1989 Democracy Movement

  • protests were triggered by the death of Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer who was deposed after losing a power struggle with hardliners over the direction of political and economic reforms
  • Student-led demonstrations on Tiananmen Square
  • Goals: “A communist party without corruption”; freedom of the press; freedom of speech; economic reforms
  • Methods: hunger strike sit-in, occupation of public square
  • Party officials declared martial law on May 20
  • on June 4 the People’s Liberation Army entered the square and squashed the protests with live bullets, killing hundreds (if not thousands) of protesters

Key Legal Issues

  • on May 19, 1989, Chen Ziming convened a meeting where a “counterrevolutionary leaflet” was written which stated that “military rule is about to be enforced” and “incited the masses” to “begin a nationwide work strike, class boycott, and market boycott.”
  • In mid-May, Chen Ziming sent others to print several hundred copies of the leaflet which called China’s socialist system “politically, judicially, and journalistically dark” and “vilified” the Chinese Communist Party.
  • At the end of May and beginning of June, Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao “secretly conspired to set up places where they could go into hiding.”


  • In late 1989, Chinese authorities arrested Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao, the two men they called the “black hands” of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
  • On November 24, 1990, Wang was formally charged with intent to overthrow the Communist government and dissemination of counterrevolutionary propaganda. Chen was similarly charged on November 26, 1990.
  • At his trial, Chen Ziming rejected the charges against him as “unfair and incorrect.”
  • On February 12, 1991, both Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao were sentenced to 13 years in prison.
  • The Xinhua News Agency stated that the two “committed very serious crimes but have so far shown no willingness to repent.”