The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, commonly known in mainland China as the June Fourth Incident (Chinese: 六四事件; pinyin: liùsì shìjiàn), were student-led demonstrations in Beijing (the capital of the People’s Republic of China) in 1989. More broadly, it refers to the popular national movement inspired by the Beijing protests during that period, sometimes called the ’89 Democracy Movement (Chinese: 八九民运; pinyin: bājiǔ mínyùn). The protests were forcibly suppressed after Chinese PremierLi Peng declared martial law. In what became known in the West as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the demonstrators trying to block the military’s advance towards Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths was internally estimated by the Chinese government to be near or above 10,000.
Dissidents included student leaders, intellectuals and other citizens.
On 13 June 1989, the Beijing Public Security Bureau released an order for the arrest of 21 students who they identified as leaders of the protest. These 21 most wanted student leaders were part of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation which had been an instrumental student organization in the Tiananmen Square protests. Prominent leaders such as Wang Dan, Wu’er Kaixi and Chai Ling topped the list. Immediately after the release of the list, only 7 out of the 21 Most Wanted escaped China, with assistance from the Hong-Kong based organization Operation Yellowbird. Though decades have passed, the Most Wanted list has never been retracted by the Chinese government.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau issued the 21 Most Wanted list with the following description:
The illegal organization “Beijing Students Autonomous Federation” instigated and organized the counter-revolutionary rebellion in Beijing. It is now decided to pursue 21 of its head and key members, including Wang Dan. After receiving this order, please immediately arrange investigation work. If found, immediate arrest the targets and inform the Beijing Public Security Bureau.
Photographs with biographical descriptions of the 21 Most Wanted followed in this order on the poster:
The 21 most wanted student leaders faces and descriptions were broadcast on television as well and were constantly looped. Arrests were also broadcast, such as that of Most Wanted No. 21 Xiong Yan.
Not all of the 21 most wanted are as well known as Chai Ling or Wang Dan. Others such Zhang Zhiqing have essentially disappeared. After his initial arrest in January 1991 and subsequent release, nothing further is known about his situation and where he lives now. Zhang Zhiqing’s role and reason for being listed on the list of 21 most wanted is generally unknown; this is the case for many others on the list such Wang Chaohua. Other dissidents that are not as well known to the public include Zhou Fengsuo and Wang Zhengyun. Zhou Fengsuo was a physics student at Tsinghua University and a member of the Standing Committee of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation during the protests. Fengsuo was turned in by his sister and arrested on June 13, 1989, in Xi’an. He was imprisoned for one year before being released in 1990 due to international pressures, along with 97 other political prisoners. Leaving China for the United States, he attended the University of Chicago. Steady in his activist roots he co-founded Humanitarian China, an organization that promotes rule of law in China and also raises money for Chinese political prisoners. Wang Zhengyun was a student of the Central University for Nationalities and was the only member of the Kucon ethnicity minority group to be studying at a university. Zhengyun was arrested in July 1989 and released two years later. He was sent back to his village in the Yunnan countryside. In December 1998, Wang was one of 19 dissidents, including Zhai Weimin, who staged a hunger strike to protest the oppression of CDP members and other dissidents.
Ma Shaofang and Yang Tao are another pair of dissidents that lack public attention despite their constant activist efforts. Ma Shaofang was a student of the Beijing Film Academy during the protests and turned himself in on 13 June 1989. In October 1990 he was sentenced to three years in prison for counterrevolutionary incitement. In May 1994, he participated with Wang Dan and other dissidents in a petition to the National People’s Congress calling for a reassessment of 4 June. He has had issues in attempting to open a business and has had a series of short lived jobs ever since and is living in Shenzhen. Yang Tao, who was at one time the head of Beijing University’s Autonomous Student Federation, remains in China today. He was initially charged as being an instigator of the counterrevolutionary rebellion and imprisoned for one year on 16 June 1989. In 1998, he wrote an open letter asking for the release of Wang Youcai. His continued efforts landed him in prison in 1999 after lobbying for the government to reverse the labeling of the protest as a “counterrevolutionary rebellion”. He was originally arrested on charges of “incitement to overthrow state political power.” However, he was indicted on amended charges of tax evasion on 23 December due to lack of evidence and on 5 January 2003 was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released in May 2003. Yang too has had trouble earning a living.