1 Million Chinese Join in Demand for Democracy

By Daniel Southerland
Thursday, May 18, 1989; 12:00 AM

BEIJING -- More than 1 million Chinese flooded the streets of the capital Wednesday in support of a student call for democracy -- the biggest display of popular defiance in the 40-year history of Communist China.

The peaceful, popular uprising, one of the most extraordinary events to be witnessed in any communist country, forced visiting Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to alter his schedule drastically, and it constituted a major embarrassment to his Chinese hosts.

The demonstrations brought normal life in the capital to a virtual halt.

For much of the day, authorities lost control of several square miles in the center of the capital, where Chinese from all walks of life marched festively and chanted for democratic reforms and the removal of top Chinese leaders.

Demonstrations in support of the Beijing protesters were reported in 21 provincial capitals, said Beijing Radio. A major demonstration occurred in China's largest city, Shanghai, where Gorbachev is to visit today.

Beijing's most famous comedian, schoolchildren, bankers, Foreign Ministry staff members, railroad and crane factory workers, and even a few soldiers were in the streets today. Not in four decades have the citizens of this usually gray and subdued city of 10 million people expressed themselves so freely.

Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, Premier Li Peng and two other top leaders visited students who had been on hunger strike in two local hospitals early today.

According to the official New China News Agency, Zhao made conciliatory remarks to the students, saying that the party, the government and the students have common goals and no conflicting interests.

The four party leaders reaffirmed the "patriotic spirit" of the students and said their enthusiasm for democracy was "highly commendable," said the agency.

The encounter also was televised, however, and included the statement of one student that the people had lost confidence in the Communist Party. The 22-year-old said that to win it back, party leaders "must punish your own children" -- a reference to widespread allegations that sons and daughters of the leaders have benefited financially from their fathers' postiions.

Politburo member Hu Quili agreed.

The demonstrations have caused a near paralysis of the Chinese government and police, with many protesters calling for the resignation of top leader Deng Xiaoping, 84. Deng, who launched major economic changes a decade ago and was once viewed as a liberal, is now being accused by students of opposing political liberalization and blamed by workers for China's more than 30 percent inflation rate.

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© 1989 The Washington Post Company