Little Bits of History

Chinese Democracy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 30, 2013
Goddess of Democracy

Goddess of Democracy

May 30, 1989: A 33 foot tall statue called Goddess of Democracy is unveiled. The statue was built by students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts and took four days to produce. The statue was made of Styrofoam and papier-mâché over a metal framework. Its creators took inspiration from Vera Mukhinas’ Worker and Kolkhoz Woman. It was hoped the unveiling would bolster the enthusiasm of those demonstrating against an oppressive government.

The statue stood for only five days before it was destroyed. The most memorable vision from this confrontation between intellectuals seeking freedom and a government loathe to give up control would take place within days. Since 1989, several replicas of the statue have been erected in her honor. She has become an iconic figure of liberty, free speech, and democracy. None have had a more reverential following than this Goddess erected in Tiananmen Square in the face of the Communist Regime.

The Tiananmen Square protest began April 17 when tens of thousands of students spontaneously gathered there to mourn the death of General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Yoabang – a man felt to be incorruptible and pro reform. The crowds grew to more than 100,000 and on April 22 students petitioned to meet with Chinese Premiere Li Peng, to no avail. An April 26 editorial denouncing the students only set off more rioting. The imbroglio came to the world’s attention by early May.

As time marched on, students began going back to classes, disenchanted. On May 13, 160 students began a hunger strike hoping to catch Mikhail Gorbachev’s attention during a scheduled visit. Political repercussions ensued with Martial Law declared on May 19. The army was being sent to Tiananmen Square to restore order. The assault began on June 3 as troops converged on the square. Over the next two days hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed and thousands more were injured. The vision that comes to mind when this struggle is mentioned is that of a lone man standing in the street, in front of a line a tanks, moving from side to side and blocking their way. Tank Man did not persuade them to stop and his identity has never been disclosed.

“At this grim moment, what we need most is to remain calm and united in a single purpose. We need a powerful cementing force to strengthen our resolve: That is the Goddess of Democracy.” – from the Declaration displayed with the Goddess of Democracy

“I myself envision a day when another replica, as large as the original and more permanent, stands in Tiananmen Square, with the name of those who died there written in gold on its base. It may well stand there after Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum has, in its turn, been pulled down.” – Tsao Tsing-yuan

“When we can make democracy work, we won’t have to force it down other people’s throats. If it really is such a good idea, and if they can see it working, they will steal it.” – Dick Gregory

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Chai Ling was born in China in 1966 and was a student participating in the Tiananmen Square movement. The number of students declined and Ling was disenchanted with the difficulties of keeping the Movement together, so she resigned. The square no longer was a meeting place for high minded people, but a squalid, sewer reeking stagnant area where the struggle for democracy was seemingly lost. The unveiling of the statue revitalized the Movement. Ling fled China in 1990 with help from Hong Kong. After hiding for ten months, she settled in France. She was given a scholarship to Princeton.  Today, Ling (who received her MLA from Princeton University and her MBA from Harvard) is the founder of All Girls Allowed, a humanitarian organization trying to restore value to females in China. She is also President and COO of Jenzabar, an Internet company she founded in 1998.

Also on this day Start Your Engines – In 1911 the first Indianapolis 500 is held.
Fan Club – In 1933, Sally Rand danced in Chicago.
Duel – In 1806, Charles Dickenson was killed in a duel.



Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 4, 2011

Tank Man

June 4, 1989: Protests in Tiananmen Square come to a violent conclusion. Tiananmen Square is located in Beijing, China. Protests were led by students, intellectuals, and labor activists. The students and intellectuals were protesting against the Communist Party’s corruption and repression while the labor activists were more concerned with rampant inflation and loss of jobs. Regardless of reasons, the protests began on April 15, 1989 after people gathered to mourn the death of General Secretary Hu Yaobang.

By May 20, the People’s Republic of China’s government had declared martial law. By June 3 government troops were called in to quell the disturbance. They even brought tanks. There are varied accounts for the number of casualties during this quelling process. The Chinese government claims 200-300 deaths while the Chinese student associations and the Chinese Red Cross claim 2,000-3,000 deaths. It is agreed that between 7,000 and 10,000 were injured.

One of the most haunting images of the government intervention is a lone man standing in the middle of the street, halting the progress of four tanks. As he stood alone, the tanks came to a stop, and tried to move around him. He remained in front of them as they swerved, and he eventually climbed to the turret to speak with the driver of the lead tank, asking them to leave. He was pulled away by onlookers. His identity remains a mystery. In 1990, Barbara Walters was told that it was unknown if he was arrested or not, but he was “not killed.” Other reports say that he was executed within weeks or maybe months of the event. Still others say that he is alive and well on the mainland.

Student leaders of the protests were sought by the government for prosecution. Wang Dan was arrested and sent to prison and then sent to the United Stateson a medical parole. Zhao Changqing served six months in prison. After his release, he was again sent back to prison when he continued to ferment ill will toward the regime. Wuer Kaixi escaped to Taiwan where he is now a political commentator. Chai Ling escaped to France, and from there moved to the US.

“One alone in a Chinese square
confronted tanks, while others fled.
He stood for freedom for us all,
but few care now if he’s jailed or dead.” – James Earl Carter

“There is all the difference in the world between the criminal’s avoiding the public eye and the civil disobedient’s taking the law into his own hands in open defiance. This distinction between an open violation of the law, performed in public, and a clandestine one is so glaringly obvious that it can be neglected only by prejudice or ill will.” – Hannah Arendt

“The individual protests against the world, but he doesn’t get beyond protest, he is just a single protester. When he wants to be more than that, he has to counter power with power, he has to oppose the system with another system.” – Friedrich Dürrenmatt

“Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.” – Václav Havel

Also on this day:
Consumerism’s Helper – In 1937 Sylvan Goldman got creative and boosted sales.
Congratulations – In 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.