Friday, June 12, 2009

Tiananmen anniversary roundup

I was 'away' (over-emotional and overworked) for slightly more than the week I'd planned.... and this weekend isn't looking auspicious for a resumption of blogging either.

To keep you stimulated, here's a selection of the most interesting things I read related to the Tiananmen anniversary during the last week or so.

I'd already mentioned Philip Cunningham's Tiananmen Moon blog (a plug for a book of the same name [astonishingly enough, that link is not currently blocked in China!]). He seems to have closed it now, but the final two posts were long excerpts from his personal experience of June 3rd and June 4th in Beijing.

More intriguing eye-witness recollections were offered by Don Tai, a Chinese (I assume: he doesn't offer much biographical detail on his blog) Canadian who happened to be attending a Beijing university as an overseas student in 1989 (he has stopped in here on Froogville once or twice with a comment). This post about his experiences visiting a Chinese friend who lived near Tiananmen Square "the morning after" is particularly wrenching.

The New York Times' 'Lens' photojournalism blog carried a piece on the 3rd recounting the stories of the four press photographers who captured pictures of the 'Tank Man' - which led to the emergence the next day of an additional, previously unpublished shot taken by AP journalist Terril Jones. Unlike the more familiar views of the incident taken from the elevated vantage points of windows and balconies in the Beijing Hotel a few hundred yards to the east of Tiananmen Square, this picture is taken at street level. It seems a random, unremarkable snapshot of chaos and terror: a few people running or cycling away from the approaching armoured column (apparently a group of APCs had rolled through shortly beforehand, with soldiers on the back of them firing into the air to try to disperse the groups of onlookers along the side of the road).... but then, suddenly, you notice - in the background, in the upper left corner of the frame - the familiar figure of the 'Tank Man' taking position in the middle of a pedestrian crossing, getting ready to play his historic game of 'chicken' with the lead tank. Curiously, there's no reference to this grainy black-and-white long shot that I dug up for my 6/4 post on Froogville last year; I wonder who took this.
The Boston Globe's June 5th article carried a lot of large photos related to Tiananmen (so large, unfortunately, that they won't all load very readily - at least, not if you're having to use Tor - but be patient: they're worth it), some taken at the time (including a large version of that previously unknown street-level 'Tank Man' photo), some today (showing the enhanced police/military presence there this year to discourage any acts of commemoration or other potential embarrassments). I found the most moving ones to be those of this year's candelit mass vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park (150,000 people - according to most non-CCP sources - and you can readily believe it when you see photos like this one).
I also found interesting this June 2nd article from the UK's Guardian by Chinese author Ma Jian about how the government here is suppressing the memory of the 6/4 crackdown. It's a much better piece of writing than his horribly over-long and almost unreadable novel about these events, Beijing Coma - although a little too polemical at times for its own good (his allegation that the government knew of the melamine milk-doping scandal ahead of the Olympics but suppressed the news is plausible but, I fear, unprovable; and his suggestion that the ice lollies he fed to his daughter when visiting here last summer were all melamine-tainted is clearly a cheap shot, an over-emotionalism that does a disservice to the rest of the piece).

Another major Chinese writer, Yu Hua, had this op-ed piece in the New York Times at the end of May, titled 'China's forgotten revolution', a bitter observation on how the CCP has killed the idea of 'the people' in China. Do take a look, if you haven't already.

For the sake of "balance", check out how Chinese state media discuss these events. Well, actually, the mainstream media here discuss it little or not at all. But this paper, Global Times, is a new English-language venture, aimed at delivering the CCP 'message' a little more palatably and effectively to international audiences - so they felt (quite rightly) that they couldn't completely ignore the anniversary and retain any credibility with their target readership. It starts off slightly promisingly, with references to the increased police presence on the Square, the blocking of certain websites, and "scholars, officials, and businessmen declin[ing] interviews" with the paper. But then it quickly slides into the standard guff about how no-one cares any more because of 'the economic miracle' (with a sly reference or two to "the burnt bodies of soldiers" being one interviewee's only childhood recollection of the event). Credibility still not very high, I'm afraid, boys. But credit for daring to mention "the June 4th incident" at all; it's usually completely taboo in the Chinese media.

I was relieved to see that Hillary Clinton, after hitting the 'mute' button on human rights issues rather exaggeratedly when she paid her first visit to China a few months ago, issued a more appropriately forceful statement ahead of the 6/4 anniversary:
"A China that has made enormous progress economically, and that is emerging to take its rightful place in global leadership, should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal."
Hear, hear.

And finally, here's an interview with Guernica given by Wu'er Kaixi, one of the main student leaders of the '89 protest movement, now living in exile in Taiwan (his parents are refused permission to leave the mainland, so haven't seen him in person in over 20 years; at least in recent years Skype has enabled them to start keeping in touch by videophone).

There have been a lot of very moving words and images out there this past two weeks. And I hope this flood of remembrance and respect is going to continue for a good long time yet - until the Chinese leadership (and the majority of the Chinese people) start remembering too.

1 comment:

stuart said...

Good round-up, Froog. The role that the people of Hong Kong play in keeping the memory alive was my chosen take on this year's anniversary.

On the whole I think it was talked about enough, and with sufficient clarity and purpose, to let the CCP faithful know that this one isn't going away anytime soon.

And a few new revelations as well:

"...but then, suddenly, you notice - in the background, in the upper left corner of the frame - the familiar figure of the 'Tank Man' taking position in the middle of a pedestrian crossing..."

I found that picture remarkable, which is why I decided to put the Boston Globe link on top of my 'roll of honour' last week.

Debris and chaos all around and people running for cover and cycling away from the oncoming tanks. Except for that one lone figure, tiny within the frame but a stand-out giant in the greater historical context.

Moving and powerful, the picture hints at the premeditated nature of the man's actions in confronting the line of tanks. It's shocking to think that this is probably the last decision he made in his life.