Tiananmen Remembered (1989)

Tiananmen Remembered (1989)      by Jinny Batterson

(During the night of June 3-4, 1989, military units from the People’s Liberation Army converged on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. Students and workers had been demonstrating there for weeks, protesting perceived government corruption and demanding democratic reforms. International media attention stayed focused on the unfolding standoff. Many foreign journalists remained in Beijing after covering a historic May visit by reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.  As time passed, both student and government positions seemed to harden. Tensions mounted.  Martial law was declared.

Sometime during late evening June 3, shots were fired near the square. Some people were wounded.  Others were killed. It was hard from a distance to figure out what had happened; even eye witness accounts were confused and confusing. Western journalists’ accounts differed substantially from those provided in the Chinese official media, with estimates of the death toll ranging from 241 to as high as 10,000. Especially sensitive is the issue of whether anyone was killed in the square itself. Echoes of the episode continue to reverberate globally, affecting foreign and domestic policies on both sides of the Pacific even a generation later. Shortly after the crackdown, as I grieved with graduate students from the People’s Republic of China who had been living in our house in America, I tried putting my emotions into verse.)

Here they camped,
Here’s where the students sang,
Here’s where their voices rang–
Voices of hope.

Tiananmen, so full of bravery,
So full of pageantry,
So full of hope.

Sung throughout the ages
Like a litany–
A never-ending struggle
For our dignity:
The human spirit will not
Suffer tyranny,
As we must learn
Again and again.

Tiananmen,
Here’s where the students died,
Here’s where the people cry,
“Don’t give up hope!”

Tiananmen,
So full of history,
So full of butchery,
Still full of hope.

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