rumbling forward, stopping from time to time until the citizens of Peking were pushed back from the northern end of the square by the entrance to the Forbidden City.

Andrew Higgins was by now crawling in the mud in front of the vermilion-painted grandstands beside Mao's portrait at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, as bullets whizzed over his head.

At first, he said, there was some panic among the young soldiers when they saw the huge crowd.

But they were ordered to open fire. An APC was set alight by a youth who climbed on to it when it stopped. The crew were pulled out and beaten, but students intervened and rescued them.

The army had nabbed me at 2am. By 4am when they let me go, the gunfire could still be heard from the square.

At one stage some students came from side streets, shouting "go home, go home" to stalled lorries outside the leadership compound.

They were scattered by militia men with clubs like axe-handles, which cracked a few skulls. It was probably the one occasion during the night when they did not use guns.

Along the tree-lined streets beside the Forbidden City, groups of people were talking softly, scared but curious.

They treated me as a bit of a hero when they saw my bruises and carried me on the backs of their bicycles for about a mile to the rear entrance of the Peking Hotel, on the other end of the square.

Soon after I arrived, about 10 tanks and 20 APCs rumbled past the hotel. About half an hour later some of the armour returned again from the square, and in a continuing moving circle, they opened fire all around.

Two buses were smouldering outside the hotel.

It was a battlefield. It was a lesson in brute power.

I blubbed when I got back to my hotel near midday. I couldn't stop. Perhaps it was shock, or maybe it was because of the carnage.

I was weeping for the people of Peking. I cannot see how they are ever likely to trust their leaders again.

MORE on this at The Independent

BELOW

Patrick Chovanec, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International Public Affairs and a former business professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University, has been tweeting as if the events of Tiananmen Square are currently taking place to draw attention to the 25-year-old massacre.
 


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