Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Ghosts of Tiananmen Square


I am writing about Tiananmen Square in Beijing, not to highlight its beauty (it's not) or its history (plenty of that) but the power of travel when it comes to conjuring up ghosts.  This has happened to me before, at the Colosseum in Rome, where thousands upon thousands of blurry faces escort me through a site.  Don't forget us, they plead.  We were here.  And we were wronged.

The Chinese government has tried very hard to obliterate June 4, 1989, from social consciousness.  The local tour guides are forbidden to discuss it.  It was up to me, therefore, to recount to my two sons the events leading up to that infamous massacre.  We were walking on the very stones that had been drenched with the blood of  hundreds of young students who died that day because they wanted democratic reform.

"The world watched in amazement as these kids began to occupy the square, week after week after week," I said.  "Their numbers kept growing.  And soon demonstrations were taking place all over China.  We were all glued to the t.v., wondering how this was going to end."

The government finally acted.  Ten thousand troops marched into Tiananmen Square.  Martial Law was declared and the demonstrators were ordered to return home.  A peaceful protest turned suddenly violent.  Some of the students started throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.  The order was given to shoot.

Back home, we watched in horror at the little footage that made its way to the air.  All foreign journalists were expelled and anyone in China who continued to broadcast the news, was quickly rounded up.  The next day, the square was empty and so was most of Beijing.  All political reform was halted.  The Chinese government stated that the "counter-revolutionary riot" had come to an end.
Walking across Tiananmen Square in the summer of 2005 was not a magical moment, but it was a powerful one.  When such a moment conjures up spirits, it resurrects history.

I took the hand of my youngest son and squeezed it.  That summer in 1989, I was in my third trimester of pregnancy.  My emotions were in hyper-drive then.   And they were in hyper-drive today.

 I will never ever forget.


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