In 1999 on the 10th-year anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstration at Tiananmen Square I wrote an article commemorating the valiant actions that were brutally suppressed. Part of it was published in a speaker's magazine. Now on the 25th aniversary I am putting the full article online for all to see (below). What they did there should never be forgotten.
Speaking is our business and what we strive to do well. Our right to speak is guaranteed as the first of 5 freedoms described in the First Amendment to the Constitution. But have you fully appreciated events in countries with no such rights? As a matter of fact the world watched a decade ago as the 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.
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 the last decade! And he paid dearly for it --- no one has heard from him since that event.
In an interview Barbara Walters conducted with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, 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, where is he? Rotting away for life in some dungeon somewhere in China?
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.
As speakers we must 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! And the more we speak out and 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.