Yesterday SBS Viceland showed the excellent PBS documentary Tiananmen: The People Vs. The Party. I found it thorough and utterly consistent with what I had been told or had read — much of both by people who had been there. But of course the expected is happening today:
Chinese authorities were bullshitting at the time, and they are bullshitting now. And I might add that a fair part of my cynicism about some on the hard Left dates back to a time in 1990 when a couple I knew who had visited the Square around a year after the event assured me that “nothing happened there” — rather hard to accept when at the time I was interacting daily with Chinese students some of whom really were there at the time, some of whom exhibited post-traumatic stress one way or another. See some of my earlier posts:
Posted on June 12, 2015
Twenty-five years is a very long time, though as many septuagenarians would understand, quarter-centuries aren’t as long as they used to be. 1965- 1990 took, well, 25 years, but 1990-2015 has gone by in a matter of minutes! 😉
That was taken in winter 1990 on an excursion to Wollongong with my class of overseas adult students. The couple on the right are from Korea, as I think is the woman with the red bag – or is she Chinese? Blue umbrella is Zhang Rui from Tianjin in China (a scientist) and next to him another Chinese, Ding. The taller slightly older man is Bill Zhang from Guangzhou. Lovely man.
Bill and I in Hyde Park 1990. He had been photographing the grass so his wife in China could see this wonder: apparently at that time great dollops of lawn were in his eyes quite an exotic spectacle.
Why these students? As I noted in another post where there is indeed another story too:…
Here’s a related memory:
I am glad I visited the garden, as I called in on Sam, who has the “dress up as a Chinese princess” concession in the garden, something he has been doing for fifteen years now. I first met Sam, who was once in the Beijing Opera, in 1990. I remember it well. I was in a coffee shop and Sam was serving. I was reading an illustrated book about the Tiananmen incidents of 1989. “I can tell you all about that,” said Sam. “I was there.” And indeed he was. It turns out Sam is giving up the “dress as a princess” business in April, and going into something new. He’s over fifty years old now too. How time flies!
Some time in 1990 or 1991 I took Sam (and M and a guy from Tianjin, a scientist, called Rui) to SBHS to talk in a history class that was studying China. Sam rather stole the show when he told the students how his father, also in the Beijing Opera, had been beaten to death by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Kind of brought Chinese History to life, that did.
With my class at Wessex, probably late in 1990. Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Chinese.
That publicity shot for last night’s Foreign Correspondent shows people associated with the Australian Embassy in Beijing in 1989. The gist of what we saw is in this story: Tiananmen Square crisis station: the Australian embassy in 1989.
Jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo was offered asylum from Australia in 1989 but turned it down and went on to become China’s most famous dissident.
Following his role in supporting student protesters in the run-up to the brutal crackdown that year, the literary critic turned philosopher and agitator would be imprisoned and tortured.
After the Olympics he was picked up again and this time given an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power”. He won the peace prize from behind bars and it was awarded symbolically to an empty chair.
The Australian embassy in Beijing’s cultural counsellor at the time, Nick Jose, had become a good friend of Liu Xiaobo in the run-up to the crackdown on June 3-4 when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on protestors to reclaim Tiananmen Square.
“I took him in my car from my flat to the embassy gates and I said ‘Well this is it, we can drive in, the gates will open and the gates will close and you will have effectively sought asylum from Australia or you can go and find friends who live nearby’, friends I also knew,” Mr Jose said.
“He thought about it, he looked at me and said ‘Thank you, but no’, he would stay in China, he was Chinese, China was his country, China was his fate…
Nicholas Jose, Claire Roberts and M at M’s Chinese New Year Party, Redfern, 2009
Tonight’s Four Corners is a must see: Tremble and Obey. And here is a very relevant ABC story: Tiananmen Square massacre still remembered by Chinese soldier and witnesses 30 years on. Another perspective is John Simpson, The night the lights went out: what really happened in Tiananmen Square. “Thirty years on, the events that took place in Beijing remain misunderstood – and the Chinese government wants to keep it that way. ” However, I do think Simpson is just a bit too clever in his article, and underestimates the significance of what so many of the students actually thought and did.
In depth and with an intimate knowledge shown of Chinese history and culture, see Tiananmen 1989 — Three Decades Behind China’s Gate of Darkness — June Fourth, 1989-2019. One item there I read at the time I was preparing my own From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt: trans. Pang Bingjun 龐秉鈞, with John Minford, in Geremie Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices, 1992, pp.106-107.
In the First Light of Dawn
In the first grey light of dawn,
We curl into the air,
Trailing from the ground
Up into the open sky above the square.
Limp, leaden, dumdum-pocked
The corpses lie
Mashed into the concrete.
We hear the sound
Of your weeping.
Mother, I beg you
Not to look for us again in the square,
The wasteland, where
Crushed tents, banners, command posts,
Public address stations
Strew the ground.
Teachers, students, friends
Are all gone.
The acrid smoke of gunfire
Thousands of lives
Turn to ash.
Tomorrow will be Environment Day —
A Sanitation Show is planned,
The square will be scrubbed
Nice and clean,
As if nothing ever happened.
We hear the sound
Of your weeping.
We fell together,
Together we rise,
Joining once more our parted hands,
Holding our torches even higher.
A wound gapes
On one man’s chest;
A tank tread
Furrows one man’s brow.
But these wounds lie
On the body’s husk;
We are beautiful beyond compare.
Nothing can hurt us now.
We will share
The city’s splendour
With the stone beasts —
They, on their columns,
We, on the People’s Monument —
Across the square.
11 June 1989
Update 5 June:
ABC was excellent yesterday, specifically The Drum. Later that night ABC News carried an interview with Nicholas Jose. (You sound older, Nick!) (But don’t we all!) See also Nicholas Jose, Tiananmen remains unfinished business for China, and for Australia.
When I published an account of my interaction with Liu Xiaobo in Chinese whispers in 1995, I felt I should not identify him by his full name. As one of the thinkers who best articulated the alternative China that many people envisaged in the late 1980s, Liu had played an important, courageous role in the events of 3–4 June 1989. I was with him when he made the fateful decision not to take refuge in the Australian embassy. That same night he was picked up while riding his bike along a nearby street and taken away. When he was released from detention 18 months later, he went on with his reasoned critique of the Chinese system, eventually authoring Charter 08, a call for reform, for which he was arrested again and heavily sentenced in 2009.
He was in prison when he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, which he dedicated to ‘the Tiananmen martyrs’, and in prison at the time of his cruel, state-sanctioned death in 2017, aged 61. His ashes were scattered at sea, preventing the site of his remains from becoming a shrine. It is hard to believe that one individual could so enrage the powerful Chinese Communist Party. It is hard to understand why China would destroy one of its best and brightest for advocating non-violent reform in legal and constitutional ways.