Saturday, June 13, 2009

List of the Month - Excuses....

..... for not going down to Tiananmen Square on the 3rd or the 4th.

I had been planning to, but it didn't quite happen. Amongst the reasons why:

1) Lack of time, energy
I've been working like a dog for the past few weeks, almost literally from dawn to dusk on many days. Trying to fit in an expedition down to the Square as well was a pretty major undertaking.

2) The hours of daylight
The time I would really have wanted to go would have been in the early hours of the morning - partly because that's when the clearing of the Square happened; partly because (as Stuart slyly suggested a couple of weeks ago) it would have been nice to get a photograph of the national flag at half-mast over the Square during the dawn flag-raising ceremony. Not much chance of that happening in my present state of exhaustion, alas. And sun-up is around 4.40am - ouch! The flag-lowering at dusk was a tempting alternative - but that happens at around 7.40pm, and I didn't find that timing convenient for me either on that day.

3) Stiff legs
I went for my first run in about three months on the afternoon of June 3rd. It had been my intention to wander out to Muxidi in the evening, to see if there might be some kind of low-key commemoration going on, and perhaps to light a candle myself. After the run, I was too creaky and enfeebled to contemplate it any more, and instead retired to bed early. [Muxidi is a residential neighbourhood about 5 miles or so west of Tiananmen, and was the scene of probably the largest single shooting incident of the crackdown - a massacre that even the Chinese government is unable to deny or conceal. At around 10.30pm on June 3rd troops started firing sustained volleys into the crowds attempting to block their progress to the Square - and fired, seemingly randomly, into surrounding buildings too - killing nearly 200 people. Much of the area is relatively unchanged, and I imagine that quite a number of the residents of 20 years ago are still living there - and would have been the people mostly likely to mark the anniversary in some small way. I didn't hear of any kind of public demonstration, though; whatever commemorations there were, they were very private and discreet.]

4) Discouraging weather
Just as I was about to head out on the late afternoon/early evening of the 4th, the sky suddenly clouded over and it began to rain. I hadn't really left myself quite enough time to get there before sundown anyway (I'd been planning to walk - fearing likely police checks at the Tiananmen Square subway stations).

5) I am a coward
I'm afraid I did also allow myself to be deterred somewhat by misgivings about the likely level of security around the Square. The number of police, secret police, and army (many of them in plain clothes) was, of course, much increased over the usual - overkill, oppressive - levels. And there were numerous reports of strict ID checks all around the area, and of some foreigners being denied access to the Square (although I also heard of a number of people getting on to the Square without any hassle at all; it may have been that only known journalists, or people who looked like they might be journalists because they were carrying nice cameras, were getting such bothersome attention). I'd only just got my new visa back, and hadn't yet managed to re-register my residence with my local police station: I just didn't fancy taking the chance - even a very slim chance - that this 'irregularity' might be exploited to make trouble for me.

6) I was too emotional
I often get pretty choked up visiting the Square. I have other reasons of my own for being especially emotionally brittle in the month of June. And the heightened emotions surrounding this momentous 20th anniversary have left me a bit of a basket-case over the past couple of weeks. I didn't want to be seen blubbing in public. And I didn't want to risk an attack of the red mist, getting myself into a fight with one of the plain-clothes goon squadders.

7) Despair
I found the certainty that there would be nothing to see down there too goddamned depressing for words. The Chinese people today are too ignorant of what happened, or too complacent in their slowly growing prosperity, or just too damned cowed and apathetic to raise any kind of protest about the events of 1989. And the few, the tiny handful that might have wished to do something will have been efficaciously discouraged by the knowledge that scores of goons with truncheons would have been all over them as soon as they raised a cigarette-lighter to their candles. The bad guys won 20 years ago. And they're still winning today. I hate that. It makes me sick to my stomach.

8) Not wanting to be a 'tourist'
I get the impression from friends, from other China blogs that - apart from the security forces and a few Chinese tour groups - just about the only people down at the Square last Thursday, certainly the only people there with any interest in the anniversary, were foreigners. This is primarily the Chinese people's trauma, not ours; and there is a danger of our taking too prurient an interest in it, of appropriating their grief as our own. God knows, I am often guilty of this myself - but on this day I didn't want to be a gawker.

I have been to the Square since (and got very emotional). I will go there again. And I will write many more posts about the 'crackdown', its aftermath, and its continuing significance for us today. But I didn't visit the Square on the 3rd or 4th this year; and I don't feel too regretful or guilty about that. I think I made the right choice - even if, at the time, I wasn't fully conscious of the factors shaping my decision.

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