That photograph was taken in 1988. It couldn’t be taken today. This post is the epilogue in my memoir, A Blue Moon in China. It’s titled: One Year Later
I watched with the world as tanks rolled through the streets of Beijing. The People’s Liberation Army was ordered to use lethal force to disperse millions of China’s own citizens, unarmed and peacefully assembled – the very people the PLA was sworn to protect. (I learned later that the violence erupted in 70 cities across the country.)
I can’t describe how I felt seeing bloodshed in a city and against a people I had so recently visited and come to know. The knowledge that my peers led the protest was poignant; it touched me deeply. Even now, 25 years later, tears fall from my eyes as I write, my heart breaks.
Over the course of the 55 days that culminated in what China’s citizens call the June Fourth Massacre, people from all walks of life became involved in the protests. University students led the demonstration for democracy, freedom of speech, for freedom of the press, to choose their own job, for higher wages, and against corruption among Party officials; the working person was angry about inflation, loss of jobs, and work conditions.
No one knows how many lives were lost in the cold-blooded suppression. The most common estimate is 2500 people died in Beijing alone, some put the number much higher. Tens of thousands were wounded. The hospitals were overwhelmed. The dead were piled up on the streets and in the morgues. Afterward, thousands were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Many of those who formed a workers’ union were immediately executed. With the help of unsung heroes who risked their lives, many of the student leaders and intellectuals on the government’s “most wanted” list managed to escape to foreign lands. They are still there in exile today and have been living abroad now longer than they lived in China.