Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hu Yaobang's Funeral

Hu Yaobang's funeral on April 22, 1989, was one of the most dramatic event in the 1989 movement. However, the report on New York Times that day was disappointedly simple and flat and missed most of the drama:
A crowd defying a ban on public protests swelled to more than 100,000 Friday night in Beijing's central square to press demands for more democracy. It was by far the biggest protest in China since the end of the Maoist era more than a dozen years ago.
Tens of thousands of university students later camped all night in the square, to foiling Government plans to close off the area in the morning and keep them from holding a mass rally today.
As the students chanted for democracy, China's top officials, guarded by the military, entered the Great Hall of the People this morning for memorial ceremonies for the former Communist Party leader, Hu Yaobang, whose death last week touched off the demonstrations.
The sheer size of the crowd and the level of dissatisfaction it reflected seemed certain to put new pressure on the Government, although no one seemed to know whether China's leaders are more likely to react with concessions or with a crackdown.
The day before, it had been publicly announced that the Tiananmen Square would be sealed off at 8am for the funeral possession. On the same day, Big Posters bearing the signature of the "Provisional Action Committee", concocted by Liu Gang and Wuer Kaixi in the rain, showed up in all campuses in Beijing. It announced that all students should march to Beijing Normal University by 9pm, each person with enough food and drink to stay the night in the Square.

So they came, at Beijing Normal University, student possessions, with their school flags, kept pouring in from 7pm, almost like the parade of nation in the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games. Wuer Kaixi displayed his remarkable leadership skill for the first time in public. Riding on a bicycle with a bullhorn, he zigzagged throughout the field and managed to arrange all the schools in an orderly formation. Then, at 9pm, he climbed on top of a pair of parallel bars abd made a brief speech. He declared the establishment of a "Beijing Provisional Student Union", although no such thing actually existed. But it was okay, he was greeted by a thundering applause.

Then the students marched out, in five columns, with picket lines on each side. They reached the Square just after midnight. Caught off guard, police there couldn't do anything but let them marching into the Square. As the night turning into dawn, more and more students and even residents joined in.

As the funeral started at 10am, the 100,000 strong students in the Square stood in attention, listening to the broadcast from loudspeakers. A thick wall of police stood in front of them, guarding the entrance of the Great Hall of People. Ge Yang, a prominent magazine editor who attended the service inside remarked later that "a wall of brute force" had split the land into two sides, on one side laid Hu Yaobang's body, but on the other side was "his soul".

The "wall" of security was not necessary, as the students never planed to rush the funeral. They stood there waited, and waited. The custom of such funeral was that the funeral possession carrying Hu Yaobang's body would slowly drive around the Square before heading for the crematorium. The students waited for that to pay their last respect. But they waited in vain. Finally they learned that the hearse had skipped the Square all together and already left.

That's when the anger and chaos took over. The idea of storming the Hall crossed Wuer Kaixi's mind. But other student leaders nearby stopped him just in time. Three of them, Guo Haifeng, Zhou Yongjun, and Zhang Ziyong, took a copy of their 7-point petition and somehow walked through the police line and got on the stairs of the Great Hall of People.

Right there, with nobody from inside to greet them, Guo Haifeng knelt down and raised the petition high above his head with both hands. The other two followed suite. The three of them froze in their pose, right under the national emblem on top of the Great Hall.

A shock wave swept through the crowd in the Square. Everyone was in tears. Wuer Kaixi was screaming, to no one in particular, "I did not kneel down! They did!! But I did not kneel down!!!" He later remembered:
The soldiers began to beat us when we tried to leave the steps of the Great Hall. They really beat us, too. When we were finally out of Tiananmen Square, I fainted from hunger and exhaustion.

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