What I saw in Tiananmen Square: A University Student Bears Witness

Editor's Note: This article was first published by Wenhui Pao Daily in Hong Kong and carried by several other newspapers in the following days.

I am twenty years old. I am a student from Qinghua University. All last night I sat on the steps underneath the Monument to the People's Heroes and witnessed the brutal suppressions as the army fired on peaceful demonstrators.

Several of my friends are dead from gunfire. My clothes bear the blood they shed. As a survivor, I want to tell the peace-loving people of the world what I saw in Tiananmen Square.

To be honest, we received word yesterday afternoon that they had decided to resort to military force. We got an anonymous tip through a public telephone that the government was going to clear the Square by force very soon. A student leader, one who got the news on the phone, spread the story among us and held an emergency meeting to discuss what we could do to lessen the conflict and avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

At that time, we had twenty-three submachine guns and a few incendiary bombs that we had taken from the army during a conflict two days earlier. In order to reaffirm the original purpose and spirit f the "non-violent push for democracy," the Autonomous Student Union decided at that meeting to return the weapons to the army. We spoke with soldiers under the huge portrait of Chairman Mao at the gate of Tiananmen, but only to be told by an officer that they did not have the authority to accept the weapons.

Seeing that there was no way to give the weapons back and that the situation was getting worse with every passing minute, some students started to break the guns and dismantle the bombs by hand. They emptied the gas from the bombs so that no one could see the to blame the students for slaughtering soldiers. That was about one A.M.

Then the Autonomous Student Union broadcast an announcement urging the students and civilians who were still in the Square to leave, because the situation had become very dangerous. About forty or fifty thousand students and a hundred thousand other protestors refused to move. I was one of them. When I recall what happened last night, it still terrifies me. None of us had had any experience like that before in our entire lives. Anyone who was there and claims not to have been afraid has to be lying. Just the same, most of us were fully prepared and convinced that if we died, we would be dying for democracy in China and for China's future. That feeling of mission inspired us constantly. And there were a few of us, of course, who did not believe the army men would ever fire on us.    

At twelve o'clock, two armored carriers drove from each side of Qianman and charged through the Square toward Changanjie Avenue. While the government loudspeakers broadcast an "Emergency Notice," hundreds of thousands of troops wearing helmets gathered on the perimeter of the Square and moved in a circle toward the center. On the roof of the History Museum, machine guns were glimpsed in the midnight darkness.

Those of us who stayed in the Square gathered under the Monument to the People's Heroes. I made a rough count; among the students, one third were women. Beijing students made up about thirty percent of the total; the majority were students from other parts of China.

At about four o'clock, just before dawn, all the lights on the Square suddenly went out. The order to clear the Square came again from the government loudspeakers. A deep chill went through me. The time had come. The time had come.

Hou Derchien and some of the other hunger strikers had managed to negotiate with the troops and agreed to a peaceful withdrawal of students from the Square, but as soon as the students started to leave - about 4:40 A.M. - red signal flares rose and exploded above us, and at the same time all the lights came back on. We saw then that the soldiers occupied the vast front part of the Square. The next moment, more troops - these were in camouflage uniforms - came running from near the east gate of the Great Hall of the People. They had submachine guns, helmets, and gas masks. At six o'clock on the day before, we had met with some officers of a regiment at the west gate of the Hall and were told by commander that they were only a reinforcement. He promised us there would be no firing on the students. He also told us that the army meeting the students directly would probably be the Sichuan army. So we thought this might be the Sichuan army now, marching into the Square.

The first thing they did after they reached the front of the Monument was set up a dozen submachine guns. The gunners lay on their stomachs, directing their guns at the monument, where we were gathered. Immediately after this, a large group of military personnel and armed policemen broke into our sitting lines; they all carried electric clubs, rubber rods, and some other stuff we had never seen before. They beat us with the clubs and rods until they had cleared a path to the third level of the monument platform. I saw about forty or fifty students with their faces bleeding. Right at that moment, the troops waiting in the armored carriers came out to join the siege. Troop carriers and soldiers on foot moved around us to form a tight circle, leaving an exit near the Museum.

Meanwhile, the troops attacking the monument began to destroy our broadcast equipment, duplicating machines, and even the soft drinks we had saved. Then, using the clubs, they tried to drive us down the platform. None of us moved at first; we sang "The Internationale" and shouted "The People's army does not beat people." But we were finally driven down.

When the students from the third level had moved down to the ground, the submachine guns started firing. Some soldiers shot from a kneeling position, and their bullets flew over our heads. Some shot from a lying position; their bullets hit students in the chest and head. We regrouped and tried to move back up the higher platforms of the Monument. The machine guns ceased firing, but the clubs and rods forced us back to ground level. As soon as we were off the Monument, the guns started to fire again.

At this moment, the "dare-to-die corps" of workers and others ran frantically toward the army with bottles and sticks. A few minutes before five o'clock, the Autonomous Student Union gave the order to leave the Square. We headed to the Museum, where we thought we could escape through the exit we had seen a moment before. But we were wrong. The armored carriers had sealed the opening. About thirty carriers pushed toward the crowd. Some students were knocked down and crushed. Even the flagpole in front of the Monument was toppled. The square was filled with a wild confusion of noise and movement. I have never seen my fellow students act so bravely as last night. Some of them tried to turn the carriers over to make an exit. When they were shot down, others replaced them. We finally turned one carrier over, leaving an opening through which I and the other three thousand students ran. By the time we reached the Museum, there were only one thousand of us.

We joined the crowd at the gate of the museum just as the crowd started to move north, away from the gunfire and toward the Tiananmen Gate. We had moved only a few yards when firing was heard from the trees to the north. We could not see anything but the flashes of guns. We turned and ran south, toward Qianman Gate.

I was crying as I ran. Those at the front of the crowd ran into a rain of bullets. A few yards further on, I found a lot of bodies lying on the ground. We couldn't help crying, running for our lives and crying. Finally we reached the gate but we came face to face with troops marching from the direction of Zhubaoshi. Instead of guns, they were armed with wooden clubs. They began to beat us as hard as they could. A huge crowd of people at Qianman Gate came to our aid, and a fierce riot broke out. With the help of our increased numbers, we broke out of the encirclement and turned toward Beijing Railway Station. The troops were still coming after us. By five o'clock in the morning, the firing in the square had died away. Later, a classmate I saw at the International Red Cross told me that those who were not too severely injured to run had gotten out of the Square before five. The shooting had lasted about thirty minutes.

I will never forget a student of Qinghua University, a native of Jiangsu Province. He was bleeding from several bad wounds, but he was still running with us. Then, probably because he had lost so much blood, he stumbled into my shoulder from behind. "Would you take my arm for a moment??" he said in a faint voice. I was supporting an injured girl on each side, and before I could free my arms to help him, he fell to the ground. He was trampled by the fleeing crowd?.He must be dead now. Look, the blood stains on my shirt are his. Half his body was covered with blood when I last looked at him.

And I will remember always how students ran to rescue the wounded and carried the dead home at the risk of their own lives. Some women students took their shirts off to make bandages for the injured.

After we reached the railway station, three of us went back to the Square. It was six o'clock. The area around Qianman Gate was packed. I followed the crowd, trying to see as much as possible of the Square, but we were stopped near the Mao Tsetung Memorial Hall by walls of soldiers and armored carriers. I climbed a tree. From there I could see soldiers collecting dead bodies, dumping each into a plastic bag, piling them together, and then covering the piles with large canvases.

Back on the ground, I ran into a student I had some classes with. He had gotten out of the Square later than I did. The death toll was enormous, he said, but the soldiers wouldn't allow anyone to help the dying, not even the ambulance crews from the International Red Cross. At the First Aid Center set up by the Red Cross, we learned that the wounded who were lucky enough to be brought there had arrived in tricycle cabs. The doctors told us that an ambulance trying to pick up wounded students was fired on by troops and caught fire. I talked to more students who got out of the Square late. They told me that when they left the place near dawn, a lot of injured students were lying on the ground.

Around 7:20 I went back to the Square again. This time I talked to some older people. They told me that the sidewalks of the Square had been loaded with dead bodies lying side by side. They saw soldiers hanging canvases to try to hide the scene. Later, they said, more carriers came to the Square. The injured were placed in the carriers and taken away.

Around 7:30 A.M. the soldiers in the Square suddenly fired gas at us, and then charged in our direction. I ran to the station again. On the way I passed several groups of students. They were all crying.

The Autonomous Student Union asked us to take the students from other cities to the station and put them on the train. I took some of them, only to be informed by the railroad authority that the railways were all cut. We left the station not knowing where to go. Crowds quickly gathered around us; some people offered to give the students shelter in their homes. Everyone was very sad; some were still weeping. The people of Beijing are a great people. They are very, very special.

How many died? I do not know. But the day will come when the Chinese people find out.

Am I pessimistic? No, I am not. I am not, because the movement has demonstrated the Chinese people's will and their spirit, which are the hope of China. Some of my friends are dead; others are bleeding. I am a fortunate survivor. I know now how to live. I will always remember those who died in the cause of a democratic China. And I am aware now that we are not alone. The good people of the world understand us and support us in our struggle.