China neither has the time nor the means to procure two thousand candles, so instead, he just lights one; a fat white candle that could be easily split into a dozen individual sticks.
"Be at peace," China murmurs, but he isn't sure if he's telling this to the deceased or their families or himself.
There is no one more two-faced than he, China feels. All of his finest opera artists should learn from him, even if he only has two masks. Even if those masks blend with each other too often. After all, how does one remember the history of your people, one that your leaders order you to forget? How could you mourn the victims at a time when none of your people ever remember it?
However, he does not pictures or videos to remember. He does not need any of Hong Kong's people or their slogans and signs. All China has to do is look into the flame burning on the wick, and he will see the exoskeleton of buses alight with white fire, their metal bones creaking and burning into nothing. He will see plumes of red smoke melting into the balmy night air. They complement the screaming and foreboding shriek of gunfire so well. He will see serenity and triumph, so precariously built by his people, all of his people, shattered in pieces on that square, lying among the bodies and blood of the fallen.
This was not like May fourth or April fifth, no, this wasn't just intellectuals who desperately needed change and students who thought they could achieve it, all of his people were here, all of them, his workers and mothers with their children and they are not simply a sea of people, they are an entity in itself, an unmoving block that could not be parted, not even under Mazu's own hand.
"Long live democracy! Long live freedom! Down with corruption!" A hundred thousand voices shoot into him and China almost doubles over. Their rage and indignation permeates every pore of his body, leaves absolutely no room for argument, and for a split second China finds himself dearly wishing to punch his own premier in the face.
After all, he…was the People's Republic, was he not? And they were his people.
Besides him, Li Peng sucks in a breath, his brows furrowing. "Why haven't the tanks stopped them yet?" He demands. "Why are the people still there?"
Energy of the masses, indeed. "There are too many," An official shouts back as he bustles among the chaos of the office. "The convoys cannot move. They have been completely barricaded by the crowd."
Premier Li shakes his head, nostrils flaring. "Something has to be done about this." He says.
Yes, something. And with that, China slips out of the office.
The streets are flooded with people long before he had even reached the square, so instead China stands at the edge of a crowd and he listens.
A student leader is standing on a platform, red wrapped around her forehead and wrists. With one hand, she holds a banner with 'strike down martial law' written in hasty script. With the other, she has her fingers curled around a microphone.
"Should we not safeguard our rights? Our country is a beautiful one, and we must act now to keep its beauty! We must act to stem the rot of corruption within our government! We must call for democracy and put China back into the hands of where she belongs! Us, the people!"
"The people!" The crowd yells back, and China is surprised that the might of their voices has not knocked the girl from her platform.
"They will not shoot us." The student leader says, confidence in her eyes and poise and the smart flicker of her mouth. "After all, what kind of army would shoot its own people?"
She raises a fist. "The people's army should protect its people!"
"The people's army should protect its people!" Everybody repeats as they cheer; an overwhelming sensation that is like a force of nature in itself; that seems to vibrate deep into China's body and will not leave.
What kind of army would shoot its own people?
'The kind that takes orders from the people's keepers,' China thinks, but he does not voice it aloud. Instead, he just pulls his padded jacket tighter.
It's times like these when China feels his true age, all four thousand years sagging into his back and bones and way of thinking. When everybody, from the too-young to the middle aged to those who looked to be a couple thousand years old themselves are united, protesting and resisting and blazing with the hope that an era of peace and change will be ushered in while he looks over his foolish, beautiful people and wants to hope too, but cannot because he's seen change and new eras and reforms before and they don't work itneverworks, does it.
It makes him so sad and so cynical. But above all, it never fails to make China feel so old.
May 23rd, 1989
Well, China thinks as he looks over the still-present crowd with only a touch of black humor, at least he could thank them for trying.
May 25th, 1989
How could they still be doing this?
May 27th, 1989
At the citizens of people that have clogged streets and blocked exits, stopped the military and trapped their leaders in their own offices, China knows that a stack of rocks could not possibly compare to this. His own people were his Great Wall.
This thought somehow causes an amalgam of something akin to posterity and defiance and pride to bubble in China's chest. It feels strangely warm and rich and dense. How curious.
May 28th, 1989
"Are you comin' or not?"
"Excuse me?" China lifts his head and sees the woman in front of him. She must be at least forty, with thick lines carved into her face and her eyes so small they look like the slits of a pistachio nut.
"While the rest of the city is standing up and demanding freedom, you do nothing? That is not right."
"What I do is not up for you to judge," China says a tad curtly. One thing he will never get used to as a four thousand year old in a twenty year old's body is how he must respect 'elders' that are not even a quarter his age. "I will continue to sit here if I wish to."
The woman frowns at him, her features almost indiscernible through the gnarl of wrinkles. She thrusts an arm out. "Then a young, healthy man such as yourself should at least have enough honor to escort a poor old lady to her house."
China has seen tigers when they are absolutely furious, and he has seen old women when they are angry. The difference is not great. So he stands up and takes the old woman's arm. It is so fragile and stiff that China fears he will snap it like a piece of brittle wood if he grips too hard, and so he has to hook his arm through hers as she begins to walk with a hobbling, unsteady gait.
As they walk, she tells China about her life. She had been born in a well-off family with a house two stories high and acres of land. Her father had been a diplomat while her mother was a teacher of foreign languages. Both of them had died during the Great Leap Forward.
"They tied my daddy up and beat him until his skin wasn't brown anymore. It was absolutely coated with red. His blood watered the flowers in our garden. Then they burned down our house with my grandparents and cousins still inside. My mother and I had to flee before they burned us down, too." They had found refuge with a farmer and his family in a nameless village, but her mother had died of fever only two months later.
"She did not want to leave me, but I think she felt that joining my father and escaping the party members was a better option than to keep on living."
When China thinks of the Great Leap Forward, of the time when he could drum his fingers across his ribs and pluck music from them like a morbidly fashioned zheng, he can no longer weep. There are over twenty million stories just like this woman's pocketed within him, pressing with skeletal fingers along the juncture of his spine and pale, waxy skin, and to mourn and feel for each of them would take him far longer than four thousand years.
Sometimes, China loathes it. He hates that he could not give his people a better life, could not give them even the simple necessities of food in their bellies and a warm bed to sleep in. All he could promise them was that with his population of one-point-two billion, with his expendable supply of raw energy, there will always be another tomorrow for the People's Republic of China. It is a place teeming with possibilities and there will inevitably be change, even if you aren't alive to see it. Even if it will not be good.
"Is this why you're protesting, then?" China asks. "For your parents?"
"Perhaps," The woman says with a cryptic look at him. "But there are so many more things I am protesting. Better wages. More food. I was a mother, too, you know. But both of my children died in the Cultural Revolution."
The woman shakes her head. "I do not think I ask for much. If my country could give my son a good education, and my daughter a good marriage, I would be happy. But instead, the government takes my son for their army and kills him. They force my daughter's husband to abandon her and their children and leave her a broken shoe. No, if my country will not give me these things, I will fight for them, and hope they can be given to others. After all, what is there left to do but fight?"
By now, they have reached a row of apartment buildings. Their entrances have been completely blocked by the sea of people. The woman shrugs China's arm off. "Good bye, boy-who-does-not-fight," She says, starting to edge her way into the crowd. "Maybe one day you can enjoy the fruits of what is being achieved here."
China watches her disappear, and wonders. At what point does a man start fighting, and at what point does a man give up?
All of a sudden, it feels like someone has dumped twenty million cold dead bodies into his chest. At least a million of them are babies. Another two are children.
He picks up an abandoned signs, with the slogan 'fight for our brothers and sisters!' written on it. He lifts it up. It is heavier than expected.
This was not weeping, this was not even fighting, but it is all that is left to do.
June 1st, 1989
His body is slick with sweat and his hair has shrugged itself out of its ponytail and his ribs are probably bruised from the dozens of jostling elbows and arms that had jutted into him.
It is absolutely glorious.
It was an exhilarating feeling, to be one with the crowd, to shout and demonstrate and yell and know that there are thousands with you. That you are not alone.
It is a feeling China knows well, but what he finds even better is fighting a battle you could be on the verge of winning, a sort of hope that seems vaguely triumphant and inspiring at the same time.
"DOWN WITH CORRUPTION! LONG LIVE FREEDOM!"
"THE PEOPLE'S ARMY SHOULD LOVE THE PEOPLE!"
"DOWN WITH MARTIAL LAW!"
China smiles—with a slow, true joy that manages to be calculatedly indecipherable at the same time— and a generation of long-dead dissidents smile with him.
June 4th, 1989
The only light they had came from the fire that threatened to spit their faces as they ran, screaming and flailing and cowering at the bite of semiautomatic weapons puncturing the air as the night sky bled.
China's shirt is stained with blood that is not his own (or maybe it was. Who could tell where your people's blood ended and your own began to flow?), his pant legs powdered with rubble as he keeps on dragging the young man draped across his back.
The man moaned in pain—it was a sound China was too used to hearing—and shudders, his legs giving out. China feels his side collapsing along with him and curses.
"Don't give up!" He yells at him. "You think you can just fight for so long, then just leave and abandon your brothers and sisters?"
"A bicycle!" China screams into the square, into the mass of chaos and killing as he is being split into thousand sharp pieces. "A bike, I need a bike, someone has to carry him to a hospital—"
All the screaming, all the blood, they were his own, it was his body that was strewn along in broken piles along the pavement, his flesh was being ridden with bullet holes and his shadow thrown across the backdrop of flames as announcements pounded into his head.
"Beijing is now under martial law and citizens should no longer be outside at this time. Any citizens that have violated the curfew are responsible for their own actions and will face repercussions immediately."
Repercussions. Is that what they were? The tanks and the weapons and the blood that tattoos everyone's footsteps?
"A bike!" China screams again as people rush pass him, running for their lives. "Does anyone have a—"
"Over here!" A young woman waves him over, dragging a frame of metal and wire behind her.
"Thank you, thank you," China repeats profusely as they load the man onto her cart, his wounds steadily staining the wood red. He is almost hysterical, he knows, and his gratitude seems more like a mantra of insanity, but there is madness in the air, is there not? It is in every painful breath he inhales, shards of something scraping fat his throat, the panic and fear of over a hundred thousand others rolled into one being. "Take him, just take him—and go. Go!" And as he watches the young woman furiously pedal away to join dozens of others like her, people carrying their friends and family on their backs and bikes, China is aware of a far more terrible entity approaching.
China stills himself, and listens.
It was quiet at first, but gradually increased its volume, threading its way through the mingled screams and gunshots. An unrecognizable, strange splintering accompanying the terrifying roar of moving tanks that sounded like a cacophony of something being smashed and snapped.
What was being smashed? What was lying on the ground and so plentifully strewn that the tanks could crush them in its path like oxen trampling over fields of rice?
There was nothing. Nothing that could be snapped in that way, nothing that could make that horrible, horrible crunching as those tanks ran over—
"Nothing." China repeats to himself, even as his chest turns cold and it feels like someone is pressing a dozen flames along his spine and a ripping pain attacks and tears at his limbs. "Absolutely nothing at all."
He has stopped running. Why has he stopped running? To not-run meant that you were allowing hopelessness to sink in, that you are slowly realizing that everything had been justanotherfailure and China suddenly wants to—needs to—tear his hair out and run into the flames and scream until his mind is devoid of everything happening on this terrible night.
Instead, he keeps on running.
He only stops running, only stops dragging his fallen people from the ground and pushing them away from the blaze of gunfire when something clips China in the back and he falls to his knees, gasping as something terribly painful drives itself deep into his shoulder. Before he can even turn his head he is hit again—a bullet grazing the edge of his leg.
Somebody heaves him up, shouting desperately wrenching his shoulder as fire erupts from the wound, and China closes his eyes, limping blindly along as the massacre writes itself in scars along his back and thigh and broken outline, and does not open them again.
June 4th, 2010
What more could be said?
What more could be said about a day that so many of his people never knew about, let alone remembered? That day, a lot of things had collapsed on itself—died along with the civilians and now tucked like dead flowers on their invisible graves, and they take parts of him along with them. China can only sigh and remember and feel even more ancient, as if cobwebs had dusted themselves along his fingers and his eyelids had been painted a fine grey with dust.
Today, China will go into his office, as always. He will greet his premier and nod respectfully at his leader. The air will be sewn with layers of tension, thick with animosity, and everybody will pretend not to notice it. Nobody will speak about it.
Should he have been surprised, on that horrible day? China had seen his various leaders do so much worse.
Voices silenced with a fistful of dirt, thousands of injured dumped like corpses among the dead—
It is possible to see so much atrocity in four thousand years that you might one day get used to it, but it would take a degree of insanity, China reasons, that he hasn't quite reached yet. Even if one of your limbs had already been cut off, you will still flinch if the other one is. You will still beg and wish it would not happen, desperately try to negotiate and save it every single time.
China breathes in and his bones feel heavy. There's a strange lightheadedness about him, dizzy and aching and torn, but he gets up anyway. He gets ready for work.
He leaves the candle burning.
Things you should know:
-June 4th, 2010 is the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Exactly how many people were killed is unclear. The Chinese Red Cross originally had the death toll at over two thousand, but rescinded the figure after pressure from the government. The official government number of deaths is around 200 (including soldiers), with over 2000 injured.
-Even though you still can't even search this incident on computers in China, candlelit vigils are held in Hong Kong every year. This year, around 15,000 people attended.
-Previously, two protests, the May Fourth Movement and April Fifth Movement had also been held at Tiananmen, though they were primarily made of student protesters. What mainly differentiated the June 4th incident from the previous others was that it had spread to the Chinese middle class as well. Workers, housewives, everybody was protesting.
-Li Peng was the Premier of China at the time. He strongly advocated imposing martial law against the protesters. China was put under martial law on the 20th of May, 1989.
-Despite this, when military convoys tried to enter Beijing, they were so completely blocked by protesters that they eventually had to retreat.
-Mazu is the Chinese Goddess of the sea, primarily known in Southern China.
-The Great Leap Forward was a plan to modernize China's economy and agriculture implemented by Chairman Mao from 1958-1963. Long story short, it didn't work, and caused a mass famine that killed 10-20 million people. During that time, lots 'capitalist roaders' and rich villagers and landlords were executed and beaten.
-A zheng is a traditional Chinese instrument. Just look at the picture.
-'Broken shoe' is slang for sluts or women who are considered promiscuous. During the 1950-60s, this label instantly made any women a pariah. A lot of girls who were raped or sexually abused were forced to keep silent to help their family save face and maintain their reputation. During the Cultural Revolution, men who became officials or rose in rank were sometimes forced to abandon their wives and children in the countryside to work in the city. Sometimes, the Party would even assign new wives to them.
-It was said that Qin Shi Huang, the man who united China, burned books and buried over 400 scholars alive.
-Basically, if you were Chinese, and if you were alive during the 1900s, you had a shitty life. After World War II, the China dissolved into civil war between the Guomindang and the Communist Party of China. So many people were injured that they were frequently carted into piles among the dead without any medical treatment.
-If any of you are still reading this, then I'm pretty impressed. Even though the Tiananmen Square Incident remains controversial to this day, due to censorship, most of China's current generation remains unaware of this horrible tragedy and the government denies this has ever happened.
-Through this fic, I am not advocating any political views. I do, however, feel that the victims of this incident should be properly mourned and that the government should publicly acknowledge this event. For more information on the Tiananmen Massacre (and Tank Man, whom I sadly didn't write about here), I seriously recommend you all watch this documentary: .?id=1171
Thanks for reading.