Memories of Tiananmen Square 30 Years Later: "... Anarchy Became Its Own Brand of Order. One after Another, Battalions Sent to Crack Down on the Populace Were Forced to Retreat. before Long, the People of Beijing Had Grown Used to a Bizarre Life under Half-Martial Law."

By Wang, Anna | USA TODAY, July 2019 | Go to article overview

Memories of Tiananmen Square 30 Years Later: "... Anarchy Became Its Own Brand of Order. One after Another, Battalions Sent to Crack Down on the Populace Were Forced to Retreat. before Long, the People of Beijing Had Grown Used to a Bizarre Life under Half-Martial Law."


Wang, Anna, USA TODAY


TENS OF THOUSANDS took to the streets. They scattered to the city's every corner, blocking military vehicles, keeping them from breaching the city center. Beijing was at war but, under that tragic dome, there still were small incidents that kept you from fully abandoning worldly calculation.

One crisp morning, a student approached me asking for a donation. I happily gave all I had on me. Feeling I had done my part, I continued on, and found two more doing the same, but I had nothing left to give as they held out the makeshift boxes. I could only shake my head in embarrassment as I walked by.

This was just one example of the students' lack of coordination. Another was the increasingly sorry state of the Square. It looked more like a refugee camp than a gathering of the nation's intellectual elite. It was a garbage dump on good days, and a stinky garbage dump on rainy ones.

Nevertheless, there was an unavoidable question: Who was leading the charge in the Square? Starting in late April, I would get bombarded with flier after flier every time I walked past, each with a name of a different organization emblazoned across it, claiming to be calling the shots.

Years later, I read Thao Dingxin's The Power of Tiananmen: State-Society Relations and the 1989 Beijing Student Movement, which chronicled in painstaking detail the rise and fall of the innumerable organizations trying to lead the fight Dingxin's narrative reminded me of the days I simply was an observer who walked past the Square twice a day. Without the eye of a sociologist or historian, I wondered if what I saw was simply anarchy. Still, every time I saw their young, hopeful eyes, my heart would melt. Who was I to judge them?

The criminals of the city might have had the same mindset. With police virtually absent from the streets, thieves and robbers counterintuitively decided to take a break from their duties as well. From the time martial law was declared, life continued normally until that fateful June 4 morning of the massacre. It was time to put everything else aside. We were all from Beijing and all in this together.

Ironically, anarchy became its own brand of order. Military forces in the city's suburbs appeared to be in no rush to make it to the city. One after another, battalions sent to crack down on the populace were forced to retreat, heading back to base to await orders. Before long, the people of Beijing had grown used to a bizarre life under half-martial law. It seemed anarchy had won and was a great deal more civilized than the Party had led people to believe.

On the morning of May 25, 1989, someone handed me a flier entitled: "The Last Battle Between Darkness and Light." It was published by the Capital Joint Conference of the People. It called on citizens from every walk of life to resist martial law and continue to fight for the Square: 'Democracy is a matter of life and death for the Chinese people. Now is when we win or lose; live or die. If we emerge victorious, our nation will begin its walk down the path toward a democratic future --a fair future for us all, where despots and those who seek to stand in the way of progress never will stop us. They never will silence our voice. They never will stop the march of history."

That same morning, I got a call from the hotel's front desk, saying a "Mr. Wang" wanted to see me. I wondered who on earth was running around the city on business calls at a time like this. I was met with a heavy Tianjin-tinged accent on the other end of the line, "Sis!"

It was my younger brother, Wang Y. He was a freshman at Yanshan University, an engineering school in the city of Qinhuangdao, Hebei province. Classes had been suspended, so he and several classmates had come to Beijing to do their part at Tiananmen. As soon as they left the train station, however, they had gotten separated in the sea of people. Wandering the streets trying to track everyone down, he found himself in front of the Beijing Hotel. …

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