On June 4, 1989 I was a student at University of California, San Diego. It was Saturday morning, and I was at the office of the college paper, the UCSD Guardian, then located next to the Ché Café, which was pretty much exactly what it sounds like. They were having some kind of exhibit that consisted of kids giving speeches, and a bunch of tables with old hippies giving out pamphlets. I spoke for a while to a woman with a large poster of Mao behind her (I still have the poster somewhere—she left it behind). She explained that what China really needed was a return to Maoism, and she thought that’s what the students really were protesting for.
But on the little black and white TV in the paper’s offices, I watched the atrocities in Tiananmen Square. Here’s some of what I wrote that day:
I have a friend who works in the Revelle College Cafeteria. She saw on student waiting in line for foor who looked a little depressed, so in her typical perky way she said, “Be happy!” He answered, “I can’t. I’m Chinese.”
This was typical of the shock and dismay around UCSD and around the world—and not just among Chinese—in the wake of the Beijing massacre. It was, as several commentators have pointed out, Kent State a thousand times over. We’d been watching these charismatic young kids, so committed to their causes, so far away—and so like ourselves. A leader of the students was very serious about his when he was interviewed on the network news, but at the end he couldn’t resist asking if any of the girls in America had noticed him. Just a kid; he is probably dead now.
So much hope destroyed. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. When Chinese –American students had a march here at UCSD recently, I spoke with one of the organizers. I asked him what he thought would happen, and he said grimly “The history of the Communist Party is violent repression.” But he added that he hoped that this time it would be different, that real progress could be made.
Of course, it wasn’t different. The people of China still live under a repressive totalitarian state. But I’m always optimistic about freedom, and there are still people all over the world who remember that day, and the true face of Communism.