Tuesday, May 12, 2009


In the days leading up to the historic hunger strike at Tiananmen in 1989, a profusion of hand-brushed and painted messages were pasted on the walls of activist campuses such as Beida and Shida, creating an aura of free speech on campus and in some cases demanding the same for society as a whole. The traditional and decidedly low-tech, but often artful and inspiring work of ink on paper was an important element in the rudimentary, homespun media that students used to voice grievances, counter official propaganda and to rally their peers.

A popular theme in the early posters was the topic of official corruption, vividly illustrated in the ink drawing above. Reflecting the inspiration of the poignant early marches that briefly penetrated the Square, bold petitions at the Great Hall, and the coincidental but useful reinforcement of the calendar with its iconic May 4, 1919 imagery, Tiananmen Gate, the Great Hall of the People and Chang'an Boulevard took on powerful symbolic overtones in poetry and rhetoric of protesters even before the occupation of the Square began on May 13, 1989. And as the May 5 black ink on white paper poster spotted on a dorm wall at Shida suggests, florid talk of sacrifice and bloodshed, perhaps in part inspired by nationalistic lyrics and communist anthems, was embedded in student rhetoric from the earliest days of the movement.