A Dream Shattered by Gunshots

The “North March” by the Confederation of the Nanjing Universities — In Memory of the 23rd Anniversary of June 4th Massacre

Author’s note: It took me years to write this article, with numerous revisions one after another.  I endeavored to recall all the details that are hard to recall now, including the accurate names of many people mentioned here.  I can only hope that the errors of memories could be minimized so that the most unforgettable time in my life, the “North March” could be best reflected with truth.  

I had not been able to muster the courage to publicize this article.  Yet this year, when I witnessed again the massive gathering in HongKong in commemoration of the 23rd Anniversary of June 4th Massacre, I could no longer deny the thoughts that had been boiling underneath me for all these years.  Let me free myself this one time!  So I sent out this article.  I hope all the schoolmates who read it could relate to how I feel at this moment.  — Tao Li Bu Yan

It has been 23 years.  Every time that summer night walks into my thought, it casts me into silence….

It has been a predictable routine that June is my busiest season.  All the final exams and graduation exams all happen at this time.  However, no matter how busy and tired I am, every June 4, I would change into blacks and take out the candles given to me by my students, sit in front the window alone after kindling the candles.  The flickering of the candlelight keeps the company of my eyes and walks me into the darkness of my shattered dream by the gunshots.

All my four happy years of college were spent in the floral Nanjing Teacher’s College.  Nanjing, the city with thousands of years of history and culture, the capital of Republic of China, has always had its crouching tigers and hidden dragons, which made our college years that much more colorful with cultural nurturing.  Yet a shocking sad news fell upon us in the spring of 1989, right when we were dreaming about our lives after graduation: Yaobang Hu, the Communist Party Secretary, just died.  At first, like everyone else, I was not too saddened by the news.  When crowds of students began flooding the Bell Tower Square for the vigil service, I just went to the library with a few of my best friends to prepare for the final exams.  Our light-heartedness by shutting out all the outside affairs was soon disrupted by the demonstrations around campus every morning.  Going with the flow, I went with all the other students to the Bell Tower Square for the next few days.  My overall impression was that the demonstrations were poorly organized.  Some of them gave speeches on the stage that I really did not think too much of.  They were rambling on without making themselves clearly understood.  However, I did recognize that instead of putting on a show, they were doing something they truly believed in: patriotism and anti-corruption.

Soon afterwards, I got to know a girl whose name was Min Zhao, an undergraduate from the Foreign Languages Department of Nanjing University.   Due to the fact we both majored foreign languages, and she was older than me, we soon became good chatting friends.  She remained a figure of grace in my memory.  It was she who changed my wrongful impression that those who joined the students’ demonstrations were losers who could not get anywhere academically.  After all the demonstrations were cracked down, I was shocked to find out that the student couple from the Confederation of Beijing Universities who got married in the Tiananmen Square: the groom was Lu Li and bride was Min Zhao!  (Lu Li was amongst the 21 students issued warrants by the Beijing Public Security Bureau.  He went in exile to U.S. afterwards.)

When the hunger strike commenced, I could no longer focus on my books in the library.  I was pushed by my dormmates every day to send water to the students on the square.  I was deeply troubled to see some of the boys on the verge of dehydration under the blazing sun, with the white bands on the heads. They were not eating or drinking. I tried to talk to them, “Please drink some water no matter what.  Hunger strike does not mean water strike.”  You know what?  They turned around and tried to persuade us girls, “We’ll start drinking water if you girls join us with hunger strike.”

Thus, the first girl in our dormitory who got pulled into hunger strike, then the second one, the third…… By the time I joined them, our entire class could basically be found in the Square by and large.  By now, I guess I could finally say that I joined the students’ demonstration. 

After spending a few days in the square, I started closely observing and seriously thinking about the substance and purpose of this demonstration.  Of course, I also started paying attention to a few student leaders, who were rated as student leaders of the 1989 Students Movements.  Actually, they were no different than any student walking past by.  To put it fancier, they were “big boys”.  To put it candidly, I regarded them as high school students because of the childlike looks they had.  The first student leader I came into contact with was a student from Nanjing University with a pair glasses and a bit curly hair.  He always had a speaker in his hand.  He introduced himself as Qing Liu, one of the members of the Students Standing Committee.  I thought he looked like Qiubai Qu, one of the earliest leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, a typical look of revolutionist with a pale face of a student.  It was hard to remember Liu’s words from his speeches.  His body language of clenching his fists, however, bore more power than his words.

I met the second student leader in one of the afternoons after Beijing announced martial law on May 20.  I went to the Square looking for one of my dorm mates for the room key.  When passing the broadcasting station in the Bell Square, I saw a male student with long hair standing there.  One of my schoolmates from the Nanjing Teachers’ College, who was also there, told me his name was Xuedong Chen, an “A” student from Physics Department of Nanjing University, chairman of the Confederation of the Nanjing Universities.  Maybe because he was a science major, even though he had a real hoarse voice, his delivery of speech was smooth with well-structured language.  The only thing is that he seemed to be very tired and was yawning at times, which I could understand.  They worked day and night and slept very little.

The days were filled with daily marching and demonstrations.  Speeches were given every day in front of the cafeteria, but the strong wording of the speeches had started to tone down.

However, the passions took a turn and started to flame up towards the end of May.

If I recalled correctly, on the day of May 29, as soon as they returned from the square, all the girls of our dorm were talking about packing for the “North March”.  Everybody was ecstatic, saying they just heard the speeches at the Nanjing University.  All the colleges in Nanjing were getting ready for the North March.  Everyone seemed to be head-over-toe with the initiator of the North March: “OMG! He’s so tall and handsome, such a natural speech maker!”  I asked them what the North March was.  They told me proudly that it was actually military-style marching from Nanjing to Beijing.  I thought it was the craziest idea: walking from Nanjing to Beijing!  I remember the boot camp in my freshman year, everyone’s feet were covered with blisters with just a few kilometers.  There was a very heated debate that night in our dorm about the “North March”.  Many of us thought it would be quite significant, because it not only let us interact with students from other cities who were also marching towards Beijing, but also put pressure on the Li Peng (then Chinese premier) Government with such a big presence, forcing him to start dialogues with students and acknowledge the students’ organization with the patriotic sentiment, which meant to help eliminate the corruptions of the country.  Others thought with marching over 1,000 kilometers between Nanjing and Beijing, it would be too much of a physical challenge for the students.  The trains could take us to Beijing just fine.  I did not really join the debate, but honestly speaking, more than a month had passed with camping out in the Square, with either slogans or demonstrations or sit-ins.  Not a single word had been heard from the government.  The only thing the hunger strike did was causing damages to our health with serving any purpose.  I thought the days were boring and useless.  We would be better off going back to school.  However, with the zealous praises about the “North March” organizer, I decided to join them to go to Nanjing University and take a look at him.

In Nanjing University on May 30, I got to see Jianmin Wu, the legendary speech maker.  When I first heard of his name, I did not think of anything positive, because that name was identical with a Chinese diplomat, whom I had a chance to listen to at a symposium.  Honestly, he (the diplomat) disgusted me being full of the perfect politically correct words delivered through the most bureaucratic tone.  Other than that, he just looked like a running leg.  Therefore, when I matched the name with the person delivering speech on the stage right now, I made a point of differentiating the two different persons.  That day, Jianmin Wu was calling for all the colleges in Nanjing to form their own teams marching North.  I raised my head trying to catch a glimpse of him.  He was standing on a desk, tall and lean with a bit pale face.  It would be over the board to compliment him as “handsome”, but it is not a bit of exaggeration to say he looked like a beam of sunshine.  I was deeply attracted from the moment I listened to his talking, with a coarse but passionate voice.  That voice lingered around my ears throughout all the years afterwards: “Schoolmates!  Our North March is to march along the path of democracy towards Beijing, towards Tiananmen Square.  We want to let our voices heard by the central government, by Li Peng, that we want to legally register ‘The Confederation of Colleges of the Country’.  We are not rioters.  We are truly the patriotic young generation!”  

I hurried to find out which department he was from Nanjing University…how come we did not have such a phenomenal speech maker in the Teachers’ College?  But no one told me which department he belonged to, except that he was from the Confederation of Colleges in Nanjing.

Lina was my high school classmate and was recruited by the department of Electronic Engineering of the  Southeast University.  That night she came to my dorm to look for me, trying to see if I was marching north, because her school did not organize it at all.  My hesitation of doing it dissipated with Lina’s company.  We immediately started preparations.  We spent the whole day of May 31 doing preparations with both feeling an inexplicable emotions and excitement.  Lina and I bought flashlight, medicines, with two bulging duffle bags and two smaller packs.  Now thinking retrospectively, had it not been the male students who helped us carry all these bags, there would have been no way we could join the North March no matter how much our hearts desired it.

I remember it was June 1, a holiday that the children love the most.  It was the day we launched our “North March”.   There were many students going for North March from our Teachers’ College in Nanjing.  When Lina and I went to the Bell Tower Square, it was already late.  The flags from all the colleges were flying in the wind and a ceremony on the stage was in progress handing over the Leadership Flag as the official launch of the North March.  The red letters embroidered on white side of the flag saying, “The wind is rippling over the cold river.  Brave fighters are expected to return with victory.”  The flag was being handed by the representative of the Confederation of Beijing Universities and Qing Liu, chairman of the commanding committee of the Confederation of Nanjing University.  Then it was the speech made by Jianmin Wu.  It was very noisy around the square.  The only thing I could hear was his commanding order that the North March had started.  With the upbeat and heroic music broadcasted by the speaker on the square, the marching crowds started its slow movement.

By the time we came to the Yangtze River Bridge, I already started to feel exhausted and started to doubt my physical durability to make all the way to Beijing.

As we marched on, we were given the flyers by the students of the Teachers’ College, who all worked for the Propaganda Department of the North March.  We were asked to pass the flyers on to all the workers and students along the way.  The only person I knew was Xuanping Ji, majored in Physical Education in our college.  Besides their own luggage, all the girls had to carry loads of flyers and pamphlets, and the boys had to carry mimeograph, while my luggage was being carried by some male students in our college including small bags.  I was embarrassed to walk with empty hands, so I wanted to ask the leaders of the headquarters what I could possibly help with.

There were three of them in the procession of North March.  Qing Liu was leading the procession of Nanjing University, who marched up front.  In the middle of that procession was the secretarial sector led by Jianmin Wu.  Up front of our Teachers’ College was the huge red flag with big yellow characters “Headquarter of the Democracy Long March to North by the Nanjing Universities”.  There were several students working for the secretarial sector, one of whom had a family name of “Guo”, who said she came from the East China Technology Institute from Xiaolingwei.  The one in charge of the secretarial sector was a girl in glasses with short hair, who helped Jianmin Wu carry the bag of all the materials.  Her name was Yanqun Tang, also a student from the Technology Institute.  She was a dutiful worker.  Often times her face was burned with sunshine and covered with sweat and she was too focused in the work to wipe them off, with her hands holding on to the materials bag.  It was obvious that Wu trusted her a lot, putting her in charge of all the manuscripts, maps and minutes of meetings.  Lina and I joked with her by calling her the “Primary Secretary”.  Lina even teased Tang, “Don’t you forget about us if you made the good fortune!”  I stopped Lina by saying, “You thought we were Sheng Chen and Guang Wu?” (Note: Chen and Wu were gallant riot leaders of the farmers in Chinese history.)

In talking further with Tang, I found out that Jianmin Wu was not a student from Nanjing University, but some “Management Institute” of the Jiangsu Province.  No wonder he was not well trusted by the students of Nanjing University for leading such a huge marching group!  At the time, everyone in the Standing Committee of the Confederation of the Nanjing Universities was unanimously from the Nanjing University and no one else could join in.  Tang also told me that during lunch meeting, someone from the Consulting Department of Nanjing University got into an argument with Wu.  It was not until someone from the Standing Committee of the Confederation of the Nanjing Universities with the last name of Huang, who verified the student identity of Wu, that the dispute was put to an end.  I thought the students from Nanjing University were being stupid – did it make any sense to argue about Wu’s identity as a student at this stage of the North March?? Aside from the school bus he came with, the fact that he was talked to numerous times by his school’s officials who demanded his return to school, was sufficient to prove everything.  EVEN IF he were not a student, to be able to launch such a massive North March on behalf of the Confederation of the Nanjing Universities, did it not serve as direct evidence in of itself of his democratic thoughts and patriotic passions?  Aside from students, other people from other walks of life, such as workers, farmers or intellectuals, did they not have the right to join in the fight for democracy?

Honestly speaking, I really admire Mr. Wu’s abilities.  He not only managed to convince the students from Nanjing University who heckled with him, but also recruited them to be part of the procession of North March.  Everyone in the procession from different colleges, all seemed to readily listen to him.  It was conceivable that during the month of the students demonstrations, those from Nanjing University dictated everything without being willing to listen to anyone else, which resulted in resistance from the other colleges, especially our Teachers’ College and that of Hai He.  If it were something that did not have to be discussed with the Nanjing University, everyone would come to Jianmin Wu, who was also decisive in decision making, putting everything into execution once the decision had been made.

During the marching procession, I had a few chances to have a closer look at Wu.  Regretfully, I never spoke with him.  Quite a few times, my words were hanging right at the tip of my tongue but with a thumping heart, I barely had the courage to break the silence.  Jianmin Wu always seemed to be full of energy, and his strong persona affected everyone around him.  His confidence was exuding from his eyes.  The way he delivered his speeches and the composure in leading such a mass march made me think he must have been much older than us.  Later on when Tang showed me his student ID, I found out that he was barely that much older than us.  His courage and astuteness naturally reminded me of the famous saying “Talents emerge generations after generations, each of which would lead for centuries.” 

Wu was extremely busy during the march, always needed by someone.  Either someone from the “expedition group” came up to him on a bicycle inquiring about the place to take a break, or the medical staff would approach him requesting to send the female students to an ambulance who could no longer walk.  All the way along the North March, many school buses were sent by colleges and local governments, as well as the emergency ambulances following us.  Many a time I had wanted to hop on an ambulance but was too embarrassed to act up.  

It was baking hot in June in Nanjing, and the marching made it worse.  The procession slowed down significantly.  Per the plan from the headquarter, we were supposed to march into Anhui Province from Nanjing.  The news came that as soon as we left in the morning, Peng Li (then Chinese premier) called the Jiangsu Provincial Party Committee to see to it that we be contained in Jiangsu.  The main purpose of the students headquarter was to break through the blockage and fast march into a small town in Anhui called Wu Yi.

The unthinkable happened that afternoon.  A car sent by the local government abruptly pulled over by us.  Upon opening of the doors, four or five gigantic guys jumped out and grabbed Jianmin Wu onto the car.  I was dumbfounded right there.  Tang and several girls from the secretarial sector started screaming.  Some girls from my class all ran up to the car.  I was dragged to join several girls and laid down in front of the SUV, which started backing off and drove away with a U-turn. By the time we realized what happened and got up, our General Leader had been abducted.  Everyone was at a loss.  We were thankful that soon afterwards, our college’s leaders Shu Wei and Ruilan Zhou came to tell us to march on and we would take a break at the Pearl Spring, which was just around the corner ahead, and that the headquarter would let us know what the next step would be.  Lina and I walked with the students from the secretarial sector till it was all dark.  We finally arrived at the Pearl Spring.  

As exhausted as I was that night, I was not able to fall asleep.  I saw that Qing Liu from the headquarter and another leading figure from the Nanjing Postal College with a red headquarter armband were talking with bottled waters in their hands.  They too, looked exhausted and frustrated sitting by the cement pillars by the steps.  Leaders of various colleges were all making inquiries but could not agree on what the next step should be.  Some insisted entering Anhui that night.  Others said we should camp right where we were.  During the night without a true leader, Lina and I wondered many times if we should return with the school buses.  Needless to say, we were worried about Jianmin Wu from the headquarter.  What would the government do to him after taking him away?  The day broke between our dozes.  We were called for breakfast.  Before leaving, I saw Xuedong Chen, chairman of the Confederation of Nanjing Universities and asked him, “Are you leading us to continue the North March?”  He answered, “Jianmin and I are in charge of different things.  He leads you to march north, and I stay at the Nanjing headquarter.  Don’t worry…Jianmin is negotiating with the officials from the government.  I have to return to school soon and the Secretary of Nanjing University Xingchen Han is waiting for us.  Rest assured that Jianmin will return to the North March procession soon.  I will have a call with him right after I return school.” 

Our concerns were somewhat relieved by Chen’s words, and so we marched on.  We heard that part of the procession by some colleges had already crossed the border of Anhui. The whole procession was still a mess with all of us wondering what would be waiting for us at the end of the march.  Teachers from all the school buses that drove along were calling for us to return to schools with them but we resisted the lure.  Other than several students who fell due to heat stroke and were carried away by ambulance, very few of us got on the school buses.  Students from the Teachers’ College still remained in the middle of the procession, still following the girls from the secretarial sector of the headquarter.  It was about noon time when a car drove towards us and stopped at a distance beyond us.  There was a roar of excitement once the door opened and I went up to the crowd to see what was going on.  There was Jianmin Wu, chatting with the students from the secretarial sector, looking ever so undaunted and dominating.  I was overwhelmed with exhilaration.  By the time I made my way to be in front of him, he already moved to the front of the process with someone from the expedition team on a bicycle, to join Qing Liu.  

When we arrived at the Chuzhou Teachers’  Institute of Anhui Province, the whole procession was taking a break.  We were told the marching would resume next day.  The ChuzhouTeachers’ Institute was in a holiday mood.  All its students as well as the local people all came to support us by sending us water, food and medicines.  All the preparations of all the colleges were in good order.  We were given new pink armbands that said “Democracy Long March”, because the old yellow armbands were worn by many people from governments disguised as students and joined our procession.  Therefore, the headquarter decided to change to the pink armbands that were made ready beforehand.  I started to come down with fever that day.  The students from the Chuzhou Teachers’ Institute sent over the doctors from the college and took me and Linda for hot showers.  I was still a bit dizzy after taking the medicine.  Luckily Lina was a sports jock and much stronger than me.  I was able to recuperate with her care.  Honestly speaking, that day at the Chuzhou Teachers’ Institute, not sure why I suddenly felt a sense of security.  I felt that Jianmin Wu was like a stabilizer.  With his return to our procession, all we needed to do was to fellow.

After dinner, we were walking in the yard.  Wu and several others from the headquarter were examining the students from different colleges.  When they came to us, Lina joked with Wu: “Mr. General Leader, how come you don’t take a look at the group from our Nanjing Teachers’ College?  We have a lot of girls who long to talk about democracy with you!”  Wu stopped and told Lina, “Aren’t you from the Eastern University?  Since when are you from Nanjing Teachers’ College?”  Lina blushed: “How do you know I was from the Eastern University?”  Wu took a look at her, “I used to see you at the Sand Pond.  Weren’t you from the Student Committee along with Haihong Cai?”  Lina seemed to remember it and blabbed out, “How come Xiaohong Liu didn’t come with you for the North March?”  Wu hesitated for a moment without saying anything.  He turned around and left with all the others.  A few words drifted over from him, “She is against my North March.”

By this time, Lina started revealing to me all the details.  As a matter of fact, Wu was no stranger to her.  Wu was a relative with Haihong Cai, a student from Beijing who was in the Department 2 of her college.  Lina and Haihong both worked for the Students Committee and knew each other very well.  From the ’85 Eastern University, there were two beauties from Changshu, Suzhou, both were sports lovers like Lina.  One of them was Meijuan Wu, the other Xiaohong Liu.  Department 2 was Mechanical Engineering and had few girls, so Lina knew them all.  The “Sand Pond” was the dormitory area of the Eastern University.  Xiaohong Liu, Wu’s girlfriend, shared the same dorm with Haihong.  After listening to Lina, I had a feeling that Wu is the kind of man with stories.

On the day of June 4, we were on the road from Chuzhou to Bangbu.  In the afternoon, many students rushed from Nanjing via school buses, asking us to go back and that the martial troops of Beijing had forced their way into the (Tiananmen) Square.  Gunshots had been fired and people were killed.  We were dubious of the story.  One of our students’ father was from the military and her mother came to us by the school bus.  The mother pulled her daughter onto the bus without much said.  That was how Lina, I and all the girls of our dorm had returned.  The moment we boarded the bus, I was filled with conflicted thoughts: “Is this how our North March, our dream of democracy comes to an end?”

Yes.  That was indeed how it ended.  June 4 – on the June 4 twenty three years ago, my dream of democracy was shattered with the chilling gunshots.

After returning to my school, the campus started the cleansing movement.  Everybody returned to homes from school.  Nobody was allowed to stay on campus.  The graduation ceremony had been postponed with the graduating students being asked to return in September at Commencement after finishing their exams.  During the summer break, I learned from TV and newspaper about the arrest warrants of Xuedong Chen, Jianmin Wu, Qing Liu, and many other student leaders whom I was familiar or unfamiliar with.  I realized that the government’s “settlement seeking” had started.  Mu Yuan, the spokesman from the State Department, had promised on national TV that there would be no “settlement seeking” afterwards, and that no student would be pursued for responsibilities.  That all turned out to be political lies and deceits.

The life after graduation slowly quieted down, but I have always thought about those few student leaders from the Confederation of Nanjing Universities.  Knowing some of the student leaders from the Confederation of Beijing had arrived in US, at one point I was naïve to think those in Nanjing would be able to do the same and that they would somehow escape the persecutions.

I was sad to learn from Lina that they were all arrested. The students rescue plan by the government of the United States only targeted those from Beijing.  Those days were shrouded with suffocating political atmosphere.  No one dared to shout anything, nor would anyone volunteer the involvement in the students demonstrations.  In Nanjing, “North March” became words of taboo.  The window in my heart had since been shut tight.  Only the nights before the June 4 of every year, when I face the candles by myself, my sealed memories get to have a momentary breath of air.

Twenty three years have passed.  I wonder if all my schoolmates are well…if all the student leaders have regained freedom?  How are they doing?  Are they having a hard life right now?  No one has an answer for me.  I can only pray for them in my heart.  Every year on June 4, I believe they will remember like I do the “Democracy North March” that has been embedded in our lives.  I also hope they could read my article soaked with tears.  How I wish one day I could meet them again and have a good cry with them!

June 19, 2012

On the night of commemorating the 23rd anniversary of June 4





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