Chinese Democracy Movement

Democracy Wall
The Democracy Wall began in 1978 as a part of the Beijing Spring. It was a long brick wall in Xidan Street in the Xicheng District of Beijing. It was started under the support of then Chairman Deng Xiaoping as it was used as part of the Beijing Spring idea, allowing Chinese people to vent their frustrations on mistake from the past. People would place large posters containing essays, poems and messages to the government. Things began to spiral out of Deng’s control when on December 5 Wei Jingsheng posted
Part of the wall in 1978
Part of the wall in 1978
an essay calling for a “Fifth Modernization” of China to go with the previous four Deng has instated. This ‘Fifth Modernization’ was to be democracy. This essay caused a great stir amongst the Chinese People, especially among the young students and intellectuals. Many more posters criticizing the Communist system, advocating democracy and even criticizing Deng himself were put up over the next year. In December 1979 the Wall was effectively shut down by the government.

The Democracy Movement was a turning point in the history of China. “It precipitated unprecedented political debates, fresh political issues, unofficial magazines, and independent political organizations” (Goldman, 1999). It was the first time people had fought for their own right in the country. Throughout history they have always been just a voiceless body commanded by monarchy, dictatorships and now a communist oligarchy. It shared a similar idea to Mao’s Cultural Revolution but this time people were fighting peacefully for their own rights and ideals instead of a central figure’s. “Most of the participants were ex-Red Guards and workers, who might have been students but for the suspension of their education from 1966 to 1976. They used the methods and strategies they had learned in the Cultural Revolution forming unofficial groups, putting up large-character posters, writing and printing pamphlets, and setting up their own networks to achieve their own political goals” (Goldman, 1999).
As well as the large posters and messages posted on the wall many people in China began creating and reading underground politically charged magazines and even creating their own groups. These would continue long after the Democracy Wall was over and would represent the unspoken backbone of the Chinese Democracy Movement. “These groups also established networks among themselves to carry out agreed upon political goals. Although the magazines expressed different viewpoints and emphases, most shared the desire to reform the political structure.” (Goldman 1999). It would be underground, in these groups and magazines that this movement would survive. After the end of the Democracy Wall the government began suppressing any sort of Democracy Movement that tried to act publically. It would be several years before the movement could gain any ground apart from strengthening its underground support.


Havard Asia Quaterly, Summer 1999,
Goldman, Merle, The Twentieth Anniversary of the Democracy Wall Movement
Wikipedia, Democracy Wall
Columbia University, General Studies Lounge
The Democracy Wall Movement