The protest had started on April 16 as about 1,000 students marched to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a pro-reform leader within the Chinese government.
Despite government warnings, pro-reform and pro-democracy demonstrations continued for a month drawing ever-larger crowds of young people, eventually totaling over a million persons.
On May 13, three thousand students began an eight-day hunger strike. The government imposed martial law on May 20 and brought in troops.
On June 2, in their first clash with the People’s Army, demonstrators turned back an advance of unarmed troops. However, in the pre-dawn hours of June 4, the People’s Army, using tanks, machine-guns, clubs and tear gas, opened fire on the unarmed protesters.
Armored personnel carriers then rolled into the square crushing students still sleeping in their tents. The Chinese government later claimed only 300 died in the attack. U.S. estimates put the toll at over 3,000. Following the massacre, over 1,600 demonstrators were rounded up and jailed, with 27 being executed.