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June 4, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright June 4, 2009. Used by permission.


This piece is excerpted from the manuscript of Philip J. Cunningham’s forthcoming book, Tiananmen Moon, part of an on-going China Beat feature of excerpts from Cunningham’s book. Interested readers can see more at Cunningham’s website.

You didn’t have to be a fortune-teller to know Tiananmen was the target, but what were they going to hit it with and when? The long anticipated crackdown had been postponed so long, getting it over with might resolve the political impasse, but it wouldn’t bring justice, it wouldn’t buy back the mandate of heaven.

Being part of the teeming mass as the army approached, I had little choice but move in tandem. It was well nigh impossible to stand still, to move against the flow would beg injury. Only when I reached the concrete and steel divider in the middle of Chang’an Boulevard, guided by those in front, pushed by those behind me, could I pause and wring myself free of the seething throng long enough to climb on top of a cement road barrier to get a better view of what was going on.

A military vehicle that looked like a tank came careening recklessly through the sea of people like an icebreaker cracking through thin ice. Tanks on Tiananmen Square! It was crazy, what was the PLA doing, what did they think this could achieve? The armored vehicle roared down thickly people Chang’an Boulevard as fast as its heavy treads would permit, not as a peacekeeper, but provocateur. Then there appeared another metallic monster, begging for a clash, beckoning blood.