Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Tiananmen Square

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 culminating in the Tiananmen Square Massacre — referred to in China as the June Fourth Incident to avoid confusion with two other Tiananmen Square protests — were a series of demonstrations in and near Tiananmen Square led by labor activists, students, and intellectuals in the People's Republic of China (PRC) between April 15 and June 4, 1989.

While the protests lacked a unified cause or leadership, participants were generally against the authoritarianism and economic policies of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and voiced calls for democratic reform within the structure of the government. The demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but large-scale protests also occurred in cities throughout China, including Shanghai, which stayed peaceful throughout the protests.
In Beijing, the resulting military response to the protesters by the PRC government left many civilians dead or injured. The reported tolls ranged from 200–300 (PRC government figures), to 300–800 (The New York Times), and to 2,000–3,000 (Chinese student associations and Chinese Red Cross).

Following the violence, the government conducted widespread arrests to suppress protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, banned the foreign press from the country and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the PRC press. Members of the Party who had publicly sympathized with the protesters were purged, with several high-ranking members placed under house arrest, such as General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. The violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square protest caused widespread international condemnation of the PRC government

The Tiananmen Gate was first built in the 1420s in the Ming Dynasty. During the demise of the Ming Dynasty, heavy fighting between Li Zicheng and the early Qing emperors damaged (or perhaps destroyed) the gate. The Tiananmen square was originally designed and built in Beijing in 1651. It was enlarged to its present size (four times its original size) and cemented over in 1958.

British and French troops who invaded Beijing in 1860 pitched camp near the gate and briefly considered burning the gate and the entire Forbidden City down. They decided ultimately to preserve the palace and to burn instead the emperor's Summer Palace. The Qing emperor eventually agreed to let the foreign powers establish headquarters in the area. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 the siege badly damaged the office complexes and several ministries were burnt down. In the conflict's denouement, the area became a space for foreign troops to assemble their armies and horses. It was cleared in due course to produce the beginning of what is now known as the Tiananmen Square. The Square, however, was not officially made until the PRC took power in 1949.

Near the centre of today's square, close to the site of the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, once stood one of the most important gates of Beijing. This gate was known as the "Great Ming Gate" during the Ming Dynasty, "Great Qing Gate" during the Qing Dynasty, and "Gate of China" during the Republic of China era. Unlike the other gates in Beijing, such as the Tiananmen and the Qianmen, this was a purely ceremonial gateway, with three arches but no ramparts, similar in style to the ceremonial gateways found in the Ming Dynasty Tombs. This gate had a special status as the "Gate of the Nation", as can be seen from its successive names. It normally remained closed, except when the Emperor passed through. Commoner traffic was diverted to two side gates at the northern and eastern ends of today's square, respectively. Because of this diversion in traffic, a busy marketplace, called Chessgrid Streets developed in the big, fenced square to the south of this gate. In the early 1950s, the Gate of China (as it was then known) was demolished along with the Chessgrid Streets to the south, completing the expansion of Tiananmen Square to (approximately) its current size.

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