Saturday, November 28, 2020

People of 1989: Lao Mu (老木)

 Liu Weiguo entered Peking University in 1979 as a freshman, majoring in Chinese Language and Literature. He was active on campus, serving as student body President in the department as well as the Vice Chairman of the May Fourth Literature Society in the university. Following the cultural trend at the time, he started to compose poems with the penname "Lao Mu," or "Old Wood." That name quickly became so well-known that his real name almost became irrelevant.

Lao Mu as a college student.

By 1985, he had graduated from college and was working in the Beijing City Party University. That year, he collected many poems in the underground youth movement and published it as a book named New Poem Wave Collection.

Although a rudimentary production, the unofficial publication managed to sell more than 30,000 copies within a year. It made him famous and also brought him trouble. In 1986, during the "Anti-Bourgeois Liberalism" movement, the book and Lao Mu were denounced. He had to leave his work but managed to become an editor for an art journal. 

In February, 1989, Lao Mu helped Chen Jun and Bei Dao to launch the "33 Writers Open Letter" signature gathering, which helped to start a political movement.

Lao Mu did not join the student protest later that year right away. After students started hunger striking, he was among the intellectuals to support as well as to dissuade the students. On May 23, 1989, when the intellectuals formally joined the movement in the name of "Capital Joint Conference," Lao Mu was one of its significant participants. He was appointed to head the propaganda department and worked to consolidate and expand the broadcasting and public relations in the Square.

Lao Mu (center) with Wang Dan (left) and Liu Suli (right) at Tiananmen Square on May 24, 1989.

After the massacre, Lao Mu escaped to France and joined the oversea democracy movement there. However, he dropped out the scene after a few short years and lost contact. He was occasionally spotted in the streets of Paris as an homeless vagrant, suffering from mental and other illness. It wasn't until June, 2016, when he was finally found and brought back to China for treatment by his family members and formal college classmates.

Lao Mu died of cancer at home on November 26, 2020. He was 57.