Beijing, May 20 1989
STUDENT CONTROL SQUARE WITH DISCIPLINE, SWAGGER
BEIJING-Among the hunger strikers lying on quilts under a makeshift tarpaulin tent Friday, Luo
Fanfan was preparing himself mentally to turn into a human torch so democracy could come to
His sacrifice and that of 11. other would-be student martyrs was announced over loudspeakÂ¬ers
across vast Tiananmen Square, the sacrosanct stage of communist spectacles that has come to
resemble a ramshackle refugee camp.
But the self-immolation was canceled
"Now that the workers have joined in, we decided that we can achieve our objectives withÂ¬out
turning some of our comÂ¬rades into torches," explained Yang, a student sentry on duty in the
roped-off area around the "martyr volunteers."
Luo's head was cradled by a young nurse. A medical student felt his pulse. Every now and then a
youth in a white coat sprinkled water over his face.
"Thank you for your support," Luo, 25, stammered. He made the V-for-victory sign that has become
the salute of China's students over the last week in their quest to shake up and revamp Communist
Party leaderÂ¬ship, which later Friday announced a new hard line against the protests.
The young nurse gently pushed Luo's head down. "Don't excite him," she said. The stench of rotting
garbage, urine and unwashed people permeated the air.
Around Luo lay the debris of a week of student rallies that gained popular suport in a country where
the have-nots, left behind in the race for material wealth, have vented their anger at China's newly
affluent class in power.
Just a mile down the road at the new luxury Palace Hotel, managers were hurriedly storing two Rolls
Royces and a fleet of Mercedes cars, all for hire, in the hotel cellar.
"No use giving them the wrong impression," mumbled a doorman.
At the heart of all this tension was Tiananmen Square.
Tens of thousands of students have lived, eaten and drunk in the plaza, bedded down on
newspapers or quilts, over the last week. Some have sprawled in the open under umbrellas while
others have found refuge under the tents and huts that held supplies.
The smell is abominable. GarÂ¬bage has piled up faster than volunteer student squads can sweep it
away. People have used buckets for their daily needs or battled their way through the surging
crowds to a public toilet a quarter-mile away. Entry has been by student identifiÂ¬cation card only.
Guards scrutinize passes with the authoritative air of police.
Human chains have kept a path open for ambulances ferrying the hunger strikers to hospitals and
the supply trucks feeding the hard core of the movement in the heart of the square.
Despite this chaos, there is a chilling atmosphere of discipline and hierarchy.
Ordinary students can pass the first cordon. The second cordonedoff area is reserved for
permanent supporters camping in the square. The third, roped off and guarded shoulder to
shoulder, encloses the tents of the medical corps and the 90 public buses moved into Tiananamen
to house the hunger strikers.
There is a fourth sector, high up on the platform surrounding the central obelisk, the monument to of
the heroes of China. Up there, guarded by toughs and inaccessible a to anyone, the student
leadership is ne ensconced.
"This is our politburo, nobody he goes up there unless they are invixi- ted," said Shenshen, a young
medical student on guard duty with eight others at the gate of the third fed sector.
The gate is made from bamboo poles. Shenshen is more conscientious than the security police.
She checks ID cards against photos. She even reads the small print and holds all passes up against
the sun to see if they are forged.
"China belongs to the people and we are the people," said Chou, a hard-eyed young man with a
megaphone slung around his shoulder. "The army will not move against us because they are also
"This movement is creating a new era," he added. A group of students around him nodded.
At night, when the huge crowds go home, the square becomes eerie. The space reserved for the
hunger strikers almost empties. Most have been taken to hospitals overnight.
Student sentries drive through the sleeping crowds in cars and on motorbikes, right up to the
obelisk, their headquarters.
In the morning most of the strikers return. Some, so medical staff admit, have been in the hospital as
many as 13 times.
At one point last week, five students in a commandeered car drove up to the luxury Great Wall
Sheraton hotel. Their leader, wearing the obligatory red headband, gave gawking guests a casual
victory sign and then told the nervous doorman he wanted to see the top manager.
"I want to use your Xerox to make copies of these leaflets. Maybe 1,000 or 2,000," the swagÂ¬gering
youth, grubby from the square, demanded. The management gladly complied.