Part Five: The Window Shuts
Late the next morning Amelia borrowed a bicycle, with the intention of riding down to the Square. Near the north gate of the Youyi she met a Yugoslavian man who worked at Radio Beijing.
"Oh, don’t go out today," he said, "it’s, oh I don’t know how to say it in English. When the army takes over the law. No, when the government and the army are together controlling the people. Oh, I don’t know how to say it. What is the word? It’s like what they have in Tibet, corporal . . .."
"Martial law?" guessed Amelia.
"Yes, yes, that’s it! You must excuse, my English not too good. Corporal law—no. Martial law—yes."
Amelia was shocked. She tried to get more information from the man, but he said he didn’t know anything else. She got the impression he had a source of information inside the government and was reluctant to reveal too much. He again apologized for his English. If he learned anything more he would have his son call her.
Amelia headed back to her apartment. On the way she accosted several other foreign experts and questioned them, but no one else had heard anything about martial law.
At her apartment, she called Radio Beijing for information, but no one there knew anything. She turned on the TV—nothing. She tuned in Radio Beijing and caught the tail end of a peculiar announcement of a curfew beginning at 9:00 a.m. Maybe the Yugoslavian man had mistaken this for martial law? She phoned a half dozen friends but none of them could enlighten her.
She was about to write it off as rumor when a news bulletin came on the television. An expressionless announcer listed restrictions in certain areas of Beijing, including the Haidian district where the Youyi and many of the larger universities were located. All demonstrations were now illegal and the streets must be kept clear. Students were ordered to return to classes. Foreign journalists were not allowed to send out reports, take photos or video, or talk to Chinese about the anti-government demonstrations. The announcer spoke quickly and went on to read a long list of restrictions. Amelia couldn’t catch it all, but the end of it sounded very similar to the Radio Beijing story and it was definitely a martial law declaration.
She called Radio Beijing again to get the full report on what the declaration meant. A reporter told her he didn’t know what she was talking about. He asked around the office but no one had any information. Amelia asked about the curfew they announced.
"It doesn’t mean anything," he replied. Amelia couldn’t believe they could broadcast such a major bulletin and have no idea of its importance. Accustomed to mechanically passing on the Xinhua copy, the Radio Beijing workers didn’t even pay attention to their own broadcasts.
"Turn on the TV, you idiots," Amelia resorted to English in exasperation, "it’s on right now!" She could picture them sitting around the office, chatting and listening to pop music on the radio, while their government made worldwide headlines. "Real newshounds," she thought. The Yugoslavian man could find out about martial law an hour before it was broadcast on television while the Radio Beijing reporters remained uninformed after they themselves read the announcement.
Amelia stayed glued to the TV set for about an hour. She kept hoping for an English language broadcast or at least a clarification or update on the situation. All she heard was the same exact message, repeated over and over by different announcers.
She gave up on the TV and turned to the short-wave radio for news. She learned Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang was under house arrest. He’d been voted down in a secret committee meeting after arguing against the intervention of military forces. Troops were now mobilizing from areas outside of Beijing—200,000 soldiers had traveled by train from the northeast province of Heilongjiang. More troops were on the way.
Suddenly, Amelia heard a noise and looked out her window to see military helicopters flying overhead, heading towards the Square. She realized she couldn’t remember ever seeing airplanes fly over Beijing. She stood on her balcony and anxiously watched the helicopters slowly hover out of sight. The sound they made was eerily unfamiliar.
Her phone rang. Cousin Bernard spoke to her quickly in a state of panic. He told her not to leave the Youyi and not to even think about coming over to his place. She wondered if he worried about being seen with a foreign relative at his home. He seemed so upset she also speculated that there might be troops stationed near his apartment.
Li Peng dominated the night’s TV entertainment. He donned his Mao suit, instead of his Western businessman’s outfit, and gave a stern speech to a large group of decrepit old cadres. Everyone in the audience looked over 70 years old. Amelia tried to figure out how these mummified relics managed to retain power for so many years.
A forceful and angry Li Peng shook his finger and slowly paced the stage like a domineering schoolmaster. His eyebrows lowered on his furrowed brow—steps would be taken to quell the chaos and turmoil that had besieged the capital. The speech, delivered the night before, was repeatedly shown throughout the evening.
Fear and uncertainty circulated among the foreign experts when they heard the martial law announcement. Many had images of Poland and tanks rolling down the streets. The relative calmness of the Chinese eased their anxiety a little, but no one had any idea of what was going to happen next.
Amelia was preparing for bed when she heard a knock at her door. Aldous, dirty and unshaven, stood silently in her hallway. His face held a half-smile which made him look as if he was either deranged or hiding something.
He came in and started doing slow laps around the room.
"You’ve heard it’s martial law, right?" asked Amelia. You couldn’t assume very much with Aldous. He nodded his head and continued circling her living room.
"If they send the troops in, it could get pretty bad," continued Amelia. "I’m not sure I understand what this martial law business means. Some people think it’s just a bluff to scare the students. Zhao Ziyang is under house arrest you know. Troops are stationed on the outskirts of town." Amelia felt she was babbling. She wondered if Aldous even knew why he knocked on her front door.
Aldous opened the doors to her balcony and stepped outside. Amelia cautiously followed. The night was strangely quiet. Few people traveled on Baishiqiao Road. The normally active alley below them was empty. A full moon shone luminously in the clear sky.
"It’s a beautiful night for a revolution," said Aldous, looking at the sky.
"Tonight?" asked Amelia. He did know something.
"That’s what they all say. Do you want to go?"
"Go where? The Square?" Amelia had a premonition of going out and getting shot. She wasn’t at all sure what this martial law business meant; she wondered if anyone else did.
"The Square, if you like, but first we should go to the blockades so we can grab a ride." Aldous gazed fixedly at the radiant moon.
Amelia had heard about roadblocks set up the night before in some parts of the city. She grabbed Aldous’ arm. "Will you please explain to me what is going on."
Aldous turned towards her, but she couldn’t seem to break through his reveries. She used to think Aldous was a druggie, but she subsequently discovered he was perpetually part of another world.
"They’re setting up lots more roadblocks—all over. There’s one not far away on the third Ring Road. The students have jeeps and trucks. Some of them know me. We could get a ride and find out what’s going on."
In her confusion Amelia asked a stupid question. "Who’s setting up roadblocks, the students?"
"The students, the people, lots of people are out tonight. The helicopters dropped some leaflets saying the army will come in by 5:00 in the morning."
"Jeez, Aldous, why didn’t you tell me right off?" Amelia started getting ready to leave without fully thinking. She forgot her judicious fear for a moment. She had no idea what would happen to her if she were caught breaking martial law; but if a revolution started tonight she didn’t want to miss it.
The Friendship Hotel is located just inside the third ring road in the northwest corner of town. Beijing is one of the most symmetric cities in the world: Xidan in the west is matched by Dongdan in the east; Qianmen in the south is matched by Di’anmen in the north. Temple of the Moon Park is east; Temple of the Sun Park is west; Temple of the Earth Park is north; and Temple of Heaven Park is south. Chang’an Avenue splits the middle east-west while Jingshan Park (Coal Hill), the Forbidden City, and Tian’anmen Square run north south down the center. The ring roads run outward in concentric circles. The first Ring Road circumscribes the Forbidden City and is too small to be referred to very often. The second follows the subway route around the main center of the city. The third Ring Road encloses the city proper, delineating it from the suburbs.
They walked to the first roadblock on the third Ring Road. Heavy cement road dividers moved into the street left just enough room for one car to get through. Citizens stood ready to close this lane off if any army vehicles approached. The people at the roadblock stopped all cars and checked them before letting them pass. Very few cars came by.
Amelia talked with the students and discovered they didn’t expect the military to come this way. They thought the most likely places were in the south or at the west end of Chang’an, and large barricades sealed off both areas. Some people intended to move to these other blockades later in the night, once they found out where the troops were coming in. No one had any doubt they would come.
Some of the students agreed to take Aldous and Amelia along the next time they made their rounds in an old farm truck. This group did not have any cellular phones. Amelia had learned that only a fraction of the students used them for communication. This raised her opinion of Tony’s level of command. She mentioned Tony’s name and one of the students said he was stationed in the Square. Amelia wanted to go see him.
They didn’t leave for over an hour. Once on the road they needed to pass through several roadblocks. The students exchanged information about sightings of troop trucks. The consensus was they would enter from the south.
At about 2:30 a.m. they finally reached the Square and found Tony. He described how the army tried to sneak soldiers in from the south, hidden in tarp covered trucks. It was a ridiculous scheme; the students and residents easily blocked the troop trucks. Tony had heard no reports of violence and now the long row of army trucks were stranded amidst a sea of citizens.
"I’ll arrange to get you a ride over there," said Tony after Amelia peppered him with questions about the incident. She admired the fact that he could remain unfailingly polite and helpful even in the midst of a crisis.
The Square looked about the same, except the hunger strike had indeed ended. A boisterous propaganda war was being waged over tinny loudspeakers. The government speakers kept blaring that the students must leave the Square, stop causing chaos, and return to their classes. "The turmoil caused by the demonstrations is threatening the stability necessary to the country’s economic and modernization drive."
The student speakers squawked about the successful blockade of the army trucks. "The army commanders have said that if the leaders give the order to kill the people we will kill the leaders." They also claimed the commanders of the 38th Army, which was permanently stationed near Beijing, had promised not to fire on the people.
Amelia watched Tony give out orders and attack problems with impressive aplomb. He was so young, only 21 years old, and she had discovered in talking to him that he was also very naive. He owed his success to pure idealistic energy and an innate honesty that was estimable.
When their ride was ready Amelia had to hunt for Aldous. She found him hiding in a makeshift tent, covertly peering out at something.
"Our ride’s ready. What are you doing?" she asked. Aldous was too weird.
"I’m checking out the video cameras, trying to figure out their range of view," he replied.
She didn’t believe him at first, but then she saw a video camera on a lamppost. Aldous told her it had always been there. She’d never noticed it before.
They didn’t reach the roadblock until after dawn. Finding a vehicle had been difficult and minor delays plagued the ride over. The army trucks were blocked off near an underpass. Thousands of people had come out to jeer and lecture the visibly frightened young PLA soldiers. Incessant chants of "the People’s Army belongs to the people" greeted the early morning light.
Some citizens brought provisions out to the sullen, ill at ease soldiers huddled tightly in their trucks. They forced the food on them when it wasn’t accepted. A little girl pushed a bingoir Popsicle into the face of an irritated soldier. Some people acted friendly with the troops and asked about their families. Most of the soldiers remained silent but several of them loosened up a bit and chatted with the crowd. They said they hadn’t been told anything about the situation. Many thought their assignment was a training maneuver. They promised to never fire on the people.
Sitting on the ground, Amelia was just about to nod off in sleep when a nearby army truck roused her by racing its motor. This truck had been some distance away from the thick of the crowd, with clear space in front of it. It quickly started moving—evidently trying to make a break.
The truck went about 15 meters before people blocked its path and the driver had to jam on the brakes. A soldier, who for some reason had been standing on top of the truck, came flying off and hit the pavement headfirst. People whisked him off to a hospital. He appeared to be OK at first, but Amelia spotted a fair amount of blood on the ground.
Amelia would later learn that this soldier had died. Chinese TV would run conflicting stories about the episode for the next five days. They first reported what Amelia had seen. The driver, under orders to drive through the crowd, braked quickly to avoid hitting people and the man on top fell off. They would later completely reverse their story without a word of explanation. The new story stated that riotous students pulled the man off the truck and threw him to his death! Amelia was accustomed to the government media’s lies (she saw it almost every day at work) but this was the first time she had been eyewitness to the source of their blatant fabrication.
Despite the leaflets, the soldiers didn’t get through that morning. Amelia was elated, but her weary head insisted she return to the Youyi for some sleep. She and Aldous hitched a ride part way there and by mid-morning walked up to Purple Bamboo Park, not far from the Youyi. Amelia appreciated this peaceful park very much. Well-tended gardens provided soothing floral color. Narrow paths twisted through beautiful stalks of bamboo and alongside quiet ponds. Unlike most other attractions in Beijing, it rarely held Western tourists.
Her first visit to Purple Bamboo Park came directly after an odious experience at the deplorable Beijing Zoo. The sight of so many animals in cold iron and concrete cages, just slightly bigger than the animals themselves, had sickened her. People threw garbage at the ratty-looking polar bears and fed cigarettes to flea-infested monkeys. The most commonly overheard question from the obnoxious Chinese visitors, pointing at the animals, was: "Is it good to eat?" Tranquil Purple Bamboo Park became one of her first Beijing sanctuaries.
On impulse, she decided to do something she’d been frequently warned never to do, and had carefully avoided in the past; she decided to visit the park on a Sunday.
"Let’s stop in for a bit," she said to Aldous.
He paused a moment. "It’s Sunday," he said, confused. "Kids and English Corner."
Amelia had been forewarned that Sunday was the day thousands of parents took their children to the amusement rides on the south end of the park. On other days it was rather entertaining to pass by this area and see the tiny tots bewilderingly driving miniature motor cars into each other, or to watch them dazedly riding around in circles on the toy train and airplane rides.
But on Sunday there were just too many of them. Their high-pitched demanding little voices could grate on one’s nerves. A foreigner was sure to get stared at or greeted to a shrill chorus of "hi" or "waiguoren." Some of the bolder brats would throw things at foreigners or even sneak up and hit them. Amelia had simply walked down the street near the ride area of the park on Sundays and drew enough attention from the little monsters to remind her to avoid the place on the "day of rest."
The other, and more important, reason to avoid Purple Bamboo Park on Sunday was the English Corner. Every Sunday a large group of people met in a section of the park to practice their English. Some of them would comb the park looking for the hapless foreigner who occasionally stumbled in. Amelia had heard horror stories of people trapped for hours, bombarded with banal questions by people who couldn’t understand any response. Amelia knew what it was like when would-be English speakers captured her on the street and she cringed at the thought of having to face a crowd of eager but hopeless interrogators.
"There shouldn’t be too many kids today," said Amelia, "and I want to check out the English Corner." She had heard that the English Corner sometimes served a more interesting purpose. It was also a place where some of the more adept English speakers would meet to discuss political events and air opinions they would be too afraid to voice in Chinese.
Amelia had spoken to a lot of close-lipped people in the past few days. Many of the students would talk freely with her but she also wanted to hear what other Beijingers were thinking. So, shaking off her sleepiness, she dragged Aldous into Purple Bamboo Park.
The park was far less crowded than normal for Sunday, but it held considerably more people than one might expect the day after a martial law declaration. Lovers rowed in boats and stole caresses as they pedaled duck-shaped paddleboats on a portion of the lotus pond. People practiced tai chi, or sat in the shade and read, or just sat. A few old men walked their pet birds, gently rocking them inside covered birdcages. A fair number of children frolicked about the amusement area. Their parents watched them on the rides, bought them treats and took pictures.
One little girl wore a dress labeled with a pseudo-English phrase. These clothes were trendy in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, so a few trickled north to Beijing. Apparently random English words made up a short phrase or sometimes even a paragraph. The best ones had a ring of sense. This little girl’s dress was neatly scripted with the words: "Struggle Collector."
They reached a barren English Corner. "Meiyou," said Aldous with a sardonic smile. Amelia wondered if fear kept them away. Or were the people who would normally be at the Corner now involved in some other activity—like setting up and manning roadblocks?
The expected revolution didn’t occur Sunday or Monday night either. Both nights Amelia and Aldous checked out the Square and the various roadblocks. The people at the barricades expected a full assault from the army and were prepared to do anything in their power to ensure the troops did not enter Tian’anmen.
The troops did try to come in but it was a halfhearted and disorganized try at best. Amelia and Aldous saw several people turn trucks back. They even witnessed people halting tanks by lying in front of them. It seemed the troops had orders to move into the Square but were reluctant to run over citizens en route. Amelia felt she was beholding a true miracle: an army stopped by the sheer will of city residents—and without bloodshed.
On Monday the government tried, in what Amelia interpreted as a silly attempt to save face, to claim they never dropped leaflets warning of a troop take-over of the Square. They maintained the leaflets were student fabrication.
Large character posters started appearing everywhere in Beijing. Previously, they’d mostly been confined to the universities and a few parts of the city. Now Amelia couldn’t walk two blocks without seeing a poster stuck to a tree, wall, or building. Examples:
The Government isn’t the People’s Government.
We are Demonstrating and Protesting for the sake of our Country.
The People’s Army is Watching You!
Tuesday looked to be the big day. For the first time since the declaration of martial law, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in defiance. Amelia biked to the Square after work with a foreign expert named Dan who worked at Radio Beijing. Aldous was nowhere to be found.
They got to the Square in the early afternoon. There was little for them to do in the muddled Current Affairs office. For the past two days Radio Beijing replaced their show with a cryptic announcement perfectly describing the current state of the capital: "Due to obvious circumstances, Current Affairs has been cancelled." Amelia and Dan left before the end of their shift. Huge crowds streamed into an already packed Tian’anmen. Many more would come in the late afternoon. Amelia expected this would be another "million people day."
The mood at the Square was angrier than in the past. The workers there seemed especially acrimonious, more so than the students. Amelia thought things might get dangerous if a tempestuous crowd stayed at the Square until night.
Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping had not made a public appearance since martial law. Deng was rumored to have left Beijing for Wuhan or Beidaihe. People at the Square demanded the leaders show themselves. Many had just heard the news of Zhao Ziyang’s arrest (never officially announced) and vocalized their displeasure. Amelia heard some people mentioned Wan Li, in North America on a diplomatic visit, as a good replacement for Li Peng.
A commotion arose and people turned their heads towards the entrance to the Forbidden City. A few men threw what appeared to be paint on the large overhanging portrait of Mao. People nearby froze with amazement and some burst out in exclamations of outrage.
Amelia and Dan stood at the very northern part of the Square. Close as they were to the action, too many people blocked their view. They dashed across Chang’an, through a tunnel running below the street, to get even closer. Some students grabbed the perpetrators, three men who had indeed slashed and defaced the portrait, and held them in custody. Dan quickly took some pictures of the scene, some of which he later sold to Newsweek magazine for $200.
The defacement of the Mao portrait angered the students, who thought the bad publicity surrounding it would hurt support for their movement. Although she normally detested vandalism, Amelia believed the deed courageous. She viewed the Mao picture as a symbol of Big Brother government and of the personality cult leadership of the Cultural Revolution. It surprised her to see so many people upset over the defacement. It was clearly symbolic since everyone knew they had an entire basement full of those pictures. The Mao portrait was periodically replaced when it got too weathered. It wasn’t as if they had destroyed an ancient treasure or a work of art. Amelia had greatly underestimated the number of people who still revered the late Chairman.
Amelia would later hear that CNN managed to get an interview with the three men. (The American news media could be truly impressive in its ability to get stories.) They hailed from Hunan and claimed to have acted on their own. It was obvious to many people that the vandals’ participation in a foreign interview would lead to dire consequences for them—most likely life imprisonment.
Once again the heavens opened up to thwart another million people day at the Square. Heavy thunderstorms started in the afternoon, sending the hordes, including Amelia, back home. The foreign experts used to joke about the dry weather in Beijing. One Englishman who worked at Radio Beijing, sang a song at a Christmas pantomime to the tune of "It Never Rains in California." Part of it went:
Got on board an eastbound 747,
Didn’t think before deciding what to do.
All this talk of opportunities,
Radio scripts and Chinese,
Rang true, sure rang true.
Seems it never rains in northern China either.
Seems I’d often heard that kind of talk before.
It never rains in northern China,
But girl, they don’t warn you,
It’s dry; man it’s dry.
It had rained exactly three times in the previous 10 months. People said it wouldn’t rain again until July. This was supposed to be the season when massive sandstorms hit Beijing, with fierce winds blowing arid yellow sand and dust through the air until it was hardly possible to see. A year ago Amelia had walked out into one of these storms for ten minutes while wearing a surgical facemask. She still managed to get a mouthful of sand.
Now, two major thunderstorms had pounded the city within a week, each materializing out of nowhere to frustrate huge demonstrations from continuing into the night. As she walked home from the Square under the menacing clouds Amelia heard many people talk about the peculiar weather. In the days of the emperors, and even in the days of Mao, sudden, unusual meteorological shifts were taken to be signals from heaven—signs of an impending change in the leadership of China.
Things calmed down for the next few days. Often after a big demonstration people took a rest. One might have expected the huge rallies on Tuesday to lead to further disruptions, but the pattern was exactly the opposite.
The splendid weather made Bejingers more intent on enjoying the beautiful days than bothering with exhausting protests. The buses and subways started running normally again. Amelia began to receive mail, which she hadn’t seen since before martial law. Many people continued to head for the Square, especially at night, but no massive marches seriously hindered transportation.
"Obvious circumstances" evaporated, Current Affairs started airing again. Reporters continued to write stories about the student movement but no longer tried to stretch the boundaries of what could be broadcast. Stories were done on a massive clean-up effort in the now disgustingly filthy Square, on the restoration of public transportation, and on the effect the demonstrations were having on tourism in the capital.
Amelia no longer feared defying martial law by going to the Square at night. Now that the buses were running she could travel downtown on her own. She would stay for only a few hours, long enough to find Tony and talk to him about recent developments. Tony said he hoped the newly-released announcement of Wan Li’s early return to China was a signal the government intended to hold an early Communist Party Central Committee (CPCC) meeting, originally scheduled for June 20th. He thought the leaders would finally recognize the legitimate concerns of the students and take action to address their protests.
On Friday, Li Peng issued a statement Tony and the rest of the students found very discouraging. In strong terms, Li emphasized the government was "stable and capable." Li showed no signs of giving in to any of the students demands, and hopes of an early CPCC meeting began to fade after a disclosure that Wan Li had left the US for "health reasons" and currently convalesced in a hospital in Shanghai.
Li complained that the people blocking the army from entering the Square failed to understand their purpose. He said "anyone with common sense" could see the troops were not unable to reach the Square. The soldiers halted at the blockades "because the Government is the people’s government and the People’s Army is the people’s army."
He also said some things Amelia, as a foreigner, found disturbing: "What is happening now is China’s internal affair. Foreign countries, especially those that are willing to maintain good relations with China, must not interfere in current events." He stressed that "things in China are complicated. Foreign friends cannot see clearly for the time being and need to observe for a longer time before making judgements."
Everyone at work was very discouraged. The government now stationed army units at Radio Beijing, the newspapers, and CCTV. Li’s explanation was to "safeguard key departments." The soldiers stationed there kept a low profile and didn’t interfere with normal routine, but everyone resented having them around.
The newspapers carried a confusing story containing the statement: "Zhao Ziyang is still the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee." A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman reported no change in Chinese leadership. Zhao had not been publicly seen in a week but the papers did not mention this.
Propaganda pieces attempting to illustrate how production in Beijing had not been hurt by the demonstrations predominated most newspaper stories: "Full attendance reported at the No. 2 Textile factory, despite recent traffic jams." "Top steel plant still keeping up to target." There was a saying among the students that you knew for certain something was fact when you saw all the papers print its opposite.
Some of the papers, including The China Daily, ran a curious photo spread entitled "After Martial Law Declared." It contained the predictable pictures of buses running smoothly and fresh vegetables streaming into the city unhindered. But it also showed a student helping a policeman direct traffic and another student handing a cup of water to a soldier.
This was typical of the government propaganda’s schizoid depiction of the students. Xinhua, and therefore Radio Beijing and the rest of the media had taken to calling the students "counter-revolutionaries." They were to blame for the current turmoil and chaos in the capital. At other times the students were described as "patriotic," with "good intentions," and supportive of the Communist Party. The government hadn’t quite decided how to label the students.
Amelia figured they didn’t have their necessary scapegoats yet.
"Do you suffer from impotence? Are you not as virile as you once were in your younger days? No need to worry about embarrassing moments anymore. Use Erect to restore your youthful vigor. Erect will help you regain the strength and endurance you need. Erect will make you virile and strong as a tiger."
Amelia was impressed that Lu Yaping could read the commercial without breaking up. Lu Yaping stopped her reading. "What is this product supposed to do?" she asked. So that was why. "Erect," said Amelia, "don’t you know what ‘erect’ means? Erection?"
Lu Yaping thought for a moment and then opened her eyes wide with horror. "You mean erection of a male’s body part?" she asked. Amelia nodded. "At first I thought ‘Erect’ was pinyin for a Chinese name," explained Lu Yaping. "There’s no way I’m going to do this commercial. It should be done by a man."
"The advertisers specifically requested a woman’s voice," said Amelia. "If you don’t want to do it you should talk to the assistant director."
Lu Yaping left and Amelia started to rehearse a commercial for 101 Hair Tonic with Li Zhenqiang. "Do you long for thick lustrous hair? Are you embarrassed to be seen outdoors with a receding hairline?" Radio Beijing would stoop low indeed to bring in advertising revenue.
Jun Hao tapped Amelia’s shoulder. "The movie director guy is here to see you."
"Him?" exclaimed Amelia in surprise. "What does he want?"
"I think he wants your husband to do another movie," said Jun Hao. "Maybe he has another small part for you too."
"Great," thought Amelia sarcastically, "just what I’ve been waiting for."
The movie director sat waiting in the public relations office. He smoked a cigarette and cast an aloof eye about his surroundings. A year and a half ago, Amelia was talked into playing a small role in a made-for-Chinese-TV movie directed by this man. Aldous had played a major role, cast as a 1950’s American spy posing as a foreign expert engineer in order to steal Chinese atomic secrets. Amelia played his rarely seen wife. The story was supposedly based on a true event.
Amelia remembered shivering her way through her scanty lines at a frigid on-location set in the Manchurian hinterland. The director had paid little attention to her, concentrating his praise on Aldous’s exaggerated portrayal of an evil foreign spy. Aldous’s posturing reminded Amelia of silent movie stars, but the director loved his caricatured performance. Amelia thought the end result disastrous—the Chinese dubbing was consistently out of synch with the foreign actors’ lip movements, microphones visibly dangled overhead, and the convoluted plot teamed with incongruous editing to turn a simple, ridiculous story into total confusion. Amelia had been so embarrassed after viewing it that she withdrew an original request for a videotape of the film to send to family back home.
After formalities, the director told Amelia that he just got permission to do a sequel to their first movie. He wanted Aldous to be one of the stars. The first movie had been called "American Spy"; this one would be titled "Another American Spy."
"But Aldous committed suicide at the end of the first movie," said Amelia. "How could he possibly be in the sequel?"
"He will play a different spy," said the director, "no one will notice."
"Forgive me if my question is impolite," said Amelia, "but I heard that the higher-ups at the Ministry of Radio, Television, and Film didn’t like ‘American Spy.’ How did you get them to give you permission for a sequel?"
The movie director grinned around his cigarette and leaned back in his chair. His eyes glinted enigmatically. "Things have changed," he said.
"Things have changed indeed," thought Amelia. "Time for the government to inject some xenophobia into the masses." Amelia couldn’t help the movie director though because she didn’t know where Aldous was. She hadn’t seen him since the day they went to Purple Bamboo Park.
On Saturday, May 27, Amelia read a Xinhua report on the previous day’s meeting of the Standing Committee of the Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party. Members of the committee expressed unanimous support for Li Peng’s hard-line statement of the day before and for similar speeches by two other hard-liners: Chen Yun and Yang Shangkun. A statement made at this meeting said revolutionary veterans, together with the whole Party, "must resolutely expose schemes and intrigues of the very, very few people who intend to create turmoil," and "resolutely fight against them." They wanted the "patriotic enthusiasm of the overwhelming majority of young students to be protected," and "clearly distinguished from the very, very small minority."
So, thought Amelia, a "very, very small minority" led astray all those hundreds of thousands of patriotic students. She took this statement to mean the government planned to round up some scapegoats, certainly some of the student leaders, who would be jailed as an example to the rest. She went to the Square Saturday night to talk to Tony and warn him of impending arrest.
Tony seemed almost depressed when she found him. He’d heard about the statement and agreed with Amelia about the probable government crackdown on the student leaders. He was thinking of going home to Shanghai for a few days. Many other students had already left town on vacations. He told Amelia students from outside Beijing swarmed into town despite efforts by the government to stop them.
Tony described the beginnings of a power struggle between Beijing students and students from other provinces. The latter were now often the majority in the Square. Tony expressed acquiescence to compromise and work with the outside students, but many of the student leaders above him weren’t willing to share a spotlight they preferred focused on themselves.
Tony revealed that he strongly suspected one of the student leaders in charge of distributing the funds donated to the students from all over China, and even Hong Kong and America, of stealing much of the money. In a voice choked with emotion he thanked Amelia for sending him money through Aldous, along with the advice that he distribute it himself and not turn it over to another student.
Amelia had no idea Aldous gave Tony money in her name. She wanted to question Tony about Aldous’ actions, but she didn’t want to have to explain about the money. She also sensed Tony was terribly embarrassed about what he just told her and was perhaps better left alone.
The next day arrived as a quiet, disconsolate Sunday. Many of the Beijing students seemed to have given up their cause. Strolling near Beijing Normal University, Amelia overheard some workers encouraging apathetic students to continue to make trips to the Square. The out of town students generated most of the fight and enthusiasm left in the sparsely populated Square.
The media increasingly reflected the Party line. The wonderful two and a half days of press freedom seemed far away, like a fairy tale dream. At first the papers snuck in subtle indications of their true feelings. Right after the martial law announcement they printed the party line, but The People’s Daily inserted a seemingly insignificant article just below it quoting a random speech from a Hungarian prime minister: "I think political powers should not use the army to solve internal affairs. One of the most hated Stalinist tactics was to use the army to control the rule of the people." Some television announcers at first refused to make eye contact with the cameras while reading statements they disagreed with. Replacements were found, or the camera was simply shifted off the announcer. Propaganda designed to put the army in a good light bombarded the airwaves.
The government also launched a campaign to erode popular support for the demonstrations. A top state leader warned: "Chinese students should realize that their current campaign for democracy has been taken advantage of by a handful of people to create chaos." He said these instigators were "violating the original well-intended motives of the students."
Wan Li, the man some of the students hoped would show them some support upon his return from America, made an announcement in support of Li Peng and martial law. The once fragmented government now stood nearly united in its opposition to the student movement.
Amelia went down to the Square on Monday, May 29th, because she’d heard some students from the Fine Arts Academy intended to assemble a statue. She knew about the construction of the statue a few days before and had been meaning to visit the Fine Arts school and take a look. The statue was originally built to remain at the school.
If the purpose of moving the statue to the Square was to regenerate interest in a badly flagging movement—it worked like a charm. Tens of thousands of people turned out for the assembly of the newly dubbed "Goddess of Liberty and Democracy," which looked a lot like a Chinese version of the Statue of Liberty. An even bigger crowd showed up the next afternoon for its official unveiling.
The students almost didn’t get the statue to the Square. The authorities issued a warning decreeing any driver of a vehicle carrying the statue would immediately lose his license. So, students cut the statue into four sections, placed them on bicycle carts, and pedaled to Tian’anmen.
As Amelia watched the students reassemble the statue, she wondered how long it would stay up. Undoubtedly, the government would have it removed. But at least this would force action on their part. Something had to happen, or else the students would lose out in a war of attrition.
On Tuesday all the papers ran more stories picking up on the "conspiracy theory" as explanation for the demonstrations. Peng Zhen, former chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), tried to drum up support for corrective action by calling for "unified thinking in line with facts and in accordance with the constitution and law."
Peng went on to say the recent student demonstrations were held out of "good, pure, kindhearted and constructive motives." "However, their ways and means are not so proper . . .. They do not have enough vigilance against the very small number of conspirators and bad elements who took advantage of the situation to create turmoil."
Later in his speech, Peng said a "constitutional basis for opposing bourgeois liberalism" must be ensured. Amelia had not heard anyone use the phrase "opposing bourgeois liberalism" except in association with the Cultural Revolution. To hear it so blithely slip out of the mouth of a top Party member sent a shiver down her spine.
The "Goddess of Liberty and Democracy" was drawing the crowds back to the Square. Most people came out of curiosity. Vases of flowers and flags appeared at the statue’s base. One enterprising man started a thriving business by renting out a stool to people wishing to take photographs standing next to the statue.
Officials put out many condemnations of the statue, calling it "improper and insulting." Tian’anmen, they said, was for Chinese structures only, not for foreign symbols. The statue’s erection on the very spot normally used for the portrait of Sun Yat Sen during holidays was declared blasphemous. The Tian’anmen Administrative Office called for the immediate dismantling and removal of the structure. All the papers, except for The Young People’s Daily, echoed for the statue’s removal.
The TV news continued to feature footage of the "competent and disciplined" PLA. Recently, the army could only be spotted at camps on the far outskirts of town—or on the TV. Martial law entered its 12th day, and people started forgetting about it.
Amelia went to the Square on Wednesday, right after work at 2:00 p.m., to take pictures of the statue and the Square. She was happy the statue still stood long enough for her to have a chance to photograph it. Du Mei Li planned to do a Radio Beijing story in which she asked different people for their reaction to the "Goddess of Liberty and Democracy." Amelia was sure the story would not go through because she quickly discovered that everyone in the Square thought the statue was great. No one seemed to share the government’s concerns about "foreign influences."
A handful of soldiers sat cross-legged in front of Zhongnanhai, the Party headquarters located across the street from the Square, just west of the Forbidden City. A line of nearby students mirrored them, sprawled casually in front of the gate. Amelia took pictures of the two silent and sleepy groups.
Everyone at the Square seemed very laid-back and relaxed, reminding Amelia of the end of a long rock concert. A few students strummed guitars and led a large group in singing the patriotic "I Love Beijing’s Tian’anmen." Banners draped lazily across makeshift shelters. Students were more likely to be reading or napping than chanting.
It was Children’s Day, and several hundred schoolchildren performed songs and dances for the students. Some gave the students food and wished them well. The students passed leaflets out to everyone, listing their reasons for "working towards a freer China."
Tony could not be found, but the leaflets provided evidence that the students could still organize. Amelia talked to some students about the split between the student leaders from Beijing and those from the provinces. They admitted there were some disagreements, but didn’t think the schism would seriously hamper the movement.
Another Radio Beijing reporter planned a story on students slated to graduate next month. The government insisted final exams would not be pushed back. The object of the report was to find out if the seniors worried about passing their exams. Amelia had promised to ask some questions for the reporter.
She found out undergraduates made up the majority of the students at the Square. Most of the ones she talked to were freshmen and sophomores. Of the seniors, none expressed concern over graduation. Even though they boycotted classes they still kept up their studies. She saw many students reading textbooks while waiting in the Square. The seniors also said their professors were sympathetic to their cause, so they were sure to be given easy exams that everyone could pass.
Amelia asked if the students thought they would be given undesirable jobs in the countryside upon graduation, as was widely rumored. They replied this was already starting to happen. Some students in the movement had previously been assigned jobs after graduation. These students were recently relocated to new positions in the middle of nowhere. The other students worried the same thing would happen to them. Most said if it did, they would not go and would try to earn enough money by selling things, like cigarettes or books, on the street to remain in Beijing.
Amelia got someone to take the obligatory picture of her in front of the "Goddess of Liberty and Democracy." The statue brought the crowds back to the Square and added a festive touch. Still, Amelia thought it a fragile symbol of hope for a freer China. The students still put up a valiant fight, but defeat seemed just around the corner. She hated to see this thing fizzle out, but she again believed it was on the verge of doing just that.
At work the next two days, Amelia polished an overall piece on the student demonstrations to be aired on Friday. They now broadcast a shortened version of Current Affairs so this script would probably account for an entire program. While the piece could hardly be described as objective, it was at least not as embarrassingly pro-government as most of the other stories coming out of the media these days.
Li Zhenqiang returned from the large Beijing Department Store on Wangfujing, where he covered a "pro-government" demonstration. The department store workers supposedly protested against the chaos and turmoil inflicted on the city by the student demonstrations. Li Zhenqiang said the government had obviously staged the "demonstration". Workers at the department store told Li they would be considered "absent from work without a legitimate excuse" if they failed to attend the rally. They "protested" simply because they didn’t want to be docked pay.
Another pro-government demonstration had taken place in the Beijing suburbs a few days earlier consisting of a supposedly spontaneous gathering of 20,000 farmers convinced of the necessity of martial law and protesting the pernicious consequences of the student demonstrations. Everyone at Radio Beijing had been very suspicious of the circumstances surrounding this "demonstration" and was now convinced that it too it had been orchestrated by the government.
On the way to work on Friday morning, several large banners hung on government buildings fueled Amelia’s Cultural Revolution fears. The banners bore sayings such as "Down with bourgeois liberalism!" The government propaganda machine was hitting full stride.
When Amelia first came to China she used to joke about the Cultural Revolution with the reporters. Some of them retained unpleasant memories, like living for years without seeing their parents and just scratching out a living in an uncertain world. However, most of them simply remembered the time as a wildly chaotic and crazy part of their childhood—criticizing their teachers, holding lots of parades, and playfully denouncing undesirables. Amelia remembered laughing at an "emulate Lei Feng" notebook one of the reporters had brought in to make fun of. As a child the reporter copied down slogans in this notebook, which was laced with pictures of the ever diligent, model communist Lei Feng. Never in a million years did Amelia imagine she’d see the same kind of slogans draped from Beijing buildings.
Police tore down many of the pro-student posters hung around town, but the students still made efforts to replace them. People continued to gather around the wall posters and discuss what they read. Many scribbled down slogans so they would be remembered after the posters were removed. The flagging student movement wasn’t dead yet.
Like a good portion of the students, the young reporters at Radio Beijing were forlorn and dispassionate. Du Mei Li spoke with some of the diehards at the Square who stated: "If the government wants us out, they’ll have to drag us out on stretchers." Du Mei Li excepted, the Radio Beijing reporters (along with almost everyone else) were not so dedicated. They thought the movement was caving in and the demonstrations would soon peter out. Some wondered if their participation in some of the marches would hurt them come bonus time. They didn’t like their government, but they weren’t quite ready to risk what they had to fight against it.