On the evening of the 3rd June 1989, the People’s Liberation Army began firing on protesters taking part in the student-led Tiananmen Square protests.
Having begun after the death of a deposed liberal reformer within the ruling Communist Party in April that year, the Tiananmen Square protesters called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the restoration of workers’ control over industry. Having initially consisted mainly of university students, the protests soon gained support from the wider population and spread to over 400 cities nationwide. By the end of May, and with no end to the protests in sight, the politburo began to consider approving the use of force to disperse the protesters. The final authorisation was given at a meeting of the politburo at 4.30pm on the 3rd June.
When the army began to advance on Tiananmen Square later that evening, thousands of civilians filled the streets to build barricades despite warnings from state-controlled television to stay inside. At around 10pm, while still approximately 10km from Tiananmen Square itself, the army first used live ammunition on the crowds.
The army continued its advance towards the square throughout the night, arriving shortly after midnight. Although some students hurled projectiles at the soldiers, the vast majority maintained a peaceful protest. However, the army continued its advance and eventually forced the students to retreat from the square. Official figures reported 241 deaths, but unofficial estimates – including one by the US Ambassador at the time – place the figure at more than twice that.