Tiananmen Square, 20 years later

A look back at the pro-democracy movement that was violently crushed by the Chinese government

The lead-up to the Chinese government's bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown began with impromptu student demonstrations, that gained steam as Beijing mourned the death of former Chinese Communist Party leader and liberal reformer Hu Yaobang on April 22, 1989. Here a crowd on Tiananmen Square call for greater freedoms and condemn rampant inflation and corruption. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters were later killed by China's military on June 3-4, 1989 as communist leaders ordered an end to six weeks of unprecedented democracy protests.

Catherine Henriette / FILES AFP

Wang Dan, center, a leading Chinese dissident during 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and member of the Beijing University students delegation, addresses foreign correspondents in Beijing on May 1, 1989.

Catherine Henriette / FILES AFP

Thousands of students from several Beijing universities march toward Tiananmen Square in the center of the Chinese capital on May 4, 1989.

Sadayuki Mikami / AP

Demonstrating students surround policemen near Tiananmen Square on the afternoon of May 4, 1989.

Sadayuki Mikami / AP

Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang speaks with fasting university students in Tiananmen Square on May 19, 1989, urging them to call off their hunger strike, which was in its sixth day. Zhao was stripped of all government positions as a result of his conciliatory stance toward the protesters. He was placed under house arrest until his death in January 2005.

Anonymous / XINHUA

Students rest amid the debris on Tiananmen Square on May 28, 1989, as their strike for government reform entered its third week.

Jeff Widener / AP

Students and residents of Beijing gather in Tiananmen Square around a replica of New York's Statue of Liberty on May 30, 1989. The replica, which was called the Goddess of Democracy, was created by students from an art institute to support the pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government.

Toshio Sakai / FILES AFP

A dissident student yells for soldiers to go back home as crowds flood into central Beijing on June 3, 1989.

Catherine Henriette / FILES AFP

A young woman is caught between civilians and Chinese soldiers, who were trying to remove her from an assembly near the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 3, 1989.

Jeff Widener / AP

An armored personnel carrier is set on fire by protesters on June 4, 1989, near Tiananmen Square.

Tommy Cheng / FILES AFP

Civilians climb on a military vehicle near Chang'an Ave. which runs past Tiananmen Square in Beijing, early June 4, 1989. Violence escalated between pro-democracy protesters and Chinese troops, leaving hundreds dead overnight.

Jeff Widener / AP

Beijing citizens gather around the body of a man who died when an armored personnel carrier on its way to Tiananmen Square crashed through a troop convoy that had been stopped by protesters, June 4, 1989.

Mark Avery / AP

Dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Anonymous / AP

A solitary young man facing down a column of People's Liberation Army tanks on June 5, 1989 would become the iconic image of the Tiananmen tragedy to the outside world. The man, calling for an end to the violence against pro-democracy demonstrators, was pulled away by bystanders, and the tanks continued on their way. The Chinese government crushed the student-led demonstration for democratic reform.

Jeff Widener / AP

A Chinese couple on a bicycle take cover at an underpass as tanks deploy overhead in eastern Beijing on June 5, 1989.

Liu Heung Shing / AP

Chinese troops march along a major Beijing street firing to clear the street of citizens on June 5, 1989.


People's Liberation Army tanks and soldiers guard the strategic Chang'an Avenue leading to Tiananmen Square on June 6, 1989, two days after the blooody crackdown on pro-democracy students. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters were killed by China's military.

Manuel Ceneta / AFP FILES

Chinese troops keep a sharp eye out as their truck makes a momentary stop on a Beijing street on June 7, 1989.

Terril Jones / AP

Zhang Xianling, a member of the informal Tiananmen Mothers group, holds a portrait of her son Wang Nan at her Beijing home on May 31, 2009. Zhang says her son, then 19, headed out to Tiananmen Square around 11 p.m. on June 3, 1989, and was killed when troops entered the square to crush the student-led democracy protests. Zhang says she was only able to locate her son's body 10 days later.

Diego Azubel / EPA

A paramilitary soldier stands guard in Tiananmen Square on March 24, 2009, two decades after the violent anti-democracy crackdown.

Elizabeth Dalziel / AP

Tens of thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria park Thursday, June 4, 2009, to mark the 20th anniversary of the June 4th military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing.

Vincent Yu / AP

Xiong Yan, one of the 21 most-wanted Tiananmen Square protesters holds a candle as he takes part in the candle light vigil to mark the 20th anniversary of the Beijing June 4th 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in Hong Kong, China, 04 June 2009. Hong Kong is the only place in China where an event to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre can be held legally. Fearful of social unrest, the authorities in Beijing closed of the square to foreign journalists, and clamped down on social networking and photo-sharing websites such as Twitter and Flickr.

Ym Yik / EPA

A plain cloth policemen, left, tries to stop a journalist from taking pictures while policemen check the passport of a tv cameraman outside Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, early on Thursday. As June 4 marks the 20-year-anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown authorities have raised the security level in that area to a maximum and denied access for western journalists.

Oliver Weiken / EPA

A policemen (behind a curtain) checks a passport at the entrance of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, early 04 June 2009. As June 04 marks the 20-year-anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown authorities have raised the security level in that area to a maximum and denied access for western journalists.

Oliver Weiken / EPA