Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989

Categories: Protest

The Tiananmen Square protest that occure between spring and summer of 1989, the events leading up to the Tiananmen Square protest is a political instance of great disturbance, began with the death of Hu Yaobang, a former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in April 1989. Hu was a hero to Chinese liberals after he refused to halt unrest in January 1987.

Whereby students, intellectuals and labour activists in the People’s Republic of China led a series of demonstrations between April 15, 1989 and June 4, 1989.

The main groups of organized protesters were students and they come not just from the elite schools of Beijing but from all over China. There are no clear estimates of exactly how many people took part in the mass demonstrations. But the crowds camped out in tiananmen, also include many unemployed workers roaming the street of Beijing angrily protesting against the government for mishandling the economy, corruption and double-digit inflation.

The situation in the Chinese capital appear to paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, as a vivid reminder of the excesses suffered during the not-so-distant Cultural Revolution and he feared civil war.

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The police gave up attempts to contain the crowds and build up a barrier hastily as a defense against the Tiananmen Square, before Martial law, was declared on the 21st of May 1989 in five central urban district of Beijing. More than one million people defy martial law and successfully block soldiers from entering central Beijing. Then both the People’s Republic of China government, who become threatened and left without option and the student protesters, who wanted the impossible concessions become hopeless for the rest of May 1989.

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On June 3, in the morning, the solderies  occupied the square, and violence confrontation begin between the solderies and protesters. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops converge on the Tiananmen Square. Army tanks were sent to the square leading to the death of  an unknown numbers of Beijing citizens, at pointblank giving up to gun shot or get crushed by tanks. In angry retalation, they throw stones at solderies.

And in the early hour of June 4, the troop have blocked off all the approaches to Tiananmen Square. Various people who have witnessed the killings of civilians, like Wuhan student Cai Chongguo or writer Bai Hua, report to the BWAF and to the students’ Command Headquarters, urging them to withdraw. And the student, were entreat by Hou Dejian, Zhou Duo and Liu Xiaobo, to discard whatever weapons they have and not to disagree with the soldiers. Zhou and Hou negotiate with army officials to give the students time to vacate the square and they were ordered out of the Monument to the People’s Heroes towards the southeast part of the square.

As the students pass Qianmen, residents line the streets and applaud.The army throws tear gas and shoots at students and citizens near the square and in other areas of the capital. Later, Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping publicly praise the courage of PLA officers and soldiers, and thank them for clearing Tiananmen Square.

The martial law imposed on the Tiananmen Square is a form of law whereby    military rule or authority is imposed on a civilian population when the civil authorities cannot maintain law and order, as in a time of war or during an emergency. When considering this law it’s either you take a stand on issues and make a choice that fits your beliefs and the situation. Do you believe as Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death?" Realize you may have to sacrifice your principles on trivial matters or take a hard stand. Always remember that you may have to come back and fight another day.

Some parsonal right granted to odinary citizen are usually reduce by imposition of martial law, limits the length of the trial processes, and prescribes more severe penalties than ordinary law. Also, in many countries martial law prescribes the death penalty for certain crimes, even if ordinary law does not contain that crime or punishment in its system.

Although we all believe it’s usually right to obey the law, most people also think there are some instance in which it's right to disobey it - especially if the disobedience takes a non-violent form.  For example, few would suggest that African-Americans were wrong to protest segregation in the South by sitting at whites-only lunch counters and refusing to leave, or by refusing to move to the back of the bus. Even though the action broke the law, we still believe they were right to be done which make the protester to be civil right heroes.

Civil disobedience is primarily symbolic rather than instrumental. As Rawls explains, “it may be understood as addressing the sense of justice of the majority in order to urge reconsideration of the measures protested and to warn that, in the sincere opinion of the dissenters, the conditions of social cooperation are not being honored.” This means that civil disobedience should be directed at public actors (including the citizenry in general) – the harassment of private actors is more akin to coercive direct action. The rules of law and the civil respect is  for one’s fellow citizen is consistence with the the symbolic and non-coercive nature of civil disobedience generally.

The protestors are not trying to “take the law into their own hands” unlike the vigilantes. Without causing any undue harm to others, they suffers themselves against the criminal justice system,  in hopes of appealing to the conscience of their fellow citizens. Democratic sovereignty is retained, as political power remains with the majority. The latter are not coerced, but simply invited – with purely moral force – to consider the concerns of the protestors.

 Rawls (a philosophy of law) argues that any act of civil disobedience should be strictly justified.  Justifying it requires:

  • The laws to which we object must be substantial and clear violations of justice. They would include things like serious and blatant discrimination or depriving people (particularly a minority) of fundamental rights.
  •  Normal constitutional routes must have been tried and failed.  We must try to eliminate the injustice by lawful means before engaging in civil disobedience (or at least have a very good argument that any legal attempt to change the law would be fruitless).
  •  Level of disobedience in the society must not have reached a threshold (a level where it threatens the very goal of a rule of law.  He suggests that this might mean that a coalition of minorities might be necessary to "take turns" engaging in civil disobedience so it does not get out of hand.
  •  The action must be controlled.  It is not right to provoke those in power to unjust violence.  Any violence in the action would itself undermine just institutions. If the unjust authority is so vicious that no way of engaging in civil disobedience could be peaceful, then we must consider other activities—such as militant opposition to the regime.  Civil disobedience is justifiable only in a society that is largely just.
  •  The exercise should be rationally framed to advance the ends addressed.  There should be no moral "witnessing" (showing off your moral "purity" just to demonstrate your concern.).

There is room for criticizes, disagree and each should act on her view of justice. This sounds too conservatives like a recipe for confusion.  However, Rawls justifies it as a condition of theoretical advance, of moral evolution and progress in a society.  Having a final authority about matters of ultimate justice and morality tends to lead to moral stagnation and cynicism.  We must treat each other as full equals in understanding, accepting and applying reasonable moral principles, particularly the principles of justice.  We do not need an established superior.

The justification of civil disobedience signals a deep principle for Rawls.  While there may be a final performative authority for matters of the law (the highest appeals court) and for determination of policy (the legislature), it is crucial to the idea of justice that there is no final authority on what is justice.  We all have a veto and all must be given equal respect with regard to what justice is and requires. The inner morality of law does not recognize any authority about what the inner morality is.

The most recent high-profile instance of civil disobedience is that of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. After a federal judge found Miller in contempt of court for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena, she has been held in a federal penitentiary. Every court to review the subpoena has proclaimed it legally valid, but Miller believes it to be unconstitutional.

But is there any petition on the government available to the people of China who have been victims of oppression at the hands of the government? Yes the families of protester during the massacre petition the government to open a criminal case on the crackdown and there is a possibility of taking it to the international forum as well. It’s doubtful that the government will accept the case for prosecution, because there attitude after the Tiananmen repression as not change over the years. The only improvement in the chain’s legal environment is the passage of an administrative law that enable the student to sue the government for abuse of authority and the judgment is always in favor of the citizen-plaintiff.

However, high-profile cases with political potential are liable to be viewed in less favorable light. Example of such case is the tiananmen families’ case. Rawls does not, accordingly, offer any general justification for conscientious objection to law. His argument is only for Civil Disobedience which he argues helps maintain and preserve just institutions—the natural duty that justifies our obedience to law by the principle of fairness.  It is a way of resisting injustice within limits of the inner morality of the law.  It inhibits injustice in a just way.


  1. The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng, Harrison E. Salisbury, New York, 1992, Avon Books,
  2. Liu Xiaobo. "That Holy Word, "Revolution." In Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China. Edited by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Elizabeth J. Perry, 140-7. Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1994.
  3. Catharin E. Dalpino, Human Rights in China A Brookings Online ForumWednesday, June 02, 1999
  4. Julie Hilden,When Is Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Justified? The Case of Judith Miller
  1. Rawls, philosophy of law spring 2005.
  2. David replies to Nonviolent civil Disobedience critics. Friday august 18 2006.

Updated: Feb 23, 2021
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Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989. (2017, Mar 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/tiananmen-square-protest-of-1989-essay

Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989 essay
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