Disclosures regarding the army's reluctance to fire upon students in 1989 -- who had occupied the square for over a month -- reveal dissent and confusion prior to the massacre, in which over 1,000 people are believed to have been killed. Recent interviews and army documents indicate refusals to take part resulted in government officials fearing a military revolt was the next step in the protest.
The government has arrested dissidents ahead of the anniversary Tuesday, and has worked to discourage any consideration, or any knowledge, of the incident.
The documents reveal that one general, Xu Qinxian, refused to participate in quelling the Tiananmen Square revolt when he and his counterparts were called to headquarters to pledge their support for the crackdown. Xu considered the revolt a political matter, not a military one.
Contrary to rumor, army units did not fight each other, but Xu's refusal encouraged government leaders to fear an army revolt was forthcoming.
"The situation was fluid and confusing, and we underestimated the brutality of the struggle," said Capt. Yang De'an, a police officer, in memoirs found by Princeton University. "It was hard to distinguish friends from foes, and the target to be attacked was unclear."
Interviews suggest officers wanted no part in responsibility for decisions to fire upon civilians, and petitions were circulated seeking reassurances no shooting would occur at Tiananmen Square. As the petitions circulated, up to 250,000 troops mobilized to travel to Beijing to enforce martial law.