twenty-three years

“Thousands of people lit candles in Hong Kong…the only place in China where the Tiananmen Square crackdown is openly remembered” [SCMP]

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It’s interesting to reread some of my notes from last year, and to remember how very vague yet distinctly present my awareness was growing up.

[From June 2011]

It’s easy to mythologize events that happened more than two decades ago and whose details are still hazy. I can only imagine how confusing and chaotic it must have been for the students and citizens gathered as they tried to articulate, as one, what it was that compelled their bodies into that square. On some level, all I need to know is that they were desperate: that they drafted a list of seven demands, that these included freedom of speech, freedom of press, and democratic elections. That some individuals were willing to die for this, and that some who weren’t, did anyway.

At some point one government official came out and spoke to the students, begging them to end their hunger strike, entreating them to take care of their bodies, because they were young, because they still had so much more living to do. We are already old, he said, speaking of the government.

It’s too easy to default to Western perspectives on China, their black-and-white narratives, too easy to take for granted the moral superiority of Western democracy and its claims over freedom. And it’s too easy to mythologize history and the people and causes involved. I know that the world is more complicated, more complex than this. Still, the clarity of certain details move me. Twenty-two years ago, after news of what was happening in Beijing spread, 1.5 million Hong Kongers, a quarter of the entire population, marched through the streets to show their support. A week later, the Army moved through the capital; people died.

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