Sunday, October 01, 2006

China Stories Pt. 30: Tiananmen Square at Night

The hot day gave way to a chilly evening. The students talked, and huddled together to stay warm. They'd been sleeping outside for many days, with inadequate clothing and shelter, and subsisting on cheap instant noodles and food brought to the square by concerned citizens. The hunger strikers have their own section of the square, where the are monitored by doctors and given fluids intravenously. The hum of the students conversations is broken only by the Euro-style bi-tonal sirens of the ambulances that come and go with regularity, carrying the worst off hunger strikers to the hospital.

Brad, John and I walked around the square, occasionally stopping to shoot. We were only interested in what was new, and newsworthy. All that matters is what will get on the CBS Evening News. There is considerable competition - not only from the other CBS crews spread around the city, but also from other current events. (In the middle of the demonstrations, Lucille Ball died. It was quite clear that unless there was a coup, or somehow the demonstrations had a "Lucy" tie-in, nothing we shot that day was getting on the news.)

We visited the hunger striker area, where I snapped a few personal photos with no flash. One of the hunger strikers, wearing a headband and getting an IV, flashed me the "V" sign.

Without warning, the large speakers hanging from every light pole crackled to life. An announcement was made to the effect that everyone in the square was advised to pay attention for an important announcement. At the end of the announcement, the hush was replaced by excited whispers and speculation.

Twenty minutes went by, and then the speakers came alive again. Several of the senior leaders spoke in turn. I don't remember everyone who spoke, and I don't recall what was said. (In any case, I probably caught at most 75% of what was said.) The one speaker I remember was Yang Shangkun, who had been a General in the People's Liberation Army. His voice was low and gravelly. He sounded haughty and pedantic, like a teacher scolding a student. The square was completely silent, with everyone listening, and looking at the speakers. The effect was eery - the quiet darkness of the square, punctured by the disembodied voices. It reinforced how disconnected the leaders were from the students.

Although I can't remember what was said, the gist of the message was this: students, leave the square. Your time is up. If you don't leave, we will have to take alternative measures.

The students were unmoved.


At 7:27 AM, Blogger Lixy said...

hi, why these old stories?

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Ish said...


I'm telling these old stories because I never wrote them down before. I thought I should write them down before I forget.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Lixy said...

you have a good memory. I can only remember I was in primary school then.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of your best entries. You captured the forboding the students must have been feeling. Also, you have a great sense of the irony of covering a significant historical event and being upstaged by the death of Lucille Ball.
I'm enjoying your story immensely.


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