Retro Action, May 13, 1989: In Tiananmen Square, Thousands of Chinese Students Begin Hunger Strike

May 13, 2011· 1 MIN READ
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Thousands of protestors camped out in the square for weeks under squallid conditions. (Photo: Reuters/Carl Ho)

After occupying Beijing's Tiananmen Square for weeks, two thousand Chinese students and workers begin the next phase of their protest over corruption and lack of democracy in the current administration: an organized hunger strike.

"The government wants us to go back and forget about dialogue," said one student leader, Wu'er Kaixi, to the AP. "They don't comprehend the power of this movement."

Although they were able to meet with government officials soon after the strike, negotiations soured after less than one day. When word got out that the military had been given ordered to prepare for martial law, demonstrators called off the hunger strike and organized a mass sit-in, blocking off the entrances to the square.

However, as the days turned into weeks, it was the sweltering heat and rapidly deteriorating living conditions that got to the protestors before any tanks.

''The Government ignores us, so it won't do any good to stay," said 20-year-old student Zhang Guodong to the New York Times. "If we stay, we'll just exhaust and injure ourselves. There are problems in getting food. The place is filthy. Sanitation is very bad. There are risks to our health. Every afternoon, it's so hot that if we continue we'll get sunstroke. I've already had a nosebleed.''

Following an official press conference calling off the sit-in, most protestors left the square peacefully, although a few hundred die-hards had to be persuaded by troops.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the infamous Tiananmen Square "massacre" that took place just days afterwards occured on the streets of Beijing, not in the square itself.

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