China Beijing Tiananmen Square
edited: Monday, May 01, 2006
By Elaine Olelo Masters
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, April 29, 2006
Become a Fan
Tiananmen Square demonstrations were more effective than I'd realized.
CHINA: Beijing, Tiananmen Square
Scott, our local Chinese guide in Beijing, apologized to our group of Hawaii visitors. “With the Olympics only two years off, we’re doing huge (that word again) renovation projects, so you won’t be able to go inside many of our famous buildings.” Thank God. One thing Air and Sea Travel does well is keep us moving. We were jog-trotting most days from 8am til 8pm or later, all activities fascinating, but no time for adding anything else to the schedule.
Scott was knowledgeable about Beijing and talked almost non-stop on the bus and at the various places of interest. He told us that Beijing is an old city, dating back three thousand years (!) at that time called “Jin.” It didn’t become the political capital of China until a few years before Columbus discovered America. Chinese consider a mere six hundred years as being rather new.
Feng sui was much on Scott’s mind, and he pointed out the mountains to the north of Beijing and the vast plain to the south, the “auspicious” setting shielding the city from bitter winter winds and warming it with the southern exposure. Unfortunately, those mountains don’t keep out the sand storms blowing off the Gobi Desert and the city was coated with a fine layer of dusty sand. We did come at an auspicious time, however: Beijing suffered strong sandstorms the week before we arrived and were starting up again at the end of our four-day visit.
It being spring, peach, plum, cherry and other orchards were blooming beautifully outside the city, and Beijing itself was sporting thousands of recently-planted saplings. The government has realized the value of trees in curbing air pollution, and it’s valiantly trying to mitigate the problem before the Olympics. However, we never saw a truly blue sky our whole ten days in China. They have a lot of tree-planting to do as well as curbing auto, factory, and power plant emissions. I’m confident that, realizing the huge health problem and quality of life involved, they will pass some regulations, muster up a few million Chinese workers to put them in place, and eventually solve the problem. Hopefully.
We jog-trotted through many places in Beijing: People’s Great Hall (a conference center of several huge rooms and a theater, mostly of white or beige marble, without much charm. Shrill, loud cacophony from tour guides. Large groups, 20-100 people, following their leaders’ colorful flags. Groups crisscrossing through other groups, insinuating themselves into lines when they reached a bottleneck. A quintessential Chinese fire drill); a pearl shop recommended by our Hawaii tour company (rip-off—the 14k gold wore off and exposed the brass base of Emma, my travel companion’s, ring before the trip was over); and an entertaining acrobatic show (delightful if I hadn’t already seen several similar shows in America). And then there was Tiananmen Square, "Gate of Heavenly Peace.
Our visit was even more meaningful because Scott claimed he had been a student participant in the 1989 demonstrations. Shortly before the trip, I’d read a book by Bette Bao Lord set during the demonstrations. She lived in a nearby house and gave poignant first-person accounts of the days of the protest. Now, Scott was pointing out where the tank was stopped by the one student, where the students erected the crude replica of the Statue of Liberty, and where students sat during their hunger strike. He said he only fasted one day; he couldn’t hold out longer. But he was at the square a month and a half supporting the demand for more freedom. “Democracy!” was the touch word, but most the students didn’t truly understand the meaning of the word. For that matter, do we?
I had believed that the demonstrations were a failure. The soldiers shot a lot of students, the other students went home, the ringleaders were deported, and life in China went on as before. Scott says that’s not true . Halleluja. He says that just the idea of the students organizing a protest made the government realize that they had to take the people into consideration when they made rules.
Scott said that the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square were the beginning of freedom of speech: he invited us to ask him any political questions we might have. The demonstrations were the beginning of the right to travel, to live and work more or less where they pleased, and to start small businesses. It paved the way for more foreign investment and a generally higher standard of living, at least in the eastern third of the country.
Emma and I had gone to St. Petersburg and Moscow some years ago when Paul Crouch was dedicating his TV studio in St. Pete, and we debated whether Red Square was larger than Tiananmen Square. When I got to a computer, I Googled it and found that Tiananmen Square indeed is a good bit larger. Like the rest of China, it’s huge.
Next: China: Beijing Forbidden City