The Chinese have lived under one form of dictatorship or another for a few thousand years. No other people on the planet (with the exception of the ancient Egyptians) can make that unfortunate claim. But in 1989, the year jackboot regimes began toppling all over Eastern Europe, the Chinese people sensed their moment had finally come. Following the funeral of former General Secretary Hu Yaobang (widely seen to be a champion of political and economic liberalization) the good people of Peking (I'll call it "Beijing" when the unelected step aside) and other cities took to the streets. Many of them were students who were being trained in Universities to enter an economy that no longer existed due to nascent market reforms that were (and still are) largely benefiting the well connected. Those students were joined by others who expanded and refined the students original complaints to produce what became known as the "List of Seven Demands". Here it is:

1. Affirm as correct Hu Yaobang's views on democracy freedom and tolerance;
2. Renounce the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization campaign and the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign;
3. Freedom of Press and Freedom of speech, Permit citizens to publish independent newspapers;
4. Publicize the income of the Party-State leaders and their family members;
5. Rescind the "Ten Provisional Articles Regulating Public Marches and Demonstrations";
6. Increase budget for education and raise intellectuals' salary;
7. Report the student movement objectively.

But Deng and his cronies had no intention of releasing their family income info to a free and open press or standing aside so that the people could chose their own leaders. Consequently it was no surprise then when Deng, during a private get together at his home, endorsed a hard line stance against the protests. Once he did his fellow self-proclaimed "leaders" had their pretense for action.

On May 20 martial law was declared and military convoys headed for the capital where crowds in Tiananmen Square now numbered nearly a hundred thousand. But these convoys were blocked on the city's outskirts by local people sympathetic to what was going on in the city center and ultimately the soldiers had to turn back. Finally on the evening of June 3 orders came down from on high that the square was to be cleared by any means necessary. When the commander of the 38th army demanded a written order before he would move in, he was immediately removed. (Later he would lose his position in the Party and be imprisoned for five years.) But he was in the minority and in the wee hours of June 4 the army descended on the unarmed protesters.

Contrary to many reports at the time the majority of deaths from the crackdown didn't take place in Tiananmen Square itself but in the streets and neighborhoods surrounding it as the army attempted to break through defensive barricades put in place around the Square. Most estimates put the number of dead somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 though the exact number will probably never be known.

On June 5th as the army attempted to quietly retreat from the scene of their shame an unarmed and unnamed civilian man bearing only a couple of shopping bags was captured on video as he walked into the path of a tank column and defiantly stood his ground. When they moved to try and get around him, he shifted to block their path again. Several times he did this until finally crawling up on top of the lead tank and attempting to talk to the soldiers inside. After a few minutes he dismounted and again took up position in front of the column. After some more cat and mouse he was whisked away by several unidentified people. No one has ever learned his name, discovered his fate or found out exactly who whisked him away and to where but his lonely act of defiance has become one of the defining images of the late 20th century.

Sadly the Politburo Republic of China remains to this day the world's largest and most oppressive dictatorship where any and all discussion concerning the brutal suppression of the Chinese people during the 1989 uprising is officially forbidden.

Watch this short piece on the "tank man". You can't watch this in China. The unelected will have you jailed if you try.