In April 1989, the popular reformist leader Hu Yaobang died. During the 1980s he had been a high-ranking Communist party official who had promoted economic and political reform, but was ousted by his conservative opponents. Two days after his death, on 17 April, several hundred students marched to Tiananmen Square and laid a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Revolutionary Heroes.
They called for greater freedom of speech, economic freedoms and curbs on corruption – demands that touched a raw nerve with the conservatives in the Communist Party. The top leadership was divided; while some saw students as patriotic, others saw them as a threat to the regime. The demonstrations spread to hundreds of cities across China.