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June 4, 2009
A Remembrance - A Commentary Repeated
February 1, 2005
Once, fifteen years ago, there was a moment of hope and light in the place Tiananmen. And one of the suns that shined there was an elderly high party official Zhao Ziyang, and because of it, he spent the past fifteen years before his death secluded at home, unrecognized by the state he served. But the people of China remembered, their memory is long, as they say, and someday it will reawaken again that spirit of opportunity and freedom that has been denied them so long.
I had my own little window on the situation, tempered by my own hopes and fears of how it might conclude. As an international liaison for a trade association of factory managers, I was in friendly correspondence with a woman in China who worked for one of the government agencies near Beijing. She was young and enthusiastic and perhaps naïve.
She entreated me to speak freely and encourage her compatriots, but I was too aware of the likely penalties and destructive forces poised to crush their hopes, and I did not want to give false hope or poor advice. Lives were truly on the line, and only the full force of the people of China united could turn back the dictator's hand. It seemed unlikely to do so, though there were slight tremors of support throughout the country, but no growing rebellion.
As the days of mid-May neared and passed, our communications became more political and emboldened. Three days before the crackdown in the square, my last letter was off and probably in her hands by that day. I wish I had a copy, for it was supportive while concerned, hopeful and positive, but tempered by the little that we could offer other than spiritual support, and trying to engender hope without inciting great risks to their lives. It spoke of the apparent yearning of the Chinese people for the freedom and democracy of the West. I hoped that it would say to them that Americans cared and stood with them as fully as we could hope to do against the oppressive forces against their freedom. With the crackdown, I sensed that I would never hear from her again, and I did not write anymore, in case my communication, reaching her, might cause her political trouble.
I watched the news and read the New York Times as the events unfolded.
I will keep her name secret, only because I do not know what became of her after the massacre in the square. I fear that she may have been caught up there when the end came, for she seemed to be yearning to be a part of that fleeting, momentary freedom in that particular time and place. Here we watched the shooting, disheartened. We hoped and prayed. And knowingly, we in America watched as a lone man stood down a tank. The goddess of democracy fell. We knew that the lives lost were never fully revealed.
But it is through the reformer Zhao that we are reminded, today at his death and funeral. Many in China struggled to remember his life rightfully, but even that was mostly denied. He was often a third wheel in the party and history of China's changes, responsible for much of its current economic reform and the liberties that begat the student protests of Tiananmen. Much earlier he had returned land to private use of peasants, and was denounced for it during the Cultural Revolution. He believed that ultimately, China must change and open itself both economically and politically. That of course is heresy there, this middle ground that its leaders seem to be trapped in today is supposed to last one hundred years.
We can only hope and believe that one day, another Beijing Spring will arrive, on the ghost of Zhao Ziyang and my friend whose youthful enthusiasm might have transformed China and increased human freedom and rights.
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