This is one the official guides to the Olympics won’t be handing out, but it is vital to understanding the true context of the spectacle we are about to witness in Beijing. Created and circulated by people who have kept faith with the Chinese democracy movement:
showing street locations in Beijing where on June 4, 1989, 150 of the demonstrators were killed, or the hospitals where their bodies were taken. As the text accompanying the map explains, the total number killed “remains unknown although estimates range from several hundred to several thousand.” The information for this map was gathered by a group called the Tiananmen Mothers, started by Ding Zilin, a mother of one of the victims.
Nineteen years have passed, but as one of the eye-witnesses in the Beijing streets and in Tiananmen Square itself to that night of June 3-4, 1989, I look at this map and in memory can still hear the first cracks of the bullets, feel the treads of armored personnel carriers shaking the pavement, and see the people looking grimly at the advancing rows of helmets, silhouetted against the burning roadblocks. They were clutching bricks and bottles against the guns of their own country’s army. I remember a young man I saw closeup, shot in the chest, one of seven with bullet wounds I saw carried to a makeshift medical tent at the north end of Tiananmen Square during the final hours — and wonder if any of them are named in this document. I remember the demonstrators sitting in the spring breeze, shortly before dawn, on the steps of the monument to China’s Revolutionary Heroes, surrounded on three sides by tens of thousands of soldiers in the final standoff in Tiananmen Square — and facing off against the huge portrait of Mao, the white Goddess of Liberty statue that stood in Tiananmen for less than a week before China’s rulers knocked it down.
Here’s the account I filed that June 4th, recording what I had witnessed, and trying to answer my editor’s question, what does it mean? “The Party Pulls the Trigger.”
In that 1989 article, in the closing paragraph, I tried to set down something that still applies today; not least as visitors to Beijing survey the massive security efforts, not all of which are intended strictly to protect the Olympics:
“No doubt when the Chinese government has finished dealing with its people, the tidy square will be presented again as a suitable site for tourists, visiting dignitaries and the Chinese public to come honor the heroes of China’s glorious revolution. It will be important then to remember the heroes of 1989, the people who cried out so many times these past six weeks, ‘Tell the world what we want. Tell the truth about China.’ “
On this massacre map, one of the important truths that stands out if you look at the ages of some of those who died that night, is that the Tiananmen uprising was not solely a student movement. Some of the people who in their passion for liberty tried to face down the guns of their own government were in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Nor were they all killed in Tiananmen Square. From what I saw, my best estimate is that more were shot or crushed to death in the surrounding streets, trying to stop the advancing troops from reaching Tiananmen — which had become a symbol of the desire for freedom and justice.
Now come the 2008 Olympics, and while wishing the athletes well, I have little to add to what I wrote in early 2001, when Beijing was competing with Osaka, Istanbul, Paris and Toronto to host these games.
“…Trying to imagine the Olympic torch lit in Beijing, I keep remembering another torch, put there not at the behest of the communist regime, but by the protesters who nearly 12 years ago rose up by the millions to defy China’s tyranny. It was the torch held in both hands by the Chinese Goddess of Democracy — patterned after our Statue of Liberty — that for almost a week stood in Tiananmen Square, until it was destroyed by government troops on June 4, 1989.
When that symbolic flame of freedom can be safely lit again in China, it will be fitting to award Beijing the Olympic Games. Until then, the Olympics can better keep faith with human dignity — especially that of the Chinese people — by going somewhere else.”