Thursday, June 5, 2008


Yesterday marked the 19th anniversary of this famous Tiananmen Square moment:

Props to Kai for the reminder, and for the above photo. She also offers up a few lines that I think are more than well-worth sharing: symbolizes the courage to stand up to the power of the machine, everywhere in the world, but especially right in one's own country. Whenever we speak out against imperialism, corporatism, militarism, we're that guy standing in front of those tanks. But we're not alone.
By the time of the student protests taking place in China in 1989, the government had already abandoned Maoism, and could only be called "communist" in name only as its leadership had embraced neoliberal economics. What that ended up meaning was "freedom" only in the sense of commerce, rather than in the sense that was of interest to the Tiananmen Square protesters (i.e., freedom of movement, of imagination, of choice). At the time, I was a 20-something anarchist who found much to admire in what these protesters where doing.

A year later, I would stumble upon a book of poetry by Bei Dao, The August Sleepwalker (an anthology published by New Directions, 1990), that can perhaps be thought of as Chinese Existentialist literature. It seemed serendipitous to find the book right around that anniversary, and there was so much to treasure in that one slender volume. To give you an idea, here's an English translation of a poem he wrote after the 1976 Tiananmen Square protests, "The Answer" (p. 33):
Debasement is the password of the base.
Nobility is the epitaph of the noble.
See how the gilded sky is covered
With the drifting twisted shadows of the dead.

The Ice Age is over now.
Why is there ice everywhere?
The Cape of Good Hope has been discovered.
Why do a thousand sails contest the Dead Sea?

I came into this world
Bringing only paper, rope, a shadow,
To proclaim before the judgement
The voice that has been judged:

Let me tell you world,
I - do - not - believe!
If a thousand challengers lie beneath your feet,
Count me as number one thousand and one.

I don't believe the sky is blue;
I don't believe in thunder's echoes;
I don't believe that dreams are false;
I don't believe that death has no revenge.

If the sea is destined to breach the dikes
Let all the brackish water pour into my heart;
If the land is destined to rise
Let humanity choose a peak for existence again.

A new conjunction and glimmering stars
Adorn the unobstructed sky now;
They are the pictographs from five thousand years.
They are the watchful eyes of future generations.
I come back to this moment in history nearly two decades older, perhaps more steeped in Situationist and Zapatista thought than anarchy per se. In that photo, I see the sort of action that would inspire the Zapatista uprising in 1994 (which has met with a far better fate thus far), which in turn would spawn various other anti-globalism and anti-authoritarian actions. That moment has had something of a ripple effect - one which we'll be watching and hopefully participating in for some time to come. Food for thought.

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