Speaking Their Hearts and Lives at Tiananmen Square
©Crockett Grabbe

Our right to speak is guaranteed as the first of 5 freedoms set out in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and several of us strive to do it well. But too many countries have no such rights for their citizens. The world watched 25 years ago as demonstrators for democracy in China were brutally crushed in Tianammen Square by Chinese troops. And the world saw brave examples of demonstrators speaking out their hearts and minds -- not necessarily by words but by whatever channel they had available. What they did at Tiananmen Square should never be forgotten.

The events at Tianammen Square were poetically captured in the lyrics of the song CHINA written and sung by Joan Baez in 1989:


"In the month of May, in the glory of the day
Came the descendants of a hundred flowers
And their fight it did begin with the aging Mandarin
And they fought with an extraordinary power
Everyone was smiling, their hearts were one
In Tiananmen Square..."

However, this beatiful scene could not last because of the political realities of the country.

"There's peace in the emerald fields, there's mist upon the lakes
But something is afoot in the People's Hall 
The spirit of Chu Ping is alive in young Chai Ling 
And the Emperor has his back against the wall 
Black sun rising over Tiananmen Square 
Over Tiananmen Square..."

Chai Ling was a graduate student in psychology at Beijing University at the time, and she along with Li Lu and Wang Dan were principal leaders of the demonstration. After a few weeks of glory the demonstration soon turned into a scene of tragedy.

"In the month of June, in the darkness of the moon  
Went the descendants of a hundred flowers 
And time may never tell how many of them fell 
Like the petals of a rose in some satanic shower 
Everyone was weeping in all of China 
And Tiananmen Square 

But it seems that the Spring this year in Beijing 
Came just before the Fall 
There was no summer at all 
In Tiananmen Square...

And even the moon on the fourth day of June 
Hid her face and did not see 
Black sun rising over Tiananmen Square... " 

Chai Ling and Li Lu escaped the crackdown through Hong Kong to Paris, then to the United States. Both soon became speakers on these events, having entered a country where free speaking is a fundamental right. However, Wang Dan, considered the brains behind the democracy movement, did not make it out. He was arrested by the Chinese government in the crackdown, and served a total of 6 years in prison. Finally China exiled him to the U.S. in April, 1998.

One event in this tragedy can never be forgotten, in which a man showed the most remarkable courage in an effort to avoid the pending bloodshed:

"And Wang Wei Lin, you remember him 
All alone he stood before the tanks 
A shadow of forgotten ancestors in Tiananmen Square

And my blue-eyed son, you had no one 
You could call a hero of your age 
You have the rainbow warriors of Tiananmen Square, singing 
'China Shall Be Free ...' "

Remember Wang Wei Lin? Effectively the whole world should remember him! He stood up unarmed and alone to the tanks, in an effort to keep the troops from striking the demonstrators. When a tank he stood up against tried to go around him, he then moved to stand is front of the new trajectory the tank was taking. This man spoke louder than anyone in Tiananmen Square --- not by words, but by a powerful demonstrative action and one of the finest examples of courage in decades! And he probably paid dearly for it --- no one has heard from him since that event.

Tiananmen Square, 1989: One lone man stops the tanks.

In an interview Barbara Walters conducted with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China shortly afterwards, Barbara asked what became of the man who stood up against the tanks. The Secretary replied in terse broken English, "I think -- never killed". Well if he was not killed as many demonstrators were, what happened to him?

These and thousands of other demonstrators gave their hearts and their lives at Tianammen Square for the right to speak and be heard. They embodied a fledgling democracy, striving to come out. This was a glorious peaceful revolution that was never to be.

We need to speak out loudly and clearly on this topic. The global nature of media is rapidly growing, and the more we have to say on it the more will reach China and countries with similar restrictions. We should shout worldwide that the freedom to speak is fundamental, and cannot be denied! By continuing to write & speak to honor groups like those who gave their hearts and and even their lives for the fledgling democratic cause in China, the more we can promote the ringing of freedom of speech worldwide.

To quell the peaceful demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government sends in many military tanks. One courageous man stood up to them in a futile effort to avoid the ominous blood shed, which took the lives of 100s of people showing their hope for democracy.