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China’s other Tiananmens: protests and bloody crackdowns beyond Beijing

By Javier Triana

Beijing, Jun 4 (efe-epa).- The Tiananmen Square massacre has gone down in history with photos of millions demonstrating in downtown Beijing, but although the capital was the heart of the rebellion, dozens of cities throughout China took part in protests that were quelled and continue to be silenced by the government 31 years on.

“In the capitals of each province, there were marches of different magnitudes. In Chengdu, in Changsha, in Wuhan, in Shanghai. We knew that there were protests and demonstrations,” lawyer Sui Muqing, who at the time of the uprising on 4 June 1989 was a third-year law student, tells Efe.

“There were thousands of deaths. From experience, if the Chinese government says there were 100, you have to multiply it by 10,” he adds.

Three decades later there is still no official data on the number who were killed.

On 10 June, Sui was able to reach Changchun, in the northeast, where there were protests had stopped but fear had spread.

“Where there were protests, there were deaths and injuries, because the government responded,” he says.

“It may be little understood just how geographically widespread the democracy movement and its brutal suppression were, and how broad the movement’s support was through all segments of Chinese society,” Karl Hutterer, then professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, said in a letter published in The New York Times 23 June 1989.


According to the American professor, security forces carried out two operations on the nights of 4 and 5 June when protesters had learned of the bloodbath at the hands of the Chinese Army in Beijing.

The repression came after weeks of peaceful protests in Chengdu Tianfu Square, over which a gigantic statue of founder of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong loomed.

“Unlike Beijing, there was little gunfire (although some people were shot); the troops used tear gas and concussion grenades to control the crowds and attacked with truncheons, knives and electric cattle prods. Many people were killed and more wounded.

“The clear object of the intervention was not simply to control the demonstrators: even after having fallen to the ground, victims continued to be beaten and were stomped on by troops,” Hutterer recounted.

According to the academic, hospitals were ordered not to accept wounded students and in at least one hospital some medics were arrested for defying the order. On the second night, police prevented ambulances from operating.

“By the time I left on Wednesday, June 7, there was a consensus that from 300 to 400 people had been killed and upward of 1,000 wounded. A doctor from one hospital reported a personal count of 27 deaths in that medical facility,” the professor added.


Andrew To does not remember casualties in Canton. Nor any serious clashes, although mass demonstrations did take hold.

“The Police there was like Hong Kong Police used to be until 2019. We were peaceful and the police were polite, and there was no danger at all,” the then-secretary general of the Hong Kong Student Federation tells Efe.

Federation members traveled to various Chinese cities to support the democratic movement, but also to grow it: “We wanted to shift attention of the movement away from Beijing. It is easier to suppress a movement if it happens only in one place.”

He traveled to Guangzhou by train, via Shenzhen, in May.

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