Tiananmen Incident

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Tiananmen Incident
Literal meaning5 April Tian'anmen Incident

The Tiananmen Incident took place on 5 April 1976, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. The incident occurred on the traditional day of mourning, the Qingming Festival, after the Nanjing Incident, and was triggered by the death of Premier Zhou Enlai earlier that year. Some people strongly disapproved of the removal of the displays of mourning, and began gathering in the Square to protest against the central authorities, then largely under the auspices of the Gang of Four, who ordered the Square to be cleared.

The event was labeled as counterrevolutionary immediately after its occurrence by the Communist Party's Central Committee and served as a gateway to the dismissal and house arrest of then–Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, who was accused of planning the event, while he insisted that he came to Tiananmen Square only for a haircut. The Central Committee's decision on the event was reversed after the Cultural Revolution ended, as it would later be officially hailed as a display of patriotism.


The death of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, a widely respected senior Chinese leader, on 8 January 1976, prompted the protest. For several years before his death, Zhou was involved in a political power struggle with other senior leaders in the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.[citation needed]

Zhou's most visible and powerful antagonists were the four senior members who came to be called the Gang of Four.[citation needed] The leader of the clique, Jiang Qing, was married to Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong. To defuse an expected popular outpouring of sentiment at Zhou's death, the Communist Party of China limited the period of public mourning.

Incident, government response, and political developments[edit]

At its peak between April 4 and April 5, the crowd of mourners and protesters at Beijing may have reached over two million, an estimate provided by government officials subsequent to the controversy. Thousands of poems and limericks were written and distributed. Some were bluntly critical of the political influence of the Gang of Four; these included references to "the white witch" and "the new Cixi". Others expressed approval of current premier Deng Xiaoping, who was beginning to be subject to public criticism by the Gang of Four (who expected a power struggle against Deng after Mao's death).

On the night of April 4th, the Central Committee held a meeting to discuss the event. Party elders such as Hua Guofeng and Wu De, who were not close allies of the Gang of Four, nonetheless expressed criticism at the protesters and some of their slogans. Meanwhile, the Gang of Four seemed to have been alarmed by the personal attacks at the event, and began to use their controlled newspapers to accuse Deng Xiaoping of encouraging and controlling the protesters. They consulted with the sickly Mao Zedong, claiming these people to be "capitalist roaders" who were hitting back at the Proletarian Revolution.

Government action began on the morning of April 5, when PLA-controlled trucks began removing articles of mourning from Tiananmen. Minor injuries were reported. On the night of April 5, the Central Committee made the decision to forcefully clear Tiananmen. Security forces under the PLA's Beijing detachment (which was under CPC control), together with urban militia under the control of the Gang of Four and their radical allies, went into the Square to forcefully clear the area. The militia were reported to have been carrying wooden clubs and leather belts. Approximately 40 arrests occurred. By the morning of April 6, all articles of mourning had been removed.

On April 6, party newspaper People's Daily published an article linking the event to Deng Xiaoping, then carrying out the daily duties of the Premier. On the night of April 6, the Central Committee passed a resolution to place Deng under house arrest in Beijing, with his political duties replaced by Hua Guofeng. Deng's ally in the military, Ye Jianying, was also placed under house arrest in Guangzhou. Although the sickly Mao agreed to the demands of the Gang of Four to remove the political duties of Deng and his allies, he let it be known to his security chief Wang Dongxing that he did not wish for the deposed to be personally harmed.

After Mao's death, Hua and Wang played an important role in arresting the Gang of Four in October 1976. They subsequently expressed their opinion that the Tiananmen Incident was not a counter-revolutionary activity. Along with other party elders, they rehabilitated Deng and brought him back to Beijing. Nonetheless, Deng and his reformist allies subsequently became involved in a power struggle against Hua and Wang, who were more traditionally minded Maoists. Deng emerged as China's Paramount Leader in 1978.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Wong, J. (1995). Red China Blues. New York. Doubleday/Anchor Books. 406 pages. Pages 165–171. ISBN 0-385-47679-5
  • Cheng, Nien, (1996). Life and Death in Shanghai. New York. Penguin Books. 543 pages. Pages 470–471. ISBN 0-14-010870-X
  • Teiwes, Frederick C. and Warren Sun, "The First Tiananmen Incident Revisited: Elite Politics and Crisis Management at the End of the Maoist Era," Pacific Affairs Vol:77 Issue:2 (2004) pp. 211–235.
  • Cheater, A. P., "Death ritual as political trickster in the People’s Republic of China," The China Journal Vol:26 (1991) pp. 67–97.

External links[edit]