The situation seemed intractable, so the weight of taking decisive action fell on paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Matters came to a head on 17 May, during a Politburo Standing Committee meeting at Deng's residence. At the meeting, Zhao Ziyang's concessions-based strategy was thoroughly criticized.
On the evening of 17 May, the PSC met at Zhongnanhai to finalize plans for martial law. At the meeting, Zhao announced that he was ready to "take leave", citing he could not bring himself to carry out martial law. The elders in attendance at the meeting, Bo Yibo and Yang Shangkun, urged the PSC to follow Deng's orders. Zhao did not consider the inconclusive PSC vote to have legally binding implications on martial law; Yang Shangkun, in his capacity as Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, went on to mobilize the military to move into the capital.
The movement, on the wane at the end of April, now regained momentum. By 17 May, as students from across the country poured into the capital to join the movement, protests of varying sizes were occurring in some 400 Chinese cities. Students demonstrated at provincial party headquarters in Fujian, Hubei, and Xinjiang. Without a clearly articulated official position from the Beijing leadership, local authorities did not know how to respond. Because the demonstrations now included a wide array of social groups, each carrying its own set of grievances, it became increasingly unclear with whom the government should negotiate, and what the demands were.