Daily Archives: 18 May 2014

May 18, 1989 (a Thursday)

18 May 1989.   Beijing University students during a huge demonstration at Tiananmen Square start an unlimited hunger strike, part of the mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.

18 May 1989. Beijing University students during a huge demonstration at Tiananmen Square start an unlimited hunger strike, part of the mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.

On this date, a crowd of protesters, estimated to number more than one million, marched through the streets of Beijing with songs, slogans, and banners calling for greater democracy and the ouster of some hard-line Chinese officials.

China, Beijing, Tian'anmen Square. 18 May 1989. Trucks arrive from all over the city as well as from the country.

China, Beijing, Tian’anmen Square. 18 May 1989. Trucks arrive from all over the city as well as from the country.

Also, this morning Li Peng, member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee and premier of the State Council, and others met with representatives of the students, who had been fasting at Tiananmen Square, at the Great Hall of the People. On the evening of May 18th, Party elders and Politburo members, including Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng, approved the declaration of martial law.

Chinese workers parade through Beijing streets, 18 May 1989, in support of student hunger strikers gathered at Tiananmen Square. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.

Chinese workers parade through Beijing streets, 18 May 1989, in support of student hunger strikers gathered at Tiananmen Square. Photo credit Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images.


The protests were part of the months-long movement to occupy Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, which culminated in the brutal repression of June 1989. In the wake of the crackdown, the Chinese government condemned the protests as a “counter-revolutionary rebellion”, though it has never publicly accounted for those killed. The massacre caused horror around the world, and China was marginalized by the international community, but as Deng Xiaoping reportedly said: “The West always forgets.

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May 18, 1910 (a Wednesday)

On this date, thousands of people took to their roofs, huddling for comfort and praying for salvation. Many believed the end of the world was near. The source of their anxiety was the return of Halley’s Comet from its 75-year odyssey through space.

Comet Halley

Many scientists were excited by the opportunity to increase the knowledge of astronomy. By late 1909, several of the world’s major observatories had geared up for Halley’s appearance. The public, too, eagerly awaited the moment when the comet became visible to the naked eye. Scientists had calculated it would appear between May 18 and 19, predicting that Halley’s tail would possibly sweep across Earth.

The tabloids jumped in, and discussed the catastrophic effects of the gaseous comet on the Earth’s atmosphere, causing many to panic. Despite a number of previous documented appearances having caused no deaths, the 1910 return of Halley’s Comet was widely perceived as a threat to mankind, allegedly due to noxious vapors emanating from its tail. This may be the first apocalyptic panic founded on a scientific, rather than religious misapprehension. In actual fact, the tail of Halley’s Comet never came any closer than 400,000 km to the Earth’s surface, and would not have been harmful at any distance.