Six days after the death of Hu Yaobang, the deposed reform-minded leader of the Chinese Communist Party, some 100,000 students gather at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate Hu and voice their discontent with China’s authoritative communist government. The next day, an official memorial service for Hu Yaobang was held in Tiananmen’s Great Hall of the People, and student representatives carried a petition to the steps of the Great Hall, demanding to meet with Premier Li Peng. The Chinese government refused such a meeting, leading to a general boycott of Chinese universities across the country and widespread calls for democratic reforms.
Ignoring government warnings of violent suppression of any mass demonstration, students from more than 40 universities began a march to Tiananmen on April 27. The students were joined by workers, intellectuals, and civil servants, and by mid-May more than a million people filled the square, the site of communist leader’s Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. On May 20, the government formally declared martial law in Beijing, and troops and tanks were called in to disperse the dissidents. However, large numbers of students and citizens blocked the army’s advance, and by May 23 government forces had pulled back to the outskirts of Beijing.
On June 3, with negotiations to end the protests stalled and calls for democratic reforms escalating, the troops received orders from the Chinese government to reclaim Tiananmen at all costs. By the end of the next day, Chinese troops had forcibly cleared Tiananmen Square and Beijing’s streets, killing hundreds of demonstrators and arresting thousands of protesters and other suspected dissidents. In the weeks after the government crackdown, an unknown number of dissidents were executed, and communist hard-liners took firm control of the country.
The international community was outraged at the incident, and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries sent China’s economy into decline. However, by late 1990, international trade had resumed, thanks in part to China’s release of several hundred imprisoned dissidents.
Chinese students begin protests at Tiananmen Square
Posse comitatus, (Latin: “force of the county”) ancient English institution consisting of the shire’s force of able-bodied private citizens summoned to assist in maintaining public order. Originally raised and commanded by the sheriff, the posse comitatus became a purely civil instrument as the office of sheriff later lost its military functions. From time to time, legislation gave authority to other peace officers and magistrates to call upon the power of the county.
In early times, attendance at the posse comitatus was enforced by the penalty of a culvert, or turn tail, which involved the forfeiture of property and perpetual servitude. Although the primary object of the posse comitatus was to maintain peace and pursue felons under the command of the sheriff, it also was required to obey a summons for the military defense of the country.
In the United States, the posse comitatus was perhaps most important on the Western frontier (there known as a “posse”), and it has been preserved as an institution in many states. Sheriffs and other peace officers have the authority to summon the power of the county, and in some counties, it is a crime to refuse assistance. In general, members of a posse comitatus are permitted to use force if necessary to achieve legitimate ends, but state laws differ as to the legal liability of one who in good faith aids an officer who is himself acting beyond his authority.
Another use of the posse comitatus in the United States was the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which was passed at the end of Reconstruction (1865–77) in order to prevent the use of the U.S. military for the enforcement of domestic law in the occupied South. The same act was invoked in the 1980s to prevent military forces from being deployed against certain domestic threats, such as drug trafficking and terrorism.
In the second half of the 20th century, the idea of the posse comitatus was influential in the United States among political extremists who argued that no legitimate authority exists above the level of the county. They maintained that federal and even state governments are unlawful and can, therefore, be lawfully resisted. Inspired by the posse comitatus, they created their own “common law” courts, which they sometimes used to harass political enemies.