Part Six: A Few Flies Get Swatted
Aldous was especially careful now. He knew the location of all the government cameras and the places where the spies congregated. He never went anywhere without shaking an imaginary tail. He knew that the student leaders, including Tony, had been filmed and photographed, and an examination of their records was surely in progress.
He’d stopped going to the Youyi or Radio Beijing, in order to distance himself from Amelia. If he was discovered they would put her on a list, but he didn’t think they’d do anything worse than throw her out if he stayed away from her. They probably wouldn’t do much worse to him either. He was still fairly certain they didn’t know about his gang, or exactly who had the weapons.
Five guys slept on the floor near where Aldous sat drinking loose jasmine tea out of a glass jar. Four others sat around a wobbly table, eating some jiaozi (dumplings) Aldous had brought them. Six guys gathered around a xiangqi (Chinese chess) board. All six seemed to give opinions on every move, so it was difficult to tell who was supposed to be playing. Aldous didn’t know where the others were, but he knew some of them had gone to find out where the next fight would be. He took a sip, spit some leaves and stems back into his jar, and reflected on the morning’s events.
On Saturday, June 3, the army had tried to enter the Square during predawn hours and got closer than ever. After sunrise, Aldous and his gang got word from some workers about this event and also heard that the army was again advancing. They’d gone to Xidan, a busy market area just west of the Square, along with thousands of other people, and blocked the troops’ progress.
Most of the troops "disguised" themselves in white shirts and blue sweat pants, or cream T-shirts and olive trousers. Perhaps the officers thought they’d have a better chance of reaching the Square in casual clothing. Their synchronized movement, along with troop buses in their midst visibly containing soldiers with backpacks, clubs, electric cattle prods, and rifles, tipped people off that this was no early morning jogging club.
Workers and students, the former greatly outnumbering the latter, besieged the bewildered troops and took everything they had. They slapped and scolded the young soldiers and sent them running back to their officers empty-handed and crying like babies.
Jubilation ensued over the easy victory and the novelty of having weapons. Many students waved rifles and army backpacks like souvenirs, shouting at the retreating army to quit trying to remove the students from the Square, leave Beijing, and end martial law. They confiscated two army buses along with the weapons, and large crowds of people congregated around the buses throughout the morning. Some soldiers had even been captured and forced to sit in a city bus taken over by students.
Evidently, by early afternoon, some higher ranking officers heard reports of troops returning without their guns and decided forceful action was needed to rectify the debacle. They broadcast demands to the students to return the weapons. Trouble was coming and Aldous and his group waited for it.
Two of the group’s more influential members, Chu and Kah Fai, entered the room and said they’d heard that the students with the stolen weapons were gathered at the Liubu intersection, not far from Xidan. Everyone in the group wanted to join them but they debated whether or not they should take weapons.
Aldous disliked guns. They reminded him of America where he had to worry about getting shot while walking the city streets. The only weapons he ever carried were knives and a large chain link used as brass knuckles. "Walking around with guns in the daytime is bad," he argued. "You will be seen and identified. They are serious about getting the guns back." Aldous always used "tamen" ("you") instead of "nimen" ("we") when addressing the group.
This small group Aldous now associated with had slowly splintered away from the other student groups. They were a pragmatic bunch who had learned to keep a low profile and avoid places where they could be filmed. While other students held meetings in restaurants and hotels, paraded their faces in front of hidden cameras, and advertised their dissent with chants in public places and white headbands marked with "Democracy" and "Freedom," this group stood quietly and anonymously on the sidelines.
They scorned the student "suicide squads" who swore to die before giving in and jumped in front of tanks and trucks at every opportunity. They ridiculed the student leaders, who they saw as swaggering egomaniacs and had no faith in their ideologies. Distrusting leaders, they made decisions through discussion and general agreement. However, general agreement was extremely rare. So their group was continually dwindling in size and slow to act on any suggestion. They all wanted strong, decisive action but while their talk was rash they had not yet shed the more cautious among them. Primarily, they looked out for themselves first and then did anything they could to destroy a system holding no promising future for them.
As usual, it took several minutes of discussion before they finally decided not to bring the guns. "Stay apart," reminded Aldous as they got out to the street. "See, but don’t look around," he added.
Everyone in the group liked having Aldous around because he was smart and very good at keeping them on their toes. Mimicking his paranoia, they automatically assumed someone was watching and following. His contact with Tony gave them valuable information about what the regular student leaders were planning. However, the main reason Aldous was accepted was because of his ability to acquire necessary items. He brought back food, boiled water, clothes, and even money. Aldous was worth the risk of increased attention brought to the group by having a foreigner among them.
When they reached Liubu they found a fierce fight in progress. A small group of highly organized soldiers from the nearby Communist Party Headquarters threw tear gas canisters and beat people with clubs. Students scattered to avoid the tear gas and the soldiers grabbed them as they ran.
Aldous and his gang paused at the edge of the battle, hesitant to enter into the thick of the tear gas smoke; even at the periphery their eyes watered. From out of the chaotic fog Aldous heard a skull crack after repeated blows to a head. He saw soldiers strike a young woman in her face. The woman fell to the ground, spitting out shattered pieces of her front teeth. A student lay curled into the fetal position while four soldiers beat him. These troops were much more ruthless and well trained than the soldiers they had seen that morning. Intimidated, Aldous’s group retreated without entering into the fray.
As they slowly regrouped, Kah Fai and a few others met up with some workers and students who carried weapons with them. These people were extremely afraid to be caught with guns in their possession. Aldous could see their point after what they’d just witnessed, but Kah Fai talked them into giving their weapons to his group. Kah Fai and a few others were angry with the brutal tactics used by the troops and wanted to retaliate by returning to the Liubu fight with the guns. Chu and several others, including Aldous, thought this was foolhardy and they eventually convinced the other faction that it would be better to wait until dark. They stuffed the guns into bags and headed back to the dilapidated building where several of them, including Aldous, now slept.
Along the way they met another group of workers who reported that thousands of unarmed soldiers had come out of the Great Hall of the People (which they’d probably reached from the underground tunnels) and tried to take the Square. The workers said they had been part of a group who used a city bus to block them. Aldous’s gang decided to bring their guns along with them in order to help repel the troops from a night invasion.
Aldous knew that if the troops coming into the Square were like the ones they saw at Liubu, then they didn’t have a chance in hell of stopping them. It was only a matter of time before the government rounded up enough determined troops to send in. He thought bringing guns there would only make the situation more dangerous for them.
"Crazy fools," he thought. He enjoyed hanging out with them though.
On this same Saturday, Amelia set out for the Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) antique market to buy herself a birthday present. Sunday, June 4th marked her 26th birthday. For her birthday she intended to go to the lunch buffet at the Jianguo Hotel with three friends. She planned to have a delicious meal (the Sunday buffet at the Jianguo could be counted on for quality) and forget about China for awhile.
Her Irish friend Karen, a prodigious and indefatigable shopper, accompanied her to their old shopping hangout at the Tiantan market. Together they hoped to bargain the merchants into selling their few remaining worthwhile items for about twice what they were going for last spring.
Getting to Tiantan turned out to be unusually difficult. The few buses that were running ran late, often passing by the bus stop with people bulging out the doors and windows. After 40 minutes of waiting, they managed to board a No. 320 bus. They transferred to a slightly more comfortable No. 4 bus on Chang’an, but ran into a traffic jam at Xidan. People overflowed into the streets and talked together in large groups. The bus got through and passed an unusually active Tian’anmen.
When they finally reached Dongdan and transferred to a No. 106 bus, they asked people what was happening. Some said the troops tried to move into the Square that morning but had been turned back. They heard that soldiers fired tear gas at the crowd and the students now carried guns.
This talk troubled Amelia, but she’d heard too many wild rumors to take much stock in street gossip. In the past week she’d heard people say: soldiers electrified the subway grates to kill students; Deng Xiaoping said it was worth killing 200,000 students to achieve 20 years of stability; and Deng had either fled the country or died.
Very few people rummaged through the dusty stalls of the Tiantan antique market. The merchants there relied on foreigners visiting the nearby Temple of Heaven and not many had been around lately. The antique vendors complained about losing money, but they blamed the government and not the students.
Amelia and Karen took advantage of the slow sales and got some interesting items at reasonable prices (by today’s standards). Amelia bought an old, finely carved, wooden birdcage, and a beautiful antique teapot housed inside a wicker basket lined with material to keep the tea warm. Karen bought a lovely wooden jewelry box, full of tiny compartments and a mirror. She also bought a portable wind-up Victrola and some 78-rpm records that played Mao’s speeches.
On their way out of the market, Karen found another vendor who sold revolutionary records. They listened to a resounding, high-pitched chorus screech out a crackly song with lyrics from a poem by Mao Zedong:
Below the hills fly our flags and banners,
Above the hilltops sound our bugles and drums,
The foe encircles us thousands strong,
Steadfastly we stand our ground.
Already our defense is ironclad,
Now our wills unite like a fortress.
From Huangyangchieh roars the thunder of guns,
Word comes the enemy has fled into the night.
The martial lyrics made them both uneasy. It reminded them of the troops currently surrounding Beijing. Karen didn’t buy the record.
Soon after Amelia returned to the Youyi she received a call from Tony. He was in the neighborhood and asked if he could drop by. She told him to come over. They had decided not to talk at length over the phone.
Tony gave Amelia an account of the morning’s events at Xidan and Wangfujing. He also told Amelia that several top worker leaders involved in the democracy movement had been imprisoned. Tony expected the time for the long-awaited crackdown against student leaders drew near.
Tony said the students intended to lie low for a while but stuck with their plan of rallying large marches just before and during the scheduled June 20th CPCC meeting. Tony had a hard seat train ticket home to Shanghai for Monday. Besides visiting his family, he hoped to talk to some Shanghai student leaders about coordinating demonstrations around the 20th. Amelia sensed Tony was weary and homesick.
"I haven’t seen Aldous for a few days and wanted to let him know I’m going to Shanghai," said Tony. "How is he doing?" Amelia had been just about to ask Tony the same question. They decided to walk over to Aldous’ apartment on the off chance he was in.
No one lived on the fourth floor of Building No. 8, doorway 16, besides Aldous. A break in the roof above doorway 16 caused considerable water damage in the four top-floor apartments during last summer’s rainstorms. The occupants were relocated, at first temporarily and then permanently, as attempts to fix the roof proved unsuccessful. The hotel staff remedied shortages of phones, doors, and air conditioners by borrowing from these vacant apartments.
The fus started using these rooms for storage space. They carried up broken or unwanted furniture, unused cleaning equipment, and junk left behind by foreign experts that the fus didn’t want but couldn’t bring themselves to throw away.
Aldous discovered these apartments when he saw two fus struggling with a huge, broken desk. He helped them carry the unwanted Russian behemoth up to the fourth floor of doorway 16. He immediately fell in love with the dirty, cluttered, chaotic apartments. Within a week he moved into one. In the process, he managed to get several foreign experts and a Youyi manager greatly indebted to him for vacating a perfectly good apartment.
Amelia and Tony walked straight into Aldous’ room. His front door had been taken to replace a broken one. Aldous was the only foreign expert in the Youyi who needn’t worry about thievery.
A chest-high pile consisting mainly of phonograph records, books, and coats lined the front hallway. A narrow path forked right for the kitchen and bathroom, and left for the living room and the bedroom. Amelia and Tony turned left.
Partially broken furniture crowded the living room: chairs, tables, lamps, bookcases, and desks. Damaged scrolls, maps, calendars, posters, and kites covered the cracked and peeling walls. Scattered about the room were some dusty souvenir rock gardens (rocks potted in dead moss and earth), cassette tapes, more books, a baseball bat, various clay pots, a cue stick, a pile of Radio Beijing stickers, some fans, a printer for a computer, and inexplicably, a large moose head. Numerous buckets were strategically placed under ceiling cracks.
They found a stack of messages, presumably brought up by Aldous’ "fu," atop the TV. Examples:
Let me know if you come across any of the PLA stamps (S-74 1965).
My computer broke down! Do you know someone who could fix it for me?
You’re invited to our place for dinner next Thursday.
The number of notes left behind indicated that Aldous had not been at the Youyi for some time.
They could have found just about anything in the bedroom except Aldous. Boxes and crates filled with junk took up an entire wall, stacked to the ceiling. Three huge wardrobes occupied another wall, with the bed squeezed into a corner. The bed was unmade and covered with various heaps of clothing; Aldous never made his bed and was singularly successful in persuading the fus to leave his bed alone.
A dresser held several test tubes and bottles, all apparently filled with the infamous incandescent orange soda that was the de rigueur welcoming drink at visits to factories, PLA camps, and most everywhere else in China. Most of the orange gunk had settled to the bottoms of the containers, leaving a transparent fluid on top. Three rabbits sat in nearby cages with water bottles filled with orange soda. Amelia wondered if Aldous was conducting an experiment with the orange drink and the rabbits. She made a mental note to check that Aldous’ fu was feeding the rabbits.
Hundreds of spiders dangled in webs spread throughout the bedroom. Amelia remembered Aldous had a thing about spiders and kept them as pets. Tony looked at them with horror. They quickly left the bedroom.
Before leaving the apartment, Amelia remembered to search the kitchen for either turmeric or paprika, needed for a recipe she’d been meaning to try. Aldous had both, along with every other spice and cooking utensil known to man. Aldous rarely cooked, but he inherited things from departing foreign experts and never knew when they might be useful.
Amelia stole a plastic sandwich bag and sprinkled some turmeric into it. As she was doing this, she noticed a photograph on the counter. The photo was of herself, standing with hands on hips under the Delicate Arch at Arches National Park. Aldous had taken the picture at her request with her camera. She couldn’t figure out how this photo ended up in Aldous’s kitchen.
Despite her best efforts, memories from her camping trips with Aldous quickly entered her mind. Embarrassed that Tony would notice her reaction to seeing the photo, she quickly looked over at him. Tony however, was completely lost in worried preoccupation and had not even noticed. He walked out of Aldous’s apartment with her as if in a trance.
Amelia now fully realized the extent of Tony’s distress. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs before he could depart.
"Are you ok, Tony?" He wouldn’t look her in the eye.
"I’m fine." He chuckled nervously. "The insects in the bedroom frightened me." Amelia thought he wasn’t very convincing. She detected worry about the student movement, and what might happen to him, in his faltering voice.
Amelia felt a great deal of affection for Tony. She wanted to kiss him good-bye, a habit she’d picked up from her European friends, but didn’t want him to think her forward. Then, just as he turned to go, she kissed his cheek on an impulse. His face turned very red, but he gave her a shy smile and told her he’d call her when he returned.
Amelia went back up to Aldous’s kitchen and took back her photograph.
That evening, Amelia saw a bizarre report on the TV news about a car accident on Chang’an Avenue. The report differed with each news broadcast but had something to do with a borrowed CCTV jeep crashing into a road divider. There were some deaths.
Amelia would never find out what actually happened with this incident, but immediately guessed this jeep had been sent out by the army to test access into the Square. Something must have gone wrong; perhaps the car tried to run a barricade and crashed. She’d heard that army vehicles repeatedly cruised Chang’an from an army encampment near the Military Museum in the west. These vehicles turned back when they came upon civilian barricades. They might not be turning back any more.
After eating a frugal supper, Aldous and his gang headed for the Square. They walked in two’s and three’s, some using different sides of the street or even entirely different routes. They met up near the Natural History Museum on the east side of the Square.
At least 5,000 unarmed soldiers still congregated around the Great Hall of the People opposite them. A great crowd of people held them at bay.
Scattered fighting broke out between students and soldiers, but there were also moments of amity between the two sides. Beer bottles and punches were thrown one minute and not ten minutes later, hands would be shaken, songs sung, and backs patted.
"Hey man, what are you doing here?" The voice of a Westerner jolted Aldous like an electric shock. The members of his gang surreptitiously drifted away from him as the waiguoren approached. "They’ve learned well," thought Aldous.
"Not much," said Aldous, trying to remember if he knew the scummy young American who stood before him. "What are you up to?"
"I’m going to write a story for the magazines. Eyewitness account stuff," said the man, sounding like a jaded professional journalist. "Can’t pass up on such a great opportunity."
"Not selling bread anymore?" asked Aldous. He’d finally placed this guy. He was kind of an enigma in Beijing—a Western hustler. He ran lots of scams with the tourists and he always approached them by trying to sell them a loaf of bread first. His idea was that people would assume anyone who could operate on such a low mark-up as a loaf of bread must offer some great discounts.
"No, man, the tourist trade is like dead. You don’t know of anyone looking to ride the Trans-Siberian, do you?"
The Trans-Siberian railway, stretching from Beijing to Moscow and then on into Eastern Europe, provided the hustler’s main business. He would buy up round-trip tickets in Hungary—dirt cheap in the black market. Then he would sell the tickets in Beijing at a huge markup, while still undercutting the China Travel Service price. He would make further profits by convincing people to do "milk runs," and would himself bring back loads of consumer goods to eager Russian customers. Aldous had thrown him some business in the past by referring foreign experts to him. He might be slimy, but he was cheaper than CITS and offered deals on hotels and translators in Moscow.
"No, but if I hear of anyone I’ll send them your way," said Aldous.
"Thanks man, I appreciate it. Let me give you my new number." He gave Aldous a slip of paper. One side offered guided tours around Beijing. The other listed his Trans-Siberian rates and gave the telephone number of a shabby, Chinese hotel. Aldous felt superior to such a cheap operator and was glad to see him leave.
Aldous hunted down his gang. When they got bored with the Square, they decided to join a large group heading west to meet others in fortifying a roadblock on the bridge at Muxudi, not far from the Military Museum, where large numbers of soldiers were encamped. They brought along buses to completely seal off the western end of Chang’an from penetration by troops during the night.
However, after viewing the situation at the Muxudi roadblock, they didn’t think troops were likely to come in this way. Instead, they expected the army to try the same trick they used that afternoon and come up from the underground tunnels. They also expected them to be well organized and armed with clubs, tear gas, and possibly guns.
So they left the roadblock and returned to their west-side hiding place to discuss plans to bring their weapons to the Square that night. Some suggested spots around the Great Hall of the People where sniper fire could be set up to disorient armed troops. They even debated trying to take the Great Hall after the soldiers stormed out, but abandoned the plan because they didn’t want to get trapped in there. No one was familiar with the exact location of all the tunnels.
They finally planned to hide the guns in bags and under raincoats and split into two groups near the northwest and southwest of the Square. When the soldiers came out of the Great Hall they would send a few rounds of cross fire at their backs. They would retreat, hide their weapons, and if possible, cautiously make their way back to the Square to check out the situation. Then they would either join the fight, or return to their hiding places, depending on the danger of the situation.
Aldous thought it would be extremely difficult to come up with a more idiotic plan, but he didn’t say anything. He could tell they were determined to act against the troops and to make sure the violence wasn’t completely one sided.
A few members of the gang left to keep watch near the Square while the remainder waited to receive word from them should anything happen early. Everyone assumed the attack would commence at 2:00 a.m. Aldous figured Mao Zedong probably wrote something about 2:00 a.m. being the ideal time for an assault in one of his treatises on warfare. They planned to rest up until 1:00 a.m. and then head down to their positions near the Square. Most of them were taking a nap when they heard explosions from not too far away. They hurriedly rushed out to see what was going on.
The people who went to fortify the bridge at Muxudi had guessed correctly. The soldiers were indeed coming in at the west side of Chang’an and had run into the roadblock. Aldous’s group could see orange fire and great wafts of smoke from near the bridge. As they got closer they could smell tear gas and hear gunfire.
They stayed off the main road and watched the action from an alley out of the line of fire. Two men carried another man who bled heavily from several bullet wounds. The wounded man left a trail of neat, round blood splatters along the sidewalk. The smell of smoke became stronger and remnants of tear gas particles settled on their skin.
A crowd of people stood behind a blazing bus barricade, screaming: "fascists!" and "murderers!" Aldous had difficulty seeing the soldiers behind the burning barricade, but he could eventually make out some tanks, armored personal carriers (APCs) and soldiers standing near trucks. Occasionally a beer bottle or Molotov cocktail was thrown at the soldiers, who responded with a round of bullets.
A group of people started concentrating Molotov cocktails at a tank that had been ramming the barricade, causing a break. They followed up by tossing gasoline soaked banners onto the tank and finally succeeded in igniting it. When the two soldiers inside popped their heads out, an irate mob pulled them out and beat them mercilessly.
This prompted another volley of shots from the troops. Not long after, an APC backed up and took a running bash at the barricade. It broke through and continued roaring east down Chang’an amid a flurry of shots from the soldiers, and sticks, rocks, and Molotov cocktails from the Beijing residents. Other APCs followed closely behind.
The troop trucks brought up the rear, about 60 in a line. The soldiers on the trucks fired at random, sometimes in the air, sometimes at people on the street. Aldous saw a dozen people go down after one burst of gunfire. The crowd headed for cover.
Aldous’s group decided to take some shots at the last truck in the convoy. They found a covered position behind a subway station entrance and waited. They intended to fire a volley, slowly sneak back to the alley, and tear away from Chang’an. They picked the southern end of Yuetan Park to regroup.
No one in the gang had any experience firing their AK-47 automatic rifles. They were cautious about waiting for the last truck to roll a respectful distance ahead before pulling the trigger. Some shot early, so the others didn’t get a chance to take proper aim. Consequently, Aldous doubted their shots did much damage. They all left too quickly to find out if they hit anything. Nonetheless, the act of actually shooting their weapons at the troops greatly elevated their adrenaline level. They yelled and maniacally leaped in the air as they ran through the streets.
The bullets fired at the soldiers headed down Chang’an from behind spurred the latter part of the convoy to send out even greater fire. Aldous heard the crackle of shots and much shouting. For a moment he thought about ditching his gang and making his own observations, but decided to stay with them as they raced off into the night.
At the Yuetan Park rendezvous some gang members pranced about with weapons in view. Some seemed to have lost their senses after shooting at the troops. Several claimed to hit a truck, but Aldous thought it unlikely. The ever serious Chu tried to organize them into determining their next move. Most wanted to go near the Square and take another pot shot at the troops. A minority were more prudently wary of so many troops and live ammo; they wanted to retreat to their hiding places and plan more organized sniper attacks.
Aldous didn’t pay any attention to their debate. It didn’t matter what they chose to do. He knew he wasn’t going to be hanging around these guys for too much longer. He started thinking about Stone Flower Cave to the southwest of Beijing, sadly wondering if he’d get the chance to visit it again. In the end the group decided to take a look at the Square but not to do any shooting unless they had a clearly isolated target and a good escape route. Aldous followed along in a daze.
"Stay off of Chang’an," said Chu. "Take small streets." They turned north and moved east on parallel roads to the north. Random shots and yelling could still be heard. People on the side streets poked their heads out of doors and windows. Some asked them what was happening but their queries were ignored.
None of them owned a watch, but Aldous guessed it was around 1:00 a.m. They retained their scattered formation, didn’t look at each other, and spoke only when necessary. They jogged when it was dark and quiet and walked across the more visible streets.
As they crossed Xidan they saw signs of a big fight to the south, at the Xidan-Chang’an intersection. They regrouped and decided to investigate. They used an alley and a market area just east of Xidan to move towards the action.
Hunched behind free market stalls on the northeast corner of the intersection, Aldous saw a barricade of four large buses ablaze, resembling the scene at Muxudi. The APCs had apparently smashed through, and most of the troop trucks had passed. Several thousand residents skirmished with about 100 soldiers whose halted trucks were set afire.
A large group of citizens tried to turn over a stalled command jeep. They succeeded, and the jeep went crashing on its side. An officer jumped out, raging with fury. He screamed at the crowd, pulled his pistol, and emptied it into the people at the forefront of the surrounding throng. He hit several, directly in the chest. People jumped him and started beating him viciously. He went under the crowd like a drowning man.
Aldous lost sight of the officer. Someone in the gang asked him a question, but he didn’t catch it. They were discussing plans again! One member of the gang kept talking to him, but he called him "Orson." Distracted by the action, it took Aldous a moment to remember that this was the name he had given them.
No clear shots could be aimed at the soldiers, who now attempted to disengage themselves from the civilians and follow the convoy east down Chang’an. After some more argument, a few members of Aldous’s gang left their guns and went to help burn a troop truck.
A short time later, the nucleus of the gang sent a few men to try to collect those who had left. Aldous wandered off to reconnoiter. He came upon the officer who had shot into the crowd. The angry mob had probably beaten him to death, but they’d also slit open his stomach and draped some of his entrails around his legs—a sloppy evisceration. Then they’d burned the body to a blackened crisp and hung it on a burning bus. A sign lay near the soldier’s remains, probably written in his own blood: "This officer killed four people."
Aldous stood for several moments staring at the grisly corpse. Only the sickening smell could convince him it was real.
"Orson! Let’s go." Aldous reluctantly returned to his gang. They moved down Xidan Street and crossed Chang’an Avenue. Then they circled around the Square, approaching it from the south in order to avoid the Zhongnanhai compound, the Communist Party headquarters where troops had emerged Saturday afternoon to beat and tear gas people near the Liubu intersection.
When they reached the Square, everyone in the gang finally realized the futility of their plan to take up sniper positions around the Great Hall of the People. Soldiers, wearing helmets, and armed with guns, clubs, and electric cattle prods almost completely surrounded the area. Some tanks and APCs had broken through iron grill barricades set up at the north of Tian’anmen. More were ready to follow.
One member of the gang took out a pair of binoculars and scanned the area. He described more soldiers to the south, and caught sight of machine guns atop the Natural History Museum opposite them. No doubt more soldiers lurked atop the Great Hall of the People as well. The front of the Great Hall now held a giant character poster: "Li Peng, you will never know peace."
The tail end of a large group of protestors filed out of the Square. The soldiers let them leave, although some struck the students with clubs as they passed by. An APC followed them west on Chang’an.
The gang became extremely nervous about their concealed weapons. The soldiers surrounding the Square were not shooting yet, but perceptibly itched for an excuse to blast away. In fact, a group of soldiers could be seen zealously beating people at the north end of the Square. A group of them pulled a student out of his hiding place inside a bus and pounded him to a bloody pulp.
Both government and student loudspeakers blared in competition. The government speakers ordered people to leave the Square immediately. The student speakers crackled: "The People’s Army shouldn’t beat the people," and repeatedly played the "Internationale".
Suddenly, all the lights went out, and the Square turned into a pitch black abyss of fear. Aldous could feel the panic of the unseen people around him. Their thoughts opened up to him and a single sentence icily whispered in his mind: "They’re going to start shooting any second now."
Aldous lost himself in the dark chaos of his brain. For what seemed an endless eternity he peered into the deepest cavern in Stone Flower Cave. Then he relaxed and anticipated the bullets entering his body. An image of the burnt and disemboweled officer hanging silently on the bus came to him.
He was still waiting expectantly when a comrade grabbed his arm and led him out of the Square. Part of him realized his life was being saved, but Aldous still left with some reluctance. Then he quickly came to his senses and chastised himself for freezing. "Only fools would stay and die like this," he thought.
Several others at the edges of the Square also made their way out under a blanket of darkness. Aldous’s gang backed out to the east, and headed north.
The gang made up a new plan to hide in the bleachers north of Tian’anmen, where the top cadres watched the large, military parades held every half dozen years or so. They all thought it was a great place to hide but didn’t put much foresight into how nearly impossible it was to get to. They had to back up all the way to the Telegraph Building and run a huge loop around the Zhongnanhai complex before cutting through Zhongshan Park.
They were down to less than a dozen men, so they moved very quickly, but it still took a long time to complete the roundabout circuit to Zhongshan Park. Heading south on Changjie Street, they could see a series of red flares shoot up from the Square.
They climbed the wall at the southern end of Zhongshan Park, not far from the rostrum where Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China to an admiring sea of people in Tian’anmen. The lights were back on and seemed blinding after the darkness. More soldiers, wearing camouflage fatigues and gas masks, and holding machine guns, emerged from the Great Hall of the People. Aldous saw soldiers on the roof of the building taking aim at students down below. Every possible maneuver had been used to surround the Square with soldiers.
Several APCs moved drunkenly about the Square. The students set one of them on fire with Molotov Cocktails. A tank ran over the newly erected tents that had been a recent gift to the students from people in Hong Kong. This tank also ran over several people in its way. Aldous could see two flattened bodies.
Sparks of machine gun fire scattered people in every direction. Soldiers in riot gear continued to beat students with clubs. Ambulances from the Chinese Red Cross tried to take wounded students out of the area. Some succeeded, but machine gun fire rained down on one ambulance, hitting its two attendants.
The students’ PA system went out after another burst of machine gun fire. Tanks almost completely sealed off a large group of panicked students on the east side of the Square. Students pushed at tanks to move them aside while others climbed over them. Those who got past the cordon ran towards the Natural History Museum. The soldiers sprayed bullets at them and many fell to the ground.
Although chaos was rampant, some members of Aldous’s group announced they had a clear shot at a group of soldiers on the north end of the Square. They gave up their original plan to hide in the bleachers. With the lights on, they realized escape from there would be almost impossible.
Even the stupefied Aldous could see that shooting from atop the wall at Zhongshan Park was going to be nearly impossible, as well as much more dangerous than their first sniper shots. Emotions ran high though. Several members of the gang were now in tears after witnessing the massacre going on in the Square. Even the normally rational Chu was ready to strike back in anger. Aldous’s instinct to survive completely dispelled the foggy trance the darkness of the Square had inflicted upon him. He suddenly realized that sniper fire now was not only futile but also eminently foolhardy, as the soldiers would no doubt discover them.
Six of them took up positions on the wall and took unsteady aim with their guns. Aldous got back on the ground and started running away before they even started shooting. After their short sniper volley Aldous heard continuous bursts of machine gun fire as he ran all the way up to the top of Jingshan Park (Coal Hill), just to the north of the Forbidden City.
Jingshan Park contained the imperial garden for the Forbidden City during the Ming and Qing dynasties and is famous in Beijing for two reasons. First, it is the place where the last Ming emperor, Chongzhen, hanged himself from a tree after rebel troops overran the Forbidden City. Aldous passed by a plaque marking the spot where the hanging occurred. Second, one of the pavilions atop Coal Hill, Wanchunting (Ten thousand Springs) offers a famous view of the surrounding area and is a popular tourist attraction.
Aldous climbed up to the now deserted Wanchunting pavilion and gazed at the city. The Forbidden City, directly in front of him, was dark and quiet. Just beyond, fires could be seen in Tian’anmen, and the red sparks of tracer bullets flashed in the night.
Aldous walked around the pavilion and was surprised to see fires and hear gunshots in several other scattered sections of Beijing. His favorite city and adopted home had turned into a war zone. He sadly started making plans to leave.
Sleep did not come easily to Amelia on Saturday night. She could hear explosions in the distance and they gave her bad dreams. In one nightmare, faceless soldiers slithered through dark tunnels, pushing up the squares in Tian’anmen like zombies moving aside gravestones.
At around 2:00 a.m. a man on a bicycle came tearing down the alley below her window shouting: "They’re shooting! They’re shooting!" She didn’t sleep much after that.
In the morning she turned on the 7:00 a.m. Radio Beijing broadcast and was shocked at what she heard. Li Zhenqiang, who was not the regular morning news announcer, was reading a statement:
A most tragic event happened [sic] the Chinese capital, Beijing. Thousands of people, most of them innocent civilians, were killed by fully armed soldiers when they forced their way into the city. Among the killed are our colleagues at Radio Beijing. The soldiers were riding on armored vehicles . . . [Amelia’s radio went static for a second] thousands of local residents and students who tried to block their way. When army convoys made a breakthrough soldiers continued to spray their bullets indiscriminately at crowds in the street.
Radio Beijing English Department deeply mourns those who died in the tragic incident and appeals to all its listeners to join our protest for the gross violation of human rights and the most diabolical suppression of the people.
Another announcer, who read Xinhua reports for the rest of the news, soon replaced Li Zhenqiang. Amelia fell into a panic of concern over Li Zhenqiang and the morning executive editor, a man named Xiaoqing, who was also known to be sympathetic to the students, despite his high status in both Radio Beijing and the Communist Party.
She called Radio Beijing and someone she didn’t know answered the phone. She asked to talk to various people, including Li Zhenqiang, but the unknown man said no one was around. He told her not to come to work for the next few days and refused to tell her anything else. He hung up on her.
She switched her radio over to shortwave and heard some information about the massacre from the BBC and VOA: tanks running over people, soldiers shooting at random, unarmed people shot in the back as they tried to run away. She learned that the soldiers who had carried out the bloody attack were members of the 27th Army. Hard-line President Yang Shangkun and his relatives controlled this division, and its soldiers were known for their mindless execution of orders.
"Of course, the ultimate blame for sending these rampaging myrmidons into the Square lies with Deng Xiaoping, and his flunky Li Peng," thought Amelia angrily. She had perceived their threats for quite awhile, but she still couldn’t believe the senseless ruthlessness of such an act.
The Chinese Red Cross gave out an estimate of 2,600 dead before authorities silenced them. The government would later force them to deny this number. There were reports that the soldiers brought bodies out of the Square for quick cremation, and even burned some remains on the spot, so there was no way to accurately determine the number killed. The initial government report claimed 24 students and hundreds of soldiers were killed. They would later deny this and state that no students died in the Square.
There was talk that other army units, especially the Beijing based 38th Army, opposed the violence of the 27th Army. Civil war loomed probable.
She heard professor Fang Lizhi on the BBC. Fang was the noted Chinese dissident who caused a furor with the government during President Bush’s visit to China earlier in the year when a banquet hosted by the Americans for Chinese officials included Fang in the guest list. Fang said the massacre was the worst in Chinese history. He thought the deeds of the 27th Army were more repugnant than the Japanese invasion during WWII because Chinese had killed other Chinese.
Next she heard Xiaoqing’s voice on the BBC! The Radio Beijing executive editor was really going out on a limb. He condemned the killings and called for an investigation by an international tribunal. He said the massacre was "the last kick of a dying man," a rude reference to Deng Xiaoping.
Amelia decided to risk going out to see for herself how the situation stood. As she dressed she heard another news report that Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni was dead. Amelia’s initial reaction was a gloomy thought: "As one despot dies, others are born."
Amelia slowly rode her bike down Baishiqiao road. The overcast sky held thin, unusually bleak, gray clouds. No buses could be seen on the eerily quiet streets. The few people outside seemed to be going about their normal business. No one looked as if he’d just witnessed a massacre.
Amelia saw students walking on the other side of the street, heading in the opposite direction. She pulled her bike over by some trees in the large strip of land that acted as a road divider in order to watch them.
There were about 250 students silently straggling up the road in two or three disorganized groups. Many wore bloodstained clothing and had minor injuries. Several walked with arms straight up in the air, heads lowered and pale faces frozen with shock. They displayed bullets with their outstretched arms. Torn banners dragged along behind them.
Amelia had initially planned to question them, but when she saw their nearly catatonic state she changed her mind. Residents applauded as they passed by, but the students didn’t even look up or shake a fist. They were thoroughly defeated troops marching home after a disastrous battle.
Farther down the road Amelia came upon another group of students. This group was almost entirely male and as battle-scarred as the first. Amelia thought they were also going to pass in silence, but they burst forth in a slow, booming chant that sent a shiver down her spine:
Li Peng, Li Peng
kill, kill!, KILL!, KILL!!, KILL!!!
Each "kill" came out a little stronger, a little louder, and with more enmity. One student beat a drum in time to each pronouncement. Intense hatred burned in the eyes of every member of this group. While Amelia could understand their enmity, she was deeply disturbed by it. Tears welled from her eyes. In the weeks past, these students had been hopeful crusaders, full of idealistic energy. Now they were either empty, shell-shocked wrecks or seething cauldrons of rage.
She heard shots to the south when she got to Sanlihe. People coming from the other direction told her a fight was going on at Muxudi. They described last night’s burning barricade. They said some people had rebuilt the barricade and were currently fire-bombing army trucks returning to a base in the west.
Despite warnings to turn back, Amelia pressed ahead until she could see smoke from the burning vehicles. Burnt-out wreckage, twisted and foul-smelling, threatened her path. She paused, hesitant to go any closer.
Just then a frantic driver stormed towards her in front of a tricycle pedicab, away from the battle. Two running men helped push the cart from behind. Two bleeding men lay on the bed of the cart between them.
They turned a corner and Amelia followed them. The pedicab stopped at a tiny hospital that Amelia would never have recognized as such without the blood on the sidewalk outside. The three men pulled the injured two inside.
As Amelia parked her bike on the other side of the street, an army jeep full of soldiers screeched to a halt in front of the hospital. They ran in and Amelia heard cries, and then shooting. Less than ten minutes later, the soldiers reappeared, dragging three wounded men. They threw them into the jeep and drove away.
Amelia stood paralyzed the entire time. A crowd of onlookers joined her on the opposite side of the street, but the soldiers hadn’t taken any notice of them. Amelia took a deep breath and walked into the hospital.
The inside looked like a low-budget slasher movie. Prostrate bodies lay scattered in every direction and blood dripped from the walls. Broken glass and smashed equipment were scattered about a small waiting area overflowing with patients. Amelia had a hard time finding a place to stand.
Some doctors and nurses huddled over a woman on the floor. A nearly hysterical nurse left the group and broke into tears. Amelia tried to comfort her.
"What has happened here?" she asked. "Are you all right? What did the soldiers do?"
The crying nurse didn’t answer, but another nurse and a doctor came up. "The soldiers put out that nurse’s eye!" exclaimed the nurse, pointing to the woman being tended to in the corner. "They killed this man!" added the doctor, pointing at a figure. "Shot him right through the forehead." Amelia recognized the dead man as the pedicab driver.
"Why did they want those men?" asked Amelia. She looked at the dead man and remembered the frantic concern on his face as he peddled. Now she only saw the hole in his forehead.
"Don’t know," said the vocal nurse. A patient on the floor groaned loudly.
"What happened to the other two men who brought the injured men here?" asked Amelia.
"One was shot by the soldiers but not killed. The other ran out the back door. The soldiers took away the man they shot plus the two men who were carried in," said the doctor. "They also broke equipment used on student patients," added the nurse.
"Why did they hurt the nurse?" asked Amelia. The sight of so many bleeding people combined with the closeness of the room made it harder for her to hold back her rising nausea.
"She tried to stop them," said the nurse. "We all did," said the doctor. "A soldier hit that nurse in the eye with his gun and the other soldiers pushed us down. We could do nothing to stop them." Several other hospital workers gathered around, some straddling patients on the floor. Another loud groan rose up from the sprawled patient and someone went to help him.
Amelia didn’t know what else to say. She felt queasy and vertigo pursued her. Despite this, she offered to help the hospital workers clean up the mess, and absently began picking up pieces of a broken bottle.
The hospital personnel quickly told her it would be better for her to leave. Everyone suddenly became nervous. Amelia sensed they thought about what might happen if police or soldiers came in and saw a foreigner. She left.
The outside air helped quell her nausea. She talked to the people on the street and they all told her to stay away from Chang’an. They said passing soldiers randomly sprayed bullets at people along the side of the road.
So she backtracked to Fuchengmen Street and headed east. The neighborhoods she passed through were quiet. She didn’t see any signs of carnage or troops.
Continuing past Beihai Park and Jingshan Park, she came to Wangfujing street. Wangfujing was normally one of the busiest shopping areas in the city. While the crowds were thinner today, there were still a fair number of people. Many talked together in large groups.
Amelia saw tanks at the end of Wangfujing. People lined the streets, jostling for views as if watching a parade.
She parked her bike and walked to the front of the Beijing Hotel. A long line of tanks was parked along Chang’an Avenue. At least she thought they were parked, until she gathered from the people around her that a single man held them up by standing in their way. Amelia couldn’t see the man at first, but then he climbed on the lead tank. The man held a small bag in his left hand, as if he’d happened across the tank convoy on the way home from some light shopping.
The hatch of the tank opened and Amelia held her breath as she waited for the man to be shot. But the soldier simply talked to him. The man leapt to the ground and the soldier returned inside the tank. As the tank started forward, the man jumped back in front of it, almost as if he were compelled to do so. The tank inched left, then right, but was blocked each time. The man stood stiff upright, and moved as if he were playing a game. Finally, several men raced from the crowd of onlookers and pulled him safely away to the sidewalk. The tanks rolled east, presumably to the Square.
Amelia inched her way to the edge of the crowd, trying to get a better view of the Square. Troops stretched across Tian’anmen as far as she could see. People warned her not to go too close—morning crowds had gotten too near and were fired upon.
The sight of the endless rows of soldiers in the Square was such a stark contrast to the carnival-like atmosphere of Tian’anmen during much of the students’ occupation that Amelia could hardly believe it was the same place. She closed her eyes for a moment. The soldiers were still there; the students were gone. It seemed like a bad dream, but it was real.
The number of burnt-out vehicles she came across on her ride home astounded Amelia. Chang’an, the "Avenue of Eternal Peace," was by far the worst, but other areas had obviously seen violence as well. From a distance she could see the area around Xidan was a nightmare of wreckage. Even trees had been knocked over, probably by the APCs. Amelia, travelling on a side street, was heading back towards Chang’an to take a look when a man stopped her.
"Please don’t go near Xidan," he said. "A nice girl like you shouldn’t see such things. You see my friend’s daughter over there. She was just at Xidan. It is very bad and still dangerous. There is no reason for you to look." The man’s friend was comforting his teenage daughter as she vomited into some bushes.
Amelia took the man’s advice and avoided Xidan, but she did check out Chang’an further down, just past the Minzu Hotel. The charred remains of buses and trolley-cars to the east resembled the aftermath of a bombing. Rubble from the tattered street and the now destroyed road dividers littered Chang’an as far as she could see. A huge pile of burnt and crushed bicycles lay in a macabre pile. Two men searched through the mound, standing some twisted remains on their kickstands to see if they were salvageable.
Tanks and troops could be seen on the Fuxingmen overpass right next to Radio Beijing. Amelia abandoned plans to check in at work and returned to the side streets. At one intersection she saw a small angry crowd gesticulating at something to the side of the road.
Amelia joined the group and saw they were pointing at a heap of sandbags, stacked into a shelter. Two helmeted soldiers popped up along with a large gun, and she abruptly realized this was a machine gun nest. "These soldiers are animals!" an old man confided to Amelia. "Worse even than the Japanese," he added.
The soldiers slowly swung the machine gun directly towards the crowd and shouted something Amelia didn’t catch. People quickly scattered. Amelia nearly panicked as her foot slipped off her pedal as she tried to get moving. She felt as if her back had a gigantic target on it as she road away.
Just before she got to the Youyi she saw an APC go by, commandeered by students. Some of them hung on to the top and waved flags. She hoped they weren’t stupid enough to try and fight soldiers. How in the world had they managed to capture an APC?
Helicopters continued to fly overhead, moving between the Square and the far west and far northwest. Amelia cringed whenever one passed overhead.
She went to the No. 8 Dining Hall for dinner, risking the food there in order to talk with other foreign experts. Almost everyone had a horror story to tell. One man who worked for Xinhua said he knew a western photographer who was taking pictures in the Square when the troops came in. An officer told her to put her camera down or he’d shoot. She either didn’t put it down fast enough, or took another picture, because the next thing she knew she had a bullet in her chest. She was currently in a military hospital.
After Amelia told her story, another man said he’d seen two men taking a wounded comrade to a hospital. An army major saw them, walked up, and calmly shot one of them in the thigh. This same man said he’d seen the bodies of three children and a very old lady who were all killed last night.
A woman said she’d heard that soldiers had beaten up a CBS cameraman. He went into the Beijing Hotel to seek refuge and was further beaten by hotel security. She also said the army shot at some windows at the Beijing Hotel and searched some rooms, looking for tapes and film.
Several people said the helicopters brought food and supplies into the Square and then took out bodies wrapped in plastic bags. The bodies were delivered to a crematorium where they were quickly, and quietly, incinerated.
Plenty of stories circulated that later turned out to be rumor: a nurse had called the US embassy and told them Deng Xiaoping was dead; one of Li Peng’s bodyguards, enraged because his relative was killed in the Square, shot Li in the leg. However, most people in the No. 8 Dining Hall believed these things to be true at the time.
Other implausible tales told of intense fighting going on between different troops in the far south near the military airport and in the far west of town. It was also commonly suspected that the 27th Army had been dosed with amphetamines before invading Tian’anmen, and these soldiers were mostly non-Han Chinese who couldn’t understand the standard speech. Amelia knew for a fact many members of the 27th Army were Han Chinese who could obviously understand Mandarin so she immediately dismissed this rumor.
The evening news reported: "martial law troops have put down the counter-revolutionaries by entering Tian’anmen and squelching turmoil." They showed hazy footage of the "Goddess of Liberty and Democracy" being pushed over by an APC, and soldiers cleaning up in the Square.
Amelia made some calls that night, trying to find out if Li Zhenqiang, Xiaoqing, Tony, and Aldous were all right. Even under normal circumstances, the Beijing telephone system was next to impossible. Now it was practically useless. But Amelia persisted and after interminable effort was able to reach a few people. She didn’t find out anything about the people she’d set out to inquire about, but she did find out three people from Radio Beijing were killed on their way to work that morning. One of them was her friend Du Meili.
Amelia spent the rest of her birthday lying in bed crying.