About 4,000 protesters and supporters stood shoulder to shoulder on both sides of Massachusetts Avenue to greet Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji to MIT last Wednesday in a spirited and loud but orderly demonstration, the largest of his nine-day US visit.
The demonstrators, carrying flags and signs, chanted slogans in unison and through bullhorns. They called for the independence of Tibet and Taiwan, increased human rights and the release of political prisoners. They were confined by metal barriers from the Student Center to Memorial Drive on the west side of the street and by Campus Police and State Police in front of 77 Massachusetts Avenue.
Two organizers of the 1989 protest at Tiananmen Square were in the crowd -- Harvard University student Wang Dan and Cambridge Internet executive Chai Ling. Besides those from Harvard and MIT, the demonstrators included students from Northeastern, Boston College and Boston University.
Observers of the tour also said the crowd included the largest number of pro-China demonstrators to welcome Premier Zhu during his coast-to-coast tour.
During the demonstration, which started at about 8am and lasted almost four hours, protesters and supporters debated passionately in the midst of the crowd. Two flags were burned and swiftly put out by Facilities workers with fire extinguishers. One scuffle occurred and Cambridge police made three arrests, charging two men and a woman with assault and battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. None was affiliated with MIT.
Campus Police joined officers from Cambridge, the MBTA, the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department, the State Police and MDC Park Rangers in maintaining order on the street.
Fifty-seven of the 60 members of the Campus Police -- many of whom had been on duty since the previous evening -- were deployed. "I am extremely proud of our officers," said Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin. "They were disciplined and professional. Everybody did a great job."
Although the decibel level on the street was high, the tumult was not heard in Kresge Auditorium during Premier Zhu's speech. Moments before he started speaking, the crowd moved peacefully to the east side of Massachusetts Avenue, with only slight encouragement from State Police horses.
Earlier in the day, at about 10:30am, the demonstrators surged toward Memorial Drive when the premier's 50-car motorcade arrived. They repeated the act when the procession departed shortly before noon.
After the entourage crossed the Harvard Bridge, the crowd dispersed swiftly, many of them following in chartered buses to Premier's Zhu's final stop in the United States, a lunch at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, where the street scene was reprised.
A version of this article appeared in the April 21, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 27).