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The Darkness before the Dawn
June 1994

It's about eight o'clock in the evening. Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace) sits quietly in the sunset, which can still be seen at the end of the Eternal Peace Avenue. Street lights along the avenue were lit up moments ago. Normally this street would be crowded with traffic and tourists. But today, there are only a few people and scattered cars driven by. It's already the beginning of June, but the wind is still a bit chilly. The darkness pulled over the sky of this early summer night. The entire city is quiet, but it's not sleeping. It's waiting. It's waiting for something.

Today is the thirteenth day after the declaration of Martial Law. But students and citizens are still occupying the Tiananmen Square, the heart of the city of Beijing. The year 1989 has been the toughest for China since her march to modernization in 1979. Due to overheated economy, the inflation raced pass fifteen percent. Thousands of state enterprises are facing bankruptcy. Millions are unemployed. In the middle of April, hundreds of thousands of students gathered and held the memorial for the death of former Secretary General of the Communist Party who was forced to resign because of his opposition to crackdowns on the 1986 student movement. During the memorial, students requested a dialog with the government for more political reforms, democracy and cleansing of corruption. After the government refused to dialog, students decided to occupy the square and demonstrate until the government agrees to their demands. On May 10th, the soft-liners lost the internal power struggle. Zhao Tsi-Yang who supported student movement resigned as the Secretary General. Martial Law was declared. Beijing was soon surrounded by over a million troops. The 38th Army was ordered to march into the city. But it was blockaded by hundreds of thousands of spontaneous citizens outside of the city. The march was unsuccessful. The government substituted 38th Army by 27th Army, which was reportedly, withdrew from China-Vietnam border three thousand miles away. The soldiers were not allowed to read the newspapers or watch TV. They were only told there is an anti-government, counterrevolutionary riot in the capital. Their order is to suppress the riot and preserve the communist regime. By June 2nd, the army arrived. The central government's internal structure has been re-arranged. The hard liners are now in complete control and determined to put an end to the demonstration. The encirclement of the city by the troops has been reset. Then everything comes to a stop. The army is waiting for scheduled time to start the attack.

From the strange, eerie silence, people sensed the danger. After two months of continuous struggling, after numerous victories, the tired, exhausted people realized that the last battle is about to be fought. They realized that they are now alone facing the machine guns and tanks. The support they used to receive from the reformists is gone with the resignation of Secretary General Zhao. There was no overwhelming pressure on the Chinese government from the international community. The only weapons they have are their determination and their idealism. There are two choices --- kneel down to survive as slaves or stand up to fight as freemen.

I was about seventeen then. I spent most of my time on the square since the middle of April. I witnessed most part of the movement. Democracy was then a remote and abstract concept to me. But I was inspired by the students' courage and passion. In the evening of June 3rd, everything had indicated that a general attack will be started after the sun set. Schools have urged students to stay home and not to go on the streets. The military helicopters flew by over and over warning people to stay home or take full responsibility for their action. I went to Tian An Men Square with my friend Joe and left my aged and worried grandmother at home. Just like the students' words: "Rather let the parents down, never let the country down." Thousands of people went to the last battle of this pro-democracy movement. For many of them, this would be their last.

The student broadcast on the square were still urging people to stand up to fight for freedom, and the government's broadcast from the great buildings around the square were repeating the warning at a much louder volumn. Hundreds of public buses were disabled in the middle of the streets as road barriers to block military's access at every intersections along the Eternal Peace Avenue which goes through Tiananmen Square. There are only about twenty thousand people on the square compared with ten days ago. Today the world's largest square is almost empty and most of all, defenseless. Everyone is silent. Perhaps because they all know tonight they would be defeated.

At about 9:00 PM, the student broadcast reported the beginning of the military attack from the west side of the city and first casualty at about twenty miles away. Then every half an hour, more casualties were reported and the military was sighted closer and closer. At 11:30, the student broadcast reported heavy casualties at Sidan, the last intersection on the Eternal Peace Avenue just west of the square three miles away, where ten days ago hundreds of thousands of people blocked the military's advance and successfully turned them back. Student Union issued a final statement. It announced that it's no longer necessary to uphold its non-violence principle, students and people have the right to defend their lives. After the announcement, most people started looking for wood or bamboo sticks for self-defense. We left the square with about two hundred people to the west for Sidan the last point, which could possibly hold back the military.

Bang! Bang! Bang! When we were about a quarter mile from Sidan, I heard the continuous sharp noise reverberating in the sky coming from the west. It was distinct and eerie, sounded like fireworks, but it was much louder and sharper. I wondered what it was from. It was my first time hearing something terrifying like that, and people around me didn't have much idea about it either. The buses in the middle of the road were set on fire. People threw gasoline bottles into the flames. The night sky had turned completely red. And the half of it was covered in the heavy smoke. Suddenly, people around the buses started steaming and running away. Then, some black shadows appeared in the fire. They were armed with helmets and AK47s. Because of the bright flames, I only saw the moving shadows. After they jumped out of the fire, they started chasing down the people and shooting at the slowest ones. My friend and I started running while the soldiers are getting closer and closer. And the gunfire was getting more and more intense. We ran to a local street from the avenue, but it was a dead end. We turned around and tried to get out before the soldiers cut off the line. For some reason, we did not run back to the direction of the square. We took another exit off the avenue. We just made it before the soldiers arrived. Then I heard the guns fired behind us at close range. Two men by my side fell to the ground. I went back and tried to pick him up. Another man came and tried to pick the other one, but they were too heavy to move, and the soldiers were so close that we had to give them up. The soldiers didn't follow us into the local street. They didn't bother the two men on the ground. They went on and headed towards the square. We went back and took them to a nearby hospital. One was shot on the head. The other was shot in the back. Now I realized they were shot by the bullets, but I still couldn't believe it. I thought they were just rubber bullets. On the way to the hospital, I was told that they both stopped breathing. Later a van headed to a local hospital stopped by picked them up with other wounded.

My shirt and pants were inked with the blood, the blood from the man I carried. The blood on my clothes from the stranger was still warm! I felt I had been fooled and betrayed by the government. They had always portrayed the relationship between the people and the army is like the fish and the water. The army is people's own army. I never expect much from the communist party. But I could never imagine the army turning the guns against their own people. Perhaps because of the grief and indignation, there was no fear in my mind. Three NHK journalists were making live report at about half mile away from the intersection. An American reporter was putting a new roll of film into his camera. People patted him on the shoulder and encouraged him to take more pictures and tell the truth to the world. He ran towards the army.

The heavy tanks cleared the buses in the middle of the road. Hundreds of tanks and military trucks already passed the intersection---the last line of defense, and headed in to the square. Now there is nothing that could stop them. For some reason, they stopped and moved very slowly. The gunfire was not as intense as before. My friend and me went to front of the trucks with a few other people tried to convince the soldiers not to shoot at their own people. They listened with expressionless faces some with grimaces. One man stood in front of a truck and refused to move. The soldiers fired in the air. But he didn't give in. They shot him. His body was soon taken away by the people nearby. There were no dead and wounded bodies lying on the streets because many risked their own lives to take them down to the hospitals. Now the access to the square is blocked by the army. Machine guns were placed on top the trucks, and tanks were turned around with canoes pointing outside. The soldiers got out of the trucks and walked to the square. One truck of soldiers disobeyed the order. They tore off the star insignias on the caps and the badges on the collars. Later they drove back to the base outside of the city. I didn't know since when all the tanks and trucks were on fire. Hundreds of them were burning. The three-mile long flames turned the entire sky red. The heavy smoke from the burning tires, truck and tanks turned my stomach. I didn't know who set the fire, the people or the army.

Sky is getting brighter. Dawn is coming. The thirty-mile long, a quarter mile wide Eternal Peace Avenue is now covered by the blood of innocent people. The battle is over, even though the scatter gunfire or the continuous shots from the machine guns could still be heard once in a while. It's starts raining. The rain drops washed away the blood. We are defeated. Like many exhausted people, I started to head home to get some rest. I took one last look at the direction of the square where I lived and battled for nearly two months. Who knows what's happening there.

Today, five years have passed. Many questions still left unanswered. What really happened on the square? What's the actual number of casualties? Could this tragedy be avoided had the students withdrew peacefully? Was the sacrifice necessary? Was the price worthy?... But there is one thing I do know that eventhough we were defeated by the armed soldiers and tanks, we didn't give in. And we didn't give up the struggle for the right of our existence. On this land, the heart of the ancient capital, people have rebelled against the dictators; people have risen up against foreign invasions; people have battled for their independence, today people fought for their own basic human dignity. In 1919, during the May 4th Movement, thousands of students and citizens occupied the Tiananman Square and demonstrated for democracy. In 1989 people gathered once again for the dreams they have been pursuing seventy years ago. The uprising was put off by machine guns and tanks. It's time for the pain and wound to heal and for peace and hope to grow. Like the flowers on the prairie, in the winter, they may be burned down by the wild fire; when the spring comes, they will blossom again!


To be continued...