There haven’t been many atrocities performed by a government on its own people as striking at the events in Tiananmen Square, Beijing in 1989. On the 4th June 1989 the Chinese Government shot at and killed hundreds of student protestors who were demonstrating against a controlling government.
The pro-democracy protests began after the death on the 15 April 1989 of Hu Yaobang aged 73. Hu had been a leader of the Chinese Democratic Party who had campaigned for a fairer political system. Days later thousands of students began a march across Beijing mourning his death. Support quickly grew and between the 13th May and the 19th May the march expanded from 100 students to over a million. The protests, although disruptive, were peaceful, and began to attract the attention of the world’s media. In a bid to crackdown on the protests and maintain Beijing’s image as a happy, productive communist state Premier Li Peng imposes martial law on the 19th May.
On the 1st June things began to take a turn for the worst. Unable to quell the protestors Chinese officials banned all foreign media from reporting on the events unfolding in Tiananmen Square. 4 Days later at 1am, Chinese Troops began a violent crackdown on the protesters. They opened fire and killed thousands. Exact numbers have been kept a secret by the Chinese Authorities, who to this day refuse to acknowledge that this tragedy ever happened.
David Chen was a 25 year old student at the time of the protests. He studied at the Dalian Maritime College about 800km east of Beijing, but he supported the movement remotely and was a key organiser of similar protests in Dalian.
Uncontent with supporting from afar, Chen travelled to Beijing for several days to support the pro democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. While photographic records are scarce of the events are scare David Chen took with him a luxury of the time, a Japanese Yashica Camera that an uncle had given him from a trip to Taiwan.
Before leaving Dalian for Beijing, Chen invested in 4 rolls of film which he took with him. Over the next 7 days Chen shot a unique picture of the protests. He returned to Dalian and used the photographs to drum up support for the prodemocracy movement. A week after Chen left Tiananmen Square a night of bloodshed gripped Tiananmen Square.
The Authorities started a crackdown, and imprisoned many who had been involved in the protests. Chen himself escaped any criminal record, however in his career was limited. As a sailor he was never permitted any jobs that involved travelling to foreign countries and was instead forced to sail on limited internal shipping routes where the authorities could keep an eye on him. In an effort to remain further off the radar Chen hid the photographs at his parents’ house. 28 Years later Chen no longer lives in Beijing, and has decided to release the photographs.
image courtesy of nytimes.com – protestors at Tiananmen square – Banner reads ‘No One Will Forget What is Happening in 1989’.
His photographs offer a rare insight into the events that occurred. Much of what went on his lost to time as there was very little Media coverage of the event. His photos clearly show protesters signaling the V, which echoed the statement that they believed they were winning and would see democratic reform. Chen describes how support for the students was high in Beijing. Local people would cycle to Tiananmen Square to provide food and water for the students. Authorities were quick to paint a picture of those who helped as aiding and abetting trouble makers.
Tiananmen Square now a very different place. Beijing prohibits any large gathering to this day, a direct result of the unrest at Tiananmen Square.