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May 11, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 11, 2009 Philip J. Cunningham. Used by permission.


For a few days there it seemed that the successful student march of May 4 would be the last of the big demos and soon everyone would be back on campus attending classes again. Railing against this rather pleasant and natural inclination, strident wall posters at Shida and Beida called for continuing the student strike. One of the more florid campus wall posters that I managed to snap a photo of was a florid eulogy to the Great Hall of the People as a symbol of representative rule. The dark message, written on May 5, 1989 was at odds with the general euphoria in the wake of the May 4 March, for it predicted an outcome with blood flowing down Chang’an Boulevard. Brushed in ink on a large sheet of paper, written with such literary flourish that I needed help to decipher it, the poem was signed by an anonymous author who went by the name, “The Wild One.”

“*Drawing blood on Chang’an Jie until the dawn dawns red, smashing to bits the bona fide dream of the people*.”

On the morning of May 10, the student-rigged loudspeakers at the center of the Beijing University campus started crackling with a call to action. A Beida physics student explained they were calling on other schools to join Beida students in a new form of protest with Chinese characteristics: the bicycle demonstration!

We sat on our bikes under a tree near the front gate of Beida to observe the hatching of this new and unusual type of protest. The “marchers” rolled in from all directions, mostly walking their bicycles due to the utter congestion. Like earlier protests, which used patriotic anthems as a cover for covert political action, the demo on wheels could hide in plain sight in a city of a million tinkling bicycles.

The tree-lined road leading to the main gate on campus was by now attracting black bicycles like crows, watching and waiting for a sign to take flight en masse.