Saturday, March 26, 2011

People of 1989: Haizi (海子)

The spring of 1989 was an interesting time. The year was abundant of upcoming significant anniversaries, or eager anticipations for them. Professor Fang Lizhi had started that year by issuing an open letter to Deng Xiaoping appealing for an amnesty of all political prisoners. The intellectual circle in the capital was abuzz with several supporting letters. Those were early signs of a gathering storm.

On March 26 that year, however, a lonely, skinny man quietly laid down his body across a railroad track in a remote mountain area outside of Beijing. When his body was later discovered, there were four books with him, a copy of the Bible and three literature books. He left a simple note, "I am a teacher in the University of Political Science and Law. My name is Cha Haisheng (查海生). My death has nothing to do with any other person."

The man named Cha Haisheng was much better known by his pen-name Haizi ("Song of the Sea").

In 1979, Haizi became a student in the Department of Law of Peking University at the mere age of 15. He graduated four years later and was assigned a teaching job at UPSL. Like any other college students of his generation, his career path was smooth and uneventful.

But Haizi had a passion for poetry. He caught the bug in the exciting years of early 1980s. Unlike most of the poems at the time, whose political undertones were obvious, his were a longing to a simpler, rural life. One of his poems stated,
From tomorrow, be a man of happiness,
Tend horses, split woods, and travel the world,
From tomorrow, pay attention to grain and vegetables,
I have a house, facing the great sea,
With spring warmth and blossoming flowers.

Yet his longing did not match the time of radical changes and reform. His disappointment of the materialistic reality and a future of commercialism eventually drove him into desperation. He was only 25 when he ended his own life.

Merely weeks after his unfortunate death, Hu Yaobang passed away and the largest student demonstration took place. Many of Haizi's friends and fellow poets participated in the movement. When they were immersed in the idealist and romantic scenes of a popular revolution, they felt sorry for Haizi's poor sense of timing. If only he had waited for a month... ...

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