Around 5 AM on May 19th, 1989, in the midst of the Tiananmen Square protests, Zhao Ziyang, the General Secretary of China at the time, gave a speech appealing to students on ending their hunger strike and keeping dialogue open between students and the government.
He was the only senior official in the government to visit students during the protests, and spoke to the protestors as if they were his own children, sympathetic to their demands but also concerned about their health and well-being. Because of these actions and his more progressive stance on the future of the Chinese government and the economy, he was purged immediately afterward, stripped of his position, and lived under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Now I don’t know too much about his life or his accomplishments/beliefs, but I could sense the sincerity in his speech and his deep care for the students’ well being, and it was a very touching gesture. Even though he and the students didn’t see eye to eye, the fact that he reached out to them won him deep respect among the students. Zhao also cast the only dissenting vote when the government called for martial law to crackdown on the protestors. Transcript of the speech is below, as well as the video if you’re interested in watching.
Students, we came too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary. The reason that I came here is not to ask for your forgiveness. What I want to say is that you are all getting weak, it has been seven days since you went on a hunger strike, you can’t continue like this. As time goes on, your body will be damaged beyond repair, it could be very life-threatening. Now the most important thing is to end this strike. I know, your hunger strike is to hope that the Party and the government will give you a satisfying answer. I feel that our communication is open. Some of these problems can only be solved through certain procedures. For example, you have mentioned about the nature of the incident, the question of responsibility; I feel that those problems can be resolved eventually, we can reach a mutual agreement in the end. However, you should also know that the situation is very complicated, it is going to be a long process. You can’t continue the hunger strike longer than seven days, and still insist on receiving a satisfying answer before ending the hunger strike.
You are still young, there are still many days yet to come, you must live healthy, and see the day when China accomplishes the four modernizations. You are not like us, we are already old, it doesn’t matter to us anymore. It is not easy for this nation and your parents to support your college studies. Now you are all about 20, and about to sacrifice your lives so easily, students, couldn’t you think rationally? Now the situation is very serious, you all know, the Party and the nation is very antsy, our society is very worried. Besides, Beijing is the capital, the situation is getting worse and worse everywhere, this cannot continue. Students, you all have good will, and are for the good of our nation, but if this situation continues, loses control, it will have serious consequences elsewhere.
In conclusion, I have only one wish. If you stop hunger strike, the government won’t close the door for dialogue, never! The questions that you have raised, we can continue to discuss. Although it is a little slow, but we are reaching some agreement on some problems. Today I just want to see the students, and express our feelings. I hope students could think about these issues calmly. This thing can not be sorted out clearly under illogical situations. You all have that strength, you are young after all. We were also young before, we protested, laid our bodies on the rail tracks, we never thought about what will happen in the future at that time. Finally, I beg the students once again, think about the future calmly. There are many things that can be solved. I hope that you will all end the hunger strike soon, thank you.
Read about the Tiananmen Square protests here.
June 4, 1989 at randomtidbitsofthought.wordpress.com.