Skip to content Skip to navigation

June Fourth Backgrounder

June Fourth refers to the June 3-4, 1989 government military crackdown that ended the large-scale, peaceful protests in Beijing and other cities that spring and early summer. Despite persistent citizen demands for the truth and an accounting of the bloodshed, the authorities have offered nothing beyond their characterization that the protests were “counterrevolutionary riots”—a  label they later changed to “political disturbance” (政治风波)—which “the Party and state suppressed by using decisive measures.” (党和国家采取果断措施平息).

In 1989, a spontaneous gathering of students on April 15 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the liberal former CPC General Secretary, grew over the following weeks into a massive protest with demonstrations in Beijing as well as more than 400 other cities in China. It came to be known as the 1989 Democracy Movement.

The students were joined by other Beijing residents, including workers and labor union activists, teachers, journalists, and government cadres, in their call for a reassessment of Hu Yaobang (who was forced to resigned in January 1987), an end to corruption, a free press, and disclosure of the incomes of leaders and their families. On May 13, several hundred students from Peking University began a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. More than one million people—from all walks of life—marched in Beijing on May 17 to support the hunger strikers, and again on May 21, in defiance of the martial law imposed the day before.  Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, the authorities called them “turmoil,” and responded with force.

In late May, hundreds of thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops converged on Beijing. In the night of June 3-4, soldiers, inside columns of tanks, headed toward Tiananmen Square and carried out their order to “clear” it. They opened fire on unarmed students and other civilians in the surrounding areas. The crackdown was carried out in other cities too.

Although The 1989 Democracy Movement riveted attention around the world, and the Chinese government’s bloody crackdown was condemned by the international community, it succeeded in chilling the Chinese civil society’s calls for democratic reforms and an end to corruption. Many Chinese leaders since have cited the “stability” that followed the crackdown as a prerequisite for China’s rapid economic reform. (“Killing 200,000 for 20 years of stability,” the saying went.)


Explore Topics

709 Crackdown Access to Information Access to Justice Administrative Detention All about law Arbitrary Detention
Asset Transparency Bilateral Dialogue Black Jail Book Review Business And Human Rights Censorship
Charter 08 Children Chinese Law Circumvention technology Citizen Activism Citizen Journalists
Citizen Participation Civil Society Commentary Communist Party Of China Constitution Consumer Safety
Contending views Corruption Counterterrorism Courageous Voices Cultural Revolution Culture Matters
Current affairs Cyber Security Daily Challenges Democratic And Political Reform Demolition And Relocation  Dissidents
Education Elections Enforced Disappearance Environment Ethnic Minorities EU-China
Family Planning Farmers Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression Freedom of Press Freedom of Religion
Government Accountability Government regulation Government transparency Hong Kong House Arrest HRIC Translation
Hukou Human Rights Council Human rights developments Illegal Search And Detention Inciting Subversion Of State Power Information Control 
Information technology Information, Communications, Technology (ICT) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) International Human Rights International perspective International Relations
Internet Internet Governance JIansanjiang lawyers' rights defense Judicial Reform June Fourth Kidnapping
Labor Camps Labor Rights Land, Property, Housing Lawyer's rights Lawyers Legal System
Letters from the Mainland Major Event (Environment, Food Safety, Accident, etc.) Mao Zedong Microblogs (Weibo) National People's Congress (NPC) New Citizens Movement
Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Olympics One country, two systems Online Activism Open Government Information Personal stories
Police Brutality Political commentary Political Prisoner Politics Prisoner Of Conscience Probing history
Propaganda Protests And Petitions Public Appeal Public Security Racial Discrimination Reeducation-Through-Labor
Rights Defenders Rights Defense Rule Of Law Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Special Topic State compensation
State Secrets State Security Subversion Of State Power Surveillance Technology Thoughts/Theories
Tiananmen Mothers Tibet Torture Typical cases United Nations US-China 
Uyghurs, Uighurs Vulnerable Groups Women Youth Youth Perspective
Error | Human Rights in China 中国人权 | HRIC


The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.