China 1989

International Operation Name: not applicable

International Operation Dates: not applicable

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name: Asia

Location:  China

Canadian Operation Name: (China 1989)

Canadian Operation Dates: 1989/06/01 – 1989/06/30

Mission Mandate:

To stand-by until ordered to evacuate Canadians from China

Mission Notes: 

Starting on 15 April 1989, demonstrations in support of greater freedom began in China. Led by intellectuals, labour activists and students, these demonstrations were centred on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but also occurred in other large cities such as Shanghai. Beginning in 1978, Deng Xiaoping had instituted a series of economic and political reforms that moved China to a market economy. Secretary General Hu Yaobang had been forced to resign on 16 January 1987 after his calls for more rapid reforms and other statements had been found unacceptable by the Chinese Communist Party (CPC). When he died of a heart attack on 15 April 1989, student activists saw this as the opportunity not only to mourn his passing but also to renew attention to the pro-democracy protests of 1986-87.

The first gatherings in Tiananmen Square on 15 April were expressions of mourning; however, by 17 April large student crowds moved into the square and began drafting petitions with actions they wished the government to implement. By 21 April over 100,000 students marched on Tiananmen Square. Upset by what they believed was biased media reporting, the students began demanding freedom of the press and an end to or reform of the CPC’s rule of China. Throughout May 1989, the protests grew but were peaceful.

For the Chinese Government the protests presented a dilemma. The popular protests of 1976 that had led to the ousting of the “Gang of Four” had received Government affirmation. Now a similar protest was underway. The CPC was also divided. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang favoured a softer approach to resolving the demonstrations while Premier Li Peng argued for a harder response. On 19 May Zhao spoke directly to the students at the Square; however, his appeal had little success and this was his last public appearance before being placed under house arrest. On 20 May the Government declared martial law. The 27th and 28th Armies were brought in from outside Beijing as the local army units were considered to be sympathetic to the protest. At 10:30 PM, 3 June the army began its assault on Tiananmen Square. By 5:40 AM the next morning, the Square was cleared. Perhaps the most memorable photograph of the events was that of an unknown protester standing alone in front of the tanks on 5 June. Who the man was and what became of him remain unknown. The number of casualties incurred during the assault on Tiananmen Square is also unknown. The Chinese Government has indicated 241 dead while the Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 and Amnesty International 1,000.

In case it became necessary to evacuate Canadians from China, 437 Squadron was tasked to pre-position one Boeing. This aircraft was sent to Hong Kong with two aircrews. As the evacuation did not become necessary, the aircraft returned although the exact dates of the flights to and from Hong Kong are not known.


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