Friday, January 11, 2008

One Professor's "Last Lesson" on Tiananmen

Eighteen years after the Tiananmen Massacre, that historical event remains to be one of the biggest taboo in China. Even the official version is not being taught in classrooms. The subject just can not be mentioned.

But this week, at the University of Political Science and Law (政法大学), an Associate Professor by the name of Xiao Han (萧瀚) mentioned it during his "last lesson" to his class. It was supposed to be the last class of the semester and Xiao was unusually emotional. He prepared his lecture notes for a week before delivered it.

Citing the famous novel by Alphonse Daudet, Xiao told the students that although their situation is not as dire as the French in that novel, it is nevertheless an emotional time. He expressed his regret that he had been teaching only the knowledge, but not the value of life. And he went on:

Compared to you, I am already too old: I am almost twice as old as you are. If you were born in 1987, at the beginning of that year, China's college students went on the streets for the first time, asking for political reform with their passion, blood, faith, and youth. There was no results -- or worse than no results. Two years later, in 1989, when you were probably only 3 years old, in that summer, even more students, with even more blood and youth, tried to wake up this sleepy nation. But many of them left their blood in the [Tiananmen] Square. Only one body remains in that Square now. But the blood can not be cleansed. It will last longer than any real tombstone... ... The names of those people had been erased from all files. We don't even know who they are. Some among you probably don't even know that had happened. But for us, for myself who had experienced that time, it was the most important social event of my life. It deeply affects my life.

One more year, this event would have passed for twenty years. Time passed so fast. We didn't even have time to let our tears flow, yet our tears had already run dry. We didn't have time to remember, but our memory had already been lost. But I know, anyone who had experienced that event like me, will forever remember it deep in his heart. And now and then he will take it out and give it a good remembrance. That event represented our youth, the first broken dream of any young people who concerned about the world, the broken heart of a failed first love with this society. It cannot help but to be sculptured in our hearts and bones.
A week after delivering this lecture, Professor Xiao resigned from the school. His resignation was not prompted by his above lecture or for political reason. Rather, he was fed up by an incident in his school in which a professor was involved in a physical fight with a student during a dispute on class attendance. Maybe that was just the last straw for Professor Xiao, who is obviously deeply disappointed with the current status of education in China.

Due to its sensitive subject, the University of Political Science and Law had long been a very conservative school in Beijing. However, in the early days of 1989, it was from this school many students first marched to Tiananmen to commemorate Hu Yaobang's death, led by several young teachers from Beida.

Maybe Professor Xiao Han was one of them as well.

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