Tiananmen Square protests of 1989


T-shirt worn by one of the studentsThe Chinese people's movement started as a demonstration by Beijing University students in April 1989, and in seven weeks grew into a massive protest that impressed and shook the world. Fortunately, right from the beginning, many people in China realized the significance of the events. Thanks to those people, who for obvious reasons have to remain anonymous, the prolific production of all kinds of documents by the activists was monitored. As a result, the movement is probably one of the best documented. A sinologist from Leiden University, Frank Pieke, was living in Beijing at the time, on an anthropological research mission. He and his colleagues started collecting documents, taking photographs, and contacting Chinese participants at once. In May, the Russian president Gorbachev paid an official visit to China, and Western journalists flocked to Beijing to cover the event. They were able to present eyewitness reports of the peoples' movement and at the same time act as an unofficial repository for documents. All these documents and pictures gathered by Chinese demonstrators, by Frank Pieke, his colleagues, and journalists now form the "Chinese People's Movement" collection, which is kept at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.
The spring events in Beijing have solidified in a single picture that shows the attempt of one man to halt a tank. This image symbolizes the destruction of the movement in June. To remind people of its surprising start and unexpectedly powerful unfolding, a short chronicle of events based on documents from the Chinese People's Movement collection is presented below.

The collection comprises about 1000 items and contains materials of various types: pamphlets, wall posters, unofficial publications, textiles (banners, T-shirts, head bands), photographs, slides, video and audio recordings, diaries of people who witnessed the movement, and clippings from both the Chinese and Western press. To protect the integrity of the participants, the audiovisual items in this collection have not been digitized and thus are not available online (except for the photos presented in the Chronicle). The collection has been described in minute detail and can be searched through categorical inventories:
• Volume I. Documents (pamphlets, wall posters, etc.) (pdf, 1.1 Mb), (also available as IDC Microform publication)
• Volume II. Audiovisual Materials, objects and newspapers (pdf, 1.5 Mb)
• Volume III. Further documents
• List of the accrual of the collection of the Chinese People's Movement, Spring 1989; 1974-1993 (pdf, 354 Kb).

Text and composition Margreet Schrevel, with the kind aid of Frank Pieke