Six Four: A Personal Memory
In 1989, I was studying at a university in Beijing. I personally experienced the marches, the fasting, and all of the important events on the square. I’m going to briefly talk about my background. Everything below is my personal experience.
On May 12th 1989, I heard other students would be going to Tiananmen Square to fast. I decided to go. At 5 PM in the afternoon, after my boyfriend and I finished our dinner in the cafeteria, we met up with the other students from Tsinghua and Beida, and marched together towards Tiananmen. When we reached the square, it was already 9 PM that night. As soon as I sat down, I already felt hungry. Just think about it, it had already been 4-5 hours since dinner, and we had walked pretty far.
I started fasting on the 12th, and ended on the 19th; for a total of seven days, I ate nothing. When I first went, people surrounding us forced a piece of chocolate on me. By the time I went back to my dorm 7 days later, the chocolate had melted in my pocket, but I never ate it.
I count as one of the more die-hard fasting students. My boyfriend was quietly pulled into the home of some Beijing citizens, and drank a couple bowls of porridge (you can’t eat dry food immediately after fasting). He didn’t tell me at the time; I didn’t find out for a long time after… perhaps he was embarassed.
I remember leaving the fasting circle to go to the bathroom. As soon as I came back, the masses surrounding us pushed a box of popsicles on us, telling me to share it with the other students. So, I brought it in. But as soon as the fasting students saw it, they all loudly proclaimed we shouldn’t touch it, they said we can’t eat any solid foods (popsicles counted as a solid food in their eyes). I felt pretty embarrassed, but I pushed the popsicles back into the hands of the people around us.
Many of the students were pretty naive. While fasting, we really didn’t eat… otherwise there wouldn’t have been the “popsicle incident”. Some students even proposed abstaining from water, in order to add even more pressure onto the government. Some of the students I know wrecked their health from fasting.
The passions of the supporters around us really moved us. Every day, I saw that as soon as students held up a donation box, many average citizens surrounded it stuffing donations in; it was always 100 RMB bills, too. At that time, 100 RMB was still worth a lot of money. At the time, the student and the people’s desires were positive, and this passion was valuable. Even now when I think of those days spent fasting and marching, as well as the average people and students I met on the square, as well as supporters from every field… my heart is stlil moved. I remember while I was getting an IV drip in the hospital, the nurse working with us were from the pediatrics ward. They were afraid that our veins had become too small, and were concerned we’d suffer. So, they found the most experienced nurses to work with us.
After you fast for a long enough time, hunger becomes the normal state, and you get used to it. I sat on the square every day, and watched wave after wave of organizations expressing their affectionate concern. They came from the Federation of Trade Unions, from the Women’s Alliance, from Hong Kong/Taiwan/Macau, military police, and CCTV workers… at the time I remember thinking: perhaps we’re really going to succeed?
While fasting, I drank only large amounts of water, some with salt added. During the fourth day, a teacher from my department made me go get IV nourishment. A car took me back to the campus hospital; after the IV, I returned to the square.
On May 19th (or 18th?), it was already the 7th day of the fast. I was sent to get more IV nourishment. This time, it was a volunteer car from the Revolutionary KMT that took me. The Revolutionary KMT sisters in the car were all shedding tears for me; one of them forced 100 RMB into my hands.
Once I got to the hospital, it was already night-time. Without noticing it, I fell asleep. By the time I woke, it was already morning of the second day. The TV in the patient room was broadcasting news, showing that Zhao Ziyang had been to the square to see the fasting students. He looked old and frail; he said to the students: “I’m old, forget about it.”
There were two young girls in the room with me; probably college freshman. Very stubborn. The head nurse begged them to eat something, but they absolutely refused. The head nurse was probably already in her 40s or 50s. She said her son was also a college student; she cried and begged these girls, but they still wouldn’t eat. The head nurse kneeled down in front of them, but they still wouldn’t eat.
At that instant, I felt this was all so pointless, so meaningless. I said: “I’m stopping my fast.” I picked up my porridge and started eating.
I got back to school, and found that all the other students had eventually came back. The square’s “command” post had already announced we were ending the fast. That night, martial law was declared.
My trip to Tiananmen on Six Four
In the afternoon of June 3rd, my boyfriend and I decided to go to the square and take a look. We heard a statue of liberty had been erected. When we rode near Xidan, we couldn’t go any further; it was all PLA soldiers in front of us. We left our bikes there and walked on.
When we got to the square, we found the situation was very tense. Rumors were spreading; we didn’t know what to do, so we decided to stay.
All night, we and the other students sat beneath the Memorial, listening to Hou Dejian (Ed note: how can there NOT be an English-language wikipedia entry on Hou Dejian!?) and Liu Xiaopo screaming at the People’s Liberation Army through our loudspeakers. All around us, but at a distance, was ring after ring of PLA.
There were constant news of injured students, including students from my school. Walking around the four sides of the square, I also saw people and students carrying the wounded walk by.
Late at night, we sat on the steps in front of the memorial. All the students sang patriotic songs together, and watched tracers flying through the sky. My heart for the first time contained this question: will I still be alive tomorrow? The sounds of gunfire around the square were dense, and many tracers drew lines in the sky. I thought they were signal flares at first… only learned they were tracers much later.
At the time I thought, it’d probably be a little more safe sitting on the top of the Memorial. If the PLA attacked, they’d have to start from the bottom. So, I sat on the highest step of the Memorial.
At the time I also saw Chai Ling wearing a big army coat, “inspecting” her troops. A few people were at her side.
Early in the morning, I heard Wuer Kaixi screaming in the speakers, saying that if he can get out tomorrow, he will definitely assassinate Li Peng. He screamed and screamed… and then suddenly there was silence. There was a burst of random sounds in the speakers, and someone called: “Wuer Kaixi fainted, quick, get me an oxygen bag.” (I hear he had heart problems.)
(I fasted on the square, and participated in many marches, and I was on the square on Six Four. But I’ve never personally seen Wuer Kaixi. I escaped home after Six Four, and watched on TV at home the government’s lists of the most wanted. When I saw Wuer Kaixi’s picture, I was shocked… isn’t this “Jingsheng”? I used to have many Uygur friends, and at a Uygur friend’s party at the Nationality Institute, I was introduced to Jingsheng. He was Uygur, but his accent was purely Beijing. Everyone was eating and drinking, singing and jumping… everyone was having a great time. First time we met, and we chatted a little. He said his name was “Jingsheng”, and he had grown up in Beijing. Later on, he suddenly said to me: “let’s go outside, I’ll take you to the balcony upstairs, we can chat there.”
I thought he was a little strange; we had just met a few hours ago, and it was all dark outside… why would we go outside?
Of course I didn’t go, and my impression of him wasn’t very good. Thought he had a bit of a “pervert” air about him.
That’s the only time I saw him. After the movement began, I never linked Wuer Kaixi with “Jingsheng”. When I saw him on TV… I really didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. The fact that someone like this became a student leader, I really don’t know what to say.)
At 5 in the morning, the PLA began their assault. Within an eyeblink, I found that fully armed PLA were standing behind me. I wasn’t at all mentally prepared. I was sitting on the highest steps of the Memorial, thinking I was safe. But who knew the PLA had sent an assault squad that climbed the Memorial and claimed the high ground… so now I was closest to them.
When I saw all the soldiers holding guns on the students from up on high… I was really emotional. I yelled loudly: “Don’t fire!” The other students next to me pulled me, told me to move faster.
Just like that, the other students and I left from the southeast corner of the square. Along the road, both sides were filled with average Beijing’ers. They said many encouraging things to us; I was torn with so many emotions, and my face was covered with tears.
(During the early morning of Six Four, Chai Ling and Wuer Kaixi were definitely on the square. (Ed note: A point of controversy for many debating this issue.) But after the dawn, after the Memorial had been taken, they were already long gone. They must’ve left before the PLA started their offensive, but as far as how they left… I’m completely mystified.)
Walking along Chang’an street, squad after squad of PLA marched past. We screamed as loudly as we could: “Animals! Animals!” On the side of the road, I saw people holding corpses and sobbing.
We walked and walked, there was certain chaos. I turned around and looked, and behind us on Chang’an street, a team of tanks were coming towards us at high speed.
I never thought tanks could drive that fast. Students fled in every direction, and my boyfriend and I hit in a small hutong. Some students couldn’t run fast enough, and ducked under the railings on Chang’an street itself.
I saw a tank drive to the front of our hutong and stop. The tank suddenly turned, and its cannon was facing us. It was a dead-end, we had no where to hide. There were more than 10 of us, and we could only stare at the tank and that black cannon hole.
Nobody made a sound. We faced off against each other like this. Suddenly, one guy couldn’t control himself any more, and began to wave his arms and curse at the tank. I rushed to grab him, afraid he’d anger the tank. At this point, the tank blew gas at us…. quickly the hutong was filled with smoke. The tank left. I assume the tank fired tear-gas, but at the time we coughed and couldn’t speed. That stuff felt STRONG. Even when I think of it today, my throat hurts… although I never felt like shedding tears.
It was really something I’ll never forget this life time. When that tank chased up to us, all of us panicked. When the tank aimed its cannon at us… we basically froze, had no idea what it would do. We had already left the square, had already walked a long ways along Chang’an street; we were already non-threats… when the tank raced up to us, who knew what their objective was.
We covered our mouths and ran as fast as we could. It felt like I was choking, and couldn’t talk. We found our bikes where we had left them, and we rode back to campus. At school, many students and teachers were waiting worriedly by the front door.
The tank that was chasing us crushed some students behind us. I didn’t see this with my own eyes, but there were pictures being spread around the campus.
After I got back to school on the morning of Six Four, I was afraid my family would be worried… I ran to the post office by school in order to send a telegram home, and let them know I was safe. There was a huge line of people waiting to send telegrams, it edged along the street for a great distance.
While waiting in line, I saw the post office’s wall was covered with telegram strips. Apparently, some students telegrams were too emotional and hate-filled, and the telegram operator wouldn’t send it. The students in a moment of anger taped their telegrams to the wall. I have a distinct memory of a poem, although very extreme, but really high in quality. It’s a shame I don’t remember the exact contents now.
Speaking of telegrams, I remember my mom. I don’t remember whether it was before or after the fasting, I received a telegram from home, saying my mom had a serious disease, and that I should go home. I quickly called long-distance, calling for my mom at her school. We didn’t have a telephone at home, at the time. Coincidentally, it was her that picked up the phone at school. I asked, “Aren’t you sick? Why are you still at school?” She said she had no choice, she was trying to trick me home… she was afraid something would happen to me at school.
When one of my classmates was fasting on the square, his mother heard about it. She was also afraid something would happen, so she decided to fast at home. She said, as long as he doesn’t go home, she won’t eat. Finally he had no choice, he had to give up the fast and go home.
On June 6th, my boyfriend and I took the train home.
It’s been 19 years. I’ve married my boyfriend at the time, and we have two children. After graduation, I was assigned to a government bureau. I eventually became a department head (处长), and was given a high-level title, the earliest to be promoted from my peers. My Six Four experience didn’t have any sort of effect. I’ve also never intentionally avoided this experience.
In 2000, government departments were reforming and downsizing. The policy was to allow the older folks retire prematurely, while allowing the younger to receive three years of salary and attend school… after which, we’d have to self-employ. I asked whether I could go study in the United States, they said sure, and here I am.
When I think back to this intersection of spring/summer back in 1989, it feels like it was a different world.
I was at the People’s University, and a total of six students died. We suffered heavy losses compared to the other universities. Amongst these was a graduate student that my boyfriend knew. There were also two high school students from the attached high school; the mother of one of them organized the “Tiananmen Mothers”.
Six Four allowed me to recognize that the people’s strength is huge, but if it’s not properly guided, it will also cause serious consequences. This is why I was also very worried during these recent incidents at Carrefour.
After Six Four, the people who come after us will have their own judgments. I personally have never felt regret.
After Six Four, there was a period where my heart was dark; I felt I had lost confidence in society and idealism. But slowly, it got better.
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