China Beat Archive


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May 31, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 31, 2009 Philip J. Cunningham. 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, and describes the set-up for one of the most famous interviews of the final days of the student movement. Interested readers can see more at Cunningham’s website.

A petite sun-bronzed woman wearing a stained white tennis shirt and dusty beige trousers sits next to me in the back of the taxi, grimacing as if in pain, weeping quietly to herself. Named to the police blacklist, she says she fears imminent arrest. Up front the driver sullenly surveys the streets, scanning the road for Public Security vehicles.

As the car glides down a leafy thoroughfare in the diplomatic district, Wang Li, who had been chatting quietly with the driver, turns around to make an announcement.

“Driver supports the students,” he says. “He will help us.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

“I know. Where you go?” he asks, switching into English.

“Tell him, let’s see… I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

Chai Ling, the so-called Commander in Chief of Tiananmen Square, had come to me this morning saying she wanted to “talk,” but for the moment I couldn’t get a word out of her. I had brought along a small tape recorder and camera along as part of my hasty response to the startling and unsolicited request for an interview, but we had yet to find a safe place to talk.