China Beat Archive


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May 4, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 4, 2009 Philip J. Cunningham. Used by permission.


China Beat has been running excerpts from Philip J Cunningham’s forthcoming memoir, Tiananmen Moon; Inside the Chinese Student Uprising in 1989, which will be published in May by Rowman & Littlefield. This excerpt addresses the events of May 4, 1989. Readers can also read the first, second, and third in this series at China Beat or read more at Cunningham’s website.

The sun is rising. At Beijing Normal University, red flags flutter and unfurl in the early morning breeze above the sports ground. Thousands of students mill about, excitedly falling into groups and lining up to take to the streets and march to Tiananmen Square.

The great May Fourth demonstration is underway despite stern warnings in the press and strict police orders not to take the protest to the streets. That’s the real May Fourth Spirit! Defiance in the face of danger! Knock down the old, make way for the new! Challenge authority!

The early morning air is refreshingly cool with only the faintest trace of coal dust now that the long winter is over. Animated, nervous, smiling faces bask in the honey-colored glow of a brilliant morning sun. Even the birds, rare as they are in Beijing, add to the defiant chorus!

Seize the hour! Seize the day! Wake up! China, Wake up!

The atmosphere is electric; but the movement of rebel forces gentle, cooperative and fluidly choreographed.

Large red banners with bright yellow characters of the kind used in school sports meets announce group affiliations such as History Department, Educational Psychology, Arts Choral Group, but it is the national flag of China that takes the place of honor in the student color guard.

Self-appointed student leaders run around the thickening assembly of students with battery-operated megaphones trying to get others to listen, trying to instill order and decorum.