The August 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre was a shocking, and horrid wakeup call to the world that although the Soviet Union may have been collapsing, Communism in China was not yet ready to die.
The Tiananmen Square Protest began when the former secretary general of the Communist party, Hu Yaobang died of a sudden heart attack. Immediately following his death, the Zhongnanhai swarmed with students and protestors who demanded to speak with Prime Minister Li Peng about Hu Yaobang's dismissal in 1987.
Hu Yaobang was one of the key leaders in rehabiliting intellectuals following the Cultural Revolution and was only dismissed after claims that he was being soft on protestors following the 1986 Tiananmen Square Protest.
At first the Prime Minister allowed a memorial for the former secretary in the Great Hall of the People, and as thousands started to amass to honor Hu Yaobang, 3 student representatives knelt outside the hall with a petition addressed to Li Peng. The Prime Minister issued no response.
The next day, the government published newspaper, the People's Daily had an article that suggested the students protesting for democracy might be planning a coup. On May 4, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang met with foreign bankers and had a speech that contradicted the article in the People's Daily earlier. By this time students from more than 40 universities had amassed at the square.
With an ever growing crowd of protestors and an unresponsive government, many started to go on hunger strikes and began putting pressure to get a meeting with Prime Minister Li Peng which was finally granted on the 6th day of the hunger strikes.
The long awaited meeting between 3 key student protestors and Li Peng was less than stellar. The students made it extremely obvious that they wanted massive democratic changes in China. They got nothing as Li Peng avoided answering questions about any of their demands, instead focusing on the many people who passed out while on hunger strike. At this point, martial law was being considered by the Communist government.
Once word of martial law developments leaked out to the protestors, a massive sit-in was started. Li Peng went on national television where he called for strong action against the protestors who where causing "turmoil." By this time the famous plaster "Goddess of Democracy," has been created, it will be smashed when the army storms and forcible removes the protestors.
The day after Li Peng's announcement, martial law is declared in China. The army attempts to enter the square, only to be blocked by swarms of protestors. On May 23, the Alliance to Protect the [Chinese] Constitution is established and is retaliated with the Defend Tiananmen Square Headquarters. On May 30, the Alliance issues an ultimatum for the protestors to leave Tiananmen Square or suffer the consequences. This is rebuked by the Headquarters, the end is near.
On June 2, several students began another hunger strike. The government tired and furious at the protestors, orders the Commander-in-Chief of the army, Chai Ling to take back Tiananmen Square at all costs.
At 10:00 PM on June 3, the army smashes its way into Tiananmen Square. Scores of protestors and innocent civilians are killed as well as anyone yelling at the army. Those who stood in the path of tanks and armored personnel vehicles where ether shot or run over. By the morning of June 4, the square had been retaken to a disgusted world (To be just, the protestors weren't exactly innocent, they had rioted during the first attempted retake and the final expulsion. They even halted Bejing's public transporation system at one point and threw rocks and debris at unarmed volunteer soldiers).
I can never condone, or even rationalize the massacre that took place on June 3, 1989. To massacre scores of people who were peacefully protesting for change in governement because they are making the heads of state look bad is unexcusable. However, just as well, I think that the protestors knew they were pushing the limits of how much the government would tolerate and did it without any regard of consequences. When you're young you think you're bulletproof and you can change the world in an instant. It doesn't usually work that way and sometimes people have an unpleasant wakeup call to it. The best incident that is similar to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in the United States would be Kent State. Although it wasn't by the national government the same effect applied. There were tons of anti-Vietnam protests prior to the incident, but afterwards, hardly any occured. Why? People realized that they could get hurt. Nothing happened in the Tiananmen Square protest in 1986 and others around China, so no one expected it to happen in 1989.
It did and that's all that matters now.