Pro-democracy demonstrators filled Tiananmen Square on June 2, 1989, despite martial law being declared in Beijing. Credit Catherine Henriette/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
‘It Will Be Incomparably More Difficult to Rule China’
It was 25 years ago Wednesday that Chinese troops conducted a bloody crackdown on thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. At the time, Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times’s Beijing bureau chief, reported that “by ordering soldiers to fire on the unarmed crowds, the Chinese leadership has created an incident that almost surely will haunt the government for years to come.”
Given the aggressive efforts by Chinese censors and security forces, and the sensitivity of government officials ahead of this week’s anniversary, this assessment has been borne out.
But before the violence of June 4, Mr. Kristof and others had been optimistic about the prospect of a more open, more democratic China.
Students and the police in Tiananmen Square in Beijing as protests began in April 1989.
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Xiao Jianhua seen in a park in Beijing.
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“Looking back at what I wrote 25 years ago, I’d say the tone was right but the timing way too optimistic,” Mr. Kristof said recently in an email. “The Communist party indeed has diminishing control over people’s lives.” But he noted that despite economic and social pluralism, there is “still not a whisker of political pluralism.”
“Back then we thought that greater democracy would come in five years, or perhaps a decade, but we would not have expected that 25 years later Liu Xiaobo would be in prison as a Nobel Peace Prize winner,” he said.
Here are select stories from The Times from 1989 — including work by Mr. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting — written just before and just after the violent crackdown in Tiananmen.