The Memory of June 4

    by Liu Di

Using every channel of communication at its disposal, the government kept repeating the propaganda throughout the country, and eventually the official conclusion prevailed: there had been no dead… Martial law remained in force, pursuant to Decree No. 4's call for the apprehension and extermination of the rebel elements. But the military authorities categorically denied it when relatives of the victims came to inquire. “You must have been dreaming,” the officers insisted. “Nothing ever happened in Macondo. Never did, never will. This is a happy town.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Boss Hou said they spent the whole night talking about what had happened three years before, when the army surrounded the lane. Boss Sun and Boss Luo fell into a thoughtful silence, probably because his words brought back memories. Only Granpa Wang An spoke up: “Boss Hou, stop talking in riddles, OK? The army surrounded the lane!? What army surrounded what lane? The army is bound to the common people, heart to heart—why would they surround us? I'm not lettin' you outta here till you explain yourself!”

Wang Xiaobo, Looking for Wu Shuang

As spring turned into summer in 1989, I was only eight years old. All I wanted to do, all day long, was ride my bike and read a book that the oldest daughter of one of my parents' friends didn't want any more. I read everything, then, including Quan Yanchi's Mao Zedong: Man, not God and the Frenchman Bao Ruo-Wang's Prisoner of Mao.

I can still remember the period of mourning for Granpa Hu Yaobang that was observed in school and the amusing efforts of my classmates to look grief-stricken. I remember the tanks in the streets; I remember going out with my Dad to read the large-character posters. I remember my mother's anxiety one night when it got very late and Dad still hadn't come home. I remember discovering one morning that most of my classmates hadn't come to school, and the teacher said, “Why are you still coming to school? Everybody knows now which side is in the right!” After that we didn't need to go to class, until one day it was announced on the TV news that all the middle and elementary schools which, for one reason or another, had suspended classes were required to resume instruction the following day.

I remember watching the TV news every day. When certain scenes came on screen, Dad would always tell me to close my eyes. And I remember hearing all kinds of “rumors.”

Dad says he once lifted me onto a burned-out tank. He also says that the school made us donate eggs as a gesture of support for the army, but required (fearing poison) that we write our names on the eggs. My mother was so mad she picked the smallest egg she could find. But I have no memory of these events.

Clearly, things happened that my memory couldn't retain. Five years later I once blurted to my mother, “Who is Zhao Ziyang?”

Much later I read the newspapers from that time, I read letters my mother had written to relatives overseas, I read the material Dad had to submit when Party members were re-registering.

I watched Carma Hinton's Gate of Heavenly Peace, and I read A Day of Martial Law.

Actually, when my Beijing friends and relatives talk about June 4, it's always in high spirits, even to the point of boisterous laughter. There's nothing mawkish about Beijingers: they face disasters of flood or fire as if they were celebrating New Year's.

And later still, I came to know a few people who were crippled on June 4, or who lost loved ones, and I helped raise money for them. As a result, from 2004 on, I have spent almost every June 4 under house arrest … no need to go into that now.

There's one other incident connected with June 4 that I can never forget. For a while I participated in a study group devoted to the practice of Imagery Dialogue. This is a therapeutic technique invented by Professor Zhu Jianjun, a psychologist in our country. It's a bit like hypnosis and the interpretation of dreams except that the patient is wide-awake when he generates the images. (If interested, you can read Professor Zhu's book Who Am I: Psychological Counseling and the Technique of Imagery Dialogue.) One group member (who was himself a therapist) had been attending for a fairly long time. He was an active participant and had made an impression on me. I vaguely sensed that something was troubling him.

During one session, he shared with the group an image that came to him, an image of his distress: a dragon stranded in shallow water, allowed no scope to exercise its power for good.

All I said was, “Where were you on June 4?”

He was not silent, as I expected, but expressed the excitement of dawning self-awareness. He said he had been an NCO in the Army and because of June 4 he had resigned from the service. What I had somehow guessed from the image he shared was indeed the very thing that had been troubling him all along. For many Chinese, June 4 became a psychological complex. I had discovered it in a place I wasn't expecting to find it.

May 3, 2014

Translator’s Notes

One Hundred Years of Solitude This passage is abridged from a paragraph in Chapter 15 of that novel.

when Party members were re-registering “All government functionaries, particularly party members and cadres, were required to give a detailed account of their 'involvement' in the event [of June 4]. An unprecedented party membership 're-registration' campaign was launched in the first half of 1990. All party members automatically lost their membership unless they were allowed to re-register after satisfying the authorities of their total devotion to the 'Four Cardinal Principles.'” Guo, Sujian. Chinese Politics and Government: Power, Ideology and Organization p. 134, Routledge, 2012

A Day of Martial Law A collection of accounts by soldiers who carried out the 1989 crackdown in Beijing, published by the government soon afterward to support its depiction of the movement as a dangerous riot.

allowed no scope to exercise its power for good This idiom evokes the plight of many a well-meaning official in ancient China denied—by imperial caprice—an opportunity to serve his country.

translated by A. E. Clark