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Tiananmen: Lives of the Poets

Abstract : An illustrated history of Chinese poets in 1980s Peking and their first years of exile after the Tiananmen Massacre The year 1989 was meant to be a year of taking stock: 40 years since the founding of the People’s Republic, 70 since the May 4th protests against the ignominious Versailles Peace Treaty—protests which also ended with brutal suppression on Tiananmen Square—and 10 years since the “demolition” of Democracy Wall and the arrest of pro-democracy activist Wei Jingsheng. At the beginning of 1989 the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi in his open letter to Deng Xiaoping had highlighted the significance of these anniversaries and called for clemency and the early release of Wei. In 1989, expectation was in the air. But no-one expected the sudden death of disgraced, liberal-minded former Premier Hu Yaobang. It was represented by reformers as a re-run of 1976 when Zhou Enlai’s death prompted protestors onto the streets. It would prove to be a spark igniting the 1989 protests. There were two further anniversaries in 1989. One that would be ignored was the 10th March 1959, the Tibetan Uprising and the invasion of Tibet by the PLA. Protests had been ongoing since September 1987, but were brutally put down within days of the anniversary in March 1989. The New China News Agency reports that I analysed at the BBC said the situation was fine, which meant it wasn’t. And yet this clue to the government’s ability to resort to lethal suppression of protest was ignored by pundits and ordinary citizens alike. In Xinjiang, too, taking advantage of the province’s isolation, Uighur protests were bloodily put down in the month of May. Another warning sign that went unheeded. Perhaps, after all, these were mere troublesome fringe elements? And the Communist Party would never treat its own in such a fashion, would it? All of which is reminiscent of the admonition in Pastor Martin Niemöller’s post World War II “Confession”:”First they came for the Jews…” The other major 1989 event due to be celebrated, especially in China, was the bicentenary of the French Revolution. Two hundred years since the outbreak of the mother of all revolutions. China was to have been officially represented on the Champs Elysées in the Bastille Day parade. Instead, on 14th July 1989, black-clad Chinese students, now officially refugees, observed by a crowd of 800,000, pushed bicycles down the avenue in silent homage to their compatriots who had perished together with their ideals, a month before on the Square.
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Contributor : Gregory Lee <>
Submitted on : Saturday, September 28, 2019 - 11:37:54 AM
Last modification on : Monday, July 13, 2020 - 9:58:58 AM


  • HAL Id : hal-02299808, version 1


Gregory B. Lee. Tiananmen: Lives of the Poets. Cha: An Asian Literary Journal,, 2019. ⟨hal-02299808⟩



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