Grade: Middle
Subject: History

#3125. Experiencing Tiananmen Square

History, level: Middle
Posted Sun May 16 03:18:29 PDT 2004 by Curry Kenworthy (
China Support Network
China Support Network, Washington D.C., USA
Materials Required: Internet access and/or written materials, other materials vary with activity
Activity Time: 1-3 sessions
Concepts Taught: Tiananmen Square events, human rights, democracy


Experiencing Tiananmen Square


- Know basic facts about the Tiananmen Square demonstration and massacre.
- Understand the situation for democracy and human rights in another country, in the past and today.
- Be able to express accurate facts and meaningful personal thoughts about this issue in spoken, written, demonstrated, and/or artistic form.


- Research: Internet access and/or adequate written materials available

(Other equipment varies according to activities chosen.)


Lead in to the topic by reading a vivid excerpt from a book or article, by showing a video clip or projecting photos, or by initiating a discussion from the starting point of China, human rights and democracy, or atrocities. (Or if the lesson is being done on an anniversary date such as June 4, by asking the students if they know what happened on today's date.)


The instructor can choose one of these two options for students to learn and present information about the topic.


The students can divide into groups to find information on different aspects of the issue. Here are some examples. (These can be adjusted according to class size, time, and needs.)

- Timeline of main Tiananmen Square events and brief overview of the event
- What is Tiananmen Square? (What is it used for, how big is it, where did it come from, and what does its name mean?)
- What students and bystanders did and said during the protest
- Why students protested, and what they wanted to achieve from the demonstration
- How China's government responded and what happened to protesters and bystanders
- The world's reactions to the events and the results of their reactions
- The story of one of the famous demonstrators at that time and (if applicable) their experiences afterwards
- What is the situation for freedom and human rights in China now? Give some examples.
- Did the Chinese government ever apologize for what happened? What have officials said about the matter?

You may want to give some reminders and pointers about internet search terms and methods. Be available to assist groups in understanding the topics and finding information if they have difficulty.

The groups will then present their findings to the class. If necessary, between presentations you can help to weave threads between the different issues, such as relating the current human rights situation to the situation in 1989.

Assessment methods:

- Prepare a quiz from the information presented by the students. Use the chalkboard, projector, or give the questions orally on the same day, or type up a planned or pop quiz to give the following day.
- Have students journal about what they learned, or use one of the activities in Step 3 for assessment.


Individuals or groups can research topics such as the above (or a greater variety of individual topics) and then write papers about what they learned.

If desired, the students can orally present summaries of their papers to the class on the due date before turning them in. Assessment can be based solely on the paper or on paper + oral presentation.


The instructor can choose from these options for additional work related to the topic.


This option could be a memorable and fun activity for your class, if planned and supervised correctly.

Introduce the idea of holding a real protest. Then lead the discussion to planning. First, why is the class going to hold a protest? What are the goals? The students and instructor should come up with a list of objectives for the event. Here are some examples. (Your class may have others.)

- To commemorate the Tiananmen Square demonstration and honor the efforts of the students in seeking freedom for their country.
- To protest the actions of the Chinese government in the 1989 massacre
- To protest the current human rights conditions and lack of democracy in China
- To demand the release of China's current prisoners of conscience
- To raise awareness in the (school / community / etc.) about Tiananmen Square and the current human rights situation in China

Then the practical details should be addressed. The instructor may make these decisions previously or involve the students in planning. Where should the event be held? (In the classroom, in the school, outside the school?) Who will be the audience? (The class itself, the whole school, the community?) What will be done and how will the event be conducted? Of course, having a peaceful demonstration and respecting others during the protest should be emphasized. (Some protest bevaviors that students have seen in the media may not be appropriate or helpful.) There should be some well-understood rules in place if the protest is to take place outside the classroom. These rules should fit the situation; for example, strict noise guidelines may be required for a protest in the school, even though many protests in other places place an emphasis on making noise.

Now students can start the creative part of the preparation. From the research, they can review details of why the Chinese students were demonstrating and what activities and slogans they used. (They can research further if needed.) Then the students can make signs and banners and think of slogans for the demonstration. A sign or slogan could be taken from what was actually used in Tiananmen Square, or it could reflect a current concern about China. Pamphlets are another useful material for students to make.

During the event, monitor behavior and give any guidance necessary to ensure that the protest is a meaningful and enjoyable event for everyone. If assessment is desired, it can come from the student's behavior and participation at the event and/or from a journal/paper about the event.


Students can create an art project with a Tiananmen or China human rights theme. For example:

- A Goddess of Democracy statue. Students can research the original structure (and the reason and symbolism behind the statue) and then decide the size and materials for making their version.

- A painting, drawing, poster, or cartoon about the topic.


Here are some ideas for written projects.

- A report or paper about an issue related to Tiananmen Square or human rights in China.

- A short story: Image you are a student taking part in the Tiananmen Square demonstration. Or, imagine you are a student or someone else in China now. What is your situation--your hopes and problems? What happens? How do you feel? What will you do now?

- A letter to a newspaper editor or a politician about the topic and what you think should be done.


If students are very interested in Tiananmen Square and China democracy, they may want to try any of the following:

- Join a pro-democracy organization. (This can usually be done by joining an e-mail list or writing an e-mail to the organization.)
- Start a school chapter or club for democracy.
- Read a book about Tiananmen Square or a book written by a Chinese dissident or democracy advocate.
- Raise funds for a donation to organizations which support freedom.
- Volunteer for a China democracy organization.
- Think of your own project to raise awareness or make a statement about the issue--a web page, a story or book, or whatever interests you.


Let us know how this lesson worked out for your class, what your students did, or ideas to improve the lesson.