Published: June 23, 2013
I didn’t know who Du Bin (杜斌) was until recently when he had made, and released in Hong Kong and online, a documentary (1 hour, with subtitles) about the atrocities at Masanjia Women’s Labor Camp, following an exposé by The Lens magazine in April. Predictably, the online uproar was quickly censored, the magazine suspended, the women who had talked to the journalists threatened. An investigation promised by the local government has not and may never come.
On May 31, Du Bin was taken away by security police from his rented apartment in Beijing on charges of “provoking disturbances.” So far, his relatives have not received the notice of detention to which they are entitled by law. However, the security police insisted that they had sent it in the first 24 hours of Du’s detention.
According to his sister, who is on Twitter now (@dujirong2013), Du Bin’s lawyer met with him on June 17 and learned that his interrogations had been centered on the 600-page book Tian’anmen Massacre which Du Bin compiled. The book was published on May 23 in Hong Kong.
I had the opportunity to browse an electronic copy of the book. It is a compilation of many people’s memoirs of the 27 hours from 9pm, June 3, to 12:00 am, June 5, 1989. It juxtaposes recollections of various people– students, residents, journalists, and even the soldiers – who were in the same or different locations, hour by hour. The book moves chronologically. For example:
Gongzhufen (公主坟) Muxidi (木樨地) Xidan (西单) Liubukou (六部口) Tian’anmen Square
Chang’an Avenue Chang’an Avenue
At 9:40pm, the time when the massacre started on Chang’an Avenue (长安街, Eternal Peace Avenue) west of Tian’anmen, 203 officers and soldiers wrote in a letter to Jiang Zemin in 1998: “At 21:40, June 3, 1989, the troops enforcing martial law received orders from headquarters that ‘[they] must reach the planned areas to complete the task to clear Tian’anmen Square at all costs…,’ and we were given the permission to ‘open fire in self-defense and to firmly suppress the counter-revolutionary riot.’ As a result our soldiers started shooting anyone we saw.”
A survivor, who was somewhere between Xidan and Liubukou, also west of the Square on Chang’an Avenue, recalled the moment shortly before 10pm: “Students and residents surrounded three military trucks and separated them from the troops in front of them to argue with them. Suddenly a few dozen soldiers jumped off the last truck with assault weapons in hand, all of them wearing officers’ caps, and they started shooting at the people who were only a few meters away.
Many fell, the rest of the crowd dispersed, and I was among them. But those cold-blooded soldiers continued to shoot, the blue light of gunfire peppered on the ground around me. I thought I would be hit if I kept running, so I quickly crouched behind a concrete barrier. The bullets kept flying, my face was cut by the cement debris. A boy next to me was hit at the buttocks and the wound was as big as a rice bowl……
At the same time, a young man by the name of Gao Wenjun recalled the scene in Gongzhufen where Beijing residents and students, armed with rocks and other objects, were trying to stop troops moving eastward. “A few hundred soldiers near the military trucks, some holding guns and others wooden bats, suddenly started to attack. Residents and students quickly withdrew, and the troops chased after them. Some scaled the dividing walls to safety; those who couldn’t were beaten badly. Around me people screamed, cried and cursed.”
Precious little nuggets are found throughout the book, such as this one: At 9 am, June 4th, after the square was cleared of the students and occupied by troops, Song Shuyuan, the organizer of a motorcycle team that named themselves “the flying tigers,” turned on the TV at home. There was no broadcasts. “The screen was a gray blankness,” he wrote. “All of a sudden a line of handwriting appeared: ‘When a regime is about to die, it tells a lie as big as the sky.’ …. This lasted for a few seconds before the grayish blank screen resumed. Without any images, one could hear the faint singing of Peking opera. It was Little Changbao (小常宝, heroine of one of the revolutionary model operas, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy) singing ‘the hatred that’s buried in my heart will sprout.’”
In a three-dimensional, hour-by-hour manner (often in increments of 15 minutes), the book moves on to organize the memories of hundreds of people from all walks of life, and many corners of the city, to present as complete a picture as possible of what happened during those 27 hours. “No one can completely restore the Tian’anmen massacre,” Du Bin wrote in his preface, “I have carefully sorted and selected these materials in print. What the book can do is to outline this anti-human massacre through witnessed moments and scenes so that we can peek into the blood, the roar and the death, as well as the ubiquitous lies, horror and evil.”
It is a unique book compiled by someone with a focused mind, diligent hands and an artistic vision. It aims at reconstructing one day, just one day, that seems to be looming larger, and beckoning, as time moves on. Twenty-four years on, the Party is still so uneasy about any mention of the event that they feel compelled to lock up Du Bin, a lone memory collector, in prison.
They will have to understand that memories are our most private possessions that can never be destroyed, and that, as Du Bin puts it, “Our deepest love, strongest disgust, and worst pain must be made to be seen, all because we are human beings.”
Free Du Bin.