Thousands of students gather in front of provincial government building in Harbin, Heilongjiang. Photo credit: Harbin Public Security History Record
In the spring of 1989, protests spread to townships and cities in China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang. Some residents were encouraged to head to Beijing, while others took action closer to home. University students demonstrated in Jiamusi and Daqing on May 18 and 19. In Jiamusi, 5,200 students took the streets and attracted more than 10,000 onlookers. In Daqing, home to China’s largest oilfield, 700 students from Daqing Normal University protested. The unrest appears to have been tame. Even in the wake of the violence in Beijing on June 4, public security in these cities did not report any “beating, smashing, and looting.” Instead they reported scores of reactionary messages and slogans found on college campuses. Similarly, at a checkpoint bordering the Soviet Union in Hegang’s Luobei County, armed police confiscated hundreds of reactionary leaflets, photos, cassettes, Hong Kong newspaper clippings, poems, and speeches from local residents returning from their studies in Beijing.
The protests in the provincial capital of Harbin were larger and presumably more intense. Gaining momentum from the hunger strike in Beijing—said to have been started by 2,000 students demanding direct negotiation with the central government on May 13—a total of 100,000 Harbin residents took to the streets between May 15-19 with 40,000 people (including 80 hunger strikers) demonstrating on May 18 alone, according to government sources. Participation ebbed after martial law was declared in Beijing on May 20, with the number of protesters dropping to an average of 4,600 per day between May 21-28. By the end of the month, three-quarters of schools had resumed classes. The situation took another turn, however, after the killings in Beijing on June 4. Within days, a third of Harbin’s students joined strikes and set up barricades to paralyze traffic under the leadership of the Harbin University Student Federation of the Patriotic Democratic Movement (HUF). “Beating, smashing, and looting” began and continued until around June 17.
Among those detained for the “political turmoil” was Zhang Jianhua (张建华), a HUF leader and assistant professor at Shandong College of Civil Engineering and Architecture. He was detained on July 18, 1989. Eighteen months later, in January 1991, he was exempted from indictment on charges of disturbing social order and gathering a crowd to disturb traffic.
Not all detainees were students. By June 8, 1989, 38 members of the “Citizens’ Support Group,” later renamed the “Patriotic Dare-to-Die Brigade,” had been detained, and six group leaders went on trial that year. According to Heilongjiang Daily, the group comprised people recently released from prison, people who were unemployed, and “hooligans” who were “dissatisfied with the party and government.”
By June 28, the Harbin Public Security Bureau had arrested a total of 11 labor organizers. The municipal government identified the Harbin Workers’ Autonomous Federation (HWAF) as an illegal organization along with HUF and the Citizens’ Support Group in a notice it issued on June 15. Established on June 5, HWAF aimed to collaborate with students to organize workers’ strikes and demonstrations and to resist any military control that might have been imposed in Harbin, according to an unofficial account widely circulated online. Wu Renhua (吴仁华), a historian in exile in the United States, wrote that 1,000 workers from bearings factories and automotive plants joined the demonstrations in Harbin on June 7.
Harbin Local Party Organization Records: click to expand
Chapter Five Putting Down the 1989 Political Turmoil
Harbin Local Party Organization Records
Between the spring and summer of 1989, the political turmoil that occurred in Beijing spread to Harbin. After mid-April, some students at some Harbin universities successively began to receive illegal propaganda mailed from Beijing. Individuals who claimed to be students from Beijing came to some universities to agitate, while posters with content like “Support the Beijing student movement” appeared in other universities, interfering with the normal order of the campuses.
On April 19, the Harbin Municipal Party Committee held a city-wide meeting with responsible people from relevant departments to convey the provincial party committee’s instructions “to pay attention to social trends and be vigilant for a few troublemakers” and “to pay attention to student tendencies and offer timely persuasion and education.” The committee also announced the establishment of the Emergent Incidents Prevention and Management Leading Small Group led by Deputy Municipal Party Secretary Zhang Delin and with Vice Mayor Fan Pengxu as one of the deputy heads. On April 27, the committee held a city-wide meeting with party and government leaders and cadres to convey the speeches by central leaders and the spirit embodied in the April 26 People’s Daily editorial titled “We Must Unequivocally Oppose Unrest.” On April 28, in accordance with the instructions of the provincial party committee, the municipal party committee established a Counter-turmoil Team led by Deputy Municipal Party Secretary Shan Rongfan. On April 30, nearly a thousand students from two universities protested near university campuses. They were dissuaded from doing so and quickly returned to school.
On May 13, some Beijing college students conducted sit-ins, hunger strikes, and petitions. On May 16, the municipal party committee held a city-wide meeting with party and government leaders and cadres to inform and communicate about the situation and to give instructions to “stabilize the situation, be persistent on positive persuasion, and avoid the intensification of conflicts.” The municipal party committee put forth a seven-point requirement for stabilizing the situation. It specifically required that party and government cadres obey a strict political discipline of “no onlooking, no donating, no supporting, and no participating.” The municipal party committee also required leaders and cadres at all levels to have a good grasp on stabilizing the situation and on [maintaining] production, work, and daily life. On the same day, the municipal party committee and municipal government held a meeting with cadres at the three levels of city, district, and street (township) requesting each district and street (township) to strengthen social control to prevent bad people from seizing the opportunity to reoffend. On May 18, nearly 40,000 people took the streets of Harbin, and more than 80 students gathered at the provincial government office and announced a hunger strike (later [the number of hunger strikers] gradually increased to nearly 200). Some students gave speeches on major streets in the city center, fundraised, and hung posters with information on the Beijing student movement. On May 19, nearly a thousand students charged the Harbin Railway Station, ready to forcefully board trains to Beijing to provide support.
After some students began to hunger strike, the municipal party committee and municipal government instructed the municipal health bureau director-general to take full responsibility for rescue work and required emergency centers to send 20 ambulances to ensure the safety and lives of the students. The No. 1 Provincial Hospital and the No. 2 Hospital of Harbin Medical University each provided 50 beds; doctors at every major hospital adjusted their shifts to prepare for any emergencies. On the same day, the municipal party committee met separately with party and government leaders and cadres from different branches, requiring them to righteously educate and counsel the branch offices, employees, teachers, and students to make every effort to control the development of events and to maintain the order of production, work, studies, and daily life with a firm focus on production and work. The municipal party committee also required public transport and business service departments to ensure normal operations and to ensure the normal supply of grain, oil, and other necessities. The education department was required to instruct primary and secondary students not to join the protests, not to engage in activities to support the movement, and to maintain the normal order of teaching. News and propaganda departments were asked to follow party principles and have a good grasp of propaganda directions. Public security departments were asked to concentrate on fighting itinerant criminals to ensure social security.
At 6pm on May 20, the day that martial law was declared in parts of Beijing, representatives of the “Students Autonomous Council,” who hailed from 12 Harbin universities, held a meeting and established an illegal organization called the “Harbin University Student Federation of the Patriotic Democratic Movement” (referred to below as “HUF”). They decided to carry out a city-wide university protest against martial law on May 21. At the same time, they decided to go to factories and enterprises to establish ties, to go to the city center to give speeches, to distribute propaganda, and to engage in a so-called “rouse up the people” campaign to gain sympathy and support from society. From May 21‒28, a total of 37,000 Harbin university students marched to the offices of the provincial party committee, provincial government, provincial people’s congress standing committee, and local garrison liaison office to petition, conduct a sit-in, and submit a Protest Memorandum and a Petition Letter. Student demonstrators and bystanders caused traffic jams on some roads. Some students also illegally set up “radio stations” to broadcast recordings of rumors and posted slogans and posters everywhere. On May 24, one university organized a “Dare-to-Die Brigade to Beijing” of 250 people to forcibly board train No. 138 bound for Beijing, causing a seven-hour train delay.
Starting on May 20, the municipal party committee organized all party members, cadres, and masses in the city to diligently study the important speeches made by Li Peng and Yang Shangkun on May 19, and declared that the central government’s spirit be used to unify ideology and direct action. On May 21, the municipal public security bureau caught nine criminals who were disturbing social order in the square in front of the provincial government’s office, [thus] deterring bad people. On May 22, the municipal government issued the Notice to City Residents expressing its hope that all students would “no longer demonstrate, strike, or petition” and would “resume normal campus order”; that all cadres and workers would “obey discipline, remain at their posts, work hard, work efficiently, and maintain the normal order of production and daily life”; that all city residents would “not believe or spread rumors or put up any banners or posters”; and that all police officers would “maintain the flow of traffic and social order” and “relentlessly strike against all illegal criminal activities.” On May 23, the municipal party committee held a city-wide meeting with leading party cadres to convey the instructions of the provincial party committee and to require leading cadres at all levels to handle affairs in accordance with the law, widely publicize the law, refuse to allow students to give speeches and to establish ties at factories and shops, take effective measures, and restore order as soon as possible. On the same day, leading members of the municipal party committee, municipal people’s congress standing committee, municipal government, municipal Chinese people’s political consultative conference, and municipal commission for discipline inspection were divided into eight groups to conduct thorough investigations of 29 major enterprises to assist in stability work.
On June 4, more than 8,000 students organized and commanded by HUF marched in protest on the streets of Harbin. On June 5, more than 8,000 students set up 132 roadblocks at 83 major junctions around the city. They used public electric buses to block traffic and caused blockages among 26 bus routes. Some students went downtown and incited labor strikes at the entrances of 15 large and medium-sized enterprises. Meanwhile, some criminals took the opportunity to set up illegal organizations, like the “Citizens’ Support Group” (later called the “Patriotic Dare-to-Die Brigade”) and “Harbin Workers’ Autonomous Council,” and commit other illegal activities like beating, smashing, and looting. Around the city, this caused 9.6 million people to be unable to go to work and nearly 100,000 factory workers to be unable to get to the factory on time, reducing the city’s output value by 60 million yuan and affecting nearly 10 million yuan in profit tax. Tensions surrounded the production and supply of grain, oil, vegetables, and other staple foods. By June 8, 20,000 students across the city (accounting for 36.7% of the total number of students) walked out of schools due to HUF’s incitement. In order to calm the turmoil, the municipal party committee conscientiously implemented the Party Central Committee and the State Council’s “Notice to All Communist Party Members and People across the Nation.” On June 6, the municipal party committee held a city-wide meeting with party and government leaders and cadres to inform and communicate about the situation. It required all factories and enterprises to unequivocally publicize the law and defend the labor rights of workers. After the situation had calmed down, the municipal party committee again called on all city residents to “quickly restore the normal order of production, to regain lost time and wealth, to effectively boost supply, and to take concrete actions to maintain overall peace and unity.” From June 7‒9, 200 vehicle trips and more than 5,000 people were sent to cleanup traffic barriers, to restore public transportation operations, and to remove all the posters on the streets. In accordance with the municipal party committee’s directive to “grasp trends, strike momentum, and prevent a situation,” public security organs first struck against and captured key members of some armed, illegal organizations that incited disturbances. On June 16, the municipal government issued the Notice on Banning Illegal Organizations and demanded that the leaders and key members of illegal organizations and people who committed illegal criminal acts register or surrender themselves to public security organs by June 23. Starting June 17, the key members of the illegal organizations successively registered with the public security organs. Thus, the political turmoil in Harbin was completely put down.
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