admin’s note: As Nimrod commented in an early thread, “the tankman photo was a snapshot …, the whole incident is a lot more powerful than the snapshot; in the same way that the whole 1989 movement makes a more powerful statement than the snapshot of 6/4.” Previously, we posted personal accounts of students from Tianjin or Shanghai to give readers a taste of the spread, both in terms of time and space, of the 1989 student movement. Today, we post an account from a student in Beijing on what he saw on that fateful day 20 years ago. Needless to say, the views on the movement among the participates have diverged and shifted considerably over the past 20 years. However, the raw emotions we felt on that day, shock, anger, confusion, and above all, profound sadness, are afresh in our minds on this anniversary.
My Daughter, who is in the first grade, was reading her homework to me, “On My way to school, I saw beautiful flowers. Some flowers were hanging on stems …”
“That’s very good” I said.
“Others felt on the grass after a thunderstorm, but they are still beautiful” She continued.
“Yes, they are.”
Every life is a flower. Twenty years ago, in the morning of June 4th, 2009, I saw flowers fell.
At the end of May, 1989, like many other university students in Beijing, I already left the TAM square after participating numerous protests big and small and a long hunger strike.
On the night of June 1, I was sitting on a bench outside our campus, chatting with several students. Suddenly I heard someone was shouting: “the devil has come to the village; the devil has come to the village” (this is a phrase used to refer the Imperial Japanese invasion army in movies). I saw three or four student-looking people shouting and riding rapidly south on bikes.
The army was ready to enter the city. The previous evening, I saw squadrons of motorcycles cycling around the Tiananmen Square, with riders chanting “defend the students!”
The following night I heard the crowd had blocked several buses carrying plain-clothes soldiers. There was physical confrontations and violence.
At the noon of June 3rd, I heard rumors that the 27th army and the 38th army had begun fighting outside the city and a civil war had started. In the evening, announcements were broadcast in radio and TV advising everyone to stay home to ensure their personal safety. It seemed that the army was ready to expel the students from the square.
I went to Renming University with two of my classmates. We heard from loudspeakers set up by student organizations that the army had opened fire. One girl in her tearful voice said that her boyfriend was shot and taken to the hospital.
I thought he was hit by rubber bullets. They could be dangerous too. What is going on? As an active participant of the early protests and the hunger strike, my heart was still with this movement and I determined to see in my own eyes.
I went back to my dormitory and took my bike. I rode south towards the Chang’An Avenue and picked up a student along the way. We can gradually hear gunshots from a distance. I also faintly smelt of burning rubber. I thought it must be the smell of rubber bullets.
<update: a map shows BMY’s bike route>
When we were getting closer to Muxudi (木樨地), the sound of gunshots became clear and the smell of burning rubber got intense.
Near Muxudi, I saw there was fire. Gunshots and the cries of the crowd were coming from there, and ambulances were roaring out one after another. In the middle of the road, a Uighur student was shouting and waving, trying to direct the traffic.
I got off from my bike. The student I picked up waved goodbye to me and disappeared into the crowd. I dared not to go any further. Two times, people crouched and I stood there at a loss. There might be bullets flying overhead. I still need to be careful even though they are rubber bullets, I thought. So I hid behind a tree.
The sound of gunshots moved gradually eastward. I then went to the Muxudi intersection. I saw two burning cars and two buses used to block the road. The smell was coming from the burning cars. There were several bullet holes on the wall of the subway station. There was also a bullet hole on the metal fence of the pedestrian crossing in front of the subway station. I finally realized that the bullets were real. About a dozen meters down the road, there was a cart with broken yogurt glass bottles in and around it. Clearly, those yogurt bottles were used as weapons.
Concerned about my own safety, I went through an alley to the Xuanwumen avenue, a street parallel to the Chang’an avenue, and continued to ride east towards the square.
Very soon, I saw a long line of military trucks full of soldiers stopped along the road. Some Beijingers were talking to the soldiers, saying that the students are not causing turmoil, they just want to get rid of corruption. The soldiers lowered their heads and did not say a word. A few of them shook their heads. I thought they must be ordered to not talk. There are several officers were talking with civilians along the road.
I stayed for a while, and then moved on. I saw there were a bus parked sideways and some other road blockers ahead of the leading military vehicle. Some residents were removing smaller road blockers.
I arrived at the southwest corner of the Square at the early dawn. I saw the area between the Memorial Hall and the Qian Gate was filled with sitting soldiers. Not far away, a group of men were shouting indignantly against the soldiers, “1, 2, fascist! 1,2, fascist!”
I also saw the last group of students filing out to the southeast corner of the square with their banners. Behind them, there is a phalanx of armored vehicles slowly moving from north to south to fill the void left by the students.
It was broad daylight now. I can see the faces of every soldier in front of me. They were of similar age as me, wearing helmets, griping rifles and sitting facing south. Many soldiers look like country boys with naive eyes and rosy faces.
Several Beijingers and I whispered to the soldiers, “Students are not engaged in unrest.” A soldier retorted, “look what a mess you have made”. Other soldiers kept silent. A middle-aged military officers suddenly stood up and shouted toward a woman next to me, “no pictures, hand over the camera and it is confiscated.” He stepped forward and grabbed the camera. The lady begged,” could you please take away the film but return the camera.” The officer shouted, “All confiscated.”
All of a sudden, a series of gunshots erupted behind me. Soldiers in front of me all stood up and looked to the direction of my back. I quickly turned around and saw another group of soldiers sitting eastward about 10 meters away. There were one official and a soldier stood. The official yelled at a group civilians mixed in age and gender about 2-30 meters away. The soldier was firing upwards.
Then suddenly an ambulance came and someone was taken into it. The ambulance rushed away in sirens. An old gentleman pointed at the officer and said something indignantly.
Feeling unsafe, I wanted to go back to the campus. I rode westward and at the first intersection, I decided to go back along the Chang’an avenue. I turned north into an alley. At the end of it, a tank was parked there with its cannon pointing toward the alley. Two or three soldiers wearing helmets were standing beside the tank. I rode past them nervously along with a few civilians and entered the Chang’an avenue.
There were already some people riding on the Chang’an Avenue. An armored vehicle traveling from the west going super fast and the people were scattered to avoid it. I felt angry at the recklessly APC driver.
I felt lethargic while riding the bike. A student wearing black plastic framed glasses was shouting something. I stopped. Beside him, there were two mangled bicycles. There were also two bodies whose faces and upper bodies were covered. Between the bikes and the bodies, there was a pool of red and a pool of white. I had never seen corpses before. I felt even dizzier and my breathing became difficult. I was two meters away from the shouting student and I could see tears dripping down on his cheeks. Yet I still could not quite understand him. On the back of my mind I thought he was shouting “could somebody help me?” “Could someone help me move the bodies?” I did not have the courage to move the body. I left in humiliation, without saying a word or looking back. I felt I was a coward.
I rode my bike like a robot and a person rode along with me asking, “Student, do you know what happened last night?” I did not answer. I cried.
Near Muxudi , I saw a body lay in the middle of the road with its face covered.
And not far away, a few people were yelling and chasing a person in military uniform.
I did not stop.
Going north, on the road near the Purple Bamboo Park, I saw a lonely tank with its hatch door open. I did not see the troops.
It was almost 11 o’clock when I finally came back to the dormitory. My roommate asked me where I had been. I replied that I took a walk, and then I went to sleep.
At noon in June 5, I went to Muxudi again; the bullet holes were still visible. I went to the nearby hospital (复兴医院). There was a notice posted outside, requesting family members to claim bodies. A crowd gathered outside and I followed the flow of people walking inside. I saw from a window that there were about a dozen corpses lay on the floor with face covered.
On the utility pole near the entrance of our university, a bulletin was posted stating two students in our institute were killed. Mourning halls were set up for them. I went to the one for a sophomore. I bowed 3 times in front of his portrait.
It was rumored that the army was going to be stationed on campus. Some students swore to defend the campus with their lives. Others wanted to empty the campus in protest. Once when I passed through the Beijing University, I saw two young men in black clothes rode on the street, with axes strapped around their waists.
Classmates started to go home one after another. Teachers came to request us leaving.
My two classmates and I were the last three students in our class to leave campus. On June 9, in a campus used to be full of vim and vigor, there were only 3 of us, walking lonely for 15 minutes from the dormitory to the school gate.
When our bus passed the Capital Indoor Stadium, I saw the courtyard was filled with heavily armed soldiers, their helmets glittering under the sun. Most passengers turned to watch the soldiers, silently.
In the morning of June 11, after lost touch with my family for several months, I finally went back home. My dad said slowly, “You must be hungry, go get your breakfast.” My mom, with tears flashing in her eyes, turned back her face.
There were many other parents waiting for their children to come home. For some of them, the wait was in vain.