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EXCLUSIVE: Before the tanks – More previously unseen shots of the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. student movement

HKFP Exclusive

HKFP’s Ilaria Maria Sala shares previously unseen photos from the 1989 Tiananmen protests – before the tanks rolled in. Read her firsthand account of Beijing’s student movement in Part 1.


1989 Tiananmen Students

Beijing, April 1989. After the death of popular pro-reform Communist leader Hu Yaobang, students from the capital’s colleges brought down to the square a banner defining Hu as “China’s Spirit” (中國魂). Here, students protect the banner, and this early demonstration, from the arrival of security personnel and other provocateurs.

1989 Tiananmen Students

After the students started the hunger strike on May 13, some medical personnel – both professional and from the medical schools – established emergency clinics in a few buses stationed in Tiananmen Square. The vehicles were driven to the square by pro-demonstration bus drivers. Here, one of these emergency clinics is seen in a picture taken at dawn, with a student sleeping nearby.

1989 Tiananmen Students

A pickup truck carrying demonstrators to the square. In the background are nurses and medical personnel who were stationed in Tiananmen square after the students started the hunger strike.

1989 Tiananmen Students

During the days of the occupation, students and other demonstrators would carry banners and slogans around the square. Here, the slogan “Silence equals death” can be seen on a banner. The slogan refers to the danger of not standing up for the protesting students, and is also a reference to the April 26 People’s Daily editorial telling people to stop protesting.

1989 Tiananmen Students

Students hold hands and march under holding banners emblazoned with slogans and the names of their schools. The white banner reads: “the news must tell the truth” while the red banner reads”Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.”

1989 Tiananmen Students

Buses, brought down by bus drivers in support of the demonstrators, were used as headquarters of some impromptu organizations – for medical purposes, for example. On the windows of the buses, the students attached some of the newspapers articles that came out during the short window of the nearly-free press that preceded the imposition of martial law in the city.

1989 Tiananmen Students

“China’s Spirit” – a banner brought to the square by the students, that was eventually hung under the portrait of Hu Yaobang that was attached to the Monument of the People’s Heroes.

1989 Tiananmen Students

Crowds gather on the rooftop of a building along Xin Jie Kou Avenue, near Beijing Normal University, watching a demonstration underneath.

1989 Tiananmen Students

At Beijing Normal University, students read posters calling for support and demonstrations on the anniversary of the May Fourth Movement.

1989 Tiananmen Students

Students from the Academy of Song and Theatre joining the demonstrations from a pickup truck on May 4th, 1989, with brass instruments.

1989 Tiananmen Students

Soldiers keeping watch from outside of the Forbidden City, overlooking Tiananmen Square, in May 1989.

1989 Tiananmen Students

Citizens watch the demonstrations, searching for a better birds-eye view by climbing on trees. This photo was taken near the red wall surrounding the Forbidden City.

1989 Tiananmen Students

Dawn on Tiananmen Square, May 15, after the beginning of the hunger strike. Students and supporters wake up in the occupied square as rumours of talks between the student leaders and Chinese authorities started to spread.

1989 Tiananmen Students

A Beijing family watch demonstrators walk towards Tiananmen Square on May 4, 1989.

EXCLUSIVE: Before the tanks - More previously unseen shots of the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. student movement