It’s 31 years today since the Tiananmen Square protests in China’s capital, Beijing, ended in a massacre which left an untold number of people dead.
The protests had been growing in the famous square for several weeks before the Government brought them to a violent end – leading to the infamous ‘Tank Man’ photo which was seen all round the world as the country’s leaders attempted to take back control.
So just what happened during the protests and why did they end in such a violent manner?
Here’s what you need to know…
What happened during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests?
People began gathering in Tiananmen Square in April 1989 following the death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader who had been working to try and bring democratic reform to China.
The crowd, consisting mainly of students, were mourning Hu’s death while at the same time protesting against the slow pace of reform in the country, demanding a more democratic government.
Many of them went on hunger strike during this time in a bid to push for talks with the Communist leaders, with an ever-growing number of people joining the protests to show their support.
The Chinese Government became increasingly uncomfortable with the growing protests, which coincided with a planned visit by Mikhail Gorbachev, who at the time was the leader of the Soviet Union.
Party leaders eventually visited the student protestors on 19 May, leading to them ending their hunger strike – but they subsequently declared martial law in Beijing the following day in a bid to bring the demonstrations to an end.
This had no effect on the protestors, with their numbers growing over the next few weeks as they took to the streets on a daily basis – while similar demonstrations began taking place in other cities across the country ,and images of events there made the news across the world.
How did the protests end?
In the early hours of 4 June 1989, Chinese police and military stormed Tiananmen Square, with tens of thousands of troops and armoured vehicles pouring into the city centre in a bid to restore order.
They opened fire on the protestors without warning, with many gunned down as they tried to escape, while others were crushed to death by the military vehicles.
Others were arrested as thousands attempted to fight back against the onslaught.
The death toll from that night remains unknown to this day, with estimates ranging from the hundreds to many thousands among both the protestors and the security personnel.
Who was Tank Man?
The abiding image of the aftermath is that of ‘Tank Man’, a lone man who was seen on 5 June holding shopping bags and standing in front of a row of tanks to prevent them from passing.
He succeeded in doing so, eventually being pulled out of the way by two onlookers.
It’s not know who Tank Man was or what happened to him, but the photo of him blocking the tanks has become famous around the world.