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CNN 10

Special Edition: Tiananmen Square. Aired 4-4:10a ET

Aired December 12, 2022 - 04:00:00   ET


COY WIRE, CNN 10 ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I`m Coy Wire, and welcome to a special edition of CNN 10.

You likely don`t know this but the program you`re watching right now started all the way back in 1989 when CNN launched a news program designed

for the classroom. And today, we`re going to look back at one of the most influential stories from that year. It involves protests in China`s

Tiananmen square that changed the course of history.

Tiananmen Square is located in the center of the Chinese Capital of Beijing. In 1989, after several weeks of demonstrations by students and

other citizens calling for a more Democratic government, Chinese troops entered the square on June 4th and fired on civilians. It`s estimated that

several hundred to thousands were killed, and as many as 10,000 people were arrested. Accounts of the massacre are still censored in China today.

We now have a special report of CNN`s coverage from on the ground that year and as you`ll see after the Chinese government pulled the plug on the

broadcast, CNN had to report by telephone and use video that was snuck out of the country.


NARRATOR: Fifteen years ago, China was still almost totally isolated from the rest of the world.

Today, the encouragement of private enterprise, free markets, foreign investment, and the introduction of western products and ideas has made

this country the pioneer in the communist world search for reform.

But now, China`s reform program has run into trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inflation officially has been at the 20 percent level in recent months. Corruption has grown a great deal.

NARRATOR: These dislocations caused by an economy that is only half reformed, neither communist nor capitalist, have generated widespread

public discontent.

SUBTITLE: CNN was in Beijing as public discontent led to demonstrations and one of the darkest moments in China`s history.

NARRATOR: In the dead of night, 2,000 students marched through the streets of Beijing, calling for democracy human rights and the resignation of the

Chinese government. Their destination: Tiananmen Square in the city center.

SUBTITLE: Tiananmen Square is the government`s ceremonial center and one of the largest plazas in the world.

NARRATOR: It was here that the students placed a huge banner honoring the memory of Hu Yaobang, who died on Saturday in political disgrace purged by

communist party hardliners two and a half years ago for his liberal views.

To the students however, Hu represented hope for reform and change, hopes that to many Chinese have been dashed by recent government efforts to scale

back economic and political liberalization.

There has never been a challenge to the leadership of communist China like this one. In cities all across the country, crowds taking to the streets to

demand democracy and freedom.

In commemorating Hu`s death by demanding the implementation of the progressive policies he advocated, the students have put the government on

the defensive, most notably by using tactics such as the peaceful sit-in that the authorities here have never seen.

PROTESTERS: Long live freedom! Long live freedom! Punish corrupt officials! Punish corrupt officials! Freedom of the speech! Freedom of the


SUBTITLE: Chinese leadership was divided on how to respond and attempted to limit the public`s awareness of the demonstrations.

However, some journalists were sympathetic to the demonstrators.

NARRATOR: The students got a big boost when several official Chinese newspapers defied government orders and published accurate accounts of the

events of the past week.

SUBTITLE: As public support grew; student activists encouraged the general population to join the call for reform.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If you`re going to have a student movement, you must seek support from the workers and peasants. Only

if they understand can we succeed.

NARRATOR: Again and again, the badly outnumbered police were overwhelmed and pushed aside.

SUBTITLE: On May 4th, nineteen days after the protests began, tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on Tiananmen Square.

May 4th was the anniversary of the 1919 student movement that led to the communist revolution.

REPORTER: This was the demonstrator`s destination, Tiananmen Square, the heart of Beijing, the seat of the government.

NARRATOR: The scene at Tiananmen showed the depth of public discontent here now, over inflation, corruption and the lack of political freedom.

SUBTITLE: One month into the demonstrations, The students sang the Internationale, the international communist anthem.

NARRATOR: On the eve of Mikhail Gorbachev`s visit, China`s rebellious students up the stakes in their confrontation with the government, adopting

a new set of tactics to force a faster pace of reform. Two hundred students started a hunger strike, marching through Beijing to downtown Tiananmen

Square, vowing to stay without food until the authorities agreed to recognize their illegal students` federation.

SUBTITLE: China`s leaders were scheduled to meet in Beijing with Mikhail Gorbachev to mend years of strife between the communist republics.

NARRATOR: With Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union`s pioneer of political reform due here on Monday, no one in the Chinese leadership wants him to

have a reception like this.

SUBTITLE: The number of hunger strikers quickly grew.

REPORTER: This is now the third day in which about a thousand students have been carrying out a hunger strike to press their demands for


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Gorbachev`s reforms have been extremely successful. So we hope his visit will help accelerate political

reform in China.

NARRATOR: A growing number of those in the square are not students but journalists professional people and especially workers impatient for


For China`s leaders, there could not be a more embarrassing or frightening set of circumstances.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Now some thoughts, I came to cover a summit. I walked into a revolution, a massively peaceful statement by the people but

still a revolution.

SUBTITLE: By May 19, an estimated 1.2 million demonstrators had gathered in Tiananmen Square.

NARRATOR: Huge crowds again serves through the center of Beijing, people from all walks of life, workers, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, even some

peasants from the countryside while lending their support to the hunger striker`s demand for freedom and democracy.

At the same time, over a hundred thousand people demonstrated in Shanghai where 300 students had begun their own hunger strike.

SUBTITLE: Government leaders visited the students to ask them to end their hunger strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have every right to criticize us. I`m also not here to ask for your forgiveness this time.

NARRATOR: Communist Party Chief Zhao and Premier Li visiting Tiananmen Square to appeal for an end to the student hunger strike.

Late in the evening, Premier Li appeared on nationwide television to announce that the situation was out of control and that the army was being

called in to restore orders.

LI PENG, PREMIER OF THE PEOPLE`S REPUBLIC OF CHINA (through translator): The situation in Beijing is getting worse and it is going to bring out a

nationwide riot if we don`t really do anything to crack to stop this situation.

NARRATOR: Communist Party Chief Zhao, a liberal who had sympathized with the students, being enforced to resign.

REPORTER: There is word authorities decided he had to go because he refused to agree to use force against the students.

LI: For a month, the government has taken very calm and tolerant attitude towards the students` demonstration. We did this because we love our


SUBTITLE: Premier Li Peng claimed that the students were under the influence of a few troublemakers, and those on hunger strike were


The People`s Liberation Army was ordered in to clear the square.

REPORTER: Masters of demonstrators marched out of Beijing and rode in cars to the west. Before dawn, more than one hundred thousand were on the

outskirts of the city, taking the confrontation to the troops, not waiting for the army to reach town.

SHAW: The People`s Liberation Army blocked by the people. The troops cannot move to clear Tiananmen Square.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN`s Prime News. And in Beijing, Bernard Shaw.

SHAW: Let`s go quickly to Jeanne Moos in Tiananmen Square -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, we don`t have any real hard information down here. The same announcement keeps coming over the PA

system. It`s an official announcement signed by the premier of China, according to the announcer. And it talks about martial law being imposed

here in Tiananmen Square. It was a night of tension, a break of celebration in the morning of uncertainty.

SHAW: Jeanne, Jeanne?

MOOS: Yes, Bernie?

SHAW: I`m being told that the government officials are coming into the CNN control room now. This man with a piece of paper in his hand. I`m certain

that is not a party invitation.

Okay, let me quickly tell you what this official is saying: if you do not obey the orders, you will not be allowed to come home.

This official on the right side of your right side of your screen saying to CNN, if you do not obey the --

NARRATOR: The Chinese government ordered all foreign media to stop broadcasting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have him call us properly and explain to us what is happening here. If you cannot give us an explanation.



SHAW: We`re told that President George Herbert Walker Bush is watching what`s happening. President Bush is saying, quote, word of the news

blackout is very disturbing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our government led me to tell you now stop your transmission.

SHAW: These characters being written on this legal pad in effect are saying that this government is telling CNN to end its transmission.