28 June 2009


Twenty years and a few weeks ago, June 4-5 1989, the Chinese government slaughtered a lot of protestors in the streets around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. That pretty much crushed the "democracy movement" in China. I was part of the crowd in the streets of Hong Kong, protesting that. I'd been in the crowds on several other occasions during the month before.On May 20th, there was a typhoon eight signal hoisted in Hong Kong. That means a typhoon (hurricane) is approaching; go home, tape up your windows, batten down the hatches and prepare to wait out the onslaught. Instead, 40,000 or more of us were in Victoria Park, the winds and rains lashing at us, debris flying through the air, from where we marched to the headquarters of Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, in protest against the imposition of martial law in China.

A week later, on the 27th, 300,000 or more of us gathered at Happy Valley Racetrack to listen to musicians play songs of protest and hope. The anthem of the Chinese democracy movement, the song that really got the crowd worked up, was by Cui Jian, China's most famous rock and roller.

The song is called "Nothing to My Name." You can read the lyrics here.

You can see a You Tube video about him here.

He released another song, "A Piece of Red Cloth" in 1989, after the slaughter in Tiananmen Square. The lyrics are sadly appropriate today, in Iran:


That day you took a piece of red cloth
Covered-up my eyes and covered-up the sky
You asked me what I saw
I said, "I see the happiness"
This feeling made me so tranquil
It made me forget I have no place to live
You asked me where I'm headed
I said, "I'm going your way"
Couldn't see you, couldn't see the road
My hand was clasped by yours
You asked what I was thinking
I said, "You decide"
I sense you are not cold like steel
Yet like steel you are strong and hard
I sense there is blood in your body
Because your hand is hot
This feeling made me so tranquil
It made me forget I have no place to live
You asked me where I'm headed
I said, "I'm going your way"
I feel this is not a wasteland
Yet can't see this land is already dry and cracked
I feel I want to drink a little water
But your mouth covered my mouth
I can't go and I can't cry
Because my body is already withered
I will be by your side forever
Because I know your pain so well
music and lyrics: Cui Jian
translation: kemaxiu

The next day, May 27 1989, an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people marched in support of democracy in China through the streets of Hong Kong. That was a quarter to a third of the entire population.

A week after that, anywhere from three or four hundred, to three or four thousand - the real figure will probably never be known - people were dead in Beijing, and the aspirations of the Chinese people for a government responsive to their desires and concerns were quashed, at least for a while. A long while as it has turned out.

The other night, a young woman from Suzhou, China was in the audience at my book event for SHANGHAIED at Mystery & Imagination Bookstore in Glendale, California. She's a student here, and despite the fact that the events of 1989 do not appear in China's history books and are not taught in the country's schools, knew plenty about them. I asked her how she knew. She smiled and said, "I'm just nosey."

Nosey is good. It's essential. Let's hope that things in Iran turn out differently than they did in China. But however they turn out, let's hope that there are always enough nosey people out there that dreams and hope never die, no matter how many people do.

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