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Funding of student organizations during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests

The catalyst for the birth of the Pro-Democracy Movement was the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989. Beginning in late April until June 3 large crowds gathered in Tiananmen Square. During this period a significant amount of money was donated to the student organizations, it was spent on providing food, water and other supplies required to sustain the many thousands of protesters who occupied the Square.

Organization in Tiananmen SquareEdit

Virtually every day large numbers of people gathered in the Square to demonstrate, on some days tens of thousands of people took participated. During May increasing numbers of students travelled long distances from other parts of China to participate in the protests. As the numbers of people increased it soon became apparent that an attempt had to be made to organize the demonstrations and attempt to keep order in the Square. The Beijing Students’ Autonomous Federation became the self-appointed organizers.[1]:156


Donations to the Pro-Democracy Movement came from several sources: Peking University was the first to start fund raising, students collected money on the streets. Other donors included the private sector, trade unions and overseas Chinese, particularly in Hong Kong.[2]:41[3] The Shekou special economic zone donated more than HK$210,000.[4]:313 The businessman Wan Runnan, head of the Stone Group donated about 200,000 Yuan.[4]:314 The All-China Federation of Trade Unions was another source of funding.[4]:313 By early May HK$10,000 was received from the Chinese University in Hong Kong.[2]:41 On May 27 supporters in Hong Kong staged an all day concert featuring Hong Kong singers, actors and actresses that raised around thirteen million HK Yuan.[5]:197

Donations came through channels such as pro-democracy fundraisers and other large events, which helped gather support for the movement. Donations included both money and other much needed supplies, such as tents and other basic necessities including food, computers, high-speed printers, and advanced communication equipment.[3][6] According to Chai Ling, one of the top student leaders, in an interview that took place on May 28, 1989, these donations helped to raise the fluctuating spirits and morale of the students, giving an illusion of strength to the protesters and helping to improve the deteriorating conditions of the square.[7]

Hong KongEdit

In Hong Kong, then still a British territory, support for the movement was massive, with thousands of citizens rallying to support the pro-democracy protests. Groups such as the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, and the Hong Kong Federation of Students played pivotal roles in fueling the movement along with pro-democracy activists.[8]

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements (HKASPDM) was created on the 21 of May 1989, a day when “one million Hong Kong citizens participated in a parade which lasted for eight hours in support for the mainland students”.[9] Led by Szeto Wah, a prominent pro-democracy activist, HKASPDM raised support for the Beijing protesters through the use of demonstrations and fundraisers.[10] The most well known of these fundraisers was the Concert for Democracy, which took place on 27 May and was attended by 300,000 supporters. The concert also included the attendance of several high profile personalities including Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Beyond, Teresa Teng, and Jacky Cheung.[11] The Concert raised 14 million Hong Kong dollars (1.5 million American dollars), in donations for the Tiananmen protesters.[6][12] HKASPDM would also play an even larger role in the days following the June fourth crackdown with Operation Yellowbird, which was a plan created by Hong Kong film maker John Shum to help protesters escape the mainland.[9] In order to fund the operation, which cost from 50,000-100,000 Hong Kong dollars per rescue, HKASPDM used more fundraising concerts, including one that lasted 12 hours, to collect donations.[9]

Other sources of monetary donations came from student groups such as the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a large student organization made up of several Hong Kong universities, who raised around ten million Hong Kong dollars.[6] Other smaller student groups like the Hong Kong College Student Union also met in the early days of May and gathered funds and organized mass rallies and demonstrations in support of the Beijing students.[13]

The Communist Party knew of these donations and Chinese State Security mentioned in a report submitted on June 1 that certain people in Hong Kong had raised 21 million Hong Kong dollars in support for the protesters. They later changed the number to 30 million and explained that these pro-democracy supporters were bringing money to the mainland in separate, smaller installments, with one support group carrying one million Hong Kong dollars being sent ahead of time.[14]

Rest of the worldEdit

Apart from the support from Hong Kong, in other parts of the world support for the Tiananmen protesters also took place. Citizens in countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and across Europe, like their Hong Kong counterparts also showed support for the Beijing students by organizing large rallies and writing open letters in protest to the actions of the Chinese Communist government.[15] Like in Hong Kong, these countries also contributed large donations of money in support of the protesters.

In Taiwan there was support for the protests, with people also donating funds. For example, Chiang Wei-kuo, the General Secretary of Taiwan’s National Security Council, launched a movement “ to send love to Tiananmen” by donating 100,000 New Taiwan dollars (about US$3300) to the Tiananmen movement.[14] Some members of the Kuomintang also got involved; Li Chang-Yi (黎昌意), a Central Committee member, set up a foundation called Support the Mainland Democracy Movement, which campaigned to raise 100 million New Taiwan dollars.[14] In May 1989, Chinese State Security Ministry issued a report, which brought to attention the concern that the donations were not just out of good will, but that they were part of a foreign plot at work within the Tiananmen Protests underlining the controversy of some of these donations.[14] The Communist Party believed that foreign agents were infiltrating the student movement and attempting to carry out subversion by promoting democracy in an attempt to pull China to liberalization, with donations being used to further this goal.[14] The report later stated that in Taiwan, Ma Shu-li's [zh] Grand Alliance for China's Reunification under the Three Principles of the People had opened a bank account with the Bank of Taiwan. The purpose of this account was so that Taiwanese citizens and groups could contribute money to support the democratic student movement on the mainland.[16] Acts of foreign support such as these, and the involvement of foreign government personnel helped to fuel the Communist Party’s fears that the student protests were being influenced by outside forces, and would be one of the best justifications for carrying out the crackdown.[14]

In the United States and Canada many citizens donated money to the protesters generously and spontaneously.[17] The overseas Chinese community rallied in support for the Tiananmen protests generating one of the largest cases of support ever seen from the overseas Chinese community.[17] By June 1, a report sent to the Politburo mentioned that people from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong had donated more than US$1 million and tens of millions of Hong Kong dollars to the protesters.[3]

Problems receiving and depositing donationsEdit

Significant funds were donated but it appears that a lot of this money was not received by the various Pro-Democracy groups. A large amount of the money raised overseas was sent to China as cheques or money orders made out to “the Students’ ”Autonomous Union,” “Hunger Strike Headquarters,” “Tiananmen Square Headquarters,” or even just “Tiananmen Square.” Such donations, even if delivered to the student organizations could not be redeemed.[5]:163

Escalating costs of sustaining the protestsEdit

When the hunger strike started on May 13 the costs of running protests at Tiananmen Square increased. At first the number of hunger strikers was quite small, around 300 students,[5]:196 but as their numbers increased so did the crowds that came to support them. The Financial Department of the BASF was spending 200,000 yuan a day on providing food, water and other supplies. Other organizations had their own financial systems and it was thought that the occupation may have cost several million yuan a day at its peak.[5]:176 Observers in Tiananmen Square have reported that a lack of organization resulted in a tremendous waste of resources during the hunger strike. Liu Xiaobo, commented that almost all of the drinks were thrown away before they were emptied. Half or whole boxes of fast food, half or whole loaves of bread, and other foodstuff were spread everywhere.[5]:178

Did the student groups set up reliable accounting systems?Edit

There have been accusations that none of the student organizations had a good accounting system.[5]:195 The transfer and receipt of funds proceeded chaotically; the students used funds to buy necessary items. But there were no receipts, and the purchases were not even registered.[2]:41 Various student groups were receiving large amounts of money from multiple donors, and every day they purchased and distributed supplies to very large numbers of people in the Square. Given the circumstances it would have been difficult for the student organizations to accurately record every transaction.

Rivalries in Tiananmen SquareEdit

There were rivalries between some of the pro-democracy groups that occupied Tiananmen Square. The Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation focused more on corruption and inflation. They complained about the elitism of the students who wanted to keep their protest pure and initially refused to allow the BWAF to operate within Tiananmen Square.[18] There were also disputes between different student groups. When the Hunger Strike Committee took over leadership on the Square the BSAF which had raised nearly one million RMB during the first week of the hunger strike refused to hand the money over. Eventually they gave 100,000 RMB to the Hunger Strike Committee and kept the rest.[1]:167 Later in May the students established a new organization called Defend Tiananmen Square Headquarters to manage Tiananmen Square. Because of the intense conflicts among movement activists, General Headquarters had great difficulty getting money out of the BSAF.[5]:196

Allegations of corruption and financial mismanagementEdit

The rivalries between the different groups and the absence of financial management resulted in allegations of corruption. Student leaders were even suspected of corruption. Thousands of (US) dollars of contributions, mostly from Hong Kong, had been flowing into the student organizations’ coffers, but no accounting had been done.[19] The BWAF accused the student leadership of financial misappropriation; they claimed that the students had taken in enormous sums of money in donations from ordinary citizens and from abroad. The issue of student corruption was never fully resolved. Allegations were made that leaders, including Wu’erkaixi, Zhou Yongjun, Yang Huhui, Chai Ling and Feng Congde personally accepted donations. It was claimed by some that there was no control whatsoever on how these donations were handled, there is only the students’ word that they were used for the student movement.[2]:42 Given that there were several student organizations it would be difficult to make the claim that there were no controls at all.

What happened to the unspent donations after June 4?Edit

The Hong Kong concert that raised thirteen million HK Yuan took place a week before Tiananmen Square was cleared by troops. There is visual evidence that some tents and supplies were delivered to Tiananmen Square but it is unlikely that all of the funds raised could have been spent in one week. It is possible that other Pro-Democracy groups still had unspent funds on June 4th. Given the violent and chaotic end of the Pro-Democracy Movement it is not known what happened to these unspent funds.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Chai, Ling. A Heart for Freedom, Illinois, Tyndale House, 2011
  2. ^ a b c d Qiping, Luo., Yantting, Mai., Meifen, Liang., Li Peter., trans., Fons Lampoo., “Student Organizations and Strategies,” China Information Vol 5, No 2 (1990)
  3. ^ a b c Zhang Liang, “An Emergency Report of the Beijing Party Committee” in The Tiananmen Papers (New York: Public Affairs, 2001). pp. 334-5.
  4. ^ a b c Goldman, Merle, Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Zhao, Dingxin. The Power of Tiananmen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001
  6. ^ a b c Hinton Carma, Gordon Richard, Gate of Heavenly Peace, Directed by Hinton Carma, Gordon Richard. (1995; Boston: Long Bow Group, 1995), film
  7. ^ Cheng Eddie, Standoff in Tiananmen (Sensys Corp, 2009) pg 231-232
  8. ^ “Who we are,” Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, accessed March 20, 2014,
  9. ^ a b c Lo Sonny Shiu-Hing, “The Role of Political Interest Groups in Democratization of China and Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China”, The Journal of Contemporary China 22:84 (2013) pg 929
  10. ^ Bradsher Keith, “Szeto Wah, Political Activist in Hong Kong, Dies at 79” New York Times, January 2, 2011,
  11. ^ “Past Events,” Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, accessed March 20, 2014,
  12. ^ “Troops Halted by the Crowds,” Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, accessed March 20, 2014,
  13. ^ “Autonomous Students’ Federation Held Press Conference” Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, accessed March 20, 2014,
  14. ^ a b c d e f Zhang Liang, “Western Infiltration, Intervention and Subversion” in The Tiananmen Papers (New York: Public Affairs, 2001). pp. 338, 347
  15. ^ Zhang Liang, “Cries from Hong Kong” in The Tiananmen Papers (New York: Public Affairs, 2001). p. 266.
  16. ^ Zhang Liang, “Taiwan’s Role” in The Tiananmen Papers (New York: Public Affairs, 2001). P. 296.
  17. ^ a b Mu Yi, Thompson Mark V, Crisis at Tiananmen (San Francisco: China Books & Periodicals, Inc, 1989). p. 74.
  18. ^ Walder, Andrew G., and Gong Ziaoxia. Workers in the Tiananmen Protests: The Politics of the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation.” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No 29 (1993): 24.
  19. ^ Han, Minzhu, Ed. Cries for Democracy, ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 312.