Recounting “Six Four”, Tiananmen


AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami

(AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)

“Today’s June 4th? ‘Six Four’ is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protest in 1989.” That was how I was reminded of the event yesterday; my mother stopped in the middle of her daily chores by that date.

Without looking up a single news source, she continued knowingly, “Hong Kong will have a memorial service like they do every year, but not China. Chinese history does not even have a record of it; I bet your cousins have only heard the truth of it after they left the country. Everything related to it on the internet is censored as well; just the name of Prime Minister Zhao spooks the leaders.”

And indeed, every search on the subject brings up Chinese censorship and government refusal to acknowledge the massacre. There is neither full account of the injured and dead, nor release for the demonstrators still imprisoned. Faced with a frustrating lack of facts, I turned to my parents who in 1989 were both in Beijing at the time and to my surprise, found they had stories for me.

My father sounded like the impressionable man he must have been in his twenties.

“Was I there? I worked in a hospital office two blocks away! Five minutes by bike, and I saw tanks all over the street and thought, ‘I’m taking another way’. I was right by the lamppost with the tank rolling down the street and I backed away.” My father backed up into a door in the telling of it, “You did not want to get hit on a bike by a tank. You could hear it, pow pow! from the distance. I took a lot of pictures, who wouldn’t? But everyone seen doing that got reported, and we had to hand over all of our negatives. You should go back to China; there is a lot to learn.”

My mother’s tale was grave in comparison.

“I was also working in a hospital at the time, and we were originally sent by the government to set up an emergency aid unit. We had a tent on the Square to prevent the protestors from starving themselves to death because of the hunger strike. But you know the government, first they want to help, but in the end they don’t really care if they all died.

The day before there was a huge buzz going around, ‘Prime Minister Zhao is coming! Zhao himself!’, but my colleague immediately said, ‘Uh oh’. She knew bad news was coming, and the same day we were ordered to take down the tent. Then the tanks came in.

And a year later, we left. Did everything we could to come over, swim practically,” she mimes the motion with a laugh, “everyone was fleeing for America.”

June 4th used to be just a date to me, like it is for most Americans. Now it is another opportunity to count my blessings while touching fingers with my heritage across the globe. Born in America, at the very least I didn’t get tanks.

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