I was in China in 1994. I was acting over there, in the Shanghai International Shakespeare festival. I was young and wide-eyed. I still have quite big eyes.
Anyway, with my companions, I went to Tiananmen square, and had a small experience, about which I wrote a poem, that evening.
It isn’t very good, it approaches doggerel in fact, but I remembered that I had written it today, on this anniversary of the massacre that the Chinese government still refuses officially to acknowledge.
I reproduce the poem faithfully – doggedly – below:
There are pockmarks in the paving of
There are the young and the old
as the sun sets
behind the Forbidden City
We are tourists, with our votes
and our dollars
the bicycles fly past us, and
the soldiers march
across The Square
We met two young men,
by the flowers
built to depict a rising Phoenix.
Students, like ourselves,
at “the Peoples’ University”
We sat on the ground, cross legged
Louisa joked, it was “a sit down protest”
We all thought of tanks.
We sat and we talked
of our different worlds met there
and the crowds milled past
‘as westerners you will have heard of the massacre here no doubt, in 1989’
We looked into his eyes.
Two men in suits refused to mill
they stood nearby
listening and watching
He broke off and looked at the men.
‘It was not as bad as it was reported as being’ he said.
I looked down at the fresh paving stones,
at the pockmarks
on the old.
The men in suits and sunglasses conversed with a soldier
We offered to buy our new found friends lunch, and we walked the Beijing streets.
I saw a three year old girl
fall off her father’s bicycle
to the street below,
watched her get up without a tear, back onto the bike.
At McDonald’s they took their first bites
Both their first bites were their last.
‘This isn’t food’, they stated, matter of factly.
We said goodbye, outside.
With a plastic effigy of Ronald McDonald grinning from a bench.
They went off to unlock their bikes.
The two men in suits and sunglasses