Remembering a Massacre That China Keeps Trying to Erase

June 7, 2023

Nicholas Kristof

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist


“In all my decades of reporting, one of my most searing experiences came in 1989 in Beijing when I watched the Chinese People’s Liberation Army unleash weapons of war on throngs of unarmed pro-democracy protesters.

So I was appalled on the 34th anniversary of that citywide massacre a few days ago when apologists for the Chinese government insisted that it had never happened. Even worse, I discovered that one of the eyewitnesses they cited to buttress their denial was me.

All this reflects the Chinese government’s effort to rewrite history, so it seems useful to push back and say what I actually saw that terrible night of June 3-4, 1989.

The Chinese democracy movement had been underway for seven weeks, attracting vast support for the students occupying Tiananmen Square, when the government sent an estimated 200,000 or more soldiers to invade the capital from several directions on the night of June 3.

I was on Tiananmen Square as the troops arrived and opened fire on the crowd that I was in. I watched for hours, from whatever cover I could find, as the People’s Republic of China butchered the people.

Defenders of the government say that protesters were violent. That’s partly true: The democracy movement had been peaceful, but that night, enraged civilians hurled bricks and stones at troops and lynched a small number who became separated. I also saw two armored personnel carriers that had been set alight with Molotov cocktails.”