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1 hour

Monday 22 February at 9.30am EST/ NZ

This program is in the form of an expose of the events of late May and early 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The revised version of events is based on “recently” released documents from both China and USA.
The program makes it clear that what was originally seen outside China as an isolated event actually had a wider trans-China event. This may help explain what to outsiders seemed a very heavy-handed government response to essentially a student protest. The program also puts the government response into a wider geo-political context and explores the role that an internal party power struggle played.
This may well be a significant revision of the general perception of what happened on 4-6 June 1989. The different perspectives presented represent an opportunity to explore and illustrate numerous historical concepts such as evidence, contestability, significance, and change and continuity.

Dr Denis Mootz


Stop the video programs at the end of each section.

Allow students to share and discuss answers to the questions below.

Note the opening quote. Implications?

Note the year. Significance?

Who were the protesters?

Note the comments about China’s political history.

Note the comment on the impact of events on USA and China’s relationship.

Part 1.
Note the events of 6 June 1989 in Beijing, China.

Note the comments from Li Lu. Implications?

Note the enduring image that emerged from this “confrontation”.

Why did this action become so iconic? Result?

Note the terms in which tis “enigma” is described. Implications?

What sources has this documentary used to “declassify” this event? Result?

Note the description of Tiananmen Square. Implications?

Note the description of the role of Deng Xiaoping on events in 1989. Implications?

Note the comparison between Mao and Deng. Implications? Result?

How did Mao respond to the change of direction in China in 1966? Result?

Note the origins and role of the Red Guards? Result?

Note the treatment of Deng and his wife.

How did Deng manage to make a “phoenix-like” return in 1972?

Why might Deng have been lucky to survive?

Note Deng’s statement of 1978. Implications? Result?

What were the unexpected consequences of opening China’s borders?

Note Jane Wong’s comments on being more of a “human being”. Implications?

Note the events of 1979. Implications? Result?

Note the two “factions” in Deng’s regime. Why were there two? Result?

Note Deng’s tactics in dealing with these factions in the 1980s? Result?

Note details of Hu Yaobang.

Note the events of 1987. Result?

Note Deng’s position in this crisis. Result?

Part 2.
Why was the public “growing impatient” by the Spring of 1989? Result?

Note Orville Schell’s comments on why people were concerned. Implications?

Note the event of 15 April 1989. Result?

Note the comments from student leader Li Lu. Implications?

Note what the students demanded. Implications? Result?

Note the comments on “democracy”. Implications?

Why was there a “power vacuum” at this point? Implications? Result?

What was more worrisome for the authorities?

Why had inflation become a problem? Result?

How did the people of Beijing react to the student demonstrations? Implications?

Note the government response of 21 April 1989. Implications?

Note the main factions that were apparent on 22 April 1989.

Note the details of Zhao Ziyang.

Note the details of Li Peng.

Note the developments of 23 April 1989. Implications? Result?

Note the government editorial of 26 April 1989. Implications? Result?

Note Jan Wong’s on the government “labelling”. Implications? Result?

Note the mood of the Politburu on 1 May 1989. Implications?

Note the differences positions taken by Li Peng and Zhao Ziyang. Result?

Note the protest meeting of 4 June 1989.

What other development was of concern. Implications? Result?

Note Zhao Ziyang’s stance. Implications?

What were students demanding by this stage? Result?

Part 3.
Why did the students have to be “bold” after 26 April 1989? Implications? Result?

Why did the protest begin to “flag”? Result?

Why did the students choose a hunger strike?

Why did this tactic “electrify” the movement? Result?

Why did the government sink into “paralysis”?
What complicated this situation? Result?

Note the comments on control and negotiation. Implications?

Why didn’t the students know to whom to speak? Result?

Why did the unity of the students “crack”? Result?

Why were party officials in Beijing concerned?

What was embarrassing about the 15 May 1989 visit of Gorbachev? Result?

How did the students attempt to exploit this situation? Result?

Note the description of the miniature “city” operating in Tiananmen Square.

Note the demonstration of 17 May 1989. Implications?

How did the Party respond to this escalation? Result?

Note the television broadcast on18 May. Result? Implications?

Note Li Peng’s reference to China’s past government. Implications?

Why did Zhao Ziyang “venture” into Tiananmen Square? Implications? Result?

Note Li Peng’s declaration on19 May. Implications? Result?

Part 4.
Why did George Bush attempt to contact Deng Xiaping? Result?

Why did the Tiananmen situation threaten the relationship between USA and China? Result?

How did the students respond to the threat of intervention?

How did the people of Beijing respond to the threat of government intervention? Implications?

How did the government respond to this reaction? Implications? Result?

Why was the mood in the square “turning sour”? Result?

Why were the students confused about “democracy”? Result?

Why was deserting the square difficult? Result?

What “group” came to power? Result?

Note details of the structure erected on 29 May 1989. Implications?

What was decided on 3 June 1989? Result?

Part 5.
Who had control of the Chinese government on 4 June 1989?

Note the preparations on 3 June.

What orders did the Chinese Army have?

How did the people of Beijing react to the military presence? Result?

Who were the victims of the “massacre” in Beijing?

Note events in the square when the Army arrived. Result?

How was a peaceful withdrawal from the square arranged? Result?

Note Deng Xiaoping’s report on 9 June 1989.

Note the casualty count.

What was the final humiliation?

What happened to most surviving protesters?

Note the fate of Zhao Ziyang. Implications?

Why is Tiananmen still a potential explosive issue?

Useful, interesting, challenging, materials can be found at the websites below.

These will supplement and complement the History presented in the video program.

Both the data collected here and above should be used in the notemaking exercise that follows.

Peoples’ Republic of China:

Mao Zedong:–76)

Deng Xiaoping:–89)

Hu Yaobang:

Zhao Ziyang:

Li Peng:

Tiananmen Square:

4 June 1989 Incident:,5753,-2317,00.html

This is the collation stage of the activity.

Encourage students to compose the suggested summaries and to organise the field of information and begin to explore its context.

This activity could be done in teams, groups, or by individuals, or as a class with teacher direction.

  1. Draw up a timeline / chronological chart of the events described and discussed in this program.

  1. Note details of the main periods of history of the People’s Republic of China.

  1. Note details of the government of the People’s Republic of China.

  1. Note details of the career and achievements of Mao Zedong.

  1. Note details of the career and achievements of Deng Xiaoping.

  1. Note details of the careers of Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng.

  1. Note details of the protests of May and June 1989.

  1. Note details of the government response(s) to the protests.

  1. Note details of the power struggle(s) within the Communist elite.

  1. Note details of the aftermath of the “massacre” of 4 June 1989.

Address and discuss the key issues and questions that have been raised by the video at this stage.

Some are suggested below. Students will probably raise others.

  1. What were the students protesting about?

  1. Why did the general population of Beijing join the protests?

It is necessary always to address questions of reliability and validity of the perspectives, evidence and sources presented in the documentary and other sources. These need to be considered, tested and researched. Some are suggested below. Students will probably raise others.

  1. Why is there an impression that the “massacre” occurred in Tiananmen Square?

Were many students killed?

  1. How did the Chinese government attempt to cover up what was happening before 4 June?

How did the Chinese government attempt to cover up what happened on 4 June?

Use the key issues and inquiry questions as topics for debate, essay writing, reports, historical recount and explanation.

  1. Write a REPORT on the Beijing “massacre”.

  1. Prepare notes (both sides) for a DEBATE of the proposition that

The Chinese government over reacted to the problem in Beijing in June 1989.

  1. Why was the response of the Chinese authorities to the student protests so heavy-handed?

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