17/5 - 23/5 : Martial Law
On 17th May, Chinese Communist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang declared that the student movement was patriotic and asked the students to end their hunger-strike. The next day Premier Li Peng held a meeing with the students, but the meeting did not go well. On 19th May, Zhao and Li came to the Square, with tears in his eyes Zhao said, “We have come too late; we are sorry!” The students decided to end the hunger strike.
Yet, in the early hours of 20th May, Li Peng declared that Beijing has entered a state of anarchy. He condemned the student movement as riots and imposed martial law and news blockade. The 200,000 students in the Square immediately announced that they would resume the hunger-strike in protest.
Founding members of People's Libration Army, Nie Rongzhen and Xu Xiangqian, said martial law aimed only to bring order back to the city and was not intended as a tool of suppression. When the army gradually advanced into the city, they were deterred by the peaceful resistance of civilians and students who erected barricades and “human walls”. The army eventually retreated on 23 rd May, at which time over 1 million people has gathered in the Square.