Extracts from

Song of Tiananmen Square 

by David Rice

(ISBN   0-86322-251-X)

The tumbrels From the Prologue
The women of Beijing From Chapter 2
Noticing Song From Chapter 3
The night march From Chapter 9
The day the Cold Face melted From Chapter 11
First night of the hunger strike From Chapter 15
Zijun From Chapter 14
Martial law From Chapter 18
Masssacre at Muxidi From Chapter 23
What happened at Liubukou From Chapter 24
God curse you, Li Peng From Chapter 24
Execution of sentence From Chapter 29

The tumbrels...

From the Prologue

I GAZED after the boy as the truck carried him down the street. I gazed until I could no longer see his face. It was that face that had riveted my attention: never had I seen such an expression of horror, incredulity and despair.
   He stood in the back of a low-sided truck, a soldier on either side of him. A white placard hung from his neck, with large red chinese characters on it. He wore a white shirt and blue jeans, and his hands were tied behind his back. He looked about 18.
  The truck was one of a motorcade that passed slowly down that Beijing street one spring afternoon in 1988. First came several police cars with flashing blue lights; then a truck crammed with armed soldiers; then four trucks each with a handcuffed man standing between guards. More police cars and another truckload of soldiers finished off the procession, and the dee-dah sirens and the flashing lights faded slowly down past the Friendship Hotel towards Purple Bamboo Park.
   Everyone in the cycle lane, including myself, had halted to watch the show pass by. I turned to a man beside me and mimed, 'What is it?' He grinned, and drew a forefinger smartly across his throat.

The women of Beijing...

From Chapter 2

There’s hardly a hill in all of Beijing, so cycling could be leisurely and pleasant. More than just pleasant, for the Chinese have the world’s most beautiful women, and they were on bicycles everywhere around me.
  At first I didn’t look. I simply could not look at any woman. And the better looking a woman was, the more I wanted to turn away, with a sort of pain deep down in my gut.
  But in time Beijing began to work its magic. Maybe it was because its women are so different that I began to look again. They seemed almost like dresden china figurines come to life, with their slenderness and their glinting blue-black hair and their tiny breasts and pale flawless complexions, and those almond eyes set in faces so strange and hauntingly lovely. And the astonishing grace with which they moved. They didn’t seem quite real to me – just porcelain figures without any connection with love or betrayal or death.
  So after a time I began to look at the women of Beijing. I even developed a routine. Cyclists really only see each other’s rear. So the first thing I would perceive would be one of those neat rears, the tight denim pockets rocking gently with the pedalling. Or the occasional black miniskirt, tight as a drum. Or a summer dress flaring out like an orchid. But always the neat rear. And always the impossibly tiny waist.
  I would adjust my pace to the vision ahead, and the joy was almost like the joy of gazing at spring’s first crocus: so delicate, so exquisitely made, so incomparably lovely.
  After a mile or so I would get curious about the face.   Would it match the figure? My pedalling would speed up to match my heartbeat, and I would steal a glance as I passed. Rarely would the face disappoint, and mostly my heart would tighten at the almond loveliness of it. And I would look back for a full-faced vision.
  The only thing is, I never got a smile. People didn’t smile. Sometimes I might get a coquettish toss of the head, occasionally a glare of scorn, but nary a smile.     However I didn’t try to talk in those days, if indeed anyone would have understood English. I needed to be alone. There was a kind of symmetry to it -- I needed just to look, and those impassive faces exuded noli me tangere.
  But even without the smiles, cycling through Beijing was healing for me.

Noticing Song...

From Chapter 3

Now I don't know whether the Gossip According to Lukas put the idea into my head, or whether it was already in my head and the others sensed it before I did. Whichever, I found myself noticing Song.
  I think it began one late afternoon, when I was gazing out of my window awaiting her arrival for my lesson. Then I saw her, some distance away, moving down the pathway towards the building. Sometimes when you look down towards someone from a height, you see them differently. For some reason Yeats’s words came to me – "I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen".
  The grace with which she moved was almost feline. She wore a long black skirt that swirled about her ankles. In her left hand she swung the light canvas bag that held her books. So she was a leftie – I had only been half aware of that. The dark hair to her shoulders gleamed almost like metal in the evening sun and, as I watched, the right hand came up in a graceful arc to push the hair back. I realised then I had often subconsciously noted and admired this little gesture, so peculiarly hers. Usually done with the left hand when free. Even with the ankle-length skirt I could see she had the long legs of the northern Chinese. It was clear from the grace of her stride. I remembered Kramis’s remark that some of these girls seemed to have legs all the way to the navel. She moved out of view, and as I waited for the crash of the lift doors down the corridor that would announce her arrival, I found I was aware of my heartbeat.

The night march...

From Chapter 9

It was the eve of the funeral, and Norman was on the footpath with Song and myself watching the students file through the darkened streets on their 10-mile route to Tiananmen Square.
  What we now saw was light years from the stragglers of the previous Monday. These came in their disciplined thousands out of the darkness of every street, quiet, purposeful columns from Beida and Renda and all the other campuses, merging right in front of where we stood. In their soft sneakers the feet made no din. The chants were rhythmic and hypnotic. Marshals carried electric loudhailers, or linked hands in protective cordons around each group of marchers.
  In the light of lanterns the faces beneath the headbands had the sternness of gothic saints. It was eerie, but extraordinarily beautiful.

The day the Cold Face melted...

From Chapter 11

Thursday, April 27, was the day the Miracle began. It was as if grace had dropped down from heaven, or wherever, upon the young people of Beijing. And not just upon the young.
  It was the day the Cold Face melted.
  The first inkling came about 10 a.m. outside the back gates of Beida. Song and I were among the waiting street crowd, watching with apprehension the massed ranks of police blocking the exit from the campus, and listening to the growing sounds of the Internationale from inside the walls, which told us the march was advancing towards the exit.
  All at once the police lines parted like the Red Sea, and there were the marchers coming through. Rhythmically they swung left and down the street towards us. The leaders were about nine abreast, among them Chen, Chai Ling, Wang Dan and Wuerkaixi. They carried at waist level a scarlet banner that stretched the full width of the march. Their arms were linked together and they moved at a measured pace to the beat of the music. The faces, although singing, were stern and impassive.
  Spontaneously the street crowd broke into applause, then began cheering and cheering and people were holding up two fingers in the V-for-victory sign..
  As we watched, the cold faces of the marchers simply melted. First they went wide eyed with astonishment at the cheering reception in the street, then they burst into smiles, then there was laughter, and youngsters began hugging each other as they marched along, and some were wiping away tears, and others were weeping unashamedly.
  I looked back and some of the police were smiling and some were holding up their fingers in the V-sign.
  The crowd was moving with the march, and, as we trotted alongside, I sensed that the rhythm of the marchers had changed subtly. There was a flourish to it. The step was lighter, the pace a little faster, shoulders were back, and chests were out, and heads were high. And all along the way the crowd caught the smiles and tears and laughter, and smiled and wept and cheered as if the Cold Face had never been.

First night of the hunger strike...

From Chapter 15

I shall always be glad I was there to experience the sights and sounds of that first night of the strike. I doubt if anyone slept much. A few people seemed to be trying to read under the dim lamps of the Square. Some clustered in circles and talked quietly, while others clung together under quilts for warmth. Cigarette tips glowed, and the brief flare of matches seemed to leap from place to place like a will-o-the wisp.
  For the first time I was hearing what a hunger strike sounded like. It was a great whisper coming up from the ground, broken by occasional quiet coughing, or weeping, or murmuring, or even laughter. There was the tiny tinny beat from Walkman earphones. And sometimes a voice would gently rise in song, and it was like a lullaby. I was not then to know then how drastically those sounds would change, within days, to the shriek of ambulance sirens.
  Song and I murmured the night away. For some reason we talked about beauty.
  'I'm not beautiful,' I remember her saying. 'Maybe pretty, or only a little beautiful. It is Lily who is really beautiful.'
  'She has grown too hard to be really beautiful,' I said. 'Kindness and softness are a part of beauty. She has neither.'
  Song snuggled closer to me. 'I will tell you the things we Chinese call beautiful. The eyes -- they must be the shape of almonds. The breasts should be big, and pointed. The legs must be long, especially below the knee. The buttocks -- high, not drooping. And the hair -- it should cascade, like a dark waterfall. And the heart -- it should be kind. Yes, you were right about that.'
  Zijun coughed. I looked over and noticed she was shivering. Without a word Song pulled off her sweater and went over to her.
  'But what about you?' I asked when she came back.
'She giggled. 'Remember you once called me an onion? Well, I have three vests under this tee-shirt!'
  We were silent for a while.
  'Maybe people will start to trust again,' Song whispered. 'Maybe this will change them.'
  'How do you mean?'
  'We have a saying, it's your friend that will betray you - the friend you confide everything to. The friend you trust. That's since the Cultural Revolution. The people's heart is broken, because so many betrayed each other in those days. So many people are mental cripples -- their souls are twisted.'
  'I got the idea from Man of La Mancha. Remember, dreaming the impossible dream? I cried when I heard it. You know the lines:
      'This is my quest, to follow the star,
       No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
       With untwisted soul.
  'Well, that's the dream China has lost. We're all twisted, warped right out of shape.' She looked around at the hunger strikers on the ground beside her. 'But there's trust here,' she said. 'And there's goodness. Maybe this is the beginning of untwisting China's soul.'
  We were silent again, and I was pondering her words. Then Song was humming something gently to herself. She turned to me. 'There's a song I love. Would you like I sing it for you? Quietly?'
  'I'd like it very much.'
  'It's about the rain that washes the chest of the earth.'
  'Breast. Breast of the earth.'
  'Well, breast, then. I sing it for you now.'
  Without a trace of self-consciousness she sang this haunting melody. I had to lean close to listen. By the gentle sound must have carried, for by the second verse a few of the people around us had quietly joined in. By the third verse it seemed the whole white mass of hunger strikers had joined in, but almost as if all were whispering together.
  We must have dozed off after that. It was broad daylight when I awoke to find Chen squatting beside me. He had a white laboratory coat over his arm. My gut gurgled for want of food.


From Chapter 14

The girl on the step beside Song caught my eye, smiled and give me the V-sign. 'Can I speak English with you?' she asked.
  God, do they ever give up? In the middle of a bloody hunger strike, and still trying to practise their English. She looked about 17 years old.
  'Sure,' I said. 'Why don't you tell me what you're doing on hunger strike? What's your name, by the way?'
  'So why are you doing this, Zijun?'
  'To help others. To help China. Like Lei Feng did.'
  'Who's he?'
  'He was a good soldier who gave his life to helping others.'
  'Why bother to help others? What's in it for you?'
  She thought for a moment. 'When I was only six,' she said, 'my mother took me on a visit here to Beijing. I saw my first beggar, sitting on the side of the street. I didn't know what he was. Then, when we were eating in a little restaurant, someone came in from the street and asked my mother for what was left on her plate. I've never forgotten that.
  'If I come out of this alive,' she said, 'I want to go to Africa and work in one of those English-speaking countries there. As a teacher for the poor.'
  'Will you come out of it? Are you prepared to go to the end?'
  She nodded.
  'What if the authorities don't give in?'
  'They will give in,' she said fiercely. 'They'll have to.'
  'Aye, sure,' I said. 'They'll have to give in.'

Martial law...

From Chapter 18

On the dot of ten a helicopter thudded down along the ravine of Chang'an Avenue, well below the tops of the buildings. It banked in front of Tiananmen Gate and swung in over the Square. It was one of those french-made Gazelles -- I recognised its faired-in tail rotor. We shaded our eyes to watch it hover right above us.
  A huge bulk appeared below the helicopter, falling directly on top of us. Song screamed and I thought I was going to die. The thing exploded and became thousands of fluttering leaflets.
  They had put it in writing, the bastards, their fucking Declaration of Martial Law.

Massacre at Muxidi...

From Chapter 23

It could have been a film set. That part of the boulevard that passed right in front of me was empty, and most of the street lights were off, making it a sinister no-man's land. Drawn across the boulevard, where it vanished into darkness on my left, was a barricade of buses. Hundreds of people massed behind the buses, and some people were lined across in front of them.
  To my right, a little way up the boulevard, the military waited. There was no moon, and I dimly discerned helmeted soldiers in the darkness. Rearing up behind them were the silhouettes of battle tanks with their cannon arced low, and open trucks crammed with helmeted men.
  'But why tanks?' I muttered to no one in particular.     'Why tanks?' I felt that momentary dizziness a condemned man must feel when he gets the first glimpse of the noose.
  There was a faint acrid smell in the air, that made my eyes water.
  I had arrived during a momentary lull in whatever had been happening. It may have been only the briefest of pauses, but it seemed as if it had been like that for an age. It was as if time had stopped. Silent. Still. It could have been some 19th-century painting entitled, Before the Battle.
  I could think only of getting to Tiananmen Square. Sidling along the edge of No Man's Land towards the bus barricades, I squeezed myself between a bus and the sidewalk railings. Immediately after I passed, the bus exploded into flames and I felt the heat sear the back of my neck. And then the tableau came to life.
  The first sound was the clanking moan of tanks and I looked back to see blazing buses buckling, as tank turrets with their obscene long cannon poked their way through the barriers. Helmeted men were leaping through the gaps and there was a sound like monster firecrackers, louder even than the roar of the flames.
  'Zhen zi dan! Zhen zi dan!' people were screaming. 'Real bullets. Real bullets.'
  I stood there stunned in the glare of the blazing buses, watching the soldiers go by on the double, flashes licking around the muzzles of their guns. People thudded to the pavement around me. I didn't know if they were dying, or dead, or just trying to save themselves.
  I too threw myself down, and watched the boots thud past, and saw the tank tracks clanking and squealing within a foot of my head. A man who had thrown himself down beside me, almost on top of me, suddenly grunted and I could feel his body lurch. Then there was something oozing underneath me and I pushed him away. The small of his back was discoloured and a lavatory smell came from him.
  One of the blazing buses exploded with a woomff. I raised my head to look: the vehicles and figures were black shapes against the orange glare. Heat seared my face and eyes, and I covered them with my hands, to discover my brows and lashes were gone.
  The tanks were now gone and armoured vehicles and trucks piled with helmeted figures were roaring by. All were moving at a brisk pace.
  One of the armoured vehicles seemed to hesitate, as if unwilling to smash into the crowd. It stopped, and the other vehicles simply went around it. Suddenly it seemed as if a swarm of bees had engulfed the vehicle. But the swarm was human, and what looked like iron bars rose and fell. I saw a figure dragged out of a hatch. For an instant he was silhouetted against the flames, and I could see hands tearing at him.
  A figure leaped up on the vehicle with something blazing in its hand, and everyone jumped away, and there was a roar and a cheer as the vehicle went up in flames, and a flaming figure jumped from the hatch and down into the crowd on the far side and there was a cheering roar.
  The shooting seemed to have stopped and some of the people on the ground were starting to get up. Some just lay there. I stood up and I was wet and sticky with the blood and excrement from the body beside me. I had a momentary, insanely selfish notion that I'd just go home and shower before coming back to get Song. The notion was gone as soon as I thought it. I hurried east along the boulevard towards Tiananmen, following in the wake of the soldiers and tanks.
  Here and there trucks and armoured vehicles were blazing, and people were lifting bodies onto the flat carriers of tricycles. The bodies all seemed red and white, even in the glare of the flames -- white shirts, and blood soaking them. But they weren't pure clean colours: the bodies seemed filthy, and it was strange how shapeless they had become in death, strange how they seemed to lose human form, and how anonymous a body looked when the face had been shot away and someone had pulled a transparent plastic bag over the remnants of the head.
  A young man ran past me with joy on his face, pointing to blood coming from his shoulder. He was clearly proud of his wound.

What happened at Liubukou...

From Chapter 24

As I trudged westward along Changan, three tanks came behind me from the direction of the Square I had just left. They were going at an incredible speed for tracked vehicles, and I felt the wind of their passing. With tracks screeching like dying animals, they disappeared into the smoke ahead. It was evident the drivers had learnt what could happen to a vehicle that slowed down or hesitated: these tanks were clearly not going to stop for anything.
  What that could mean I realised when I reached the Liubukou intersection, a mile further west. I heard the screaming before I got through the smoke and tear gas.
  In the very middle of the intersection was a pink spaghetti-like heap of squashed human bodies and entrails, with black bits of crushed bicycle frames tossed among them like seasoning. The marks of tank tracks were a straight, hard line through the ooze.
  An animal howling mingled with coughing from the smoke and gas that still hung in the air. My own eyes were streaming. A girl in pigtails was kneeling and beating her fists on the roadway: beside her, students were trying to tie a tourniquet on the thigh of another girl. Both the legs were gone, bones squashed flat by the tank tracks, and the stumps ended in a horror of red sausages and blue jelly and jagged bone-ends. Blood was pulsing from each stump in rhythmic gouts.
  I pulled off my shirt, tore off one of the sleeves and tried to use it as a tourniquet on the other thigh, twisting it tight with a bit of bicycle-frame from nearby. Like a garrotte. We lifted her onto the flat wooden bed of a goods tricycle. She died as we did so, head lolling back, mouth gaping, eyes staring.
  What had happened here? I asked the student who had tied the tourniquet. With gestures and halting English he told me how the students had left Tiananmen Square by the south end, as ordered by the military, had looped around Qian Men and were heading northward towards the university district. Their path took them at right angles across Changan Boulevard. A crowd of students had been straggling across the boulevard when the tanks came out of the smoke and just kept on going. There was no way they could have stopped anyway, going at that speed, he said.
  There was no more I could do. I checked if Song was among the squashed bodies, but could not see her. I left and shambled and coughed my way along Changan. As I passed the Minzu Hotel the doorman was still standing there. I thought of that Roman sentry found standing to attention in Pompeii, who had remained at his post as the Vesuvian ash engulfed him.

God curse you, Li Peng...

From Chapter 24

God's curse upon you, Li Peng. God's curse upon you, for silencing my Song.
  God's curse upon you, you child molester, who molested them with lead and left them dead. God's curse upon you, you cannibal, you Chronos devouring your own children.    God's curse upon you, Herod who slaughtered the Innocents to keep your crown. God's curse upon you, you coward, that betrayed the little ones entrusted to you by China, for fear that a dwarf called Deng might take away your job.
  You, who met mercy as a parentless child, when Zhou Enlai fostered you and made you his son, could show no mercy to China's children.
  God curse your owlish face that insults the wisdom of that bird, and curse your false black hair that truly reflects your falseness. The curse of God on you, Li Peng, you malign bastard masquerading as a government minister. I hope you die, but not soon.
  God grant you live long enough to know in full measure the contempt in which you are held by the children you did not get to kill. And in your long, last agony, may you see the face of that child cut in half at Muxidi, and may you see his belly squashed flat so that yours might stay full, and may you see the cleanness of his socks and shoes that never waded through blood as yours have done.
  May the words of Mao Zedong be true of you -- 'He who injures the students will come to no good end.' And may the roars of your dying be heard by those children of China whom you did not get to kill, now grown and taking over a China you thought was yours, and building it into a land you could never have dreamt of.
  God damn you, Li Peng. May the God you don't believe in damn you to the hell you thought was not there. I hope there's a hell. And if there is, may you go to that special place that Dante reserved for cannibals that eat their children.

Execution of sentence...

From Chapter 29

All that night I lay curled up in the fetus position. The sentence would be carried out, the girl has said. She hadn't said it would commence -- which is what you'd say if it was a prison sentence.
  It couldn't be... Jesus, they're not going to do me in. Come on -- they're mad, but not that mad. No, they wouldn't do that. Not to me. Not for just fucking. Or even for what happened at the Square. But look at what they already did in the Square. No way. No. I'm a westerner. I'm an Irish citizen. As if they'd have even heard of Ireland. But no. No way they'd do anything like that.
  Terror cannot be described, only experienced. Like looking through an airplane window and seeing an engine in flames. Or crouching in a Bosnian cellar and hearing the shells bursting. Or the moment before your car hits the truck head on. Your life lurches up into your throat. Terror means gazing into the iris of death.
  I even tried to pray.
  When morning came I got no rice. And when the boots thudded in the corridor I thought I was going to faint. The door clanged open, I was turned around and handcuffed, and marched along the corridor and up the stone stairs.
  I was momentarily dazzled when I came through the door into the courtyard. But when I saw what awaited me my knees actually did give way, and I had to be grabbed and held up by my two guards. I discovered later I had wet my pants.
  What awaited me was one of those tumbrels -- an open truck with waist-high sides. And a helmeted policeman with a large white placard, which he proceeded to hang around my neck. There were red characters on the placard. I don't know what the characters said.
  One of the truck sides was lowered. I was simply unable to climb in, so I was hoisted in, one guard pulling my arms and another pushing from below. They put me leaning against the truck side, a guard on either side holding me, as I could hardly stand.
  The dee-dah sirens began, lights started flashing on two police cars which drove out through a gateway ahead of us, and then we were in the street. People glanced curiously up at us, then looked again when they saw it was a foreign devil in the tumbrel. I saw one little boy excitedly pulling at his mother's arm and pointing at me.

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