Coming in 1989, the Tianamen square protest
was something of a postscript to this story,
but since my family is from Beijing,
I thought I’d include my connection to it anyway.
I was living in Chicago at that time, my family had told me about how university students had been organizing and protesting.
On June 4th, an American friend called and told me to turn on the television. That’s where I saw the fire balls, heard the gun shots, and saw people running around and yelling. I could not believe that this was really happening on the streets of Beijing – and when I realized that Chinese soldiers were shooting people with real guns, I was screaming and crying.
I felt so helpless and hopeless about the whole situation, and I called my parents immediately – because they lived so close to all the action, but the phone line was busy, and I could not get through for the rest of that sleepless night.
The next day, I got through and found out my parents and every one else in my family were fine. Mom told me that they had stayed at home, and tried not going out at all. The streets were all empty, and once in while you could hear people shouting or running. Their building was hit by a couple of bullets, since they were very close to the Changan (long peace) street where the soldiers and fighting were. Halfway through our conversation, mom told me that she did not want to say too much about what was happening. I asked why, and she said the line was bugged.
The sister of her son-in-law’s husband had been on the phone with her sister who lived in Australia, and when she started talking about how many people had been shot, an anonymous voice broke into their telephone connection and asked:
“How do you know that ? Did you actually see anyone killed?”
So it wasn’t really a good idea to say anything over the telephone.
And actually, my family was not involved – since this was mostly a demonstration by students – and my generation was already out of school and working (mostly for the government) – while my sibling’s children were still in grade school.
But we did have our opinions – and my two sisters were very outspoken in support of the demonstrators. When my older sister was talking with my uncle, a general, he told her that the students should stop their demonstrations and he supported the military to move in and restore order – to prevent the kind of chaos ensued from the student demonstrations at the beginning of the cultural revolution.
My older sister started defending the students and got very upset with our uncle, which was very unusual for her, since usually she is reserved and respectful of the older generation. Even mom was surprised by my sister’s reaction, and she stepped in to calm things down.
One of my girlfriend’s sisters was on the street that day when the soldiers were shooting people. She was a nurse, and she tried to pull an injured person to safety. But she saw that his head had already been blown open – and she realized that there was nothing she could do to save him.
Being 20,000 miles away, there was even less that I could do, but I did join a group of Chinese expatriates who marched around the Chinese consulate in Chicago chanting “Down with Deng Xiaoping” (which was the only time I’d marched in a public demonstration anywhere, China or America )