For nearly three decades the Chinese government authorities have continued to attempt to suppress the historical truth of June Fourth. They have ignored the appeals for truth, accountability, and compensation for the killings of unarmed citizens and jailed those who wish to commemorate the victims and press for a just resolution of June Fourth.
In this context, it is important that voices bearing witness to this history be heard. Human Rights in China (HRIC) has translated an eyewitness account by Chen Yiran (陈毅然), “Eternal Agony in My Heart,” of events in the evening of June 3, 1989 in Xidan and on that night as she and a large crowd of demonstrators followed army vehicles heading toward Tiananmen Square. The essay was first posted online in Chinese in April this year.
Published 27 years after the events, Chen vividly describes an army vehicle driver in plain clothes casually offering guns to the protestors and passing to them a canteen filled with gasoline. She realized later that this was an act to deliberately induce the protesters to commit violence, thus creating the conditions for government troops to move against the protesters.
At night, Chen was in a crowd of tens of thousands following an army vehicle column heading toward Tiananmen Square. The gunshots came in waves. As the wounded were carried away by those still standing, trailing blood behind them, an army officer on one of the vehicles shouted through a loudspeaker: “We will not shoot you!”
Eternal Agony in My Heart – Chen Yiran
Part 1: Thoughts Arising from the Flames
The night before the 4th of June, half of the sky over the beautiful Beijing was reddened by the flames of burning buses—a scene that almost no Beijinger would deny as having been the case. But do you know how these fires started? This is the question I’ve wanted to answer the most over the past 20 some years.
At dusk on June the 3rd, I personally experienced the following.
I was going home after work when I passed by Xidan, where a military vehicle was pulled over at about 100 meters away from an intersection. There were many people in the street. Out of curiosity, some people and I approached the vehicle. I stood at the door of the vehicle, and saw the driver in civilian clothes come out. When the door was opened, ah, one could see the car was filled with brand new, black and shiny long-barreled guns. I was startled. My heart was beating nervously. What frightened me even more was that the driver, with an accent from another region, pointed at the guns and said to us, “You can take these guns.” My god! Who is he? Why is he doing that? I had a pile of questions and became more nervous, subconsciously blocking the vehicle door. Nobody around spoke, and I didn’t dare to speak either. Two issues came quickly to mind: One, “I pray that no one takes the guns—that would bring a lot of trouble to everyone.” Two, “If some people do take the guns, should I stop them?” The scene was so quiet, and the spectators did not in fact take the guns.
Suddenly, someone spoke, and asked a stupid question: “Are you a soldier?” Although he was in civilian clothes, no one would think he was not a soldier judging by the way he carried himself. The driver didn’t answer, but he took out an old-fashioned army canteen from the vehicle. I knew this object very well but hadn’t seen it for many years. Because I was standing closest to him, he passed me the canteen and said, “Take it, it’s still usable.” Puzzled, I instinctively took the canteen, which felt heavy. But even before I could react, a middle-aged man pushed his way through the crowd, grabbed the canteen and quickly opened the lid: a strong gasoline smell came out, and everyone at the scene let out an “Oh!” Then, before anyone had the chance to comprehend what was happening, the person who had the canteen rushed toward the No.22 bus lying across the intersection that people were using as a barrier. I didn’t think so much at that moment, and I didn’t follow in that direction. Then I left the scene and headed home.
On the way home I was thinking: Why did the soldier let the people have guns? Why did he give the people gasoline? And earlier, from a box of scrap metals that students unloaded from a military vehicle at Liubukou (六部口), I saw with my own eyes terribly worn kitchen cleavers. And a lot of cleavers were hanging in front of the Xinhua Gate [the main entrance to Zhongnanhai] as well. What did they want to do? The string of questions prompted me to return to the intersection in Xidan.
But before I got there, I saw from a great distance that the No.22 bus was burning in raging flames. A sense of foreboding swept me. “Will there really be fighting?” Stupid me, I was hoping that the fire would stop the military vehicles from advancing, and burn away the discontent and apprehension in people’s hearts for all these days. Unfortunately it was but a wish, the wish of all the citizens. But could citizens be the arsonists? Those iron-framed vehicles wouldn’t catch fire without gasoline. But the shops in Beijing had been closed for so long—where could one buythe gasoline? When I was standing on the sixth floor looking around Beijing, the city as far as I could see resembled a battlefield suffused in gunsmoke, engulfed in flames, and roaring with conflagration. Staring at the flames, thinking about the canteen of gasoline that passed through my hands, I suddenly came to understand what actually happened.
Part 2: My Death Wish
It was the night of June 3, 1989. Because of what I had seen earlier in the evening, I was worried and returned to the intersection in Xidan, where I saw the mess on Chang’an Avenue: bikes and barricades scattered all over, smoke billowing out of burning buses, and no one on the street. The crowds of people hiding in the hutongs were shouting and cursing nonstop. In particular, the scraps of paper floating everywhere brought a sense of desolation to the terror of the night sky. I also stood by the intersection of a small street, watching a convoy of heavily armed soldiers enter Tiananmen Square from Liubukou in an unending stream. Suddenly, not far in front of me, I saw a vast pool of blood—was I aware of what had happened here? I asked those around me. Among them a young man began to cry. He said, sobbing: “So much blood has been lost! Can this person still live?” In a moment, he ran out and found three bullet shells in the area. In a loud voice, he told the people at the scene: “Here’s the evidence!”
I stared at this huge pool of blood; my tears just came. In my mind, it no longer mattered whether or not there were bullet shells!
After the last army vehicle had driven away, the Beijingers, who were hiding everywhere, rushed all at once out onto Chang’an Avenue. I had no idea where all these people had just come from! The wide road was packed full; as far as you could see, and from high up, you couldn’t see the end to the crowds. Some people say there were at least 100,000 people. This gigantic crowd followed the tail of the army vehicles heading East, and I naturally went along with them. I don’t know how it started but everyone began singing the “Internationale.” This huge chorus of tens of thousands—what a magnificent sight—I will never forget the scene. I don’t think any single person could forget that stirring sight that you would not find anywhere else in the whole world. I looked at the people around me again, it really included everyone—men, women, young and old—also, there were quite a few elderly women and even foreigners. The majestic voices made my blood bubble up with excitement. I sang as I squeezed forward, wanting to move closer to the army vehicles. Suddenly, I heard gunshots—not one single gunshot, but a wave. In an instant, everyone was lying on the ground. I was astonished! “Is this our army?” “Against unarmed ordinary people?” “Opening fire on tens of thousands of people as they sing the ‘Internationale’?” “This is madness!”
Could this kind of thing possibly happen in this world? I really didn’t dare believe it and didn’t want to believe it. But when I looked up, among those crouching down, I could clearly see the people who had been shot. They were being lifted up, one after another, and carried on backs in the opposite direction. After a few minutes had passed, people stood up, and cried out loudly altogether: “Give us back our citizens!” “Give us back our citizens!” Deafening cries echoed for a long time in the pitch-black night sky around Chang’an Avenue. Everyone carried on moving forward. Gunshots rang out again, and once again everyone lay down. This time, people in front of me, behind me, and to the left and right of me were shot. Those in front of me who got hit—I didn’t know where they were being hit—were being carried back, trailing blood behind them. Since I walked closely within the group in front, I could clearly see one officer on a military vehicle clutching a loudspeaker and shouting out to the crowd nonstop: “Do not follow!” “We will not shoot you!” What bullshit! They were unmistakably opening fire! I could burst in anger: “You have no shame whatsoever! No wonder people are going mad in cursing you!”
I was thinking as I walked. Within a few steps, another wave of bullets came flying. I crouched down, stood up, crouched down again and stood up again. Every time this happened, people were shot. I don’t know whether they died or not but I do know that people couldn’t survive with that much blood loss. I was being driven insane by this madness. An insuppressible rage welled up in my chest, along with helplessness and frustration, confusion and disappointment, and grief and suffering. Waves of despair washed over me. I decided not to crouch down again: “I’ll let you kill me with your next shot!” “I can’t bear to watch this anymore!” “I don’t want to live alongside you!” But the bullets still passed by every side of me, without hitting me. This time the troops were approaching Fuyou road, and they lobbed tear gas into the crowds of demonstrators. These potent chemical weapons crushed the fighting will of the people—finally dispersing them all.
Although I did not die, this war against Beijing’s residents and students became an eternal agony in my heart.
Finally, I want to stress, I personally have no party and no affiliation, and I don’t like politics. I am a humanist, and I oppose all wars and all inhumane conduct. I long for a peaceful world. In making a record of this personal, truthful history, and informing my fellow students and my friends, I absolutely do not want to bring any of you any trouble. I left China long ago, but my sincere hope is that my country will not only be the world’s strongest economic and cultural power, but also the most democratic, free, and humane nation on earth. I will strive for this at any cost. The historical truth of June Fourth, to this very day, has continued to be denied and evaded by the Chinese government. And no explanation has been provided for the deaths of all those innocent people. Do you feel this is fair?
If you are a nervous and panic-stricken reader, I apologize. If not, I say: Thank you! Let us look forward to that day when the whole truth will be revealed!
Translation by Human Rights in China.