20 Years Ago Today – Guardian Article in Chinese

二十年前的这一天,丁子霖站在门口等她儿子。”等来的是衣衫褴褛、头发散乱的学生,呼喊着’他们杀人了!他们朝人群开枪了!'”她回忆道。

“越看,我们越觉得害怕和绝望……大约五点钟时,我们看见一辆车上面放着一块木板,木板上躺着一个孩子的尸体。当我看见那个孩子的遗体时,我感觉我儿子的命运也会如此,他再也回不来了。”

她的儿子,17岁的蒋捷连,是那天北京街头死于人民解放军枪弹的数百名死难者之一。有些人甚至认为天安门民主示威遭镇压时的死难人数会达到数千。但没人知道准确数字。二十年来丁子霖清点死难者的努力带来的是不断被骚扰。

安全官员多次阻止她悼念儿子的死。”你们杀了我儿子,还想阻挠我祭奠他?你们做得还不够么?”今年早些时候接受卫报采访时,丁子霖这样说道。

昨 天,在一次大范围的安全管控中,警方再次到她家进行封堵。本周,其他异议人士或遭拘留,或应国安官员之邀前去”度假”。便衣和身着制服的警员遍布天安门广 场。知名网站如Twitter和Flickr以及很多论坛被封禁。BBC关于天安门事件周年的报道被封锁,很多进口外国报纸的相关页面被剪裁或粘贴起来。

昨 夜,一位流亡海外的前学生领袖试图返回中国,但被拒之于澳门之外。他已经二十多年没有见过父母了。1989年对吾尔开希发出的通缉令至今仍然有效,他当时 是通缉要犯名单上的二号人物。吾尔开希的存在,与73岁的丁子霖――一位退休的哲学家和悲恸的母亲一样,对于这个决心要封存天安门事件记忆的国家来说,是 不可接受的。

转折点

鲍彤是中共中央前总书记赵紫阳的首席顾问,赵紫阳由于对学生运动的同情态度而下台。鲍彤说:”很多人 已经忘了,外国人忘了,很多中国年轻人也忘了。但只要中国仍旧在一党领导之下……你就不能避免谈到六四,因为那是一个转折点。一个重要的转折点――原本可 以走向正确的方向,却走向了错误的一边。”

他的评论重申了有关1989年夏天另一层面的遗忘。抗议遭血腥镇压的结局,在很大程度上抹去了关于此前示威活动盛况空前的记忆:那场令人惊叹的运动历时六周、吸引了来自全国各地数以百万计的民众,威胁了中国共产党的统治。当时,似乎一切皆有可能。

十年改革带了了民众对自由的渴望,与此同时,新的经济压力如通货膨胀居高不下,使得很多人焦虑不安。中国共产党实际上的最高领导人邓小平在改革与共产主义之间逡巡,试图统一共产党的领导层。

1989年四月,遭贬斥的改革派领导人胡耀邦去世,这引发了学生示威。示威最初提出的要求只局限在更大的言论自由、经济自由和反对腐败。

《天安门文件(The Tiananmen Papers)》一书的责任编辑安德鲁•内森教授说”当时的最高领导层对于示威意味着什么出现了分歧。一种观点认为学生们是爱国的……另一方则认为他们对党的领导发起了挑战,会造成混乱。”

鲍彤称”示威活动刚开始时,我很乐观。我想,学生们提出反腐败问题,要求民主。这是进步的机遇。”但当鲍彤的上司力促与学生对话时,另一方在要求邓小平进行压制。

” 后来发生的情况不是学生将运动升级,而是邓小平激怒了他们。”鲍彤这样评价。内部分歧使得共产党领导层在容忍和压制之间摇摆不定:一方的态度对示威者来说 是一种鼓舞,另一方则让示威者们愤怒。示威活动席卷全国几百个城市,小学教师们也走上广场,警察、法官、海军军官游行支持学生。学生们突然发现自己成了千 百万人的英雄。而工人的加入几乎完全是个意外。

“并不是说从第一天起我就知道自己想干什么,想为民主而奋斗。我不是为了民主去那儿的,我只 是觉得好玩,好奇。” 韩东方回忆道。他现在是中国劳工通讯(China Labour Bulletin)的负责人。当年他第一次看到示威时,正在一辆公共汽车上。在下一站下车的决定将改变他的一生,为他带来之后的领袖、牢狱和流亡生涯。

“对我来说,那是在思想上、意识形态上、政治上快速成长的一个阶段。”他说。”作为一个人,作为一个社会活动家,我在那六周中飞速成长。从零到北京工人自治联合会的发言人――当时我们是广场上唯一的工人组织。之后又成为通缉犯。”

然而让参与者兴奋不已的示威活动,却令领导人感到恐惧。他们经历了文革那年轻人攻击长者的动乱年代。工人的参与尤其令政府担忧。韩东方说”他们的逻辑很简单:我们依靠工人运动的意识形态掌权,因此,如果有谁在我们的控制之外发起工人运动,有一天就会夺我们的权。”

学生运动的要求越来越大胆,随着来自各省越来越多的学生加入,新的学生领袖浮现出来,这些要求也越来越分化,同时蔑视任何妥协的建议。

陈子明称,在这个从未允许过反对势力存在的国家,这是不可避免的结局。陈子明是当年力图进行斡旋的知识分子之一。他在这一事件中的结局是作为”幕后黑手”长达十三年的有期徒刑。陈子明认为,在中国这些异议完全没有渠道和空间。

镇压

内森称:”命运没有站在改革者一边。赵紫阳所建议的怀柔政策不在共产党的基因之中……邓小平经历了[共产主义]革命时期,文革时期。我想,最终采取镇压由他的本性所左右。”

赵紫阳拒绝支持调动军队镇压,被撤职。若干年后,他去世于软禁之中。鲍彤则入狱七年。

但当政府颁布戒严令时,不可思议的一幕发生了。罗斌(Robin Munro)回忆道”我在广场中央的人民英雄纪念碑等了一夜,等部队的到来。但他们没有来。” 罗斌当年是北京的一位人权活动家,现在在中国劳工通讯供职。

“学生架设的扩音器高声宣布’伟大的北京市民阻挡了部队的前进’,欢呼声立刻响彻广场。那真是非凡的一刻,谁都难以置信。普普通通的北京市民全体上街,用他们的身躯阻挡进城的坦克。而部队真的停止了前进。”

但不同于很多欢庆的学生,罗斌正确地解读了这短暂的胜利意味着终点的到来。

他说”我觉得这让当局大丢颜面,是无法接受的。他们只能用他们的办法来结束这一切。”

两周后,邓小平终于失去了耐心。部队接到了凌晨清场的命令。

韩东方回忆道,”他们叫醒我说,今晚部队真地要进来了,我们得做准备。我还是不能相信。我当过三年兵。我们受的教育是,人民子弟兵唯一的任务就是为人民服务。”开枪后不久,蒋捷连,在北京市郊某处拥挤的人群中中弹。

丁子霖说,”当他们被子弹打中时,他们还以为是橡皮子弹,所以他们还想跑。他跑了几步以后就对他的朋友说,我可能中弹了,你快跑吧,别等我了。说完,他就跪倒在地,向前倒下。”

罗斌认为政府没有料到民众会第二次集体对抗国家机器。然而这次,他们派来的是坦克和真枪实弹的士兵。

他接着说:”我想这是决定性的一刻:在可以预见到的遥远的未来,震惊和恐惧让北京市民们屈服了。恫吓总能起作用,这太可怕了。”

他目睹了士兵向民众开枪,以及一辆装甲运兵车把一辆卡车撞进人群。

罗斌回忆道”可怜一个男子被压在下面,肝脑涂地。”混乱之中,一些战士成了愤怒的市民发泄的对象,被殴打、杀死。官方则以这些作为”反革命暴乱”的证据。

吾尔开希说,”这是一场单方面的屠杀。”他乘坐最后到达广场的救护车离开时,车里满是鲜血。”深的、浅的、新鲜的红色,还有那恐怖的味道。”

清晨,数千名士兵聚集到天安门广场。

罗斌回忆道:”学生直到最后一分钟才离开,很多都下定决心牺牲生命死守在广场。他们在纪念碑上写下自己的遗愿。”

最 终,他们撤离了广场,在最后期限的几分钟之前,从士兵队列的几米开外。他们中的一些会流亡海外,很多留在异乡;有的会被捕入狱。而在北京城的各处,数百人 陈尸街头。其中就有蒋捷连。丁子霖说”我最后一次亲吻儿子,是他死后两天。他的身体那么冰冷,那么冰冷。我永远也忘不掉他冰冷的脸颊。”

20 Years Ago Today – Guardian Article

To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/03/tiananmen-square-beijing-killings

Tania Branigan in Beijing Thursday June 4 2009 The Guardian

It is 20 years since Ding Zilin stood by her gate and waited for her son. “What came were students with tattered clothes and dishevelled hair, shouting ‘they are killing people, they are shooting at people,'” she recalled. “The more we watched, the more terrified and desperate we felt ? At about five in the morning we saw a car with a flat wooden board on it and a child’s body on the board. When I saw the body of that child I felt my son’s fate was the same, and he would not come back again.” Her son, Jiang Jielian, 17, was one of hundreds who died that day, shot dead by the People’s Liberation Army on the streets of Beijing. Some believe the death toll in the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy protests stretches into thousands. But no one knows for sure, and Ding’s attempts to list the dead have resulted in two decades of harassment. Security officials have repeatedly prevented her from marking her son’s death. “You killed my son and you’re stopping me going to commemorate him? You didn’t do enough?” was her incredulous comment about them to the Guardian earlier this year. Today police again arrived to blockade her home amid a broad security clampdown. Other dissidents have been detained or invited on “holidays” by security officials this week. Plainclothes and uniformed officers have flooded Tiananmen Square. Popular online services including Twitter and Flickr and bulletin boards have been blocked. BBC broadcasts on the anniversary are blacked out and pages of imported newspapers are cut out or glued together. Tonight an exiled student leader trying to return to China was refused entry to the territory of Macau, where he has not seen his parents for two decades. An arrest warrant for Wuerkaixi has been in force since 1989, when he was second on China’s “most wanted” list. Like the peaceful activities of Ding ? a 73-year-old retired philosopher and grieving mother ? Wuerkaixi’s presence is unacceptable to a state determined to suppress memory of the Tiananmen protests. Turning point Bao Tong, a chief aide to the reformist former general secretary of the Communist party, Zhao Ziyang, who was purged for his sympathy towards the students, said: “A lot of people have forgotten; foreign people forgot; many Chinese young people forgot too. But as long as China is still under one-party leadership ? you can’t avoid talking about 4 June, because it was a turning point. It’s the key turning point, when it could have gone in the right direction, but went in the wrong direction instead.” His remarks emphasise the double amnesia surrounding the summer of 1989. The demonstrations’ bloody ending has largely erased memories of the carnival of protest that preceded it: an astonishing uprising which lasted six weeks and drew in millions of people from around the country, threatening an end to communist rule. Anything seemed possible. Ten years of reform had created an appetite for freedom, but also new economic pressures such as rampant inflation, leaving many anxious and insecure. The party’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, tacked between reform and party orthodoxy as he tried to hold the leadership together. Then, in April 1989, came the death of purged reformist leader Hu Yaobang. It sparked student protests with modest demands: greater freedom of speech, economic freedoms, curbs on corruption. “The top leadership was very divided over what it meant. One view was that the students were patriotic ? The other was that they were challenging the leadership of the party and that [would lead] to chaos,” said Professor Andrew Nathan, editor of The Tiananmen Papers. Bao said: “When protests began, I was at that time very optimistic. I thought students raised anti-corruption issues, and asked for democracy. It was an opportunity to make progress.” But while his boss was pressing for dialogue with students, others were pushing Deng to crack down. “What happened later was not the students increasing their level of activity, but Deng irritating them,” Bao said. Riven, the leadership swung between tolerance and suppression: one side emboldened the protesters, the other appeared to inflame them. As the demonstrations spread to hundreds of cities, primary school teachers took their charges to the square. Police, judges and naval officers marched to support the students.Even the city’s pickpockets were said to have stopped work in sympathy. The explosion of dissent took demonstrators as well as the government by surprise. Students found themselves heroes to thousands. Workers were drawn in almost by accident. “It was not that on the first day I knew what my agenda was, that I was fighting for democracy. I was not there for that ? I was there just for fun ? curiosity,” said Han Dongfang, now director of China Labour Bulletin, who was passing on a bus when he first spotted the demonstrations. His decision to get off at the next stop would transform his life, resulting first in leadership, then jail, then exile. “To me that was a fast growing period mentally, ideologically, politically,” he said. “As a human being, as an activist, I grew really fast in this six weeks, from zero to a spokesman of my organisation ? the only workers’ organisation in the square ? and then into a wanted person.” But what exhilarated participants terrified leaders who had lived through the chaos of the cultural revolution, when young people turned on their elders. The participation of workers was particularly frightening for the government. “Their logic was very simple: We took power with the ideology of a workers’ movement, therefore, if others are starting a labour movement not under our control, it will one day take away our power,” said Han. The movement’s demands were growing bolder and more fractured as students flooded in from the provinces and new leaders emerged, scorning suggestions of compromise. That was inevitable in a state which had never tolerated alternative organisations, said Chen Ziming, one of the intellectuals who attempted to mediate. For his pains would serve 13 years as a “black hand” behind the events. There was simply no way of channelling or shaping such dissent. “Students who didn’t compromise cannot be described as hostile to the government. It was more like children talking to their parents,” Chen said. “”They think because they are children they can show their temper and parents won’t treat them that badly and will in the end step back and agree with whatever they ask,” Chen said. “Fate was against the reformers,” said Nathan. “Zhao Ziyang was suggesting a softer line that isn’t in the DNA of the CCP ? Deng had been through the [communist] revolution, through the cultural revolution. I think it was in his nature to crack down eventually.” Zhao refused to support the use of troops and was purged; he died years later under house arrest, while Bao served seven years in jail. But when the government declared martial law, the unthinkable happened. “I waited all night on the monument of the people’s heroes in the middle of the square for troops to arrive ? and they didn’t,” recalled Robin Munro, then a human rights activist in Beijing and now at China Labour Bulletin. “The student loudspeakers burst into life and someone announced ‘the great Beijing people have blocked the advance of the army’ ? and this roar went up. It was an extraordinary moment that no one had believed would be possible. Beijing citizens, ordinary people, had all turned out and physically stood in front of tanks to stop them coming into their city. And the troop columns halted.” Unlike many of the celebrating students, Munro correctly read the brief triumph as the beginning of the end. “I felt it was huge loss of face for the authorities. They will not accept it. They will have to end it their way,” he said. Two weeks later, Deng’s patience ran out. Troops were ordered to clear the square by dawn. “They woke me up and said tonight, army really, really will break in; we have to get prepared,” said Han. “I still did not believe it ? I had been in the army for three years. We were educated that the only aim as a soldier was serving the people.” Jielian, pushing his way through the crowd in a Beijing suburb, was hit almost as soon as the firing started. “Even after they were shot, they thought it was rubber bullets, so they tried running away,” said Ding. “After he ran a few steps he said to his friend, I may be shot ? you run fast; don’t wait for me. And after he finished the sentence he knelt down and then fell forward.” Munro thinks the authorities had never expected that citizens would dare to defy the state en masse for a second time. Yet they sent their troops in with tanks and live ammunition. “I believe what probably tilted the balance was this point: that it would shock and awe the Beijing citizenry into submission for the far foreseeable future,” he said. “And terror works. That’s the awful thing.” He watched as troops fired on civilians and an armoured personnel carrier rammed a truck, sending it crashing on to the crowd. “There was one poor man who had been crushed underneath it and his brains were lying outside of his head ? squashed out,” Munro said. “It was literally ‘over our dead bodies will they go in and kill our students’. It was a very heroic moment for the people of Beijing – and they paid the price. They were the ones who were slaughtered.” Amid the chaos, some soldiers were set upon, beaten and killed by angry citizens. Officials would cite this as proof of “a counter-revolutionary riot”. “It was a one-way shooting massacre,” said Wuerkaixi, who left the square on the last ambulance to arrive in hospital awash with blood: “Darker, fresher, lighter, red. And the awful smell.” In Tiananmen Square, as the dawn approached, troops were massing in their thousands. “The students left it till the very last minute ? and many were determined to stay and sacrifice their lives. They were writing their wills on the monument,” said Munro. In the end they walked away, minutes from the deadline. Some would flee into exile, where many remain; others were caught and jailed. Across the city, hundreds lay dead, among them Jielian. “The last time I kissed him was two days after his death,” said Ding. “He was so cold. So cold, I can never, ever forget his cold cheek.”

20 Years Ago – Ma Jian on Tiananmen – from The Guardian

To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/02/tiananmen-square-protests-1989-china

The great Tiananmen taboo

It is 20 years since students and lecturers filled Tiananmen Square, demanding democracy, only to be crushed by tanks and fired on by the Chinese army. Banned novelist Ma Jian, who was there at the protests, returned to Beijing to find a country desperate to erase  all memories of the thousands of innocent lives lost

Ma Jian
Tuesday June 2 2009
The Guardian

Two thousand years ago, contemplating the relentless flow of time, Confucius gazed down at a river and sighed, “What passes is just like this, never ceasing day or night …” In China, time can feel both frozen and unstoppable at the same time. The Tiananmen massacre that 20 years ago ravaged Beijing, killed thousands of unarmed citizens, and altered the lives of millions, seems now to be locked in the 20th century, forgotten or ignored, as China continues to hurtle blindly towards its future.

The amnesia to which China has succumbed is not the result of natural memory-loss but of state-enforced erasure. China’s Communist regime tolerates no mention of the massacre. But Tiananmen Square, and other sites connected with the events of 1989, still remain charged with memory. When the written and spoken word is censored, the urban landscape becomes a nation’s only physical link to the past.

I left Beijing in 1987, shortly before my books were banned there, but have returned continually. In 1989, I was on Tiananmen Square with the students, living in their makeshift tents and joining their jubilant singing of the Internationale. In the two decades since, each time that I have gone back, visions from those days seem to return with increasing persistence.

During the Beijing Olympics last August, I took my now five-year-old son to the square. On our journey there, our movements were observed by the CCTV cameras in the lift of our apartment block and outside the front gate of our compound, by the listening devices in our taxi, by the armed police who lined the streets and by the security guards who frisked us before finally allowing us on to Tiananmen. We emerged from the underpass and stepped on to the square. Apart from the crowds of policemen, the plain-clothes officers (instantly identifiable by their dark sunglasses and striped Airtex shirts) and the gaudy flower displays, the concrete-paved square, the size of nine football fields, was almost deserted.

In spring 1989, the square had been taken over by Beijing students and civilians who were mounting the largest peaceful protest in history. They were pressing for dialogue with their Communist leaders, and ultimately for freedom and democracy. The packed square became the city’s pulsing heart; the police had vanished. This was a benevolent form of anarchy – noble, joyous, and surprisingly orderly.

My son ran to the spot where 20 years ago the students had erected a huge polystyrene replica of the Statue of Liberty. He looked northwards to Tiananmen Gate, the entrance to the Forbidden City where China’s emperors used to live. In 1949, Mao stood on the gate and declared the founding of the People’s Republic. Now the gate’s blood-red walls were covered in scaffolding and green gauze. At politically sensitive times these walls are invariably covered for “important repair work”, ensuring that the public won’t get near enough to daub them with subversive slogans. The only bit of the gate that tourists could now photograph was the portrait of Chairman Mao over the central arch.

My son stared up at the tyrant’s pink, pudgy face and asked me who he was.

“Mao Zedong,” I replied.

“Is he dead now?” he said, sweat dripping down his cheeks.

“He died years ago, his body is lying in that big building over there,” I explained, pointing to the grey, concrete mausoleum behind us. My son turned round and ran off towards an ice-cream stall, and I thought of how, in 1989, I too had run across the square in the sweltering heat, with a bag of ice-lollies in my backpack, which I then handed out to my writer-friends who had marched to the square from the Lu Xun Writers’ Academy, calling for freedom of expression and an end to government corruption. I gave them the victory sign as they paraded past. More than a million people were on the square that day. The sky was just as blue then, but instead of the scent of flowers and green turf, the air was filled with the sour smell of sweat, rotting refuse and exuberant cries of protest.

As my son peered into the vendor’s ice box, I glanced at the bridge over the Jinshui moat that skirts Tiananmen Gate. It was now lined with police. They were there to prevent the suicide jumps of anti-government petitioners. Five years ago, a Beijinger named Ye Guoqiang had attempted just such a fatal jump as a protest against his recent and forceful eviction from his home in order to make way for an Olympic Games construction project. He was sentenced to two years in prison for embarrassing the state. “If you want to kill yourself,” the judge told him, “at least do it in the privacy of your own home, not beneath the Chairman’s nose.” Citizens can allow themselves to be shot dead by the army below Mao’s portrait, but not to commit suicide there.

Opposite the Museum of Chinese History on the east side of the square, I took a photograph of my son standing in front of a garish maroon, yellow and orange potted flower display. The slogan above read: One World, One Dream. In early May 1989, during the students’ mass hunger strike, I had told my friend that if the army came to the square and turned their guns on us, I would take her straight into the museum for cover. “You think they’d turn their guns on us?” she laughed. “Are you crazy?” She was wearing a straw hat at the time, with the words “Sorrow! Joy!” printed on the front. Like almost everyone else, she couldn’t believe that the People’s Liberation Army would shoot innocent civilians.

On May 28 1989, my brother had an accident in my hometown of Qingdao and fell into a coma. I immediately left Beijing to look after him, so I didn’t witness the massacre of 4 June. (Perhaps if I had, I would never have been able to write about it.) My friend Li Lanju, the head of a Hong Kong student association, told me that in the early hours of 4 June she too had been sitting here in front of the museum. She saw PLA soldiers in green helmets pour out from inside and line up on the steps in front. A boy of about 15 ran towards the soldiers with a rock in his hand and shouted, “You just shot my brother! I want to avenge his death!” Li Lanju rushed over to him and pulled him back. But a few minutes later, a man ran past carrying the same boy in his arms. He was dead now, his face covered in blood. The Museum of Chinese History holds no records of those events that happened below its front steps.

I walked over to my son and bought him a panda-shaped ice cream on a stick. (Back in London, a month later, his mother and I were horrified to learn that the dairy products we’d been feeding him and his three-year-old sister had been contaminated with kidney-stone inducing melamine. The Chinese government had known that unscrupulous farmers had been adulterating milk to increase profit margins, but had suppressed all news of the scandal to avoid spoiling their Olympics propaganda pageant.)

We continued south past Mao’s mausoleum and my thoughts returned again to 1989, when a student in my tent told me how he longed to muster a few friends, charge into the mausoleum, drag out Mao’s corpse and throw it into the Jinshui river. He said that as long as Mao’s embalmed body remains in the square, China will have no peace.

Feeling tired and dispirited, I took my son’s hand and led him across the road to the Qianmen district. In 1989, I’d often scarpered off to its crowded, bustling lanes in search of a quick bowl of noodles. Back then, stall holders would hand out free drinks and bread rolls to hungry protesters. I heard that after the students were driven out of the square on 4 June, street vendors came out with baskets of trainers to give to protesters who’d lost their shoes in the scrum. Today, the place was almost unrecognisable. In the run-up to the Olympics, the Ming Dynasty buildings along the main street, with their beautiful stone carvings and ornate wooden eaves, had been demolished and replaced by soulless, modern replicas of their former selves. I stood with my son amid the kitsch while locals wandered around in bewilderment, cameras in hand, now reduced to tourists in their own backstreets.

After a while, the sense of alienation from the past becomes suffocating and makes one long to reconnect with old friends. When I arrived in Beijing a few weeks before the Olympics, the secret police summoned me to the Sheraton Hotel and, over coffee and cakes, told me very politely not to speak in public, meet with any foreign journalists and especially to stay away from politically sensitive people such as Liu Xiaobo and Zhou Duo – two of the four intellectuals who went on hunger strike in sympathy with the students during the last days of the democracy movement. Zhou Duo, a former economics professor at Beijing University, is an old friend of mine. He is a quiet, scholarly man, with a love of philosophy and classical music. In 1989 he became swept up in the democracy movement after the more flamboyant and charismatic essayist, Liu Xiaobo, declared him to be the most important intellectual of our generation. Zhou Duo had never taken much interest in politics before, so I was surprised to hear that he had joined the hunger strike. In the late hours of 3 June he and the Taiwanese rock star, Hou Dejian, went to negotiate with the army. While the students huddled in terror below the Monument to the People’s Heroes, he implored the army to let the students retreat from the square in safety. His quiet, diplomatic demeanour no doubt saved thousands of lives.

Unlike Liu Xiaobo who, having spent several years in prison, is now in detention again for signing a charter last year calling for political reform, Zhou Duo has disappeared from public life. He hasn’t been able to work or be published since 1989 and is under constant police surveillance. He regrets his involvement in the protests and the loss of his career. Having found God, he manages to hold small services in his heavily monitored flat in the outskirts of Beijing, and spends most of his time drawing up models for China’s political future. Few will ever see them. We spoke briefly on his bugged phone before the Olympics, but I didn’t dare suggest a meeting.

In February of this year I returned to China to research my next book. The authorities know about the novels of mine that have been published in the west, including the latest one, Beijing Coma, about a student shot in Tiananmen Square, but so far have allowed me to return. They continue to search me at customs, confiscate my documents and monitor my movements, but no doubt realise that as long as they deny me a voice in China, I can’t do much harm. Although my next book has nothing to do with Tiananmen, a few days after my arrival in February I found myself involuntarily drawn back to that vast open space. I went there by taxi. The square was deserted and carpeted in snow. The emerald conifers along its perimeter drew one’s gaze skyward. I wound down the window to take a photograph, but before I had time to press the shutter, the driver barked, “Close that window! There’s a new rule, didn’t you know? All taxi windows must be kept shut when driving past Tiananmen Square. It’s been designated a ‘politically sensitive area’.”

This year is one of many important anniversaries in China, including the 60th of the founding of the People’s Republic and the 20th of the Tiananmen massacre. The government is more on guard than ever. I wound up the window, glanced out at the square and recalled a multitude of raised hands, banners and flags. The cries of a million silenced protesters echoed in my mind’s ear, saying more to me than anything my eyes could now see.

Beijing Coma took me 10 years to finish. The first few years, I wrote very little. A single recurrent image was blocking my progress: a man lying naked on an iron bed, a sparrow perched on his arm, his chest illuminated by a cold beam of light. Those 10 years were a struggle to prove to myself the power and meaning of that single beam of light.

“Why is it that men are so good at turning their heaven into a hell?” I muttered to myself as I closed my eyes.

The taxi driver looked out of his window and said, “That snow is nothing. You should see how much has fallen back in our village …”

“I don’t want to get out at the square any more,” I said. “I’ve changed my mind. Please turn round and take me to Tongxian.”

I had a sudden wish to visit the artist and photographer Chen Guang. The photographs he had taken many years ago of himself surrounded by naked women or having sex with a prostitute had been crude expressions of an inner rage. But recently, he had completed a series of oil paintings of the Tiananmen massacre, and had exhibited them on the internet.

I wanted to see them.

Chen Guang’s flat in Tongxian is in an anonymous modern block. In the middle of his stark room was a plastic bucket filled with his cigarette stubs; the white walls were hung with green swirling paintings of tanks, helmeted soldiers and flattened tents.

He gave me a glass of water and confessed that in 1989 he had joined the army. He was just 17. Within a few months of conscription, his regiment – number 62 – was sent to Beijing to help quash the student movement. On 3 June his fellow soldiers received orders to disguise themselves as civilians, make their way independently to the Great Hall of the People on the west side of the square, and await the signal to drive the students out.

“There were 7,000 of us,” he told me, lighting a new cigarette from the glowing stub of his last one, “and I was given the job of transporting our 4,000 assault rifles to the Great Hall. I dressed myself up as a student and loaded the guns on to a public bus the army had appropriated. As the driver edged through the packed crowds of students on Changan Avenue, I was terrified that they might jump up and spot the rifles stacked along the floor, so I leaned out and gave them a cheerful victory sign. When we reached the back yard of the Great Hall and locked the gates, I spent two hours unloading the guns, armful by armful. They were brand new. By the end, I was drenched in oil.”

I’d never heard a soldier give a first-hand account of the crackdown. He took a deep drag from his cigarette and continued, his eyes beginning to redden: “Each soldier was given a loaded rifle and told to stand in line. Most of us were young boys from the villages. We had hardly eaten for days. We were weak and terrified, convinced we were going die. Some guys shat themselves, others were trembling so much that they inadvertently fired their guns and injured fellow soldiers.

“At 12 midnight on 4 June the doors of the Great Hall were swung open. It was chaos outside. Special forces in camouflage were brandishing bayonets and driving out the students still left in the square. Nearby, a small group kicked a student to the ground and hit his skull with their rifle butts. I heard machine-gun fire in the distance, and saw the Goddess of Democracy being rammed by a tank and topple to the ground …

“I clutched my rifle but didn’t know where to point it. I was ordered to help clean the square and burn all evidence. I walked across the swath of flattened tents, blankets, sandals and leaflets, and picked up two journals and one long plait of black hair tied at the bottom with a plastic band. I guessed that some girl must have cut it off in despair before the army arrived …”

I asked Chen Guang what was his most vivid memory of those days. He said, “After we sealed off central Beijing, we could go everywhere, places we’d never usually get to see. I remember wandering into the Zhongnanhai compound. All the government leaders had abandoned their villas. Their pet cats and dogs were left to starve outside the front doors … I remember that, and other little details. But when I close my eyes and think back on those days, what I see first is the colour green, a nightmarish swirling green of helmets and tanks.”

I told him that although I wasn’t in Beijing during the crackdown, I too pictured a terrifying green, the sea of dehumanising khaki that kills and maims, when I came to describe those days in my book. I imagined how at dawn on 4 June, even the rising sun was stained green.

I asked him why he’d decided to talk about this now. “It’s the 20th anniversary this year,” he said. “I think it’s about time. Anyway, I can’t hold these nightmares inside me any longer.” He is one of the few artists to have dared confront Tiananmen Square head-on. The day I met him, his internet exhibition was closed by the censors, just three days after going online.

The Chinese have made a faustian pact with the government, agreeing to forsake demands for political and intellectual freedom in exchange for more material comfort. They live prosperous lives in which any expression of pain is forbidden. When I talk to young Chinese about 1989, I am invariably accused of spreading false rumours and being a traitor to my nation; when I bring up the subject with my old friends, most of them laugh scornfully, as if those events are now irrelevant. But I know that behind this show of derision or apathy lies real fear. Everyone knows that attempts to break the Tiananmen taboo can still destroy a person’s life and the lives of their families. The authorities, for their part, may have a monopoly of the nation’s resources, but they can never fully control the nation’s soul, and every day they live in terror that the intricate stack of lies they have constructed will collapse.

Xidan Book Store, a five-minute walk down Changan Avenue from the Zhongnanhai government compound, is the largest bookshop in Asia. A few days after meeting Chen Guang, I went there to buy a Chinese translation of WG Sebald’s Austerlitz. Like the protagonist, I too am always struggling to find out how many memories a human life needs. This five-floor bookshop sells 100,000 books a day. A huge poster of smiling President Obama is displayed close to the main entrance. Inside you can buy translations of the latest scientific or economic tomes, and books charting China’s 5,000-year history, but you will not find a word about the Tiananmen massacre, or any accurate accounts of the other tragedies that the Communists have inflicted on China since 1949. These missing chapters of the nation’s history weaken the power of every other Chinese text in the shop.

My mobile phone rang. I had arranged a meeting at the bookshop with Liu Hua, a Tiananmen survivor and son of a Beijing University professor. I glanced outside the window and knew at once that it was him. He was the only person in the crowd to have only one arm.

We walked together down Changan Avenue. A cold wind was blowing and the snow on the pavements had been shovelled towards a line of holly trees. The ancient red walls of the Zhongnanhai compound were glimmering in the evening sun. We reached the Liubukou intersection. A few years ago I’d stood here and taken photographs as part of my research for Beijing Coma. At that time, the gap between the eyewitness accounts I’d heard of the carnage that took place at this intersection in 1989 and the mundane reality before my eyes could not be closed without an effort of the imagination. Now, with Liu Hua right beside me, the present scene was instantly merged with the past. He had come on the dawn of 4 June with two young students.

“It happened right here,” he told me, “just by these white railings. A tank charged down Changan Avenue, and sprayed tear gas into the air. There was a big crowd of us. We were coughing and choking. We rushed on to the pavement, and I was squashed back against these railings. A girl dropped to her knees. I was grasping the railings with one hand to stop myself falling and with the other I offered her a handkerchief and told her to use it as a mask. Just as I was leaning over to hand it to her, another tank roared up and careered into us. Thirteen people were crushed to death but I only lost my arm. The tank commander knew exactly what he was doing.” He stared down at the patch of asphalt at his feet and then glanced nervously at the police vans parked on the other side of the road. It was rush hour; cars and taxis were streaming past us.

What a terrifying experience, I said, gripping the white railings.

“Yes, it was,” he replied quite calmly. “But I wasn’t truly afraid until I saw Deng Xiaoping on television, telling the martial law troops: ‘Foreigners say that we opened fire, and that I admit, but to claim that army tanks drove over unarmed citizens, that is a disgraceful slur.’ My scalp tightened. I was a living witness to the truth. What if one day they came to get me? … For two years I never dared go out at night, I never spoke about what happened. Policemen came to interrogate me almost every day, but none of us ever mentioned the tanks. Every anniversary of 4 June, the police would come to my house with pillows and mattresses and sleep on my bedroom floor. Just to stop me speaking to foreign journalists.”

As the sun began to set, we retreated into a restaurant. I stared out at the darkening walls of the Zhongnanhai compound and thought of the government leaders inside sitting down for a family meal in their sumptuous villas, their cats and dogs scampering around their feet.

Liu Hua turned to me and said, “Those bloody Communists! What right did they have to take my arm from me? If they don’t apologise for the crackdown and offer justice for the victims, I’ll take them to the courts!”

“Be sure to keep all your evidence and medical records safe,” I said. “The day of reckoning is bound to come.” I’m always surprised by how much faith the Chinese place in the legal system. In a country that has no rule of law, our only weapon in the fight for justice is the strength of our convictions.

Without these witnesses, we would become more and more distanced from the atrocity. In just 20 years, the Tiananmen generation that inspired people across the world to rise up against tyrannies has faded from view. School teachers, parents, newsreaders and armies of censors have collaborated in numbing a generation. It is left to brave survivors including Liu Hua, Chen Guang, and many others such as Ding Zilin, founder of the “Tiananmen Mothers” support group, to drag the dead back from oblivion and fight for truth.

Not all of those who died on 4 June did so unknowingly. Some chose deliberately to walk towards the rifles. As the bullets were flying towards them, possibly the one thought in their minds was: “This is the darkest moment; afterwards the light will come.” The unfree bodies chose to fall so that millions of others could stand up freely again and trample on the injustices of the past. The only point of self-sacrifice is to force one’s oppressors to live with the burden of guilt.

I think of my brother who 20 years ago fell into a coma. His wife and children abandoned him long ago. Today, he is able to eat, drink and sleep, but has no emotions or self-respect. He can’t speak, but he can sit in front of a television show and laugh himself to tears. Or he can stare at the ceiling for hours on end. He has no control over his life. He is like the Chinese people.

And yet, something extraordinary happened the last time I visited him. I often give him a pen and paper and wait to see what he draws. Sometimes it’s just boxes and crosses; sometimes he’ll write my name or the name of his first girlfriend. But this time, he drew a picture of a horse galloping across an open field. Although the lines were shaky, they were more expressive than any I could have drawn. For a moment, I saw a faint beam of light on his chest, and I knew that there was still hope.

© Ma Jian, May 2009. Translation by Flora Drew. Beijing Coma is published by Vintage. To order a copy for £8.99 with free UK p&p go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009