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By Fang Zheng, published: June 3, 2014
The Morning in Liubukou
In the spring of 1989, I was a college senior in Beijing Sports College, and one of the tens of thousands of students who took part in the Tian’anmen democracy movement. I was in the Square most of those days. I marched, participated in sit-ins, helped the rescue effort when students went on a hunger strike – there were 3,000 of them. They began to collapse. And, after May 19 when Martial Law was announced, I was part of the student patrol to protect the square.
During the days leading up to June 4th, the atmosphere was getting steadily grimmer. The announcement broadcast to us after dark on June 3rd was threatening: the military will do whatever it takes to quashthe anti-revolutionary riot and clear out the Square. I felt something would happen that night, I thought I should stay and, together with the last few thousand students, we should defend our ground in the Square.
We were scared, but at the same time I did not believe they would shoot us. Around 10 o’clock, the news of shooting and death at a nearby intersections came. We also could see the gunfire and hear the shooting. We knew that the troops were very close and coming closer. The last few thousands of students gathered around the Martyr’s Monument surrounded by makeshift tents. Then I met a girl from my college. She was scared and wanted to stay with me. I told her to calm down. I said we had been completely peaceful and there was nothing to fear.
Around 2:30 in the morning or so, about 100 soldiers, armed and in battle fatigues, came out of the Great Hall of the People. They made their way to the top tier of the Martyr’s Monument where the student command center was, and shot down the speakers. Sometime around four o’clock, the Four Gentlemen of the Tiananmen Square (Liu Xiaobo, Hou Dejian, Gao Xin, and Zhou Duo) reached an agreement for the students to leave the Square safely. After discussions and voting, it was decided that we were going to leave from the southeastern corner. At the time, tanks had already encircled us and bulldozed the tents.
Through a tank “gate” and then a passage of tanks on both side, the students walked away. The day had yet to break. I was with the last leg of the student file coming from the north side of the monument. Behind me there were some more students. The soldiers beat them with the butts of their rifles to move them faster, and my sense was that they were ordered to drive the students away before a certain hour and we were slow-moving.
Leaving the Square, we turned westward on West Qianmen Avenue (前门西大街) because most of colleges in Beijing are in the northwestern part of the city. From W. Qianmen Ave. we turned north on a quiet street called N. Xinhua Street. Along the way, we saw smashed road barricades, overturned vehicles, a burned bus skeleton, broken glasses, rocks, and blood stains. We walked slowly in a long file and shouted slogans. We even walked past a file of soldiers marching in the opposite direction without incident. Standing on the roadside and at the entrance of their Hutongs, residents told us what had happened the night before as we passed by.
I was walking with the girl from my school, and around six o’clock, we turned onto W. Chang’an Avenue that runs east-west across Beijing and passed in front of Tian’anmen, and kept walking westward on the sidewalks and the bicycle route on the south side of the street. We sensed no danger, nor were there any soldiers in sight. Suddenly we heard explosions, one right next to us, and with it, a cloud of green-yellowish smoke cloaked us. The girl fell in the sudden chaos. My first reaction was to pick her up and move her to the sidewalk. But there were five-foot-tall fences separating the sidewalk and bike route, and as I turned to lift her over the fences, I saw, through the fog, a row of tanks, three or four of them, speeding towards the students. One of them was already very close to me, so close I felt its main gun was right over my head. I pushed the girl hard against the fence.
Next – it must have been just a matter of one or two seconds– I felt I was being squeezed and then dragged. I remember thinking, “Shit, I’m being run over.” With my shoulders and arms I pulled hard against the ground. I fell off and rolled to the roadside against the fence. My last visual memory was the white bones of my legs, and then I lost consciousness, first receding sound and then a bright spot moving farther away.
It wasn’t until 1999 that I learned of the existence of a photo of me right at that moment. A man was tying up my left leg, and others were helping. I didn’t see the photo until 2009 when I arrived in the U.S.
That intersection, I only learned later, was called Liubukou (六部口) where Xinhuamen, the entrance to the CCP Central Committee and the heart of Chinese leadership, sits at the northeastern corner facing Chang’an Avenue. The greenish smoke, researchers found, was military gas. Eleven were killed in Liubukou and many more wounded that morning.
In the Hospital
Around noon on June 5th, I came to at Jishuitan Hospital (积水潭医院). Around me stood a circle of doctors and nurses who towered over me as I was lying on the floor, I learned later, in the hospital’s conference room with other wounded.
“Do you know what happened to you?” A doctor asked me.
“Did I lose my feet?”
They asked me my name and notified the school. That evening, people from my school visited and confirmed my identity. I was still going in and out of consciousness, ice bags were placed on my head and under my armpits to keep my temperature down, and someone brought a recorder asking me to leave my will. I recorded my name, the names of my parents, what happened to me, and I can’t remember what else I said.
On the 7th, the girl who was with me came to see me. I had been asking about her. After she lost consciousness, residents took her to their home, and she learned about my injury when she returned to school the day after. By the 7th, my mother, my sister, and my girlfriend also arrived from Hefei, Anhui province, to be with me.
On June 9th, a few nurses came and said they had to hide me. Rumor had it that the military would be in hospitals searching for wounded students and even taking over the hospitals. “We can’t let the military take you away,” they said, “you are still in grave danger.” They pushed me around the hospital looking for a good place and finally they hid me in the elevator machine room in the basement. The rumors turned out to be false, but policemen from Xicheng District’s Public Security Bureau did come. I was brought to an office, three policemen and one hospital administrator asked me questions about my activities and how I was wounded, recording the interrogation in writing. Unable to sign it easily, I pressed my fingerprint on it. So the Chinese government has the first record of my account.
“Review” and Refusal
I convalesced quickly. In about two weeks, I was able to sit on wheelchair and go to the bathroom by myself. On June 24th, I checked out of Jishuitan Hospital and went back to my school where I continued to recover in our school hospital. The reason I wanted to go back to school so badly was because I didn’t want to miss the class graduation photo session which had been scheduled for June 24th. But I didn’t know – no one who came to visit me from school told me – that they had already taken it without me.
I was very disappointed. I don’t know if they evaded me on purpose or not. If so, why? Perhaps they didn’t want me in the picture to permanently remind everyone of that summer. I have two class photos, one taken at the beginning of freshman year, and the other is the graduation photo. I was given a copy of it but was not in it.
On July 1st, most of the students graduated and left the school. Those who were held behind, myself included, were to go through the so-called “Double Qing” – qingcha (清查, thorough investigation) and qingli (清理, cleaning up) – to come “clean” of their involvement in the movement.
Cadres from the school’s communist party committee, its propaganda department, and administrators from my department began to visit me in my hospital ward. Once, twice, many times. They wanted to know how I got hurt. So I told them.
They did not accept my account. “Why did the tank run over you, not others?” They asked. “You must have provoked or attacked it or soldiers, because a tank would go after you only under these circumstances.”
“There are witnesses who have seen it all,” I said, enraged. “I also rescued a girl, and you can ask her. Before she fainted, we were walking peacefully hand in hand with students in front of and behind us.”
“We know the girl you talked about. We asked her, and she said she didn’t know what you did. She cannot prove anything for you.”
I was flabbergasted. “She at least knows that she and I left the square together, walked on the W. Chang’an Avenue together, and encountered the gas together. A tank rolled over from our side, she was rescued but I was injured. How can she not know all these? Also, when I was in the hospital, she visited me. At the time other teachers and classmates were also present, and they also asked about it.”
I don’t know what the school did to her, whether they applied pressure on her. In any case, she never visited me again, nor have I seen her ever again.
Two teachers from Beijing Steel and Iron College (now University of Science and Technology Beijing), one was Wu Bei (吴蓓) and the other by the family name Chai, came to my school to provide testimonies upon hearing my encounter with the school officials. They were at the Liubukou scene in the morning of June 4th, but the school didn’t accept their testimonies.
My own account of the event, one draft after another, had been rejected.
I was a student communist party member at the time. “As a party member,” the party official said to me, “you should keep the party’s interest in mind and yield to it. June 4th crackdown is in line with the party’s interest, and you have to make demand of yourself according to the standards of a party member.”
The party official claimed that “the interest of the party is the interest of the people.” I disagreed. “June 4th crackdown may be in line with the party’s interest, but it is not in the interest of the people. On this, the party does not represent the people.”
After the unsuccessful visits by school officials, many teachers whom I was familiar with came to give me advice one after another. “Give up,” they said. “For the sake of getting your diploma and for the sake of getting a job to survive, don’t say you were run over by a tank. You can say you were run over by a military truck, or even by an armed vehicle. As long as you don’t say tank, they will let you pass.”
Gradually I realized that the so-called “investigation” was all about getting me to obscure the fact that tanks had run over people. I refused to temper the facts no matter what. And from that point on, I considered myself to have withdrawn from the party membership.
Because of my refusal, the review on me lasted no fewer than eight months. In the end, the whole thing simply stopped without me knowing what conclusions they had made.
A Gold Medalist in the National Games for the Disabled
At the time, colleges still assigned jobs to each graduate, and before the student movement began that spring, I had already been accepted by South China Normal University in Guangzhou to teach sports theories. While I was in the hospital, the school sent three telegrams to the department asking me to report to work, but the school simply said “Fang Zheng is not available anymore for some reason” without giving them a reason why.
Meanwhile I stayed on campus waiting for a resolution of my future. After checking out of the hospital the school put me in one of the rooms that had been used for storing sports equipment at a far corner of the sports field. My younger sister came from Anhui to take care of me, while I helped teachers with various chores and got paid a little.
In 1991, I met a woman who worked with the disabled. She told me that Beijing Disabled Persons’ Federation was recruiting athletes to attend China’s 3rd National Games for the Disabled to be held next spring, and asked if I would interested in giving it a try.
It was an excited idea. Although I wasn’t a student athlete in the Sports College, I had always loved sports, and was well built. Living next to an equipment storage room and off a sport field was no small advantage. Instead of ping pong or swimming which I was good at before my injury, I chose the wheelchair discus throw and javelin throw for convenience, and I began to practice on the field day in and day out.
In March, 1992, I participated in the 3rd National Games for the Disabled held in Guangzhou representing Beijing, and I won a gold medal for both the discus throw and the javelin throw.
For months, the school had been pressing me to leave, and my sense was that, as the post-89 students came in, more and more were learning about my story. After the Games in Guangzhou, I didn’t go back to Beijing but went straight to Hainan island where, with the help of Wu Bei, I was to work for the real estate company her husband had operated in the new economic special zone. The school had never awarded me my diploma.
Nonetheless, the two metals installed a lot of confidence and optimism in me about the future. I might succeed as a disabled athlete. Given my background, my inclinations and my physical condition, it felt right and it would be a tremendous self-fulfillment.
To be continued: Fang Zheng’s attempt to participate in his first international games for the disabled, invisible but omnipresent surveillance around him throughout the years, and his unexpected brush with the 2008 Olympics.
(Based on Yaxue Cao’s interview with Fang Zheng in the summer of 2012. Translated by Y.C.)