Tiananmen Square

On May 28, 1989, my wife and I packed our two children into the car and headed for our first Disneyworld vacation. It took two days to drive to Orlando, and along the way I caught news reports of the events unfolding in China, especially in Tiananmen Square. By the time we got to the campground in Disneyworld, it looked like a new day was dawning in China, just as seemed to be happening in Europe. Hungary had recently opened its border with Austria, Solidarity was on the way to power in Poland, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union stood by peacefully. The last reports I heard before disappearing into the news-less world of Disney was that some Chinese army units were supposedly moving towards Beijing from the countryside in support of the students massed in Tiananmen Square. There were concerns about a possible civil war within China, but signs seemed to be pointing to a radical change in that nation’s government and society.

On June 5, we left Disneyworld. And on the drive home, I listened to the reports of a massive crackdown by the Chinese army, which bloodily routed the students. I had expected a new China, and I remember the shock I felt as the reality sunk in. One man and a line of tanks were all that was left of the vision I had constructed in my mind over the previous 5 days. I have no tie to China. I’m not even particularly a student of Chinese history and culture; it’s just one subject among many books and documentaries I read and watch. But at that particular time, the events in that far-away land had drawn my interest. If I hadn’t been away from any news sources during those five days, I’m sure the memory wouldn’t be as vivid. But of all the events of 1989, Tiananmen Square stands out most.

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