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Born in ’89: At the 2009 Tiananmen Square Anniversary Protest

4 Jun 2009

1989. The earth was moving. The English musician Mike Oldfield said so: “Nothing but / A bridge to Paradise!”

At Tiananmen, a man dug his heels into the gravel before four Chinese Type 59 tanks. From above, four men ducked and snapped variations of that iconic image, of that lone figure whom found himself facing the horde. Just like what I’d do as a kid in the basement: pit one toy soldier against the likes of Vader, Shredder, Zed and the Joker. A Dream Team of Evil never looked so good. The soldier, though, he was real heavy and one whack with his plastic leg brought the kingdom of bad on its knees. Unfortunately you can’t kick like that in this life and I’d only learn this many years later, though not in the straightforward way that Tank Man must’ve learned it.

Tank Man was real heavy too, a strapping Chinaman brimming with romance. But China knows best: nothing beat romance like a good ol’ rifle nuzzling the small of your back.

That was June 4th. Ma oggled the discolored television in a Los Angeles apartment I wouldn’t remember, her belly swollen pink and blue, pulsing wet with my fetal thoughts. Don’t watch, Ba warned. He didn’t want her to get too excited. Or afraid.

I was born at 8:18PM on August 18, 1989. With all those crazy eights in my birth date, their Chinese character partly homophonous with the word “wealth,” I supposedly signaled a new prosperity. Yet it was a time of wars and confusion, the beginning of an unknown age as the 20th century limped closer to its last years.

The Berlin Wall fell with the leaves later that lovely November and the people of the world hoped. But this is a dangerous thing, hope, because our species likes to defer. Hope’s not for us, the old bastards think, we know life sucks ass. Still, they place their hope in the young – in this twitching peanut that didn’t want anything more than a milky tittie in his mouth. Things were going to change, they thought. These can be the boys and girls to do it.

Well, it’s been a little difficult.

150,000 at Victoria Park – a record turnout packs the empty basketball courts to the brim, spilling onto the streets and the lawns. Doubledecker buses cede way to swelling crowds. It is June 4, 2009 and the memory of Tiananmen still resounds two decades later as a vigil is held by the pro-democracy group Hong Kong Alliance for those lost to the violence.

My father, constantly surprising me, greets an activist here, a publisher there. This is my son, he says, throwing his arm around me (I’m taller now; it’s hard to pat me on the head). He was born in ‘89, he tells them. I say hi, sheepishly. Of course I’m sheepish. What did I have to show for it, for being born in that time when people thought things could change? Not much, really.

Thankfully, others had lots to show for it. The civic-mindedness of the Hong Kong people is unexpected. It’s surprising, considering our cityslicker reputation for pushing past one other coldly in MTR trains and the IFC Mall walkways. But maybe, just maybe, it’s the niche we’ve been looking for – that key to a unique identity that’s been confused and whipped around since 1997. No longer a colony, no longer the obvious superior city (Shanghai’s shadow yawns overhead) – but Hong Kong is perhaps the one Chinese place in which this kind of activism and dialogue can be practiced on such a large scope. That’s what this city can capitalize on. And that makes me excited to be living here.

“To feel the whole atmosphere,” says Thomas Yau, 75, when asked by CNN why he is attending, “to feel what it’s like in Hong Kong about this whole Tiananmen incident and tell my friends who have spent their whole lives in China that actually we can do it and spread the idea that we should fight for democracy.”

The memorial is the most ironic mixture of political protest, marketplace carnival and publicity affair – but that’s Hong Kong style for you. Tonight’s stalls of t-shirts, books, flowers, of “Donald Tsang You Don’t Represent Me” and “Vote for so-and-so in so-and-so district election” highlight that our economic progress needs social substance. It’s just the right combination of Hong Kong enterprise and grassroots justice.

All those present-day Hong Kong student leaders that stand on the stage, in their horn-rimmed glasses and streaked hair? Yeah, they know their fashion’s got to be earned.

One year later, it’s a new decade yet again and we find ourselves nursing new yet eerily familiar fears. A withering economy. The rise of a powerful China. War, war, war.

But perhaps we can feel more at ease this time around. On the first day of 2010, political activists from the “Post-80s Generation” stormed the Central Liason Office in Hong Kong. Voices bellowed. Some squeaked, still stuck in the throes of puberty.

Damn kids, with their loud voices. They sure know how to make noise.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 Jun 2009 5:09 PM

    You know so many interesting infomation. You might be very wise. I like such people. Don’t top writing.

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