Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Visit to Tiananmen

It seemed, on June 4, that every foreigner in Beijing wanted to head to Tiananmen Square, to see if there would be any evidence of the 25th anniversary of the massacre, and to pay their respects. I did too.

The plan was to meet the hiking group down there and walk around Tiananmen and Legation Quarter, which was once the only place where foreigners were allowed to live.

It took about two hours for our group to gather, partly because of miscommunication, and partly because the security was so heavy that long long lines formed for people to get into the actual square. I watched as hundreds of people jammed up at every entrance, police running each bag through a scanner and then individually examining each bag. Maybe three or four people got in every 10 minutes or so.

Our part of the hiking group eventually gave up on going into the square. I did entertain the idea of just leaping over the fence and hoping that no police would see me. Just as I had that thought, a young Chinese guy leaped over the fence and dashed away. A few minutes later, I saw him standing under a large umbrella and talking to the police. Nabbed. I doubt it would have gone so smoothly for me.

Next we went to a place that was both oddly appropriate and bizarre to visit on June 4: the Beijing Police Museum, just behind Tiananmen on Qianmen Street in, oddly, the old Citibank building. Outside were parked giant police trucks that looked more like rolling houses, and, chillingly, a dark blue tank.

Inside the museum was an assortment of propaganda: "In order to prevent disruption and sabotage of public security and information work in Beijing, and acting with heroic and selfless spirit, Peng Zhen, secretary of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party, wrote six copies of so-called confessions like this when he was in prison, taking onto himself all the blame for colluding with the enemy. He thus protected the physical safety of public security officers and policemen who were working undercover."

If that makes sense. Then there was another display behind a mannequin wearing white pajamas that read: "In numerous times, Comrade Liu Ren was awoken in the night by the policemen who came to report the works. In case of saving the time, he usually listened to the reports and made instruction with his pajama on. Such a good leader, who made great contribution before the liberation and worked hard for the legal system later, died uncleared with a false charge in the Culture Revolution."

Small comfort: At least your pajamas are on display, Comrade Liu.
The museum even had a small tribute to several police who died on June 4, 1989. They were killed by "ruffians" while they were "performing a mission," the museum said in a section called Beijing Police Martyrs.
Lie detector dummy. I may be a little paranoid today, but doesn't this guy look western?

Descriptions of Beijing's "police martyrs."
After that experience, we walked through the Legation area, stopping for lunch at a Chinese restaurant that was housed inside the former French post office. Adding even more to the bizarre nature of the day, we were being filmed by CCTV for a program about the connections between Brazil and China (thanks to our hiking leader today, a longtime Beijing person who was born in Brazil).

One of our last stops was St. Michael's Church, where we pounded on the metal door until a custodian opened it up for us, and where a very puzzled priest, Father Francis, watched us as we marveled at the pretty church, with statues of Michael the Archangel, flanked by Saints Peter and Paul. In the center of the church facade was a dragon head spout, much like those that grace so many roofs in Chinese temples.

Back in Tiananmen, the crowds continued to stroll through the hot June sun, the police milled around on every corner, and life went on.


  1. Fascinating Deb. The 25th anniversary had a lot of coverage in Aus yesterday.

    1. Thanks Bex! It was blocked on CNN and BBC here....

  2. A sad story especially with the back drop of 41,000 persons recently imprisoned in Egypt for protesting--a fact which has gotten virtually no mention in the Egyptian press.