Tiananmen Square Declaration of Human Rights

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Tiananmen Square Declaration of Human Rights


By: Anonymous

Date: Spring, 1989

Source: Angle, Stephen and Marina Svensson. The Chinese Human Rights Reader. Birmingham, Ala.: M.E. Sharpe, 2001.

About the Author: The unknown authors of the primary source included here were Chinese pro-democracy protestors involved in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, 1989.


In the late 1980s, inspired partly by political liberalization in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–), many intellectuals, students, and industrial workers in China believed that the time had come for democratic reforms. (China has been governed since the 1940s by a non-elected authoritarian oligarchy, nominally Communist, that punishes criticism of the government.) Pro-democracy protests occurred in 1986 and 1987, but the most important—and violently repressed—was that which took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Tiananmen Square is a large plaza in Beijing, the capital city of China. It is directly south of the Forbidden City, the ancient palace of the emperors of China.

Starting in early May 1989, at least a hundred thousand students and workers occupied the square for one month. They erected a large statue representing the "Goddess of Democracy" and issued several documents defining their movement's principles, including a constitution and the declaration of human rights given here. The influence of such documents as the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights is clear in the language and content of this document.

The Chinese government was for several weeks uncertain how to respond to the nonviolent protesters. Thanks to documents later smuggled out of China, it is now known that the five-man Standing Committee of the Politburo, the top decision-making body in the Chinese government, was deadlocked over whether to use force to end the protest: two were for, two were against, one member abstained. The head of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng Xiaoping, decided the stalemate in favor of force. On June 3 and 4, 1989, tanks and foot soldiers drove the protestors from Tiananmen Square. Armored personnel carriers ran over protestors and troops indiscriminately fired into the crowd, killing hundreds or perhaps thousands and injuring thousands more. Several leaders managed to escape the country, but many participants (accurate numbers are not known) were executed or imprisoned. Many who were imprisoned were tortured.


In view of the widespread ignorance and neglect of, or even apathy toward, human rights in Chinese society; in view of several thousand years of cruel interference in and infringement of human rights by our rulers; and in view of the need to create a new society, a new order, and a new morality, we hereby solemnly declare the following to be the inviolable and inalienable natural rights of human beings:.

  1. Everyone is born free and equal, regardless of origin, status, age, sex, professional level of schooling, religion, party affiliation, and ethnicity.
  2. The rights to life and security, and to oppose oppression, are humankind's inalienable natural rights.
  3. … Everyone has the freedom to believe or not believe in a religion or in various theories [such as Marxism].
  4. … Everyone has the right to travel and to reside inside or outside the country.
  5. Personal dignity shall not be infringed on because of criminal conviction.
  6. The individual has the right to privacy. One's family, domicile, and correspondence are protected by law.
  7. Everyone has the right to education. Higher education should be open to everyone based on achievement scores.
  8. Private property acquired through one's [own] labor is sacred and inviolable.
  9. Freedom of marriage between adult men and women shall not be interfered with by any outside force. Marriage must be voluntarily agreed upon by both parties.
  10. Everyone has the right to assembly and association, whether openly or secretly.
  11. The power of the government comes from the people. In the absence of free elections …, the people may rescind any power usurped either by force or under the guise of the will of the people by any individual or group (including any of the political parties).
  12. Everyone has the right to either direct or indirect participation in government (through free elections of representatives).
  13. The law is the embodiment of the popular will and cannot be changed arbitrarily by one individual or any one political party. Everyone is equal before the law.
  14. The army is the defender of the interests of the people and of the state. It must strictly observe neutrality in political affairs and not [be subordinate to] an individual or a political party.
  15. Democracy and freedom are the basic guarantees of social stability, people's well-being, and national prosperity. Therefore, each person has the right and the duty to establish and safeguard such a system and to oppose autocracy and tyranny.


After the Tiananmen Square protests, the government executed and jailed many protestors, especially leaders. Students, who tended to come from more affluent families than industrial workers, generally received less harsh treatment, but some spent years in jail. Three men were arrested for throwing paint at a large outdoors portrait of Mao Zedong (1893–1976), founder of Communist China; all three were sentenced to twenty years in prison. One, Yu Dongyue, was freed in February 2006, after being driven into mental breakdown by years of torture and solitary confinement. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited China in 2005, confirmed that prisoner torture is widespread in China, although it was officially outlawed there in 1996.

The political aspirations expressed in Tiananmen Square have not disappeared from China. In 1998 and 1999, dissidents sought to establish a legal opposition party, the China Democracy Party. Its goals were similar to those of the Tiananmen Square protestors, including a call for human rights. The China Democracy Party was immediately outlawed. Its members were arrested and some received prison sentences of up to thirteen years.

Over 25 years later, discussion of the Tiananmen Square incident in China remains illegal. The government's filtering of Internet traffic, for instance, blocks all sites that discuss the protests. In 2004, the Chinese journalist Shi Tao was sentenced to ten years in prison for revealing to foreign Web sites a message from the Chinese government warning newspapers not to report on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. (Computer records enabling the Chinese authorities to track Shi Tao down were provided by the Internet company Yahoo! Inc.) Also in 2004, Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a seventy-two year-old dissident, sent a letter to Chinese leaders asking for official reassessment of the government's response to the Tiananmen protests. Dr. Jiang was arrested and imprisoned for over a month. After his release, he remained under orders to not discuss political matters or travel without Government approval.

In 2006, Google Inc. aroused controversy when it inaugurated an in-China version of its famous search engine. The new search engine, google.cn, blocks searches for references to the Tiananmen Square protests as well as other forbidden topics such as Tibet (occupied by China since 1950 and subjected to a variety of genocidal measures) or the Falun Gong religious movement.

In 2000, a group called the Tiananmen Mother's Campaign was founded by several women whose children were killed during the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protest. The group demanded an end to persecution of protestors and the release from jail of all protestors still in jail. Members of the group were arrested and imprisoned. After their release, their telephone calls were monitored and they were forbidden to have any contact with each other.

Although China is moving steadily toward a capitalist-style market economy, its government continues to restrict free speech and is alleged to practice torture and otherwise deny the human rights called for by the Tiananmen Square protestors of 1989.



Suettinger, Roberts. Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of U.S.-China Relations, 1989–2000. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institutuion Press, 2003.

Liang, Zhen, et al., eds. The Tiananmen Papers. New York: PublicAffairs, 2001.

Web sites

BBC News. "Tiananmen Activist 'Mentally Ill.'" February 23, 2006. 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk./2/hi/asia-pacific/4742478.stm〉(accessed April 28, 2006).

The National Security Archive, George Washington University. "The U.S. Tiananmen Papers." June 4, 2001. 〈http://www.gwu.edu/∼nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB47/〉(accessed April 28, 2006).