On April 15th in 1989 a group of people gathered in China for a funeral. The people wanted to commemorate the passing of someone they saw as a great leader – Hu Yaobang. Hu had been a positive influence for China in many ways, yet had been forced to resign and disgraced as punishment for advocating moving from communism to democracy. The small group of people who gathered to commemorate him wanted the government to rewrite his legacy, giving him his due rather than these lies. They started protesting against his treatment by the government. The small group had turned into over a hundred thousand people by the time Hu’s actual funeral date arrived a week later and these people held a protest march – a march that ended in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Originally designed in the mid-1600s, Tiananmen (meaning Gate Of Heavenly Peace) Square has been used as a gathering and meeting place ever since. When one hundred thousand people showed up protesting against the government (via mass hunger strikes and other forms of peaceful protest) and calling for reform, the world started to take notice. Journalists, who had travelled to China from all around the world in anticipation of a visit from the Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev, began to document the protest for it’s seven week run up until the fourth of June, by which time an estimated one million people were situated in and around the square. And with that many journalists and photographers in the country the entire world knew about it the moment martial law was effected to break up the protests by force, on the 20th of May. By this time the protestors had gained a huge following around the city (as well as internationally) and the military was effectively blocked from entering the city. On the 3rd of June the government called in the 27th and 28th armies to assault Beijing and take back the square, an action that was publically reviled by most of the world’s leaders at that time.
However dark the world can get (and sometimes we’re talking pitch black) we need that darkness so that the light can shine brighter. And sometimes, when all hope seems lost in darkness, someone will stand up against overwhelming odds and brighten the entire world.
These tank squadrons, usually defending outside provinces, were trained for war not breaking up protests. The assault on the square was brutal. Soldiers fired assault rifles into the indiscriminately into the crowd. Armoured troop carriers and tanks crashed through flimsy barricades made by the mostly student bodied protestors. The students responded, using the makeshift weapons around them. Seven hours later, on the morning of June 4th, an estimated 7,000 people on both sides had died or would die of wounds gained in the attack. It was one of the darkest days in the long history of that country, yet darkness cannot exist without light, in this case the story of a single man who stopped that army just one day later on June 5th and made history.
The battle had been bloody. The protest had been scattered. The square had been cleared and the army was in control of the city. One man carrying shopping bags walks out in front of a column of eighteen tanks on their way to Tiananmen square, calling for them to stop and they do. The lead tank attempts to drive around the man but he again steps in front of it, impeding it’s movement. This continues for a short amount of time until the man climbs up onto the tank to speak with the crew, reportedly demanding to know why they were messing up his country like this. Having said his piece he climbed down again and continued to block the column of tanks. Several members of the crowd (concerned onlookers or secret police depending on who tells the story) eventually run out into the street and pull him away into the crowd. The man’s name has never been verified, yet in that instant broadcast around the world he became an international symbol of the strength and courage that each of us has inside us. A symbol of peace and hope that would endure far longer than anything that happened during the protests or the ensuing massacre (referred to by the Chinese government as the June 4th Incident).
Today marks the anniversary of the massacre and recently the Chinese government has started blocking news sites and search engines again, even including Twitter in the mix this time. They want their people to be subdued, deprived even of the knowledge of any outside influences that may call for change. They want the Chinese people not to have a choice in the way they think, controlling the media broadcast there and marking most things they can’t control as subversive then banning them. But there’s always a choice, no matter how great the odds against you. No matter the size of the army marching against you, how big their machines of war are or how many people are left to oppose them, you will always have the choice to say “Enough” and stand up for your beliefs, because that’s how all true heroes begin.