A behind the scenes peek at ‘the June Fourth incident’

Rare Historical Photos A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Cangan Boulevard in Tiananmen Square, on on June 5, 1989.

I am a middle-aged Chinese woman, I was a university student in China in 1989. I was not at all politically minded but I was, in a way, a victim of the times.

I was born in 1965 so I grew up during the Cultural Revolution. When I was one year old my family was exiled to Xinjiang, one of China’s most remote provinces. The government had decided that my father, a court judge, was a criminal because he was what they called in those days a “stinking intellectual.”

We were kept in Xinjiang for about twelve years, long after the Cultural Revolution ended. When we were returned to our home province, Gansu, my father went back to work as a judge and we lived in the courthouse. My parents knew enough to keep out of political matters and just stick to their work. So did I.

I was a good student at school and was admitted to a university in Lanzhou, which is the capital of Gansu province. In 1989, the year of the June Fourth incident, there was unrest at my university but I played no part in it. In fact I resented having my lessons disrupted by student protests. For example if I or any of my classmates tried to walk to the classroom to attend a lecture we would be prevented from doing so by other students throwing stones at us.

On the night of June Second 1989 I was on the campus of another university, tutoring an old friend in English. She was staying with her aunt, who was a professor at this other university. After the lesson, it was too late for me to return to my own university so I stayed overnight in the professor’s apartment on the university campus.

We were disturbed very early in the morning by a crowd of students outside the professor’s apartment building. They were calling for all the university’s professors to come out and join their anti-government protest. “Professors, come out!” they cried, “Professors come out!”

I tried to open the window and see what was going on but my host cautioned me that this would invite trouble. She said the students “are too naive, they don’t know what trouble they will get into.”

So after breakfast I went back by bus to my own university. On the way I saw students in the streets with banners reading “Hit down Li Peng” and “Hit down Deng Xiaoping”. These were prominent leaders at the time.

When I got back to my own dormitory I found there was nobody there and my bed sheets had been stolen. Another girl, who had also had her sheets stolen, said boys had come into the dormitory and taken the sheets for tearing up to make protest banners.

Later we girls went to the public square to join what they called the “Refuse To Eat Movement.” I did not want to participate but there was a lot of pressure and I had no choice. While we were sitting in the square, not eating, the university sent a truckload of buns but everyone refused to eat.

I learned that the boy students had been deflating the tyres of all the city’s buses to disable the public transport system. I managed to slip away from the protest and, with no buses, walked for a long, long time to get back to my university.

I found my father waiting for me there. He was worried about my safety and had come from my home town, two days’ travel away, to take me home. The buses were now out of action and this was long before Chinese people had cars so we did not know how to make the journey home. We walked and walked, I cannot remember how many hours, until finally we came across a farmer who offered to give us a ride part of the way on his tractor. After the tractor ride we managed to get a lift on a truck and finally arrived home on June Fourth.

We had a TV in our home and we saw news of the huge protest going on in Tiananmen Square but we did not see anything of the violence.