On June 4, 1989 I was in a small town in New Hampshire, where I had been invited to lead several days of workshops for the town’s teachers.
The folks there put me up in a little motel, to which I gratefully retired after the first day’s work. I ordered out for pizza and while I was eating it I turned on the television.
What is this?
What is happening, and where?
It’s CNN, broadcasting from Beijing. Their camera seems to be looking out a window in an upper floor of a building—a hotel maybe? overlooking a huge plaza of some kind…overflowing with people.
Tiananmen Square. Of course. I had been seeing the news about this, this amazing and bold demonstration by students and other, frustrated and patriotic residents of Beijing. I had been worried about these people, wondering what their government might do to them.
And now I could see. For many hours, on into the morning, I sat in my safe, distant motel room—seeing, watching, gaping at the terrible spectacle at which the camera allowed me to be present.
I could hear the CNN people talking behind the roiling images—“Did you see that? Did we get that? Are you okay?”—but, at least the way I recall this night now, no one had the temerity to “narrate” the events in the streets below.
The camera just sat there, my eye on truth. Neither comment nor interpretation was needed.
Sixteen years later, I stood myself in Tiananmen Square. Surreptitiously I made an image of that street where the Tank Man, carrying his little plastic bags of groceries, faced down the hideous enemy. You can see my image above.
I understand that many Chinese people, these days, do not know what the Tank Man image is about. That is tragic, since the reason for their ignorance is their government’s fear of them.
But the tumult of our world is so much in flux. So much so that I could stand at least with some impunity in a place where only a few years before, not only could I not have stood but would not even been allowed to enter. I speak of the “Red China” of my childhood.
I could speak of Viet Nam, of Guam, of Srinigar. Of the Uighur Autonomous Region. Of Normandy and Gettysburg. Of Egypt—what tourists would go at present? Of Russia. Of Japan and Germany…once our bitterest and hateful enemies, now our allies.
All places to which I have traveled. The door to some of them was closed in the past, but then opened and I could enter. To some of them the open door through which I passed has now closed. At least for now.
Perhaps at some time in the future, the Chinese and other peoples feared by their own governments will at last be allowed to know things and thus to understand their own truth. And we can all come and go as we wish. Without fear.
That will be a glorious day.
Chip 01:15pm, 06/09/2014
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