Tag Archives: tiananmen square

Donald Trump on Tiananmen Square

Yesterday I did a blog post about Tiananmen Square and this morning I read that in last night’s Republican presidential debate Donald Trump was asked about comments he once made regarding the 1989 event.  Trump called the massacre at the square a ‘riot’ and said it had been stopped by ‘a strong and powerful government.’  

This morning friends from Hong Kong were posting links to an article in the Hong Kong Free Press describing the exchange of words about Tiananmen Square between candidate John Kasich and Trump during the debate. 

chimericaOn Wednesday I saw the play Chimerica at the Manitoba Theater Center. It explores the complex and troubling relationship between China and the United States.  It’s a relationship that may become even more complex and troubling should Donald Trump be elected the next American president.

Other posts……..

A Strange Family Photo- The Chinese Revolution and One Child Policy

Skin Color

Three Gorges Project

 

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Filed under China, Politics, Theatre

Chimerica- Personal Memories and Connections With Tiananmen Square

marylou in tiananmen squareI was reminded of my visit to Tiananmen Square in Beijing as I watched the play Chimerica at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.  The story revolves around an American news photographer in 2012 who believes the defiant young man who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square during the student uprisings of 1989 is still alive and living in New York.  The photographer is determined to find him.  

jan wong red china bluesAs the play transported us back to China and Tiananmen Square in 1989 I thought of Canadian journalist Jan Wong.  She was in a hotel looking out over the square as the students were massacred and she gives a vivid and disturbing account of it in her book Red China BluesThe production of Chimerica at MTC uses video, a clever stage set, sound effects and lighting to also give us an inside look at what might have happened in Tiananmen Square. mtc program tiananmen square timelineThe Chimerica program provides a historical timeline for the 1989 student demonstrations for democracy but it personalizes the events by telling us the story of a young couple who were in the square the day of the massacre. 

 I once listened to a university professor who was in Beijing during the student protests give a first hand account of her experience in Tiananmen Square. I’ve blogged about it .  I wondered where playwright Lucy Kirkwood had found the information she used to recreate the Tiananmen Square events for her play Chimerica. Did she travel to China? Conduct interviews?  dave in tinanamen squareDuring our visit to Tiananmen Square our guide was very reluctant to discuss the events that happened there in 1989. Apparently the iconic photo of the young man standing in front of the tanks still can not be accessed online in China.

chinese man with deng xiaoping statue in hong kongIn 2004 I attended a huge exhibit in Hong Kong honoring the life of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. People were happily posing with likenesses of him and having their children do so too.  child with deng xiaopingAbsolutely no mention was made in the entire exhibit that Xiaoping was the leader who had ordered the massacre of the students in Tiananmen Square. He was being remembered only as a great leader who had modernized China. 

According to the play Chimerica which is set in 2012 it is still dangerous to talk about Tiananmen Square in a public way in China or in fact to express negative opinions about any government policy.  

Posing with a statue of dissident artist Ai Wei Wei at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Posing with a statue of dissident artist Ai Wei Wei at the Art Gallery of Ontario

As I was watching Chimerica I thought of dissident Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei who has  paid the price for his criticism of the Chinese government.  The play Chimerica does a good job of reminding us that while China has certainly changed in many ways some things, like the government’s attitude towards freedom of expression still seem to be firmly rooted in an oppressive past. 

Other posts…….

Ai Wei Wei- Giving The Finger to his Home and Native Land Through His Art

Remembering the Children of Sichuan

Visiting The Great Wall

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Visiting Tiananmen Square

We visited Tiananmen Square on a beautiful spring morning in 2004. At first glance, we could hardly recognize the place from the pictures the world saw on television in June of 1989 when tanks rolled into the square and soldiers with guns advanced on the young men and women who were exercising freedom of speech and expression.

Now people from all over the world milled about Tiananmen Square, snapping photos of Mao’s portrait and lining up to visit the mausoleum which houses his body.  Folks were busy capturing digital images of the famous statues and monuments.

Video cameras rolled as families posed in front of the impressive Great Hall of the People. Many citizens from all over China had made the trip to see this spot where their former leader is honored. Mao Zedong  still seemed to be a hero in his homeland.

On the day we visited Tiananmen Square people were laughing, talking and enjoying tea and breakfast in the square. Children were playing tag and flying kites.  Vendors were selling Mao playing cards, Mao watches, copies of Mao’s infamous Red Book and even Mao cigarette lighters that played the national anthem when you flicked them open. We were told that early that morning thousands of citizens had congregated in the square just as the sun was rising to see the flag of China being raised in front of Mao’s portrait.

As we drove up to Tiananmen we asked our tour guide where the army tanks had driven into the square on that fateful June day. He quickly moved to the back of the tour bus where we were sitting and spoke softly. “Over there,” he pointed. “That’s where the tanks rolled in. But please do not ask me any questions about the student uprisings while we are in the square itself. I will answer all your questions later, back on the bus.”

This surprised us since at the start of our three-day Beijing excursion our guide had told us that in the ‘new, open China’ he was allowed to say anything he wanted.

Later we realized Tiananmen was still a  politically sensitive spot. We heard someone wailing and saw a gray- haired woman prostrating herself in front of Mao’s portrait. She had Chinese characters written all over the large white tunic wrapped around her body. Uniformed officials were trying to get her to stand up. Quite a crowd had gathered by the time two policemen lifted her under her arms and carried her away. “Keep walking forward”, our guide urged as we continued to turn around to see what was happening to the woman.  “Do not take pictures” our guide instructed in a firm brisk voice, as I took my camera out of its case. “I will explain later.”

He was true to his world. In the tunnel leading into the Forbidden City he told us the woman was protesting the fact the government had confiscated her family’s land and not paid a proper price for it. The writing on her clothing said that when her husband went to the local officials to complain he was arrested. Our guide believed she had come to Tiananmen Square to pray before Mao’s picture. He was her last resort. 

We asked if the woman would be punished. Our guide thought she might be imprisoned for a few days for disturbing the peace. “The problem of her husband’s arrest and the loss of her land will be addressed” he assured us. “After all she has now talked about it here in the square in front of all you western visitors.”

Tiananmen means “Gate of Heavenly Peace.” There was little about Tiananmen Square that was peaceful on that June day in 1989 when so many students protesting for democracy were killed. Although at first glance Tiananmen presented a much more peaceful picture on our visit, some people were still protesting in Tiananmen Square. 

Other posts about China protests….

Remembering Tiananmen Square

Ai Wei Wei Giving The Finger To His Home And Native Land

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