Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tiananmen Square: 25 Years Later

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, during which the Chinese government declared martial law in order to brutally end several weeks of peaceful pro-democracy student protests in central Beijing. The exact death toll remains uncertain, but hundreds of citizens were fatally beaten, shot or crushed by tanks; thousands more were wounded in the daylong military reaction.

The world media has commemorated the somber anniversary with fascinating histories of the events. TIME magazine's cover story provides a detailed view of the events on the ground, while the New York Times reviewed internal Chinese military documents which showed discord among military leaders regarding the use of force on student protestors. London's Independent paper examined the uncertain fate of the iconic "Tank Man," who defiantly blocked the path of a line of tanks in the street (CNN video footage). The powerful sight of a lone dissident bravely standing before the Chinese army became the most recognizable image from the Tiananmen Square protests. Many Chinese citizens have likely never seen this incredible moment, however, due to censorship of the state-run media and school textbooks.

To learn more about the history of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, visit the National Security Archive's collection Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History, which reproduces embassy cables and other State Department communications from the crackdown. A subject search of the Duke Libraries catalog for "China -- History -- Tiananmen Square Incident, 1989" will reveal titles on campus such as the 2001 collection The Tiananmen Papers, which purported to reproduce key official documents related to the crackdown (although the New York Times notes scholarly controversy about the authenticity of its contents). The Duke database Tiananmen Square and U.S.-China relations, 1989-1993 also offers thousands of pages of White House and State Department files related to the massacre and its effect on foreign policy. For help using these library resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.