35 Years Later: A Retrospective of Our Work on the 1989 Tiananmen Protests and Crackdown

This year is the 35th anniversary of the 1989 mass demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and elsewhere around China, and their brutal suppression on June 4. The memories of these events are receding into the past, a process greatly aided in China by censorship. And even when remembered, the crackdown that ended the optimistic 1980s in China is viewed by some Chinese government supporters as justified. On June 4, 2021, Hu Xijin, the former editor of the state-owned Global Times, tweeted the following:

The conclusion on June 4 incident will never be reversed in Chinese history because its political outcome played a role in shaping socialist path with Chinese characteristics, which has led China to success. The longer the time, the more resolutely the incident will be rejected.

But others see crushing of “the incident” as the end of the hope for a more open China, and the final rejection by the ruling Communist Party of a more liberal politics. However, exiled activists and others in cities around the world continue to commemorate and draw inspiration from the protest movement.

You can find all of ChinaFile’s coverage of the 1989 Tiananmen Protests here. Below are some highlights:

Resources on the Tiananmen Square Protests

Originally compiled 10 years ago for the 25th anniversary, this page includes links to a variety of articles and essays, archived stories on the Tiananmen Protests, Democracy and the Democracy Movement, Dissidents and Activists, Reform, and more.

Covering Tiananmen

Western media reporting on China was a key part of the Tiananmen story. Veteran foreign correspondent Mike Chinoy was covering the visit of Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in May and stayed to cover the protests. His recent book, Assignment China: An Oral History of American Journalists in the People’s Republic, is based on interviews with more than 100 journalists who covered China from 1945 to the present day. This is an excerpt from the book with stories from reporters who covered the protests in 1989.

The Ghosts of Tiananmen Square

An essay and book review by journalist and author Ian Johnson, written on the 25th anniversary of the protests, about memory and forced forgetting, and more.

Voices from Tiananmen

This award-winning multimedia piece published by The South China Morning Post in collaboration with ChinaFile includs video interviews with Tiananmen witnesses: Chen Ziming, a liberal intellectual who was labeled as one of the “black hands” behind the student movement; Bao Tong, top aide to Zhao Ziyang, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1987 to 1989; Li Rui, senior Party adviser in the 1980s and former secretary of Mao Zedong; and Zhou Duo, a Marxist scholar who became known as one of the “Four Gentlemen” who went on hunger strike before the crackdown.

How I Learned About Tiananmen

In 2019, we asked a group of young Chinese how they first learned about the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, and how they felt about it. We published five responses. Unsurprisingly, three of the writers chose to remain anonymous.

Four Is Forbidden

An essay by particle physicist and writer Yangyang Cheng about studying China’s recent history while living in the U.S., her family, and how she learned about June 4.

A Day to Remember/A Day Forgotten

On June 4, 2005, filmmaker Liu Wei spent the day simply asking passersby, “Do you know what day it is today?” Their answers are hard to forget.

The film is titled 忘却的一天 which means “A Day Forgotten,” but its English title is “A Day to Remember.”

‘You Won’t Get Near Tiananmen!’: Hu Jia on the Continuing Crackdown

Published in June 2014, this is a Q&A by Ian Johnson with dissident Hu Jia, who protested in 1989, and spent the next few decades as an activist, frequently encountering trouble from the authorities.

ChinaFile Presents: Erasing History—Why Remember Tiananmen

Video: On the evening of June 3, 2019, ChinaFile hosted a discussion with Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, author Zha Jianying, and Orville Schell, journalist, scholar, and director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, all of whom were in Beijing in the spring of 1989. The discussion was moderated by ChinaFile Editor-in-Chief Susan Jakes.

Why We Remember June Fourth

An essay published in 2019 by scholar and writer Perry Link:

Some people recently asked, “Why must you remember June Fourth? Thirty years have gone by. It is history. Get over it. Move on.”

A simple question, but there are many answers. No single answer is adequate, and all of the answers together still leave the question hanging in mid-air, asking for more.