Today in History: over 200,000 students and Beijing residents had gathered in Tiananmen
April 22nd was the day of the state memorial service for Hu Yaobang. In preparation for the service, authorities had declared that the Square would be sealed off by early morning. However, over two hundred thousands students and Beijing residents had gathered in Tiananmen in the evening of 21st, and the students announced their intention to remain there through the service. In the end, no measures were taken to force the students out of the Square.
After the conclusion of the memorial service, students in the Square chanted for Premier Li Peng, the head of the government, to come out and meet with them. Three student representatives were allowed to pass through the line of paramilitary police blocking the approach to the western entrance of the Great Hall of the People, the massive building housing government offices and state meeting halls. In a dramatic gesture invoking the manner in which petitions were presented to Chinese emperors in times past, the three representatives knelt on the steps to present the students' petition, and the representative carrying the large scroll containing the petition raised it over his head. The three remained on the steps for about forty five minutes; when it became clear that neither Li Peng nor any other high official would emerge to receive their petition, they withdrew. The representatives' gesture of kneeling in a plea to the government moved many onlookers, but also bitterly angered many students.
Fellow students who participated in the April 22 petition protest will be unable to forget this scene: three representatives of the petitioners kneeling on the steps of the Great Hall of the People to deliver the petition. Many of our classmates have expressed perplexity, surprise, and even anger at this action. We would like to testify that we respect the representatives' spirit in bearing the burden of such humiliation.
In the China of the eighties, during a march for democracy, people use a means of petitioning tainted with the stains of feudalism: kneeling! Is this not the tragedy of our age?
Did they disgrace us? Were they begging for freedom? Begging for democracy? No! They sacrificed their own self-respect and human dignity to fulfill a mission entrusted to them by tens of thousands of students. Think about it. As the representatives of tens of thousands of students, entrusted with so heavy a responsibility as such a critical moment, after the petition had been ignored over and over again, what else could they do but use the most provocative, most feudal method – kneeling? What self-mockery to use a feudal method of expression in a struggle for democracy in present-day China! And what powerlessness and impotence it implies!
We want to express our understanding and respect to you, the bearers of our petition. Although your action may itself be controversial, it is indeed a microcosm of , a symbol of, the student movement of contemporary China!
- Geology Department, April 22, 1989
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