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Where Angels Fear To Tread

The country which is nowhere is the real home.
— Lao-tzu

LAST MARCH 30, artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay set out to walk the length of the Great Wall of China.

They began at opposite ends, some 3700 miles apart. In the east, Marina stepped away from the Yel­low Sea and onto the wall at precisely 10:47 a.m., the auspicious moment chosen for her by those Chinese officials who’d come along to bear wit­ness. In the west, Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) planted a flag honoring Moroccan explor­er Ibn Batouta at the canyon where the Great Wall ends; then he turned to follow it east into the Gobi Desert. The artists would simply walk toward each other un­til they met.

Ulay and Marina’s performance work had always forced them into unknown and dangerous territory. And the work had always illustrated and depended on their own relationship, as it supported them through terra incognita. Crossing the Great Wall would take the project to an epic dimension. “The Lovers” they’d called this piece originally, meaning lov­ers of each other, lovers of the world. But eight years had passed between the dream of walking the wall and the first real step onto its crumbling remains. The epic they’d intended had become impossi­ble. Another would unfold in its place.

From half a world away, Marina and Ulay were metaphors crossing a symbol. The Great Wall is said to be the only human artifact visible from outer space. Chinese mythology describes it as the body of a sleeping dragon. Ulay had stepped off on its tail, and Marina on its head. In pictures, the Great Wall runs snakelike over mossy hills. In pictures, Nixon strolls along it with Mao. But as I prepared to visit the artists last spring, I couldn’t picture what they were going through — what vistas, what struggles over mountains and deserts, what people met along the way. Then, in May, I re­ceived a “letter” from Ulay — a page from a daily calendar, actually. On it he had written the words: “stranger than innocence.”

GOING OFF TO FIND the artists on the wall was a trip that I’d saddled with some do-or-die meaning. I suppose I thought it would change my life. Certainly the art­ists expected the walk to change theirs. In art and myth, that’s what happens on the perilous unpredictable voyage: the sea change. Into something rich and strange. I could be the next pilgrim in the long brooding line. So, if I went through months of anxiety over money, if I didn’t know how to plan because I didn’t know where they were, if I had to delay leaving a dozen times — what were these little traumas compared to the artists’? It had taken them five years just to get permis­sion to walk.

I think of Ulay and Marina as exem­plars of those who make the inner journey, who use their art to sculpt the self. Typically, they place themselves in some precarious circumstance, facing not just the unknown, but the unknowable. At first, the risks they took were always physical. Their shocking or bizarre actions pushed the artists to their limits, while making some primal experience real for an audience.

In a piece called Three (1978), for ex­ample, they crawled over a floor on their stomachs with a python who hadn’t eaten in two weeks, both of them making sound vibrations to attract it. The snake went straight to Marina (“like in the Bible”) and followed her intently for four hours as she slowly backed away from it. When it finally broke eye contact and turned away, the artists declared the piece over.

In the ’70s, they created classic Body Art pieces they called Relation Work: sit­ting back to back with their hair tied together for 17 hours; breathing each oth­er’s breath until they felt faint; slapping each other till one of them chose to stop; moving mobile columns by repeatedly hurling their naked bodies at them. They chose difficulty and risk for their art, uncertainty and insecurity for their lives. For four years they lived in their car, nomads with uncompromising, self-im­posed rules: permanent movement, tran­scending limitations, no fixed living-­place, no rehearsal, no predicted end, no repetition. They have since described this period as one of the happiest of their lives.

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By 1980, however, they felt they’d ex­hausted the possibilities of such work. They turned their attention from the un­articulated voices of the body to those that layer the mind. In the meditative Nightsea Crossing series, the artists sat motionless for seven hours at either end of a long table, trying not even to blink. And they did this 90 times in museums all over the world, completing the series in 1986. Both have called Nightsea Cross­ing the most painful and difficult work they ever did. Marina once said that she reached a point, as her muscles cramped in each of the 90 performances, when she felt that she would die. She’d tell herself, “Okay, then. Just die. So what?” Ulay described states of near-catatonia and panic on that edge before the body locks. He said he was “permanent on a brink.”

When I watched Nightsea Crossing for three days at the New Museum in 1986, I thought of Ulay and Marina as two peo­ple balanced on a seesaw over the abyss, as if both would fall if either of them moved. Each knew, however, that the other was unmovable. The piece was trust — and will — made visible. The content was the artists’ inner life; the body was mind. “We believe in the art of the 21st century,” Marina once told me. “No object between the artist and observer. Just direct transmission of the energy. When you develop yourself strongly in­side, you can transmit your idea directly.”

I could almost see their connection, like some filament between them. Here was a performance in which nothing hap­pened, yet I found it very moving — be­cause of the artists’ courage, and the im­age they created of mutual empowerment. I suppose the relation­ship-as-tableau represented some ideal of love and work, of trust and acceptance, that I despair of attaining. Like Relation Work, Nightsea Crossing addressed feelings not easily forced into language — as difficult to describe as emptiness.

Motionlessness, said Ulay, was “the homework.” When he spoke of his birth in a bomb shelter in what is now West Germany, of spending the first years of his life among the ruins, or when Marina described her early performances in Yu­goslavia, cutting herself in front of an audience for the simple reason that she was afraid to bleed, I would think — they’ve been preparing to walk the wall  all their lives.

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I HAD TO PREPARE, I decided, by enter­ing into the spirit of the work: Take a look if you must, but leap. I converted my life savings into travelers checks, and flew. The artists’ heroism, the epic walk, the Great Wall — it was really much larger than life to me. I felt small. When I looked down from the plane and realized that that was China — just an endless un­dulating brown prairie, really — I began to cry, overwhelmed because I’d come so far, and I don’t mean geographically. It was June 1 in the Year of the Dragon. Enter­ing Beijing, I was dazzled by the every­day — the cliche herds of bikes all pedal­ing in the same heartbeat rhythm, the young guys playing pool on a table in the street, the sign wishing me to become “one of the 200 lucky fellows,” the lan­guage that sounded the way it looked, all big blocks. It was a relief to tune into the details and think small and get real.

The young woman who’d met me at the airport announced that in another day I would accompany an official to some­where in northwest China. To Ulay. In other words, the leap of faith that had brought me there had just been a practice jump. I’d have to do it again every day. I wouldn’t know where I was going, what I’d find there, or (usually) who was taking me. And the plans were ever-changing. There was no choice but to flow with it. The next day, during an unexplained five-hour delay at Beijing airport, I tried to get a grip on my first fit of Western impatience. Or maybe it was pride. I’m not used to feeling so helpless. I speak no Chinese, and my traveling companion, part of the sponsoring Chinese Associa­tion for the Advancement of Internation­al Friendship (CAAIF), spoke no English. I would point to the line in my Mandarin phrase book: “When does the flight take off?” and Wang Yunfeng, solicitous and paternal, would tell me: “Yinchuan, no.” Yinchuan was a destination too far off the tourist track to merit more than a sentence in my guidebook.

Sometime after 7 p.m., we finally tax­ied off in a plane that vibrated hard and smelled like a hundred years of sweat. There were no safety tips. The steward­ess handed out kiwi sodas, then a square gray box of snacks: two dry rolls, two pieces of cake, a chocolate wafer cookie, and peanuts (“the tasty food of tourism,” it said on the packet). I had to laugh at myself, at my snack for a sea change. Outside I saw craggy spooky mountains, thin peaks like frozen waves. I hallucinat­ed a dragon in flight from a patch of river golden with sunset. I looked up the word “beautiful” to show Mr. Wang, but it wasn’t in my phrase book.

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SUCH A STRANGE and ambitious project as walking the Great Wall wouldn’t have been possible in China until recently­ — until the new policy of kai fang (opening to the West), instituted under Deng Xiaoping. The Chinese had been building walls for over 2000 years. Qin Shi Huangdi, called the first Chinese emperor because he unified the warring states, connected existing border walls into a Great Wall between 221 and 210 B.C. Subsequent dynasties built more walls as borders shifted. And the project culmi­nated during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), whose emperors connected and added to everything constructed before, giving the Great Wall the course it takes today. Ostensibly built for defense, it never worked in defense. The wall, Ulay would tell me, was “a groove in the Chi­nese mind.” Beyond it, throughout their history, lay foreigners and hell.

Ulay’s and Marina’s performances, with their elements of ritual and ordeal, have no counterpart in China outside re­ligion or politics. Commitment, struggle, pilgrimage — that was the Long March. Before the artists sent their first formal proposal to Beijing early in 1984, no one in China had ever walked the length of the wall. No one had run it or crossed it on horseback (as Westerners have now done, more or less, in the first few years they’ve had access to it). No one in Chi­na, apparently, felt compelled to do such things. Then in 1984, Liu Yu Tian, for­mer railway worker, suddenly became the first person to go the distance on foot. The artists thought this was no coinci­dence. Ulay called it “plagiarism.” But the artists weren’t crossing the wall to enter the Guinness Book of World Re­cords. They were surrounding themselves with the unfamiliar in order to find the unimaginable.

That’s what they always did. In 1980, for example, they spent six months in the central Australian desert. This experi­ence was the pivot that turned them from aggressive physicality to motionlessness. Forced into stillness by heat that rarely dipped below body temperature, they dis­covered the “nightsea” of the subconscious mind. And it was in the desert that they decided they would someday walk the Great Wall of China.

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They became world travelers, seldom at home, based in Amsterdam but not Dutch citizens. They had no wish to be anyone’s citizen. They performed Night­sea Crossing, for example, in Brazil, Ja­pan, Finland. In one episode, they sat with an aboriginal medicine man and a Tibetan lama. And they began a series of videotapes, one for each continent, fur­ther exploring the spectacle that unfolds in motionlessness. In the three completed tapes — set in Thailand, Sicily, and Bos­ton — local people pose in tableaux that are saturated with things to look at, satu­rated with the tension of remaining still. Some detail in each, like a gently billow­ing dress, makes time visible. The artists’ self-imposed rule: one take, no second chance. They also began a series of life­size Polaroids, some featuring themselves as archetypal figures or anthropological objects, others capturing their shadows.

At the heart of all the work, still, was their connection and commitment to each other. The artists themselves de­scribed their relationship as lovers, brother/sister, husband/wife. And the work was an “energy-dialogue,” which created a third entity they labeled “That Self.” Three was “their” number. They had it tattooed on the middle fingers of their left hands.

They had met in Amsterdam in 1975 on what happened to be their mutual birthday, November 30 (Ulay was born in Germany in 1943, Marina in Yugoslavia in 1946). They had immediately felt con­fidence in each other. “Like we knew each other before,” Marina once told me. In their work together, with their some­what similar profiles and sometimes sim­ilar haircuts, they became the image, at least, of the ideal couple. Or the symbiot­ic one. They sometimes designated them­selves UMA.

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In walking the Great Wall, crossing mountains and deserts to reach each oth­er, they wished to experience at their meeting “the apotheosis of romantic love.” They thought they might get mar­ried at that meeting, right there on the wall. They planned to camp as they went, exposing themselves to nature as they had in Australia, conditioning themselves to make new work. They shipped a year’s supply of freeze-dried tofu and seaweed to China. They bought tents and camping stoves. They would study the wall and make paper rubbings from its stones. They’d be retracing the earth’s “geodetic force line,” for the wall’s coiling path (rarely ever the shortest distance between two points) had been determined by geo­mancers, ancient diviners of the earth’s energy, and they felt that walking this force line might change them. They thought the walk might take a year.

Sometimes I wonder what the Chinese made of that initial proposal. Some ulti­mate expression of Western individuality and ego? The bureaucracy in Beijing will not even deal with individual artists. In 1983, Ulay and Marina had to create the Amphis Foundation to represent them. Ironically for two people so interested in Eastern philosophy — who had originally speculated that the piece could become a walking meditation — negotiations turned their way only after they proposed doing a film about the wall for China Central Television. They would be walking its length, then, to study it. Finally they were talking the bureaucrats’ language. The adventurous CAAIF agreed to sponsor them. The Dutch government then declared the walk a cultural exchange and kicked in some much-needed funding.

But by the time Marina and Ulay be­gan walking last spring, almost every­thing about the project had changed. Where they once thought they would walk singly, each now had an entourage; the Chinese feared for their safety. The artists had wanted to cover every inch of the wall; but the Chinese restricted them from military areas. (For these detours, among other things, each artist got a jeep and a driver.) Where they once thought they’d camp on the wall, they often ended up in villages, even in hotels, because the Chinese do not camp. The Chinese esti­mated that the project would take four months and demanded the sum of $130,000 — more than $1000 a day. The artists sold work they hadn’t yet made in order to raise the money. Walking the wall had become something they just had to do.

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But the most startling change of all was in their relationship. They could no longer call the piece “The Lovers.” Less than a year before starting, they separat­ed. Marina told me she wouldn’t have expected their relationship — so unique — ­to end just as badly as any other, but it had. Marina felt that everything had bro­ken between them. Ulay insisted their connection would continue, though it had changed. They would still work together after the walk, he said. They would not work together after the walk, she said.

Despite their mutual unhappiness, not walking was something they never considered seriously. They would surrender to the situation. They had always shared this unwavering resolve, the voice that said, “Okay, then. Just die. So what?” That was what had made their work so compelling to me in the first place. Yet their split confused and saddened me. I even wondered if they should walk. Was the project still valid? When a mutual friend suggested that the connection be­tween them went deeper than the vicissi­tudes of romance, though, I agreed.

The artists had traveled along parts of the wall by train and car in 1986 — to get some sense of what they’d encounter — ­and when they told villagers living near it what they were doing, those people had understood it immediately as an epic love story, something right out of mythology. Of course, the project had always been more than that. But it was still, in its way, a love story made real. Ever inter­ested in testing the limits, they would now have to contemplate the limits of love — an emotion more complicated, har­rowing, fragile, and imperfect than most epics allow.

The artists considered starting at the middle and walking away from each oth­er, but decided not to. In their very first piece, Relation in Space (1976), they had moved toward each other repeatedly for one hour, naked, first touching shoulders as they met, then accelerating the inten­sity till they were colliding head-on at full speed. Walking the wall would duplicate this action in arduous slow motion and would seem to mark the end of their extraordinary 12-year collaboration, even as it demonstrated what they’d once called “the impossibility of escaping one another.”

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I WONDERED HOW FAR we were from Ulay, as Mr. Wang and the Foreign Affairs people and I left Yinchuan by van. The day Ulay had finally begun to walk, he’d sent me a postcard with the mes­sage: “I go now.” On the back, barely visible, were some faint blue lines. Under a magnifying glass, I recognized the sec­ond century Chinese poem called “Con­fessions of the Great Wall” that he and Marina had found years ago: The world is small and blue./I am a little crack in it.

Now, presumably drawing near, I no­ticed a billboard on which the winding wall of legend had been painted into the center of a Great Wall Tire. We drove honking and weaving into the bike and donkey traffic, past the rickshaw piled with slaughtered sheep, into the country, past the mud-brick medical office with a gingham curtain for a door. Everything familiar was now strange, and I didn’t know where I was. Couldn’t tell what direction we were going. And it was rain­ing as we entered the Mao Wu Su desert. Mr. Wang pointed to a jagged reddish rock formation (I thought) on the hori­zon. “Ulay has been there,” he said. That was the Great Wall of China.

That little chunk of it must have been 30 feet long. Here in western China, the wall was built from clay. It had eroded, and so had the other ruins we passed. A broken beacon tower. A crumbled com­pound. Everything deserted but for the odd sheep or shepherd. “How old are these things?” I wondered. The Foreign Affairs people told me, “It is difficult to measure the time.”

Finally, after four hours of driving, we entered the village of Yan Chi. Where the Great Wall of China runs through a car­pet factory. In a new but already shabby hotel covered with bright yellow tile, we found Ulay.

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As he came striding down the hallway, where the dirty strips of red carpet never quite met, Ulay looked happy. As if he were home. In two months he had walked through two provinces, through desert most of the way. He’d seen camels pulling plows. He’d found people living in the wall — in caves — in the most clever way. He’d crossed the Yellow River on a sheep­skin raft. He was filled with enthusiasms. And with complaints. There’d been so many detours, so many “tough quarrel­ings” with authorities. They would insist on hotels instead of camping. And when they did let him camp, they would sleep in the van. Often his crew couldn’t keep pace with him. And they would tell him that areas were restricted when, really, they were just inconvenient, he thought. It had been impossible to carry out the pure concept, to be one of two tiny hu­mans moving toward each other over this broken but monumental path.

I began to see how the piece was really unfolding, as my first 24 hours with Ulay became an ongoing social event. He was not walking merely the Great Wall, but a line threaded through the gears of Chi­na’s infamous bureaucracy. Crossing a provincial border like this one between Ningxia and Shaanxi was a political event, a time for meetings, banquets, speeches, and a complete change of crew.

“Walking is the easy part,” Ulay told me that night, after the first of three banquets we would eat in two days. “All the people involved in the project are bureaucratic, administrative-trained peo­ple. There is no great spirit for explora­tion, for sportive behavior. They like to be nicely dressed. They like to have their dinners on time. They like to sleep.” To the bureaucrats, accompanying Ulay was hard work. To Ulay, being accompanied by them was like dragging a heavy tail. They had pulled each other in different directions, and in this tug-of-war the Chi­nese had taken control of the project.

The only struggle Ulay could hope to win was the ongoing struggle with his temper. Occasionally he’d become so an­gry that he had “choiced wrong.” For certainly he was no tourist wanting China to be a museum — new sights with the comforts of home. Ulay can become ab­sorbed in a culture completely. Rootless and mobile, he is not much attached to his “world of origin.” At one of the ban­quets in Yan Chi, he told the officials and the crew that he had been born in Ger­many during the war and had lost most of his family then, but here in China he had found a new one.

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Yet, two months into the walk, he was still fuming over how “their waterproof security system” had changed the con­cept. His frustration over this seemed to enter every conversation we had. He’d nearly come to blows, he admitted, one day in Ningxia province when two mem­bers of his crew physically restrained him from walking farther into the mountains. They told him he’d come to a restricted area. He didn’t believe them. He guessed that they simply didn’t want to climb. In his rage, he broke the staff to which he’d tied a knotted white flag — a private sig­nal meaning “remember to surrender.” That day, when he’d done neither, had been the worst of his journey.

I recalled his distress when, in 1987, the Chinese had inexplicably postponed the walk (for the first time). He’d de­scribed his state of mind then as “so disencouraged, so desperated.” At that point, he said, he’d been living on the wall in his thoughts for five years, and “already I have walked it 10 times. Al­ready it is worn. It is polished.” So when he finally climbed onto it that first day to see the long-anticipated plan “bent into a different direction,” he began trying to bend it back.

Not covering every foot of the wall, not camping near it every night — these were the changes that vexed and preoccupied him, the ones he would talk about. The altered relationship with Marina he didn’t talk about, and I sensed that I shouldn’t press him. He said only that this was the first time he and Marina had worked so separately. They hadn’t even communicated. And he didn’t know what it meant. He’d decided it was “not impor­tant” at the moment. Meanwhile, he con­tinued to speak in the plural: we feel, our work, important to us … He asked me if I’d heard anything about how she was doing.

The artists had speculated that they might meet where the Yellow River di­vides the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi, and he wondered aloud one day which of them would make the crossing by boat — but, really, he did not want to think about the ending. When he’d see Marina again. He wanted to have no expectations.

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ULAY CRAVED the first light of day, so good for photographs. He always set out between six and seven and walked until noon or one, averaging 20 kilometers. Walking became so mechanical, he said, that the earth moved beneath him like a treadmill. He was measuring the Great Wall with his body.

This was not the picturesque stone wall that beckoned from the travel brochures. That wall ran through the eastern moun­tains, and somewhere Marina was cross­ing it, headed in our direction. The clay wall Ulay followed through the west had been more vulnerable to both humans and the weather. Obviously it inspired no awe among the people who lived with it. One day it snaked through a village where we discovered homes and stables built in beneath our feet. Hours before in the countryside, we’d found it spread out into two gentle slopes and plowed.

Since the wall had been built from the best available clay, peasants occasionally made off with whole chunks of it. “Mao killed the dragon,” as Ulay put it. Mao had encouraged the Chinese to make use of this cultural relic, to take its clay for topsoil or its stones for building. Re-­educating millions to leave it alone again was not so easy. At Jaiyuguan where his walk began, Ulay had seen workers re­storing the wall for tourists, while eight kilometers farther on, peasants disman­tled it.

Even during my first excited walk, I had to remind myself sometimes that I was crossing the Great Wall of China — ­from afar the stuff of legends, a giant sleeping dragon; up close, a hill to climb. That day, when we picked up the wall at the Ningxia/Shaanxi border, it was scrub-covered at first, an uneven 10 to 12 feet tall, but rounded like an earthwork on a battlefield. An hour or two later, we hit desert and began crossing its perfect shapes. Here the wall became a rough clay trail, often too broken to walk on. We were alone in a blue and yellow world where all centuries had been the same, scuttled over by scarab beetles.

As I skirted some large holes in the top of the wall, Ulay, walking below, reported that they opened into one-room caves. Here, the crew told us, soldiers from the Red Army had dug in and lived during the ’30s. An hour later, we found a bea­con tower converted into a temple, where two old men in gray lived and worshiped a war hero from the time of Three King­doms (220 to 265 A.D.). History was just part of the landscape. No drama. No theme park. We were dots moving over the dunes.

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BACK WHEN THE WALK was still an idea, Ulay had considered going the distance in silence. He is reserved by nature. He’d always said he was “no talker,” leaving the art-world social chores — openings, lectures — to Marina. Now, here he was officiating at banquets, wanting to mix, always the center of some group. If the people he passed wanted to gawk, Ulay was more than willing to be seen. He was their new information. He wanted to con­nect, even while surmising that “my smile comes from a different muscle than their smile.”

He had come to feel that he represent­ed foreignness. He hated the VIP treat­ment usually accorded everyone who is not Chinese, which so effectively sepa­rates them from everything that is Chi­nese. Foreigners travel most often in groups of foreigners, staying in hotels just for foreigners. The Chinese authorities seem to want it that way (and, of course, so do any number of the foreigners). There is, in other words, a great wall.

Ulay said that in all his travels to the remotest parts of India, Australia, and North Africa, he had never experienced such “fear for a person who has two eyes, two ears, and a mouth.” Here he had been so many people’s first foreigner. Again and again he’d observed in their eyes that “moment of doubt and strangeness.” Tall and lanky with a brown mustache and ponytail, carrying a staff, wearing baggy drawstring trousers, big hiking boots, and sometimes a flowing overcoat — Ulay was a sensation.

All of our walks ran through territory closed to foreigners, and for four days, we stayed in the closed village of Dingbian. “A real Forbidden City,” Ulay called it. Soon after arriving there, we decided to take a stroll and a crowd materialized around us within steps of the hotel. Peo­ple had stared at me since my first day in China, but in Dingbian they were mes­merized. As though we were movie stars. Or monsters. On their faces I saw joy, fear, hostility, disbelief. We were no long­er ourselves, but spectacles of ourselves. I was learning how racism feels, how frightening it is to be other-than-human. Soon we were leading a large blue and green parade through the heart of the village, everyone silent but openmouthed. When a hundred people followed us back into the hotel and watched as we climbed the stairs, Ulay joked that in all his years as a performance artist, he had never had such a big audience.

“Alien,” said Ulay, referring to our Alien Travel Permits. “They use the right word.” He did a lot of theorizing about China. He’d come to love it and wanted to understand. “The Chinese have been isolated for such a long time. Deliberate­ly. And if a large group of people isolates themselves from the rest, something strange has to happen. You have a circu­lation throughout your body. Take a rub­ber ring and put it around your finger. The circulation becomes disturbed and something starts rotting. And if you take it off, you poison your own system. May­be that’s why they generate one wall after another.”

This was what he thought “stranger than innocence.” Not that the Chinese were innocent of the world but that for many of them, the rest of the world sim­ply didn’t exist. He’d discovered that peo­ple who lived along the wall often didn’t know it was a wonder of the world, and many had no idea that it crossed most of China. The translator who’d traveled with him and Marina in 1986 said she’d grown up thinking that the moon be­longed to her village. “They have a non-­ability to look out,” Ulay told me. “They are unable to see there is one sun and one moon which is touring.” He thought Chi­na womblike, thermal. He pointed out that people constantly drank boiling wa­ter (of necessity, for there’s no potable water anywhere), and that even in June, men wore long underwear. “They live like they’re preparing for hibernation.”

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OFTEN AS WE WALKED, Ulay pointed out tools used by the peasants, used for cen­turies and so ingenious. He would roam from the path of the wall occasionally to explore, wanting to know the history and customs of the area. He’d lit a fire in one of the beacon towers, because signaling in that way had once been their function. And when we found pottery shards along the wall, he could often identify the dy­nasty from which they came.

For Ulay the walk had become a study of China, and there he had focused his emotional energy — rage for the bureau­crats, love for the yellow earth of the northwest and for the peasants’ way of life. So, while his walk was no longer romantic, it had acquired perhaps a touch of romanticism. It was about an­other sort of yearning.

In the countryside, he’d observed a bare-bones and to him idyllic life. He’d observed that those who lived it had no complaints. “There is contentment, which I find a more reasonable term than happiness.” Such a room as one found in a commune — with a brick bed, bowl of water, two chairs, and a table — it was all one needed, really. His first translator had called him a “voluntary socialist.”

To the men on his crew, however, this simple life wasn’t necessarily ideal. Ulay hadn’t understood at first what rigors of exile some of these people had suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Now they’d managed a better life for them­selves, and the hardship he craved re­minded them of old horrors. He told me in Dingbian that he now thought his problems were his problems.

He thought maybe the explorer’s na­ture was a sort of greed. Critic Tom McE­villey had visited him in May and ob­served that he was “greedy for authenticity,” and Ulay thought it was so. On our last afternoon together, we dis­cussed what it meant to be blocked so thoroughly from language, trapped with­out an alphabet. “The search for authen­ticity is where you are exposed to a dif­ferent world and have to rely stronger again on intuitive intelligence,” said Ulay. “We look to traditional cultures to sound into that intuitive intelligence. Where your sharp senses get a holiday.”

Ulay was looking for more by looking for less. Paring things away — technology, comfort, habit, even language. I was re­minded of the existential drifters who appear in the work of Ulay’s favorite writer, Samuel Beckett. Molloy saying of his journey’s aim: “… the most you can hope is to be a little less, in the end, the creature you were in the beginning, and the middle.”

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FROM JUNE 9 TO JUNE 12, from Ulay to Marina, I made a slow, U-shaped arc by jeep, plane, train, and car. I was still an impatient Westerner, ignorant of the dif­ficulties involved in getting tickets or making phone calls, therefore outraged that I had to stop for a full day in the city of Taiyuan. And I still became paranoid over conversations like this one:

“Where’s Marina?”

“Maybe she’s here.”

“Can I see her?”

“Maybe she just left.”

“Can you find out?”

Silence.

Though no one in Taiyuan told me so, Marina had come through town the day before, detouring a large military area. By the time I caught up with her at a xiang (commune) north of Datong a couple of days later, I felt — as I had with Ulay­ — that I’d arrived at the end of the earth. I’d also brought with me certain expecta­tions. But no, Marina had had no trouble with bureaucrats. And for her, walking had not been the easy part.

The eastern half of the wall, built from stone and famous in pictures, runs across the spine of a mountain range. One small piece of it, fully restored, is open to tour­ists near Beijing. There they can buy a T-­shirt declaring, “I walked the wall.” There the wall is most clearly a symbol, like the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal. And there Marina had refused to walk — ­because it was too short, too fake, and too easy. The rest of the eastern wall is now a trail of loose rock ascending and descending the peaks. Hers was more arduous terrain than his, but in choosing sides, the artists had been concerned only with symbolism. According to Chinese mythology, hers was the male part of the wall and his the female. Their work together had always balanced these polarities.

Each morning Marina had had to climb for two hours just to get to the wall. She would reach it exhausted. Then it would take all day to do 20 kilometers, then another two hours to climb back down. She’d never once camped. She’d descend to find a place in the nearest village or xiang. There she would ask the people to tell her stories about the wall. Not its history, but its legends.

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Marina is affable and vivid, the poetry of her rather ungrammatical English only adding to her charm. She was even on a first-name basis with her quiet young in­terpreter, Han Dahai, and the crew that accompanied her throughout the moun­tain trek had affectionately dubbed her “Pa Ma Ta Je” (Big Fat Sister Ma) be­cause of her bulky clothing. “I wish new Chinese name,” joked Marina, who’s fairly slim. Like Ulay, she wore big hiking boots, baggy trousers, a multipocket vest, a flowing overcoat. More importantly, like Ulay, she had an iron will. But they had reacted as opposites to the changes in the walk. Where he had struggled with the authorities and lost, she had yielded and gotten her own way — by incorporat­ing their changes, making them her changes.

But then, Marina didn’t really care about the camping. To her the big change was in her relationship with Ulay. She’d even been reluctant to start. “Before was this strong emotional link, so walking to­wards each other had this impact … al­most epic story of two lovers getting to­gether after suffering. Then that fact went away. I was confronted with just bare Wall and me. I had to rearrange my motivation. Then I always remember this sentence of John Cage saying, when I throw I Ching, the answers I like the less are the answers I learn the most.

“I’m very glad we didn’t cancel the piece because we needed a certain form of ending. Really this huge distance we walk towards each other where actually we do not meet happily, but we will just end­ — it’s very human in a way. It’s more dra­matic than actually just having this ro­mantic story of lovers. Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.”

She’d insisted that she had to walk directly on the Wall at all times, and the Chinese allowed it. In the mountains, this meant ascending or descending on un­steady piles of rock, climbing to “the bor­der of human possibilities,” up peaks where even the local guides would not go. To avoid a fall, or an avalanche, she’d had to concentrate so hard on every step that she could think of nothing else. She couldn’t think about Ulay.

Before we left the xiang, she described the drama of her fourth day, when she and Dahai had nearly fallen to their deaths. They’d been descending the mountain at the end of the day, when it suddenly dropped off at a 90-degree an­gle, the rocks “polished like ice,” below them an abyss. “We were hanging there on the tips of our fingers.” They had, of course, no climbing equipment. It had taken two perilous hours to inch back up.

Where I met her, the Great Wall had been built from clay. She complained that walking was so easy here her mind could wander. She’d come to love the stone wall, its dangers, its “continuous falls and ups like real life.” While never foolhardy, Marina appreciated danger. “Is danger what wake you up, and that’s what I like so much.” With months of this behind her, she had the survivor’s conviction that she could face anything.

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MARINA HAD PERMISSION to cross just one of four counties in the province of Shanxi (not to be confused with neigh­boring Shaanxi, where Ulay was). As we started down the wall behind the xiang, I pointed out that we were going east — the wrong way. Marina was taken aback, then shrugged her shoulders. The new crew had driven her to the starting point the day before, and she’d started — that’s all. I couldn’t help but think of Ulay — his precision in estimating where he’d stop for the day, calibrating the mileage, his U.S. Air Force map, the most detailed he could find, always tucked in a vest pock­et. Marina rarely consulted maps, wouldn’t think of carrying one, and didn’t plan her days. It was one of their differences: “his practicality, my chaos.”

We set off down the border of Inner Mongolia, for this was one of the rare places where the wall still served that function. And at the end of the day, we came upon a network of ruins. I was sure it had been a massive fort. In the field south of the wall, where peasants were weeding on hands and knees, sat two ancient greenish stone lions, and beyond them a walled city. I figured this had been the passage to Mongolia, heavily armed back when the wall was supposed­ly stopping the hordes. Marina wanted to spend the night in that ancient city, where I could learn the history and she could get a legend. We bounced through the same gate that once saw chariots — I was sure of it. I was overwhelmed by it. The buildings were yellow mud; their windows were oiled paper. Our jeep was the only vehicle there. Dingbian, in comparison, had been the picture of urbanity.

The jeep dropped us at a shabby old house festooned with pink paper — the village radio station, half its area filled by a brick bed wide enough for six people. “The sheets,” Marina laughed, pointing to the dirty corrugated cardboard on the bed. She was excited, for what she liked most was staying with peasant families in villages like this one. She disliked the xiangs. (They now function more like county seats than communes, but there’s no exact equivalent in English.) Laid out like cheap motels, in straight brick rows one story tall, they embodied order. They were always the same. They were too much like Yugoslavia. “These straight lines. This socialist aesthetic,” she would sigh. “Bad light and hospital green. Why they choose this form of expression?”

I, however, felt a sort of vertigo in the village, an irrational panic I couldn’t ex­plain to her. Perhaps I was simply more alien(ated) than I had ever been before. Perhaps when nothing fits a single groove in your memory, you’re like a newborn. I would remember this later as a most val­ued moment.

But at the time, I took notes as if a list could help unravel my “doubt and strangeness”: a couple of sheepskins, the door of a jeep, a telephone so old it might have rung during the Long March. Wom­en and children began to sit down in silence across the dusty yellow yard from us, to stare, while an old man came in and, without acknowledging our presence, began broadcasting into a mike with a red cloth tied over it. He was calling the head of the village, said Dahai. Or trying to. None of the ancient equipment seemed to work.

Yet the head of the village arrived soon after. A middle-aged man with Beatle bangs and a Mao jacket, he told us sever­al times that “conditions” here were not so good. Marina assured him several times that “conditions” did not matter. But no foreigner had ever stayed in this village before, and he clearly didn’t want us to be the first. We left for a xiang.

There we were able to discover that the village, over 2100 years old, had been there before the wall was there. But no one knew anything about the ruins. No one knew any legends.

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WE SET OUT the next morning around nine or nine-thirty. Marina never began earlier. She followed the habit acquired in the eastern mountains of walking all day, with a break at lunchtime.

“Here is like Ulay wall,” she com­plained. She didn’t like it — this ragged line of baked clay surrounded by plowed fields. “This like the endless tail. Like the burial ground of the dragon.” It was a day of blazing heat. At noon, Marina asked about the jeep — since of course she had made no plan — and the security man with the walkie-talkie said, “Six kilome­ters.” Insects and heat shimmered off layers of brick scraggly with grass — the Great Wall. Apart from this enigmatic line built by unknown hands so long ago, the landscape could have been Iowa.

Two hours later, we still hadn’t found the jeep or even a road. Now the security man was telling us, “Just over the hill.” But it wasn’t there either, and we’d run out of water. “Kafka is good literature here,” said Marina, who now felt sick with headache. She, Dahai, and I sat down across the river from a factory belching chemical fumes, while the crew went on ahead. Around three, Dahai  pointed to a stick figure atop a distant beacon tower. They were telling us the jeep couldn’t come.

We spent the night at a nearby graphite factory, where all the offices had brick beds. When a blackout hit around 10 p.m., someone appeared with candles al­most instantly, suggesting that this might be routine. In the hallway, a tallow burned on the handlebars of the bike parked just below the portraits of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. We joined the workers who’d drifted into the yard with their thermoses and teacups. A voluble middle-aged man in a white T-shirt made some little speeches (through Dahai) about how welcome we were.

People always talked to her this way, Marina said. It was so hard to get past the platitudes. The worker went on to say that “conditions” weren’t so good, then he asked us to please sing. Marina had soon persuaded him to sing instead, and in a beautiful tenor he sang bits of local folk songs. I went in for a jacket and returned to find that Marina had assured the group I would now sing. A dozen workers watched me expectantly, as Ma­rina suggested I do “Strangers in the Night.” Mortified, I gave them my best Sinatra. They only looked baffled and stunned.

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IN EVERY VILLAGE she’d come to after descending from the wall, Marina had asked to meet the oldest resident. She would photograph that person and ask for a legend about the wall. The oldest person was always a man. She had never been able to get a woman to tell her a legend. She hadn’t been able to get a woman for her crew, either, though she’d requested one. Holding up half the sky they may have been, but the women I’d seen (in rural areas especially) stayed shyly in the background and were rarely included in the official dinners or meet­ings. Marina must have seemed doubly strange — not just a foreigner, but a female on an incomprehensible mission. In one mountain village, people had gath­ered to watch her fall asleep. A different group was sitting around the bed when she woke up.

Judging from the legends she’d heard, Marina believed the wall’s origins were connected more to mythology than to de­fense. The legends spoke of marvelous fierce dragons. White, yellow, and black. Mountain dragons. Sea dragons. They fought. They caused earthquakes and tid­al waves. Where she’d started, at the Yel­low Sea, the builders of the wall had sunk ships — representing, in some legends, the sea dragon; in others, the head of one giant dragon slain by the emperor of the air. To control the creature’s energy, peasants had designated “energy spots” along the Great Wall, like acupuncture points along the dragon’s spine. There they placed copper pots, then covered them with heaps of stone. When Marina found these places along the wall, she stopped and spent time. To absorb the energy.

She was convinced that the geodetic energy line was alive in the mountains (while the clay wall, much of it older, felt dead to her). That was why she’d insisted that she couldn’t leave the line of the wall. She’d come up with a phrase that described her process: “boat emptying, stream entering.” She would empty her mind as a meditator does — the danger she faced forcing her to stay in the mo­ment, to stop thinking of past or future. The stream was the energy of the wall, the force line, nature.

Marina had made the walk an inward journey, a way to strengthen herself for the new life ahead when she would work, she said, without Ulay. She called it “a broom for my soul.” Art should be done, she believed, from that extraordinary state of mind one could only get to physi­cally, through exhaustion or pain or repetition. This was what attracted her to hardship and risk. “I put myself in a circumstance where all my defense is bro­ken and all my habits don’t exist.” Every day of the walk in the mountains had exhausted her and caused her pain. She’d had two months of that. She thought it essential to push herself for a long time. Then — “is like gate to me, when the body give up.”

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THE MORNING THAT WE LEFT the graph­ite factory, we soon came upon steep vel­vety hills. The wall ran up the sharpest incline, at the angle a ladder takes against the side of a house. It was no mountain, but it looked impossible. Mari­na scrambled straight up, exhilarated. Winded after toiling to the top of the first stretch, I could see that this was nothing to Marina and Dahai. The wall here was stone, unsteady beneath my feet, and dropped off sharply on the left. Wind snapped my hat off, began strangling me with its cord.

Finally the wall leveled off on a barren plateau that stretched toward what looked like forever. It was so empty. Not even a tree. Just to the north was a breathtaking vista of treeless, silver green hills: Inner Mongolia. I began to imagine that we were the first humans who’d been here in centuries.

One of the crew sprinted over the grass behind a rabbit. “He thinks is dinner,” said Marina. We’d brought a lunch today, again uncertain where we would eventu­ally find the jeep. Again, the sun was scorching. We had to settle for a foot­wide patch of shade in a little gully. In our lunch bags, packed by the crew, we each found six hard-boiled eggs, some cucumbers, and one tomato. We ate it all. Marina thought that, given the heat, we should rest until three, and we moved on to find better shade. There was one thin tree. There was one tiny cave. In a bea­con tower north of the grass-covered wall, I eased into a cranny big enough for one human and watched the ants.

When we began walking again, Marina said that I must tell her exactly how I felt. I knew that I had two feelings. Ev­erywhere we looked was the beauty that language can’t describe, the primordial landscape, naked gullies forking into soft hills. This grass was the only jade I’d seen. And here were these amazing ruins. Not just the Great Wall of China, but walls that were once houses or stables, built long before the country I came from was a country, and over there some obe­lisk, all so mysterious. So I told her that I felt exhilaration. I would leave China having seen the massive Buddhas back in Datong, having seen the terra cotta war­riors near Xi’an. But nothing would com­pare to this walk on the wall, because there I saw the things I didn’t know I would see.

But my second feeling was a great anxiety. I told her that we didn’t know where we were or where we were going or how big this plateau was or if we’d leave it by nightfall or where the jeep would find us again. I’d noticed that the security man couldn’t get through on his walkie­-talkie. I supposed we were up too high. And look what had happened yesterday. Marina smiled at this, my fear, as she put it, “that jeep is somewhere and we are nowhere.” She told me that this, actually, was the ideal journey. When nothing is fixed. She got happiness from this open­ness, from not knowing. This was why she wanted no plan. This was where she found the “edge that make you wake.”

“In this way,” she said, “I find my destiny.”

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ON JUNE 27, having each walked well over a thousand miles, the artists arrived at Shenmu in Shaanxi province. Ulay had just endured the most physically difficult part of his journey, crossing the Mao Wu Su Desert with its nearly 300-foot sand dunes and canyonlike east-west cracks. It had been two steps forward and one back the whole way. Marina had had to make another giant detour around a military area, resuming her walk at the Yellow River, at the place where they’d thought the piece might end. The day before meeting with Ulay, she’d passed through a kilometer of human bones.

Chance set their meeting at the site of 200 small Taoist, Buddhist, and Confu­cian temples built into the hills early in the Ming Dynasty, dedicated to the war­rior hero, Er Lang. The crew had found musicians to play traditional instru­ments. They’d hung banners to fly in the breeze and exploded fireworks. By chance, the artists were both just round­ing the corner of a temple when they saw each other. By chance they had traveled for exactly 90 days, the same amount of time they’d spent doing Nightsea Cross­ing. And by chance, they finally came face to face at the center of a stone bridge. “Over the abyss,” as Marina put it. They embraced. She experienced a flashback of their twelve years together. He whispered something about how much they’d accomplished.

I had left China before the meeting, unable to extend my visa. But the mean­ing of the walk was no longer hinged there. Over the telephone, each com­plained a bit about the other’s first reac­tion. Marina had started to cry, which Ulay thought inappropriate. Ulay’s first words were something about her shoes, which Marina thought inappropriate. Marina couldn’t wait to leave China. Ulay said he could have walked on forever.

They discovered that they had both written the same little poem along the way: “Cloud in the sky/dust in the eye.” But in no other way had their journeys been the same. “For the first time in 12 years, we had separate experiences,” re­ported Ulay. “There will be no way to fuse it.” So the project came to have two names (see below): for Ulay, The Alien; for Marina, Boat Emptying, Stream Enter­ing.

From Shenmu the artists went right to Beijing to hold a press conference. The Chinese media has never published any­thing at all, however, on the journeys made by Ulay and Marina across the wall. The artists returned, separately, to Amsterdam.

Their walk had been much like the Great Wall itself, which never accom­plished what it was built to accomplish, yet it became a wonder of the world. It was both an absurd and a glorious pro­ject, a bit of a failure yet an overwhelm­ing success. Like the aspiration to love, to transcend, to risk everything, it was too too human. ■

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After the Wall 

THE EXHIBITION inspired by the walk will tour the world, opening at the Stedjilik Muse­um in Amsterdam this June and ending eventually in Beij­ing. Ulay is creating a slide show for three screens, with pictures of the Great Wall in the center and pictures taken north and south of it to the left and right. Marina is making sculptures — steps, seats, and beds — ­from pink quartz and copper. All will be affixed to the museum wall and interac­tive, so the public can stand, sit, or lie to experience the “dragon energies” she found on the Great Wall.

Between these separate exhibits, each artist will place a sculpture. Hers will be two vases in Chinese orange, lying hori­zontally head to head; one Ulay’s height, one her height; one shiny, one matte. Ulay will place together two ab­stract sculptures so that the negative space between them forms a gate. It’s a crude reading of the work, perhaps, but she’s created a symbol of ending, while he’s made a passage to somewhere else.

This fall the artists returned to Chi­na, separately, to make the film they owed to China Central Television. Their two films will become one by crosscutting.

Ulay calls his The Alien. He appears throughout in bright blue silk, face cov­ered with a blue silk mask. No one knows where he’s going or why he’s come, but he’s searching for something along the Great Wall of China. Accom­panying him is a blind old Chinese woman — someone he actually met in Ningxia province, who was a cinema­tographer before the Cultural Revolu­tion and had always dreamed of making a film with an alien. Now she has done so.

Marina has called her film Boat Emptying, Stream Entering. In it, she encounters mythological figures — kings and queens from the Tang and Ming dynasties, Shanghai girls from the ’20s, and peasants who drift into view in fantastic costumes while she climbs to­ward the peaks. As she descends from them, she encounters reality — the real wall, the tough mountain. Then at the end, she meets Ulay at Shenmu again, and for the first time uncovers his face.

Categories
From The Archives From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Beyond the Tiananmen Massacre

June 13, 1989

The Seeds of Civil War
By James Ridgeway

By yesterday, the battle be­tween the army and the stu­dents had died down, but the battle for control of the Peo­ples’ Liberation Army was just beginning. 

In Beijing, elements of the crack 38th Army, renowned in China for routing Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, was believed to have come to the aid of the students. In early skir­mishes, the 38th reportedly engaged units of the 27th Army, the instrument of the Party hierarchy in Saturday’s massacre. An exchange of gunfire was reported in the western suburbs at a military airport, followed later by an attempted assassina­tion of Li Peng. 

In downtown Beijing Tuesday morn­ing, Michael Morrow reported a general strike had shut down the city. Emotions were running high. The people are rebel­lious, defiant, and determined above all to liquidate the 27th Army, now viewed as an army of assassins. “They can kill as many of us as they want,” a resident said, “but they can’t kill us all.” 

The troops of the 27th are skittish, moving along streets in patrols, usually under covering fire. Passport control and airport security are lax at the Beijing airport. Troops (possibly from the 38th) along the road into the city are friendly, and not until visitors reach the down­town does a sense of great tension take hold. 

“You must be careful how you walk in the streets, being careful not to gesture or speak, lest you come under fire,” Morrow said. “People are being killed by stray shots. The people place perhaps undue hope in the 38th, believing that troops loyal to the people of Beijing will arrive to liquidate the 27th.” 

Although sporadic firing could be heard in the streets of the city as well as rumors of firefights between troops from the dif­ferent armies, it was difficult to pin down any actual exchange. Some of the firing may have come from snipers. Visitors and reporters in Beijing found it difficult to move around the city, and watched troop movements through binoculars from their hotel windows. But they were getting their best information on what was going on at a nearby street corner from CNN out of Atlanta. 

To begin to understand the maelstrom of events in Tiananmen Square, one must have some idea of the complex organiza­tion of the Chinese Army. From now on, the outcome of the struggle could depend on the army. 

***

The Chinese armed forces number about three million peasants, no more than a third of whom are in the air force and navy. About half the remainder are regular forces, whose job it is to maintain internal order. The other half are specially trained, heavily armed members of some 40-odd field armies. 

The country is broken down into seven military regions, each one including sev­eral different provinces. The Beijing re­gion, for example, encompasses four provinces. Each region includes several field armies trained to be deployed against foreign invaders. In addition, each region maintains separate and dif­ferently trained troops to maintain inter­nal order, not unlike the state National Guards in the U.S. Finally, there are the local police. 

The Beijing region has the largest con­centration of military forces in the coun­try, including eight different field armies. Among them is the 38th Army, which refused to attack the students during the hunger strike two weeks ago; instead, the soldiers deserted, dropped their guns, or simply burst into tears. Based 40 miles south of Beijing, the 38th is the best-equipped army in the country, forming a strategic reserve in the event of a possible Soviet attack. 

The 38th consists of six divisions total­ing about 60,000 men, including three in­fantry divisions, one tank division, an anti-aircraft division, and an artillery di­vision. The army not only is well­-equipped, but has high morale. 

When the 38th refused to move on the students, Deng traveled to the southern part of the country to recruit military support. During the civil war in the late 1940s, Deng was political commissar to the second of four big front armies, which were deployed in the south after the war. Deng turned to his old comrades for as­sistance in implementing martial law last month, quietly moving their troops north to the capital. In addition, he enlisted the support of commanders of other field ar­mies, apparently including elite units sta­tioned along the Soviet border. These battalions were then dispatched to Beijing and the troops prepped to put down a student revolt. 

On Saturday, June 3, when the troops moved into Beijing, the first units were from the 27th Field Army, whose former commander, Chi Hao Tian, is now head of the general staff of the Liberation Army. The 27th’s current head is Yang. Chin Qu’un. The 27th is intertwined with top party leadership, and very hard-line. It ferociously attacked the students and played a major role in the savagery mounted against them. Following the 27th came the 38th, whose soldiers again refused to fight, and instead shouted, shot into the air, even gave their guns to the students. Appearing next were ele­ments of the 79th Independent Division, a vicious attack force from the coastal city of Jinan, which proceeded to chase down students and civilians, shooting them in the back. The 40th Army, from Shenyang to the northeast, and the 42nd Army, from Canton in the south, were both reportedly deployed in the capital streets. The 42nd was thought to be tak­ing positions in support of the 38th. ■

This article is based on additional report­ing and analysis by Yu Bin, a political scientist from Beijing University now studying in the United States. He served on a divisional planning staff in the 38th Army, and is currently a commentator for the Pacific News Service. 

 

Revolution Without Borders
By Yuen Ying Chan

The Tiananmen massacre has generated a giant wave of pro­tests among Chinese-American communities across the country. Thousands of Chinese students and long-time U.S. residents of Chinese heritage have taken part in demonstrations condemning the regime for premeditated murder and atrocities against its own citizens. Taking their cause to the White House, the steps of Congress, and the United Nations, they have issued an urgent appeal for international support. 

Gone are the pleas for government re­form that dominated student discussion only a week ago. In their place, Chinese studying at American universities (the largest single group of foreign students in the U.S.) openly call for the overthrow of Deng Xiao-ping and Li Peng. “The task is to overthrow the fascist and reaction­ary clique ruling China. This is the agen­da of the day,” said Xia Wen, an organiz­er of student protests in New York.

The New York Chinese community­ — which has always been torn between alle­giance to Beijing or its arch-rival, the Kuomintang government in Taiwan — has come full circle to discover common ground in the politics of their homeland. Since the student protests erupted almost two months ago, New York Chinese newspapers representing opposite politi­cal orientations are suddenly speaking the same language; Chinatown organiza­tions that were suspicious of or antago­nistic to each other in the past now find themselves voicing their indignation in a similar pitch and tone. The selflessness and ultimate martyrdom of the Chinese students have struck a universal chord among Chinese around the world. 

This Friday, thousands of Chinese im­migrants and students will gather at the United Nations and march across town to the Mission of the People’s Republic of China at West 66th Street near Lincoln Center. Billed as the largest Chinese­American demonstration ever, the coffin-­carrying march is expected to include ev­ery part of the Chinese community spectrum — millionaire entrepreneurs and toilers working at below-minimum wage, immigrant mothers and their American-­born daughters, the communist sympa­thizers and the anticommunists, the “up­towners” and the “downtowners” — who will converge in a massive outpouring of anger against the Chinese government. 

“This is your time to do something for China,” said Peter Lee, a protest organiz­er and former Chinatown reporter who quit his job two weeks ago over his pub­lisher’s call for a crackdown on the stu­dents in Beijing. “If you don’t stand up now, you may never stand up for any­thing else in your life.” Chinese students in New York are racing to construct a replica of the “goddess of democracy” crushed in Tiananmen Square for the march, to show that Chinese around the world have taken up the cause. 

Accusing President Bush of a double standard in his human rights policy — his angry and very specific denunciations of rights violations in the Soviet Union con­trast sharply with his guarded warnings to the Chinese leaders he befriended as envoy there in 1974 — has become the vogue since the recent turmoil began. One might as well go for a field day hunting down double standards in Chinatown. 

***

In the face of the monstrous criminal acts committed by the Chinese gov­ernment against its own citizens, the lines between the genuine and the fake in Chinatown have been sub­merged — at least for the time being — by the higher call for freedom and democra­cy. In the past month, the leaders of the Chinese Consoliuated Benevolent Associ­ation, an umbrella organization of 60 family organizations in Chinatown, has become a strong advocate for democracy in the People’s Republic — even though it has maintained a stony, 40-year silence on the military rule of the Kuomintang in Taiwan. 

No less ironic is the case of Fred Tang, one of the chief organizers of Friday’s march for justice. As president of the Chinese-American Planning Council, a multimillion-dollar social service agency, ‘Tung oversees a revolving-door cheap la­bor program for the City of New York. In the name of “training,” the CPC, a con­tractor for the city, pays immigrant workers $5 an hour (without medical in­surance or other benefits) for doing reha­bilitation work in rundown neighbor­hoods. The CPC also sets a limit of six months of employment. Prevailing wages for similar work in the general construc­tion industry run between $12 to over $20 per hour. 

Thus, the massive show of strength and unprecedented unity by the Chinese community masks the real contradictions and challenges confronting the city’s Chi­nese-Americans. For the last hundred years, events in China have always had tremendous impact on Chinese commu­nities overseas. “Since Chinese immi­grants were denied the right of natural­ization [until after World War II] and thus effectively disenfranchised from the democratic process, most Chinese in the United States channeled their energy and resources into strengthening China as the only means for achieving full protection and respect from Americans,” said Berkeley professor of Asian-American studies and community activist Ling-chi Wang. 

It wasn’t until the tail end of the civil rights and antiwar protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Chinese began to fight for equal rights in this country. In the past few years, with the easing of tensions between Taiwan and the main­land, divisions based on loyalties to the motherland seemed to give way to healthy disputes over local Chinatown is­sues like city politics and school board elections. 

But against the backdrop of the epoch­al tragedy in China, issues such as the city’s charter revision or minimum wage enforcement in Chinatown seem mun­dane. Yet it is precisely these concerns that would empower the Chinese-Ameri­can community. After all, the most far-­reaching impact of the events in China will be in matters of daily survival, such as jobs, housing, and education for one’s children. 

Already, residents of Hong Kong, due to return to China in 1997, are talking in hushed voices of massive emigration to any country in the world that might take them. Many Hong Kong students here, who were undecided over whether to re­turn or make a career in the U.S. just one week ago, have received midnight phone calls from panicked parents at home. The messages are all similarly direct: “By all means, stay. Find a way to get residence papers. You are now the hope of the whole family.” 

Dick Netzer, senior fellow at New York University’s Urban Research Center, says that if Hong Kong is persuaded that things will really be “bad” after the Chi­nese takeover in 1997, “an enormous wave of immigration from Hong Kong could be triggered very quickly.” He esti­mates that perhaps one million people would emigrate, of whom 300,000 to 400,000 could settle in the New York re­gion. It can hardly be disputed that events of the past week in China would meet the “really bad” criterion.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the recent tragic events in China will act as an explosive push factor in the global Chinese diaspora. Statistics from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services between 1983 to 1987 showed that Manhattan’s Chinatown had attract­ed the largest number of Chinese immi­grants (mostly from the mainland and Hong Kong), while the more affluent im­migrants from ‘Thiwan prefer Chinese neighborhoods in Queens. An influx of legal or illegal immigrants will put addi­tional strains on housing, the schools, and social services in the area. 

At the same time, one cannot expect the new money pouring in from the other side of the Pacific to filter down to the bottom of the community. Indeed, past experience has shown that the new riches have in fact created a community polar­ized between the haves and the have­nots. Real estate in Chinatown is such a high-stakes game now that local brokers admit that, increasingly, only the trans­national consortiums with big cash and “staying power” can manage to buy. A local store owner cannot even dream of buying a modest building in the neighbor­hood in case his lease expires. 

Already, the influx of money from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the rest of Southeast Asia is drastically changing the face of Manhattan’s Chinatown. In 1984, the BCC building on Canal Street became the first dilapidated factory loft building to be converted into a modern office com­plex on the Canal Street corridor. Now at least eight more major factory buildings within the 12-block area around the La­fayette-Canal intersection have under­gone similar conversions, with another seven targeted to go. Along Canal Street, squalid, century-old brick outer walls are giving way to glittering glass facades, and their tenants, mostly immigrant women who work at Juki sewing machines, are being replaced by young pin-striped Chi­nese yuppies (called Chuppies) who sit at computer terminals. A Chinese developer pointed out with glee that the center of Chinatown is shifting from good old Mott Street to Lafayette and Canal, where in­vestors have found good housing stock, better access to the subways, and room to grow towards Soho, Tribeca, and the City Hall area. 

In other parts of Chinatown, new con­struction is booming. Chinese developers, many in partnership with Hong Kong investors, are rushing to build on any empty lot they can lay their hands on. Learning from their defeat in a mid-’80s zoning battle that effectively killed the city’s plan to give luxury high-rises a free ride in Chinatown, developers are build­ing “as-of-right” to avoid the hassle of seeking variances or community approv­al. The slogan of the industry now is to build and build fast. The new construc­tion is for the upper-middle class never­theless, selling at $300-350 per square foot, and the Hong Kong gentry are a prime marketing target. Working people who cannot afford the high prices of these condominiums have no choice but to double up in crumbling Chinatown railroad flats or move to Ridgewood, Sun­set Park, and the few remaining afford­able neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. 

Even before the massacre, major banks from the colony had already landed in New York in a big way, in part to provide a more convenient conduit for the ex­pected influx of money in 1997. At least two premier Hong Kong banks are plan­ning major expansions in New York’s Chinatown. The Bank of East Asia, which is owned by the most affluent and influential Chinese elite in Hong Kong, has just moved from its Fifth Avenue offices downtown to Mott Street and in­stalled a full-service branch. And if all goes according to plan, East Asia will have the distinct honor of being the only bank in Chinatown housed in new, cus­tom-designed headquarters at Canal and Mulberry, the heart of old Chinatown, by early 1991. The new bank, estimated to cost $10 million, will replace the loft building now standing at the site, which the bank bought for $5.5 million in 1986, a bargain in retrospect. 

Not to be outdone, the Hang Seng Bank, the leading consumer bank in Hong Kong, is completing its rehab of the five-story cast-iron building on Canal Street that it bought for $7 million last year. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Bank, the de facto central bank of Hong Kong (which has nine branches in New York), recently switched its advertising agency and is launching a new market campaign. 

Canal Street now boasts eight bank branches within a 10-block area. On the other side of Chinatown, East Broadway, with another nine banks, competes with Canal for the title of the “Chinatown Wall Street.” And the banks are still roll­ing in — two more branches are currently under renovation on East Broadway. 

The construction boom has not given Chinese immigrants, among whom skilled construction workers number in the hundreds, a chance to enter New York con­struction unions. In major construction work in Chinatown, elite plumbing and electrical jobs remain in the hands of mostly white union workers. When Chi­nese workers are lucky enough to be hired, they can only expect to work at wage scales far below those prevailing in the industry as a whole without benefits or job security. Just last year, an undocu­mented Chinese worker from Malaysia was killed in a Queens house under reno­vation when slabs of concrete collapsed from the ceiling. The Chinese employer boldly announced that the unfortunate victim was “just a visitor” who happened to be there, looking for work. 

Such inequities render the cheap labor program run by the Chinese-American Planning Council even more repugnant. Is there a link between the real estate industry and the CPC, which operates a separate Local Development Corporation and has publicly stated its interest in sharing the city’s $500 million in public housing money? By staunchly defending its practice of paying $5 an hour for con­struction jobs, CPC institutionalizes cheap labor and does a service for real estate interests — and tries to give coolie labor a good name. 

Only two weeks ago, a protest against martial law at the Chinese consulate in Washington, D.C.­ — attended by 3000 Chinese stu­dents from across the eastern seaboard — had an almost surrealist air as the students marched under fluttering red flags in this belly of the beast of capitalism. Over and over, the marchers sang the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China and the Internation­ale, the battle hymn of international communism. 

This past Sunday, the day after the massacre, a march by many of the same students in New York City took on a decidedly different mood. Mourning the dead in Tiananmen, angry students with black arm bands carried wreaths and wore white paper flowers pinned to their chests. The red flags and cries of “Arise, ye prisoners of starvation…” are gone. 

Gone too was the national anthem, a song written in the first years of the Chinese Communist Party. But at the same time, isolated shouts of “Down with communism!” seemed to receive little support. 

One can only surmise that the shift of symbols signifies a profound soul-search­ing among these young democrats of the republic. The problem they face is noth­ing less than the viability of world com­munism itself. 

As chants of “Down with the fascist clique” roared through the crowd and re­ports on the mounting toll in Beijing were circulated, Xia Wen, a doctoral stu­dent in sociology at Columbia, said, “It’s irrelevant to count the dead now. The important thing is that we are continuing the struggle. China will not be the same China, and the people will no longer be the same people.”

That determined optimism is shared by Ming Ruan, a deputy director of the theoretical office of the Chinese Commu­nist Party Cadre School until he was purged from the party in 1982. “The fas­cist ruling group is unable to control the situation with their reign of terror. The people are more angry than scared by the bloodshed. And they are still defiant and fighting. The days of the hardliners are numbered.”

Ming now believes that it is not enough to change the party’s political line. Chi­na’s governing institutions must also un­dergo fundamental reform to introduce freedom of the press and checks and bal­ances.

“This is a transition point for the Chi­nese people and a new beginning,” Ming said. “Today’s winners are bringing their own demise, and will be tomorrow’s losers.”

 

It All Started With Jan & Dean
A Chronology

The student movement in China didn’t begin with the hunger strikes last month. James Ridgeway pieced together the following account, drawing statements made by students and professors from Orville Schell’s recent book, Discos and Democ­racy. Schell recorded these texts during numerous trips to China over the last two decades.

In December 1978, Chinese students began to express themselves for the first time since the Cultural Revolu­tion, and their elderly leaders found it to their advantage to appear to support dissent. At the time the pro­tests were limited to putting up posters on a street wall, called Democracy Wall, in downtown Beijing. “Democracy Wall is good,” Deng told visiting journal­ist Robert Novak.

Among the famous posters was “De­mocracy: The Fifth Modernization,” written by Wei Jingsheng, a young for­mer solider who worked as an electrician at the Beijing zoo. It was sharply critical of Deng’s modernization efforts: “Do the people enjoy democracy nowadays?” Wei Jingsheng wrote. “No! Is it that the peo­ple do not want to be their own masters? Of course they do. This was the very the Nationalist Party… The slogan of ‘people’s democracy’ was replaced by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ making a very small percentage of the hundreds of millions of people the leaders. But even this was cancelled, and the despotism of the Great Helmsman took over. Then came another promise. Because our Great Leader was just so great, we arrived at the superstitious belief that a great leader could bring the people far more happiness than democracy could. Up until now, the people have been forced time and time again, against their will, to accept ‘promises.’ But are they happy? Are they prosperous? We cannot hide the fact that we are more restricted, more unhappy, and the society is more backward than ever…

“If the Chinese people wish to modern­ize, they must first establish democracy and they must first modernize China ‘s social system. Democracy is not a mere consequence, a certain stage in the devel­opment of society. It is the condition on which the survival of productive forces depends… Without democracy, society would sink into stagnation and economic growth would encounter insuperable obstacles.”

In the autumn of 1979, Wei was brought to trial on charges of leaking military intelligence on China ‘s war with Vietnam and “openly agitating for the overthrow of the government of the dic­tatorship of the proletariat and the so­cialist system in China.” He was convict­ed and sentenced to 15 years in a Beijing jail, where Amnesty International report­ed he died.

***

Among the main supporters of the student movement was Fang Lizhi, vice-president of the university in Hefei, where early protests broke out in the fall of 1986. In November of that year, Fang Lizhi gave a speech at Tongji University in Shanghai.

“We now have a strong sense of urgen­cy about achieving modernization in Chi­na,” he said. “Chinese intellectual life, material civilization, moral fiber, and government are in dire straits… The truth is, every aspect of the Chinese world needs to be modernized… As for myself, I think all-around openness is the only way to modernize. I believe in such a thorough and comprehensive liberaliza­tion because Chinese culture is not just backward in a particular respect but primitive in an overall sense… And frankly, I feel we lag behind because the decades of socialist experimentation since Liberation have been — well, a failure! This is not just my opinion; it is clear for all to see. Socialism is at a low ebb. There is no getting around the fact that no socialist state in the post-World War II era has been successful, nor has our own 30-odd-year-long socialist experi­ment… I am here to tell you that the socialist movement from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and Mao Zedong has been a failure…

“Clearing our minds of all Marxist dog­ma is the first step… We must remold our society by absorbing influences from all cultures. What we must not do is isolate ourselves and allow our conceit to convince us that we alone are correct…

“The critical component of the demo­cratic agenda is human rights. Human rights are fundamental privileges that people have from birth, such as the right to think and be educated, the right to marry, and so on. But we Chinese consid­er these rights dangerous. Although hu­man rights are universal and concrete, we Chinese lump freedom, equality, and brotherhood together with capitalism and criticize them all in the same terms. If we are the democratic country we say we are, these rights should be stronger here than elsewhere, but at present they are noth­ing more than an abstract idea [enthusi­astic applause].

“I feel that the first step toward de­mocratization has come to mean some­thing performed by superiors on inferi­ors — a serious misunderstanding of democracy. Our government cannot give us democracy by loosening our bonds a bit. This gives us only enough freedom to writhe a little [enthusiastic applause]. Freedom by decree is not fit to be called democracy, because it fails to provide the most basic human rights… In a demo­cratic nation, democracy flows from the individual, and the government has re­sponsibilities toward him… Science should be allowed to develop according to its own principles, free of any ideological straitjacket… The products of scientific knowledge should be appraised by scien­tific standards. We should not be swayed by the winds of power. Only then can we modernize, and only then will we have real democracy.”

***

Almost simultaneous with the pro­tests at Hefei, students in Shang­hai took to the streets. The first wave of protests followed the ap­pearance of the American surf rockers Jan and Dean in November and December 1986. In Shanghai, the pro­tests brought downtown to a virtual halt for four days.

One Shanghai handout, an “Open Let­ter to All Fellow Citizens,” said, “Be­tween the past and the future, there is only the present. We cannot rewrite his­tory, but we can change the present and create the future. In the face of the reali­ty of poverty and autocracy, we can en­dure. However, we cannot just allow our children to grow up abnormally in shack­les and in the absence of freedom, democ­racy, and human rights. We cannot just allow them to feel poor and abused when standing together with foreign children. Fellow citizens, please understand! Bu­reaucracy, obscurantism, and the lack of democracy and human rights are the roots of backwardness.”

At People’s Park in downtown Shang­hai, a political science student addressed the crowd: “So long as there is one-party domination and no rule of law, the enter­prise of liberation is not finished.” He ended by saying he would shed blood “for the early achievement of real democracy in China.”

***

Soon after the student demonstra­tions abated in Shanghai, they broke out in Beijing. Students de­manded a debate with university officials over democratization, and soon marched into the streets chanting such slogans as “Long live freedom and human rights ” and proclaiming solidarity with their fellow students in Shanghai. A small group broke away to march on Tiananmen Square, but were turned back by the police. As the days went by and the students continued to march in Beijing, the demonstrations spread to at least 11 other cities. Alarmed, the government took steps to ban demonstrations.

But the students were determined, and before dawn on December 29, 1986, stu­dents marched from Beijing Teahers’ University to Beijing University, shout­ing, “We want freedom.” More wall post­ers went up. Some were exhortations: “Beijing University comrades: The cir­cumstances for democracy are ripe. Raise your hands in an iron fist. What we must now do is act like heroes.”

Others were sarcastic: “…In the United States there is the false freedom to support or not to support the Commu­nist Party. In our country we have the genuine freedom of having to support the Communist Party. In the United States there is the false freedom of the press. In our country we have the genuine freedom of no freedom of the press.”

On New Year’s morning, several thou­sand students began a march on Tianan­men Square. A few got through security lines. Most of them, turned away by po­lice, dissipated.

By the end of 1986, student demonstra­tions had engulfed more than 150 univer­sity campuses in 20 cities across China, representing the largest mass movement in the country since the Cultural Revolution.

In interviews the protesting Chinese students have never been especially spe­cific about what they mean by democra­cy. Perhaps two Shanghai wall posters in the winter of 1986 came close:

“I have a dream, a dream of freedom. I have a dream of democracy. I have a dream of life endowed with human rights. May the day come when all these are more than dreams.

“When will the people be in charge?” ■

 

 

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Tiananmen Square: The Mourning After

June 20, 1989

Deng’s Purge Seeks to Split Workers From Students
By James Ridgeway

AS THE SHADOW of fear spreads across China, the outlines of a purge that could last as long as five years have begun to emerge. In city after city, the authorities are rounding up “scoundrels” and “bad elements” to be dealt with by “the iron hand of the people” — the name given the anonymous plain-­clothesmen now making nightly visits throughout the country.

In its first hours, the purge hit hardest at the workers and “unionists” who had defended the prodemocracy movement in the streets. These were the “bad ele­ments” who, in China newspeak, “agi­tate” the still “patriotic” students into “hooliganism.” The police have been giv­en orders to shoot on sight, and in Shanghai three people have been execut­ed (they originally were arrested for bank robbery, but authorities later linked them to student uprisings as well). By Monday night, upwards of 700 had been arrested.

The prospects for an ongoing under­ground resistance are slight. Given the long tradition of purges in China’s histo­ry and the Communist Party’s continuing pervasive political control, grassroots movements find little nourishment in the world’s most populous country. Ever since the Democracy Wall movement more than a decade ago, the state appara­tus has batted the students back and forth like a bemused cat.

But this time, the time-tested routines may need to be freshened by bloodletting on a scale China hasn’t seen since the Long March. During the Cultural Revolu­tion, workers and peasants were pitted against intellectuals and party cadres. While there were some killings, it was mostly an exercise in psychological war­fare. Today, with much of the population of the cities in support of the student demonstrations and in opposition to the government, turning workers and peas­ants against the intellectual class is more problematic.

In the past, Deng Xiaoping has himself carried out several large-scale purges against intellectuals, most notably while he was party secretary during the anti rightist campaign against some 200,000 intellectuals in 1957. They were sent into the wastelands of northwest China, where they became outcasts. They were prevented from living in cities or holding decent jobs. Their children were denied education.

Deng led another purge in 1964–65, this time of Party subalterns, shortly be­fore the Cultural Revolution began. Dur­ing that period, work teams were sent into the countryside as a form of reeduca­tion. Deng needs no primer on how to put down a protest.

The future of the resistance is prob­lematic at best, and almost surely de­pends on alliances within wavering units of the People’s Liberation Army. Last week’s reports of disaffection within the army sprang from reports that Deng was dying or dead. Now that he has reap­peared in public, whatever factional divi­sions existed in the military have melted away.

Still, there were problems in the Beij­ing military region from the very begin­ning. Troops from the 38th field army refused to attack the students, and the fact that Deng had to import troops from elsewhere around China clearly indicates the Beijing military district could not be trusted. During the occupation, troops from only five of the eight field armies in the sprawling capital district were de­ployed. In the case of the 38th, it ap­peared only in individual units, preceded and followed by units of other, more loyal armies.

This analysis of what’s happening in the army is not based on game theory. Yu Bin, a Chinese student at Stanford University and himself formerly a member of the divisional planning staff of the 38th, has described the cultural context in which the army functions:

“As a member of the 38th army for five years, I remember how every new recruit was taught the analogy of the fish and the water. While the fish (the army) can­not exist without the water (the people), the water can exist without the fish. This was not only a moral principle but some­thing the soldiers in my unit put into practice every day.

“In fact, we spent more time helping the local people than in our own military training… Once, when the division’s hospital removed a 120-pound tumor from a peasant woman, we all donated blood. When local people learned of the operation’s success, hundreds came for medical help. We even evacuated part of our barracks to accommodate them. Later, thousands came from all over the country just for medical treatment.

“More important, from the earliest days of the revolution, the army followed a strict code of behavior known as the ‘Three Main Rules of Discipline’ — to obey orders, take not even a single needle or piece of thread, and turn in everything captured. Under the Eight Points of At­tention, soldiers were instructed to speak politely; pay fairly for what we bought; return everything we borrowed; pay for anything we damaged; never hit or swear at people; never damage crops; take no liberties with women; never ill-treat captives.

“Even after China’s military became increasingly professionalized in the late 1970s, it still carried on this tradition of serving the people. Military service enjoyed relatively high prestige… In the late 1960s a large number of Beijing youth — including myself — joined the 38th, and those who stayed kept in constant touch with family and friends in the capital. Some were children of top offi­cials in the government.

“During the Cultural Revolution, at least two divisions were assigned to maintain order in Beijing, going to vari­ous government agencies to help factions talk out their differences instead of fight­ing. This experience deepened the 38th Army’s political sensitivity.”

ALIENATED from events in Beijing, Hong Kong, with its great wealth, could well become a base for opposition to the government, perhaps even an active center of support for an underground. The British colony is at the center of a network uniting all the major southern cities into international markets, making it far more difficult than ever before for rulers of China to close the country off. The growing influ­ence of international commerce curbs the regime’s inclination to play off the peas­ants against intellectual and business communities in the coastal cities.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a revolt came from the south. The Taiping Rebellion, which lasted from 1853 to 1864, originated in the southern province of Guangzi when a peasant, thinking himself to be a son of God, organized first other peasants, and then merchants and intellectuals, around nationalistic and modernizing themes. The rebels took Nanking before being crushed by the im­perial army. Sun Yat-sen took heart from the Taiping Rebellion and launched his own insurgency based among the intellec­tuals in the southern countryside. In the early 1920s, his Kuomintang established a revolutionary government in Canton and waged civil war against the govern­ment in Peking.

If the evident fear in Hong Kong seems to be fertile soil for an underground movement, Taiwan should be an aggres­sive conspirator. But Taiwan has been surprisingly uninvolved so far. The gov­ernment there may be leary of supporting a prodemocracy movement for fear it might backfire, resulting in calls for more democracy there as well. ■

Research assistance by Cynthia Cameras, Bill Gifford, Andrew Strickman, and the Pacific News Service. 

Fang of the Revolution
by Bill Gifford

FANG LIZHI, the intellectual who has sought sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, has developed a longstanding relationship with the American scientific communi­ty. He dates his career as a dissident back to the mid-1950s, when he studied physics at Beijing University. In 1955, as a teenager, Fang disrupted the found­ing meeting of a university chapter of the Communist Youth League, seizing the microphone and delivering a critique of the Chinese educational system.

He survived the antirightist campaign two years later only because he was Chi­na’s most promising young physicist. When the Cultural Revolution broke out, however, Fang was not treated so delicately. His physics talent earned him the lowest social classification, as an intellectual of the “stinking ninth cate­gory,” for which the prescribed punish­ment was to be stuck in a disused cow­shed for a year and then sent to the countryside for a bit of mind-clearing peasant work.

After the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Fang was rehabilitated and his academic career restored. Since Deng’s “opening” of China to the West in 1978, Fang has been tolerated by the govern­ment despite his continued outbursts of dissent. The periodic student move­ments of the 1980s have frequently claimed Fang as their spokesman.

Fang is known for his stirring speeches to university students. The following excerpts (culled from Orville Schell’s Discos and Democracy) are taken from one delivered on November 4, 1985:

“As intellectuals, we are obligated to work for the improvement of society,” he said. It is a shame that… China has yet to produce work worthy of consideration for a Nobel prize. Why is this?…

“One reason for this situation is our social environment. Many of us who have been to foreign countries to study or work agree that we can perform much more efficiently and productively abroad than in China… Foreigners are no more intelligent than we Chinese.

“Intellectuals in the West differ from us in that they not only have a great deal of specialized knowledge, but they are also concerned about their larger society. If they were not, they wouldn’t even be qualified to call themselves intellectuals. But in China, with its poorly developed scientific culture, intellectuals do not exert significant influence on society. This is a sign of backwardness…

“There is a social malaise in our country today, and the primary reason for it is the poor example set by Party members. Unethical behavior by Party leaders is especially to blame… Some of us dare not speak out. But if we all spoke out, there would be nothing to be afraid of. This is surely one important cause of our lack of idealism and discipline.

“Another cause is that over the years our propaganda about communism has been seriously flawed. In my view this propaganda’s greatest problem has been that it has had far too narrow an inter­pretation — not only too narrow but too shallow. I, too, am a member of the Communist Party, but my dreams are not so narrow. They are of a more open society, where differences are allowed. Room must be made for the great vari­ety of excellence that has found expression in human civilization. Our narrow propaganda seems to imply that nothing that came before us has any merit what­soever. This is the most worthless and destructive form of propaganda. Propaganda can be used to praise Communist heroes, but it should not be used to tear down other heroes.

“We Communist Party members should be open to different ways of thinking. We should be open to different cultures and willing to adopt the ele­ments of those cultures that are clearly superior. A great diversity of thought should be allowed in colleges and universities. For if all thought is narrow and simplistic, creativity will die. At present, there are certainly some people in power who still insist on dictating to others according to their own narrow princi­ples. They always wave the flag of Marxism when they speak. But what they are spouting is not Marxism.” ■

Bullets in Beijing
By Susanne Lee & Mitch Berman

EDITOR’S NOTE: Susanne Lee is a host of New York Culture for WNYE-FM and a contributing editor to DV-8 magazine; Mitch Berman is a novelist and contribu­tor to the Voice. They left for Beijing a few days before the massacre and signed on as runners for an ABC camera crew on their arrival. When the troops opened fire, they were walking along a sidestreet half a block from Tiananmen Square.

BEIJING
THE ABC NEWS CREW gets out of the minibus at Chang’an and Fuyou, a long Beijing block west of Tiananmen Square. It’s impossible to tell whether our eyes are tearing because of the city’s usual mix of dust and diesel pol­lution or because of the residue of tear gas that police were using on protesters at this intersection a few minutes ago. All of us have tied wetted hand towels around our neck. Each bears the mono­gram of the Great Wall Sheraton.

Chang’an translates as the Avenue of Eternal Peace, but on this Saturday af­ternoon the broad, sunny boulevard is choked with hundreds of thousands of protesters. They are milling and shoving, passing rumors, and occasionally climb­ing to the top of an evacuated military bus to brandish captured boots, helmets, and tear-gas canisters.

Soon after we arrive, a ministampede drives us from the street, and we set up on an embankment overlooking the intersection. Small groups knot around us in the hot afternoon air to ask where we’re from, urge us to “tell the world,” ask us why we weren’t here when the police were shooting rubber bullets, examine our vid­eo and 35-millimeter cameras, and simply to gawk as we Westerners eat or giggle at how fast we write in our notebooks. A vendor with a wooden flat of watermelons sells out within five minutes.

The word on the street is that the military will mount a major offensive to­night, and teenagers scale the framework behind the billboard beside us to watch for signs of attack while their friends stockpile rocks and chunks of cement. On the hour, the oversimplified electronic strains of “The East Is Red” blast from a loudspeaker followed by some tinny chimes. Orwell’s Bells, we call them, and it would not surprise us if they were ringing.

A man comes toward us, his shoulders swiveling through the crowd. “OK! OK!” he shouts. It is the all-purpose English word, and he shows us how the police clubbed open the left side of his nose and shattered three of his front teeth.

The street swells with people getting off work. At 6:50 a government radio announcement warns that the army will now restore order, along with the con­flicting admission that certain overzeal­ous soldiers used excessive force and shall be disciplined accordingly. There will be no more violence tonight, the army promises.

By today’s standards, very little is go­ing on now. Across from us people occa­sionally lob rocks over the wall of the Forbidden City into the compound where the government leaders live; for the past hour, 200 troops have been surrounded by 10,000 people at Kentucky Fried Chicken near Tiananmen Square; other troops sighted from the Beijing Hotel were stopped before they could get near the square. After 11, we decide that noth­ing more is going to happen tonight.

Just as our crowded taxi makes a U-­turn on Fuyou to begin back toward the Sheraton, the ABC walkie-talkie lights up with reports of gunfire at Muxidi, in the west of the city.

We turn around, get out behind a hedge at Fuxingmen, and approach Chang’an on foot. The distant fire from the west sounds like corn popping. At this range, we can’t tell whether we’re hearing bullets or tear gas.

Bullets. The firing comes closer and a bicyclist screams through the crowd: “They’re killing us! They’re killing the common people!” A small group of young bicyclists charges the other direction, with helmets, sticks, and a red banner; the crowd, slowly falling back from the intersection, cheers them on. These are the heaviest arms borne by the people on Fuxingmen. The wind changes, and on it comes the sweetish musky smell of gunpowder.

The first few bullets in Fuxingmen sound like none we heard before: not pop­ping corn nor even .22’s on a rifle range, but loud, commanding, immediate. They are firing into this unarmed crowd, and we run bent over, all of us, thousands. There are bullets in Fuxingmen.

We take refuge behind a reeking brick outhouse. People are trying to set buses afire in the intersection, but seem to be having little luck. The soldiers, now pass­ing in full view on Chang’an, pour auto­matic rifle fire — hundreds of bullets — ­into the street where we are moving, and our bodies react before our brains know what they are reacting to. Nothing seems far enough or low enough, and we spring back to the outhouse, crouching behind a dirt mound where the residents are grow­ing a few vegetables. Bullets tear the air directly above our heads. The sound is high, ringing.

About a dozen of us are squatting be­hind the garden. It takes a minute to realize why nobody is lying on the ground: even with bullets zipping around our heads, a lifetime of habit prevents us from messing up our clothes. We flatten ourselves to the rocky soil.

A very old woman smoking a cigarette comes out from the house behind us and starts yelling in Chinese. At first we think she is berating us for spoiling her garden, but it turns out that she is telling us not to get dirty, and inviting us back to her yard. She goes into her house and re­emerges with a glass tumbler in one hand and a small cast-iron wheel in the other. She gives them to us and motions to the water faucet sticking out of the ground between the garden and the outhouse. There may be automatic rifle fire tearing up her windows, but the old woman wants to make certain her guests are as comfortable as possible.

Nobody has any desire to venture out for water, so we politely refuse the glass and ask her if she has a cigarette. She goes back into her house.

On Chang’an, the city buses barricad­ing the intersection leap into flames 40 feet high just as the army convoy ap­proaches. The troops come in trucks that each hold at least 30 soldiers. For the moment, the convoy is stalled. The old woman comes out with a pack of Hilton cigarettes, a luxury brand still in the cel­lophane, and half a dozen bin gur, the ice-milk popsicles ubiquitous in Beijing. We eat a couple as the producer in charge of our crew barks warnings into the walk­ie-talkie: “Get our people out of Tianan­men Square! These guys are launching D-­Day.” The warning is sent out in diluted form by the ABC control room: on the one hand, people we know are in immi­nent danger of losing their lives; on the other hand, they may bring back some great footage.

As the flames reach their peak, a few armored personnel carriers in the convoy butt against the barricades. Soon the trucks are on the move through a narrow channel of dying flames. We count 20, 30, 40, and the trucks keep coming.

The bullets are coming too, but we can’t tell where from. There are build­ings, trees, cars, hard surfaces all around, and the acoustics are deceptive. We dive into the dirt again when we hear the singing.

The old woman discovers that we’ve lost her good cigarettes, and she implaca­bly produces two fresh packs of her sec­ond-string brand. She unfolds a cot for us and squats next to it.

She is well past 70, nowhere near five feet tall, so dark it is difficult to make out her features in the night. Her husky voice comes to us disembodied in the darkness: “Such a thing has never happened before. Even the Japanese didn’t do this to us.” She inhales and the ember of her ciga­rette casts a dim glow. “It is unspeakable.”

The convoy trucks continue plodding through the intersection, hundreds of them. Earlier in the evening, we were speculating about possible divisions in the leadership. As the first few troop trucks rolled by Fuxingmen, we were still marveling that, although we had been hearing all week about 200,000 troops hidden in the underground and behind the walls of the Forbidden City, there had been no intelligence about the massing of army forces to the west of Beijing. But now we are numbed into silence by the sheer and mounting military might being paraded past us. The crowds, crouched low in the street, hiding behind the out­house, have begun chanting: “Tuo fan! Tuo fan!” It can be understood as “criminals” or “traitors.” The roar is deep and massed, tolling, and higher individual voices distinguish themselves to our ears. They join in from doorways, from win­dows of houses all around: “Tuo fan! Tuo fan!”

The old woman brings us an enormous bowl of sunflower seeds roasted in the shell. We all begin nervously munching, bent around our walkie-talkies to hear the reports as the first troops roll through the intersection and the sounds of their gunfire recede with them, become .22 shots on a rifle range, become pop­corn again. It is 2:15 a.m., and at least 50,000 soldiers are headed for Tiananmen Square. ■

Scenes From a Failed Revolution
By Joe Conason

ARRIVING NEAR midnight on Monday, two days after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, we walk with trepidation through the Beijing Airport, tourist visas in hand, expecting and fearing that the customs agents in the drab China Airlines termi­nal will prevent us from entering their country. But our reception is the first sign that martial law is being virtually ignored outside the center of the city. The officials in khaki uniform barely glance at the contents of our bags or at our passports before impatiently waving us through.

Outside the terminal the taxi driver who agreed to take us into town mentions that the roads are too dangerous to be traveled at this late hour, long past cur­few. And he reasons that the 20-minute trip was therefore worth about a hundred times more than its ordinary cost. A fair price, he suggests, might be around $300. But it takes only a few minutes haggling to ascertain that the roads aren’t so dan­gerous. We settle on a much more afford­able fare.

The smells of raw sewage and burning vegetation suffuse the warm air as we travel the first few miles. The empty tree­lined roads pass through dark and silent farmland. As we approach the city, the driver becomes slightly agitated. Up ahead, along both sides of the highway, we can see a long line of parked army vehicles. In and around the trucks are hundreds of soldiers.

The car slows; the driver seems to expect trouble. But the soldiers pay us al­most no attention as we cruise slowly past their outpost. Again, we are stopped briefly, and waved on.

The troops are at ease, smoking and eating, but mostly talking to the scores of local residents who, in open defiance of the curfew and martial law, have ven­tured out of their homes. We later learn that they are a unit of the 40th Army, one of the divisions who had defied or­ders to shoot their countrymen. Local residents even assert that these soldiers had opened the chambers of their rifles to prove that they were not loaded.

The people believe, even eagerly await, the punishment that the 40th and other ar­mies will surely inflict on the 27th Army, who obeyed Prime Minister Li Peng’s orders and opened fire in Tiananmen Square on Sunday morning. The people talking with these soldiers are ordinary Beijing residents, probably young workers. The boldest go right up to speak to the soldiers while the rest watch. On this, our first night in China, no one seems afraid or poised to run away; they all appear curious and excited to be visit­ing with the army who is occupying their neighborhood.

On Tuesday afternoon, as we drive across the city toward Haidian, the university zone, we pass troop checkpoints and incinerated vehi­cles whose tires have left a black residue on the street. For a few days after the students and their supporters were driven from the center of the city, the university district became their liberated zone, with Beida — as Beijing University is called — at its heart.

Whenever no soldiers are in sight, peo­ple gather to stare at the wreckage. Out­side a teachers’ college, crowds on bicy­cles and on foot read underground “news reports ” hastily slapped on the walls. One poster shows photocopied pictures of mangled bodies. Another proclaims a general strike: “If you are afraid or not, people are dying,” it reads. “The living must unite and strike to seek the end of all this death.”

The students are decorating their cam­pus with white paper flowers in memory of the dead. Shaped like huge chrysanthemums or carnations, the handmade blooms cover the university’s front gates and the surrounding pine trees, and have been garlanded around the lampposts, over and across the street.

In a large, ground-floor classroom of the Communication Science building, about a dozen students have been setting up a makeshift but beautiful memorial, where meetings to honor and remember the dead will be held. On round frames of bamboo, propped up like Western funeral wreaths, they are placing the white paper flowers amid boughs of pine.

Liu, a thin, 22-year-old chemistry ma­jor, who had marched in Tiananmen Square and had lost friends in the massacre three days ago, leads us to the second floor of a dormitory. Against the back­ground sounds of an urgent, amplified voice exhorting and pleading, most students are packing their meager belong­ings, saying farewell, preparing to hur­riedly leave town. A few have assumed a bunkerlike mentality, and are burrowing in. “Some students told me to leave Bei­da, because they said the soldiers will come and kill all the students left here.” Liu holds forth in the formal, romantic style adopted by many of the younger Chinese students when they speak agitat­edly about their political commitment. “We didn’t know each other, but we held each other’s hands [in Tiananmen Square] because we knew we were com­rades in democracy and freedom.”

The bustling, busy hallways are dingy, the dim light from fluorescent bulbs re­flecting off cracked and peeling walls. The rooms are identical: 10 feet by 15, with four desks and four bunk beds, each with its own modest bookshelf nailed above it. The litter of lives abruptly inter­rupted is scattered everywhere — over­flowing urinal troughs in the bathrooms, bowls of half-eaten steamed buns and rice, cigarette butts and half-empty car­tons of cold chrysanthemum tea.

And one of these second-floor rooms has been converted to a makeshift studio for “Voice of Beijing University,” the source of the persistent racket blaring from loudspeakers across the campus. Broadcasting news and music, the Voice of Beijing University’s very existence is an act of bravery, its abrasive volume a gesture of defiance. When announcers are not playing songs of mourning, they play the “Internationale ” — “because it calls for a new world and for freedom,” ex­plains one boy. Occasionally, they also play China’s national anthem.

The microphone, which is plugged into an amplifier with wires leading out the window, is always manned. But a few of the broadcasters rise to speak with us; like everyone else, they want the story to get out to the world. They can’t quite believe that outside China, the world al­ready knows. From time to time, the stu­dent broadcasters break in to the music programs to bear witness, offering despairing, personal accounts of the kill­ings.

Wang Hui … 18 … freshman, chemistry major … son of a coal miner from Nung Xia province … fasted for seven days … returned to Tiananmen Square on June 3 to hunt for a friend … shot in the heart.

Chang Buo … 27 … chemistry in­structor … presumed dead … to learn if the dead body was Buo, “someone had taken the keys from his body … they were the keys to the south chemistry building.” Buo was the only one who would have had the keys.

Qin Renfu … 30 … married … grad­uate student in material physics … crushed to death by a tank.

The broadcasters name who they can of the dead; they are perhaps even more fearful for the hundreds still missing.

Later that day, two students with whom we’d become friendly stand with us in the crush on Chang’an Avenue, watching as the armored personnel carriers, believed to be­long to the 27th Army, and troop trucks go through maneuvers. The very presence of so many people on the most perilous street in Beijing is a sign that they are not yet cowed. Whenever the soldiers fire their weapons in the air, the people run off momentarily, but always return.

In the weeks leading up to the massa­cre, workers had openly demonstrated their support for the students, and now our friends introduce us to a worker dressed in Mao blue whom they’d just met themselves. He insists upon taking us to a small hospital nearby. He knows where some corpses are being stored. The students and he are convinced that unless we see the gruesome proof, we would nev­er believe what had happened.

This is a serious violation of martial law, and the worker, whose name we nev­er learned, is risking his safety to do it. As we learn later, it is almost impossible to stroll into any of the city’s major hos­pitals because most of them are stacked with scores of the dead and closely guarded.

The worker leads us to an unfinished brick building next door to the hospital. Five orange body bags have been laid side by side on the bloodstained cement floor. Our guide carefully unties the twine at the neck of each bag and a fetid stench escapes. The rapidly decaying remains of what had been three youngish men, an old man, and a woman are crawling with maggots.

By this time a few dozen people have thronged into the courtyard, and have inadvertently attracted the notice of hos­pital administrators. We climb on our bicycles and prepare to take off. As we pedal out on the street, we look back and see that the worker is being questioned by the officials. But the students warn us against going back, insisting that if we try to help him, we’ll only make matters worse for everyone.

So, reluctantly, we speed off. Night is falling; this is no hour for foreigners to be out in that part of Beijing. We ride the 20 kilometers across the city, passing through some neighborhoods which are very still. But in others, crowds of rest­less people gather at highway intersec­tions and street corners to share whatev­er news they have gleaned.

One morning, an elderly woman steps inside the gates of Beida, sits down on the sidewalk, head in hands, and begins wailing her grief and rage. A small knot of students and workers gathers to console her. “She is here from Henan Province,” a young woman explains, “looking for her son who came here to demonstrate. She has five children, but this son is the only one who went to university.” She has been in Beijing five days but can’t find him. When the old woman stops crying for a moment, a man tries to soothe her. “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” he says. “You don’t know yet.”

And he is right. Nobody knows, or yet knows, exactly who was killed and who has survived. A few feet away, another small group gathers around a boy in a black shirt, who had come from a provin­cial college in Anhui province “looking for our students.” Unidentified and un­claimed bodies still lie in hospitals and mortuaries around the city, and the ru­mor persists that the military simply doused many of the dead with gasoline and cremated them at the Gate of Heav­enly Peace.

The mother from Henan Province is among the first wave to come to Beijing, searching for a lost one. The echo is chill­ing: the Chinese government has just ushered in a generation of its own desaparecido.

On Thursday morning, four days af­ter the massacre — days during which it was potentially fatal to walk, drive, or ride a bicycle down the city’s major boulevard — the army opens Chang’an Avenue to limited traffic. A horde of gawking cyclists rides east and west, back and forth, while ven­dors sell popsicles and soda. The sun has finally come o t after a gray, rainy week, and on the backs of some boys’ bicycles perch girlfriends in frilly dresses, twirling parasols.

People, tense and frightened, watch troops as they remove the carcasses of torched buses and trucks and tidily sweep up the broken glass and ashes. These soldiers, wearing red armbands and be­lieved to belong to the 27th Army, are now performing janitorial duties to cover up what they have done.

It is prudent to keep moving, insane to take a photograph. On one block the army tows about 20 burnt armored vehi­cles and jeeps to a driveway in front of the city’s Military Museum. Directly across the road, and facing the junked armor, sits an enormous tourist billboard advertising the museum’s “collection of Chinese ancient arms and military relics on display.”

But signs of brave, foolhardy student resistance persist. Down at one end of the avenue, on the lawn of a public building, stands an abstract steel sculpture of a woman, in an arabesque, her hands thrust skyward: she symbolizes Youthful Vigor. But now a white wreath has been hung about her, as has a banner with characters large enough for the soldiers across the road to read quite easily. “This is for the people who died in the cruel incident of June 3. A debt of blood must be repaid with blood.” At her feet lie a pair of burned sandals.

By Friday afternoon, when we set out again to visit the university district, martial law has finally conquered Beijing. Citizens no longer gather in the open air to talk or read wall posters. Instead, the workers on their bicycles go cautiously and quietly about their business. As they had done the previous day in the city’s center, soldiers and municipal workers are cleaning the streets of burned-out ve­hicles. Each hulking orange wreck had attracted throngs of curious people just a few days earlier, but now the cars are guarded by heavily armed troops. People seem to know about the random shoot­ings, beatings, and arrests that have been the fate of those who irritate the military. No one dares speak to a soldier.

Thousands of soldiers have moved into the Haidian district to set up a fortified position, complete with sandbags, on its southern edge at the Capital Gymnasium. They cruise up and down the district’s main strip in trucks, automatic weapons pointing outward. The big posters de­nouncing Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping that once festooned the gates of every school have been torn down. A warning has been issued against any further pos­tering. The activists have been instructed to turn themselves in and confess their “counterrevolutionary crimes.” Students are forbidden to leave Haidian.

The loudspeakers at Beijing University are gone, too. Where the woman from Henan once sat wailing, a guard now stands at the entrance gates to Beida, taking the names of everyone who enters. The only tokens that remain of the resis­tance are a few white paper chrysanthemums.

Tonight on China Central TV, the gov­ernment begins a propaganda campaign against the students, using carefully edit­ed videotape lifted crudely from Hong Kong stations to portray the Tiananmen demonstrators as violent hoodlums who assaulted soldiers, mad arsonists bent on burning the city. Despite the students’ provocations, the government asserts, no one has been killed in the square. Scenes of fire and destruction on the streets at night are followed by sunny scenes of “the People’s Army… helping the people clean up the streets and restore sanita­tion,” and of soldiers “assisting the old people crossing the intersections.”

“We always serve the people,” said one PLA officer, smiling for the camera.

On this Friday, our last day in Beij­ing, we go to a park in Haidian to meet up with Lai, a gaunt, earnest student with a wispy goatee. For the first time in a week, we are all worried about being watched or discovered. As we speak, a middle-aged man wanders by several times, glancing at us — we don’t know whether he’s a sympa­thizer or a spy. Finally he stops, ap­proaches us, and warns that soldiers are close by. He points south and, using both arms, pantomimes the firing of a machine gun. This has become a universal gesture in Beijing, although, unlike the cab drivers trying to fleece passengers, he doesn’t bother with sound effects.

Lai and the two other activists we are speaking with don’t want to believe the latest news. It is being said that Wang Dan, the brilliant organizational leader of the Tiananmen sit-in, was killed last weekend. Finally, Lai admits sadly, “We failed this time. I am standing out like this to help you, because I hope for help from America.” Just as they had feared that no one outside China would under­stand what had happened, they now fear that soon everyone will forget.

Much later that night, fresh graffiti is reported on the Third Ring Road, the major highway round the outskirts of Beijing. The big characters say: “Long Live Democracy! Destroy Fascism! This is not paint. It is written in blood!”

But our last appointment in Beijing is for afternoon tea. We visit with an elderly professional couple in their southwest Beijing apartment. Their obedient grand­daughter serves us candies, peanuts, and steamed dumplings; our social pleasantries turn to the events of the past week.

Our hosts, intelligent, sophisticated world travelers, talk as if they do not know what has happened outside their windows. The old man cannot acknowl­edge that his government has murdered thousands of their nation’s young. Denial has set in; the crude propaganda from China Central TV has been stunningly effective. “Such a thing will be proved,” he maintains, pointing for emphasis, “if it is true.” ■

(Most of the names in this story have been altered to protect the individuals and their families from harassment by the Chinese government.)

Poem of Protest

EDITORS NOTE: As in several modern political movements in China, the stu­dents of Tiananmen Square composed poems to express their feelings and their hopes. They wrote them on large sheets of paper and pasted them on walls, fences, in subway stations, and under freeway overpasses or bridges in a sort of Chinese samizdat. The better poems are invariably copied down and circulat­ed to inspire others and to build the movement.

This poem was copied by Chinese and Taiwanese journalists over the last three weeks and published in Taiwanese newspapers. It was translated by Ling­Chi Wang and Franz Schurmann, both professors at the University of Califor­nia in Berkeley. 

Little Conversation

Child: Momma, Momma, why are all these little aunts and uncles not eating?
Mother: Because they are thinking of the beautiful gift.
Child: What gift?
Mother: Freedom
Child: Who is going to give them this gift?
Mother: They themselves

Child: Momma, momma, why are there so many people on the square?
Mother: Because it is a festive day
Child: What kind of festive day?
Mother: A day for lighting fires
Child: Where are the fires?
Mother: In everyone’s soul

Child: Momma, momma, who is sitting in the ambulances?
Mother: Heroes
Child: Why are the heroes lying down?
Mother: So that the children standing behind can see
Child: Like me?
Mother: Yes
Child: See what?
Mother: A seven-colored bouquet of flowers ■

Shanghai Goes ‘Back to Normal’
By Dusanka Miscevic & Peter Kwong

TO THE 50,000 or 100,000 people gathered in Shanghai’s People Square at noon on Friday, June 9, the rally meant more than a memorial to dead civilians in Peking. They were making the last stand. While they pleaded with the Shanghai government to tell the truth and lower the national flag to half­ mast, the funerary music playing over the loudspeaker sounded as the last note of a lost cause. Many found it difficult to sup­press tears.

“The government has destroyed every­thing I ever believed in,” said a weeping student from Jiaotong University. She had come willingly to express her distress in front of foreign cameras: “I will never forgive them that. I used to believe in socialism.”

All students interviewed agreed that the immediate future for China was bleak. Indeed, many of their leaders had already gone into hiding. Others were re­portedly arrested during the night that followed. The protests have dwindled, leaving only the handful of die-hards that gathered in front of the Internal Security Bureau on June, 10 and 11 to protest the arrests of student and worker leaders. Local residents, used to swaying along with the changes in the atmosphere, pre­dict “more arrests, no protests.” The pro­democracy movement has been forced underground. The intimidation by the authorities is working.

The first indication of the methods the government was to employ came with the TV appearance of the mayor of Shang­hai, Zhu Rongji, last Thursday evening. He announced that the patience of many people, plagued by traffic standstills and by food and fuel shortages, was wearing thin, and that he was planning measures to bring the situation back to normal. Shanghai residents had put up road­blocks on over 130 intersections and blocked access by rail to the city. Even air traffic was interrupted for a day. Without public transportation, most of the workers failed to show up for work. In effect, the city was on general strike.

“I have heard from many workers who complain they cannot get to work,” the mayor said on TV. “We will take the necessary measures to restore transporta­tion and communications in the city of Shanghai.” His calculation was simple: he would mobilize 10 per cent of the working force, to ensure that the remaining 90 per cent got to work. In a city of four million workers, that meant a force of 400,000. The accompanying film segment showed truckloads of helmeted men being driven out to the streets to take down the roadblocks.

At six in the morning of the next day, all the intersections were clear, and some of the city buses were running. It is not clear whether the others were grounded by a continued drivers’ strike, or whether they were merely being cleaned of the slogans written or pasted in the previous few days, slogans like: “The citizens of Shanghai oppose the reactionary govern­ment of Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, and Yang Shangkun!” “Butchers of the peo­ple, go to the guillotine!” and “People will not be scared of the fascist methods — the final victory belongs to the people!”

On this morning, however, the fascist methods were taking effect. Every inter­section was guarded by 400 “order main­taining workers,” as the yellow tags pinned to their chests proclaimed. Some of the tags also read “traffic maintenance squad” — but a Western observer has called them “goon squads.” They claimed that they were volunteers, but informed Shanghai residents know that they have received 20 yuan for each day of the “maintenance” work. We have talked to workers in this city who make only 75 yuan a month and, with the creeping in­flation, can no longer afford to eat meat — so the material benefits for the “voluntary” goon squads are clear. They also claimed that they would only apply persuasion, should protesters appear.

The “persuasion” they rely on is backed by the powerful state propaganda machinery. In repeated broadcasts the state television keeps announcing arrests of people involved in the protests. One detainee is shown interrogated at gunpoint. Three people have been executed in Shanghai for “a bank robbery related to the unrest.” The students, at the same time, have been warned by the authori­ties to abandon attempts at illegal activi­ties and “not to go any further down this dangerous road.”

Shanghai’s official press revealed that 130 people have been detained by police for “the spreading of rumors, damaging transportation, and disruption of com­munications.” Public gathering and dis­cussion have been banned, as well as the display of posters, notices, and announce­ments. Such gatherings and announce­ments have been the only way to communicate the news that did not conform to the official, highly edited version of events. In a country where authorities and the media have denied any shooting of the civilians during the Peking massa­cre — claiming that the only victims were soldiers — photocopies of Chinese-language reports from abroad posted in pub­lic squares have become the only access to the truth. Students have also read the Voice of America and British Broadcast­ing Corporation’s reports over the loud­speakers. With the enforcement of new public regulations, now those sources of information are gone. It is hard to believe that the people, already highly critical. of the official Chinese media before the cur­rent onslaught of brainwashing, will buy the government’s campaign to discredit the popular movement by presenting it as marauding by a small group of thugs. The authorities, however, obviously think that once again the constant repetition will turn fiction into facts.

Foreign reporters are being forced to leave, and broadcasts from abroad are jammed. Tapes and printed information are being confiscated on the way out as well as on the way in.

The goon squads on Shanghai streets are enforcing the order: they are there to disperse public gatherings and tear down leaflets, while officially “securing the transportation and communications.” Under their vigilant eyes, the gatherings in this crowded city — where it is extreme­ly difficult to avoid crowds — have been reduced to groups surrounding street ven­dors. Gold chains and traditional medi­cine seem to be particularly attractive. Last Sunday morning, one such vendor was exalting the virtue of his merchan­dise: tiger paws for rheumatism, tiger pe­nises for virility, water buffalo bones to relieve fever. When asked whether he had anything for the current condition of China, he waved his hand vigorously: “No, no. Nothing for that. That’s the question of ideology,” he said, pointing to his head. “My medicine cannot treat that.”

As of Monday, June 12, the goon squads are still in the streets. News and rumors of arrests persist. The indepen­dent trade unions and student unions have been branded as illegal by the city government. Citizens are encouraged to inform on each other, and neighborhood committees have been ordered to report all unusual activity. The reign of terror, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, is back in full force. But, the government reports, life in Shanghai has returned to normal — after a brief show of power and self-determination, the people of Shang­hai have once again submitted to govern­ment intimidation and repression. May­be, in. Shanghai, that’s normal. ■

 

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“Big Fish & Begonia”: Boy Meets Dolphin, Things Get Complicated

You’ll meet many colorful monsters and/or godlike supporting characters but not a single believable lead protagonist in the busy but uninspired Chinese animated fantasy Big Fish & Begonia, a loose blend of Chinese myths featured in centuries-old collections like Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi and The Classics of Mountains and Seas. This is an unfortunately insurmountable oversight since the fate of the movie’s heaven-like afterworld — densely populated with shape-shifting dolphin spirits and headless winged pigs — depends on a doomed romantic triangle that involves plucky teenage dolphin Chun (voiced by Guanlin Ji), her square-jawed human crush Qiu (Shangqing Su), and her loyal dolphin BFF Kun (Weizhou Xu).

Co-writer–director duo Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang loosely based the characters of Chun, Qiu, and Kun on preexisting archetypes, so Chinese folklore buffs might have a general idea of why, exactly, these characters would repeatedly make Faustian bargains with trickster demigods in order to rescue one another from evil human whalers and venomous two-headed snakes. But anyone unfamiliar with this type of story might wonder how these kids could be so naive as to stake their souls on a game of mah-jongg with a fish-cyclops called “The Soultaker” (Shih-Chieh King) or a dance with a horny sewer dweller named “Rat Madam” (Shulan Pan). Chun’s, Qiu’s, and Kun’s motives and emotions ostensibly get revealed, through pseudo-soulful crying jags and ponderous declarations like, “Without happiness, what’s the meaning of longevity?” Liang and Zhang’s young heroes would be far more universal if they were just credibly hormonal.

Big Fish & Begonia
Directed by Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang
Shout! Studios and Funimation Films
Opens April 6, Regal Union Square

 

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Psyche Killer: Takashi Murakami’s New Show at Gagosian Is a Trip

Takashi Murakami’s latest exhibition, “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow,” so generously feeds psychedelic spectacle to the pilgrims who flock to Gagosian Gallery’s Chelsea flagship that measuring the show by standards other than volume of Instagram posts seems inadequate. The show renders a critic’s job (almost) obsolete.

The task we’re left with? Take it all in: a mural longer than a tennis court bursting with figures and details; a pair of towering, cartoonish demons with baroque musculature and Popeye biceps; a full-size ancient Japanese temple gate that might have come straight off a Cinecittà soundstage — and that’s just half the works in one of the exhibition’s four rooms.

And though there are a few shiny, Koonsian objects — one a nearly 14-foot-tall gold-leafed tower (destined, one assumes, for the monied precincts of Saadiyat Island) — there are otherwise few traces of the infuriatingly bald commerce of the 52-year-old art star’s Louis Vuitton boutique-within-an-exhibition of six years ago, when his Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles–organized retrospective — it was called © MURAKAMI, remember? — landed at the Brooklyn Museum. But in-exhibition merchandising is so 2008, and so much has changed since. Just think of the oligarchs’ wives who once swiped platinum cards in exchange for brown and gold satchels and are now subject to government sanctions.

In “Land of the Dead,” Murakami seems intent on speaking to these more straitened times, though any language spoken inside Gagosian is necessarily the patois of privilege. The artist says in his statement that he’s addressing the earthquake and nuclear disaster that terrified his homeland in 2011 (and, we assume, along with it the current global anxiety and economic uncertainty). Yet surely no expense was spared to create that temple gate — more than 21 feet tall and as wide as a pair of 18-wheelers, it’s an ashen wood hulk complete with curved roof and massive eaves. Modeled on the gate type originated in China but later imported to Japan, it’s the only slice of monochrome in an otherwise blindingly bright show.

For Murakami, that gate embodies the shifting meaning of a single image. In China such a formidable structure would have been used for fortification. In the isolated island nation of Japan, the imported form becomes a totem of power and pomp. Elsewhere in the show, in works based on Edo-period (1603–1868) paintings in turn based on Chinese precedents, Murakami shows us his ability to repurpose the old and make it utterly of-the-moment. The roiling seas in his massive mural unfold in riots of juxtaposed pattern and color that Vogue readers will recognize as this fall’s top fashion strategy. Backgrounds are gilded or covered in more iridescence than a cosmetics counter, while even the demons and shriveled old men populating so many of these works have the multicolored pedicures you’d expect from Vanity Projects.

Those familiar with Murakami’s output will see familiar motifs — piles of cartoonish skulls, snaggletoothed smiley faces. There’s a great piece here called Isle of the Dead that stars lesser-known cast members: an army of wizened dudes with more eyeballs per head than regulation would allow, staring out at us. They’re far less kawaii than Murakami’s earlier, seedier offerings, and that’s a very good thing. The see-no-evil yodas bear
astonished witness to the passing masses.

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Oran Etkin

Capping off the Israeli Jazz Festival, multireedist Oran Etkin imports a multicultural array of influences gathered on tour in Indonesia, China, Japan, and his native Israel. His latest album, Gathering Light, took its title from the Jewish myth of the primordial light that scattered Babel-style at the beginning of time. Alongside guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Ben Allison, drummer Alvester Garnett, and Israeli cellist Yoed Nir, Etkin has the filaments to radiate some of that magical stuff. Most moving is “Shirim Ad Kan,” a prayer for peace by dovish Israeli poet Natan Yonatan, who lost a son in the Yom Kippur War.

Thu., Nov. 6, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m., 2014

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WATCHING THE SKIES

East meets West at the Modern Sky Festival, an annual Beijing event since 2007 making its United States debut. Divided fairly equally between domestic and Chinese acts, the two-day event kicks off this afternoon with Deserts Chang, a poetic folk experimentalist akin to our own Cat Power, who headlines tomorrow’s lineup. Picks to click include Beijing’s self-critical postpunk funk group Rebuilding the Rights of Statues, Gang of Four devotees who really know from the Gang of Four. Seattle punk refugees and Brooklyn meta-rockers Liars fill out a bill topped by “Atomic Bomb!” The Luaka Bop label’s wonderful tribute to the brilliant Nigerian Afrofunk recluse William Onyeabor features Sinkane and the Mahotella Queens. Art-folkies Omnipotent Youth Society, surf-rockers Queen Sea Big Shark, and Peking-operatic glam fetishists Second Hand Rose open tomorrow’s day-long bill.

Sat., Oct. 4, 5 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 5, 8:30 p.m., 2014

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Auto Industry Doc Pump Emphasizes Our Oil Consumption is Unsustainable

A car’s high beams trace slow-motion lightning across the highway. An auto worker in suspenders strides the factory floor. These seductive images of the American automotive industry act as dreamy parentheses to Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s compelling and cogent documentary Pump, which examines why Americans are so lacking in options at the gas station, what that means about the future of transportation and environmental health, and why the oil-driven American Dream must die — why it is dying.

The core of Pump‘s argument comes from interviews with writers, activists, politicians, and current and former oil and auto industry executives, all of whom emphasize that the rate at which Americans consume oil is unsustainable, and that, ultimately, oil reserves will be exhausted; the only option is to change our fuel sources.

The Tickells complicate and ultimately underscore this argument by placing American practice and policy in conversation with other countries’ fuel habits. While fast-industrializing China once had streets full of bicyclists, the country’s new prosperity has brought with it a status-driven car culture; Brazil responded to fuel crises in the 1970s and ’80s by mandating that the cheaper — and arguably more sustainable — ethanol be offered at pumps alongside gasoline.

It’s no accident, the Tickells argue, that ethanol hasn’t caught on in the U.S. By carefully tracing the history of the oil companies’ legislative and consumer power and influence, the directors explore America’s issue of substance dependence, and indict the companies that act as enablers. If you’re not convinced we’re addicted, ask yourself if you could quit at any time.

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NO MORE SILENCE

When the Brooklyn Museum opens a major retrospective of the work of Ai Weiwei on April 17, the only thing missing will be the artist himself, who has not been allowed to leave China since 2011. To protest Beijing’s efforts to silence Ai and other Chinese writers and artists, PEN American Center stages a protest tonight. After hearing the works of Chinese writers read by literary luminaries including Sergio De La Pava, Jennifer Egan, Ha Jin, Chang-Rae Lee, and Victoria Redel in front of the Brooklyn Public Library, attendees will be handcuffed before walking to the Brooklyn Museum to view a brand-new video message from Ai. Everyone will then break out of their handcuffs and leave them at the museum “in the name of freedom and expression for all Chinese artists and writers.”

Thu., April 10, 7 p.m., 2014

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EAST MEETS WEST

If you want to see what’s happening in performing arts in China, it won’t cost you more than a subway ride to get there when the Visions + Voices Global Performance Series begins. This second annual event is playing host to China’s top artists in disciplines including theater, dance, film, and art. It kicks off tonight with cutting-edge works from TAO Dance Theater. Other highlights include Hangzhou Yue Opera Company’s Hedda and The Lady from the Sea, their reimagining of two Ibsen plays, and the National Theatre of China’s production of Richard III. Series ends May 12.

Feb. 20-22, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 23, 3 p.m., 2014