China's Massacre in Tiananmen Square

Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

The following lesson discusses the particularly bloody protest that occurred in China in June of 1989 as citizens attempted to protest China's communist for government reform and additional individual rights. After the lesson, take the quiz to test yourself!

Brief History of Recent China

Imagine living in a society where the government controls many aspects of your life. For example, the government decides what you learn in school, what you see on the internet and on TV, and even the number of children you are allowed to have in your family! It seems obvious that being an American and having to live under that type of control would be pretty hard. Unfortunately, this is what the native people of China have to live with every day. This is in large part due to the form of government established in China. China's form of government is communism. In a communist government, the goal is to create a society in which all people are treated equally and share in all goods services equally. Equality doesn't sound bad right?

Unfortunately, in a communist government, the government controls many aspects of each citizen's life. For example, the government controls what kind of property you own, what job you have, and what you learn in school. On the outside it would appear that communism might be a good thing because it claims to support equality. However, since a central government is given absolute power, there have been many instances where that power has been abused and people are horribly mistreated by their government. Efforts in China to end this mistreatment and fight for more citizens' rights have been going on for many years. Unfortunately, this fight for freedom has sometimes led to bloodshed.

A Changing China

Communist flag of China
Chinese Flag

As China grew as a communist nation, it originally was quite against the democratic and capitalist ideals found in Western countries. Instead, China wished to preserve its communist and socialist ideals. However, when the Soviet Union, once the hallmark of communist countries and ideals, collapsed and one of the architects of Chinese communism, Mao Zedong, died, China realized that if it was to survive, it needed to restructure itself. As a result, China was forced to loosen its grip on its citizens and allow for greater freedoms as well as to change its economic policy to favor a market economy open to foreign trade instead of one that was centrally managed. However, as China slowly loosened its grip on its people and became a more globally involved country, it provided the opportunity for its citizens to become more and more exposed to foreign ideals and standards of living. As a result, many of its citizens, especially university students, took this as an opportunity to call for even more individual rights and freedoms and began to publicly protest for such rights.

These protests came to a head in 1989 when a former Chinese political official Hu Yoabang , who had previously encouraged democratic reforms but was then forced to resign his post, died and became a martyr for the cause of political freedoms.

Tiananmen Square Massacre

On the day of Yoabang's funeral in April of 1989, tens of thousands of students gathered in a large public space known as Tiananmen Square to protest for democratic reforms. These protests were carried on for weeks by groups of varying sizes who would also begin to protest for additional social and economic reforms. The initial government response was to issue stern warnings but take no action against the mounting crowds in the square. However, attention to the protests started to gain international coverage; a number of Western journalists had come to country to cover a separate event but then picked up on the growing protests in the square. While some government officials in China advocated for peaceful negotiations with the protesters, they were ultimately overruled by traditional, communist purists who called for forcibly suppressing the protests.

Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square

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