From Tiananmen to Today: Interview with a Tiananmen Protester


On September 13th of 1982, China was ushered into a new era as China’s Mao ZeDong passed away and Deng Xiaoping took the reins of what was one of the most secretive states of the time. Deng XiaoPing promised economic reforms, and for the first time in China’s History since the Cultural Revolution, foreigners were granted access into China. As the years progressed, however, support for Deng Xiaoping wavered and resulted in one of the darkest times in China’s history: The Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with a survivor of the Tiananmen Massacre who witnessed the whole event unfold.

The year was 1989, and DaMao was a 27 year old woman residing in Beijing, She was raised in the latter half of the Mao era and, similar to the millions of young Chinese adults around her, she wanted democracy for the country. After Xiaoping opened China up to foreigners, Chinese college students flocked to American colleges and experienced the values of freedom and liberty that America offered. When they returned, the war on China’s government began, and its final day became its most infamous.

The infamous Tiananmen protests started on April 15th and ended on the violent day of June 4th. DaMao recalled going to the protests with her husband and her older brother DaShuo on June 4th just like any other day. DaShuo was spearheading many of the infamous speeches taking place during the protests. He was incredibly prolific, so much so that many people surrounding him, including family members were told by the police that “if you see him, immediately detain him and bring him to the nearest police station.”

However, DaShuo didn’t back down. He continued his speeches until Deng XiaoPing declared martial law.

“As I approached the protest area that day, I heard gunshots, and the rolling of tanks. I knew we were pushed into a corner, and it was going to be a bloody day,” DaMao said, as she sips her coffee, walking me through everything that happened.

“At the corner of my eye, I saw a man approach a tank, and stop right in front of it. The man was insane, but deep down inside he was a hero for us all,” she continued, “We couldn’t take this anymore. We desired freedom. We desired democracy. After years of ideological torture, we wanted to burn down anything that had to do with Mao Ze Dong and start from scratch.”

That man became the infamous “Tank Man,” one of the most important images in history.

“At this point, we knew we were outnumbered and we weren’t going to win this fight,” stated DaMao, “We had one small victory of a soldier’s death. 20 people were shot at random. The government turned their backs on us. They wanted every single one of us dead.”

XiaoPing’s approval of this blatant violence immediately went south with Chinese citizens as well as on the global scale. Deng Xiaoping immediately struck back with a defensive statement during an interview with the Canadian Prime Minister.

“You can imagine what China in turmoil would be like,” Deng stated, when asked about his decision to declare martial law, “If turmoil erupts in China, it wouldn’t just be a Cultural Revolution-type problem. At that time [during the Cultural Revolution] you still had the prestige of the elder generation of leaders such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. Even though it was described as ‘all-out civil war,’ there actually wasn’t any major fighting. It wasn’t a proper civil war.”

“Now it’s not at all the same. If turmoil erupts again, to the point that the party is no longer effective and state power is no longer effective, and one faction grabs one part of the army and another faction grabs another part of the army – that would be civil war,” Deng continued, “If some so-called democratic fighters seize power, they’ll start fighting among themselves. As soon as civil war breaks out, there’ll be rivers of blood.”

“What would be the point then of talking about ‘human rights’? As soon as civil war breaks out, local warlords will spring up everywhere. Production will plummet, communications will be severed, and it won’t be a matter of a few million or even tens of millions of refugees – there’d be well over a hundred million people fleeing the country.”

DaMao’s second oldest brother DaChe was also amidst the chaos. DaChe, a taxi driver in Beijing, exclusively took foreign patrons back and forth from the airport in hopes of getting that footage out of China in order to show the world what they were fighting for. Even though DaChe wasn’t available during the interview, DaMao spoke in his name.

“He tried to do whatever he could to help us,” she paused and chuckled, “the foreigners also paid top dollar for a ride. It was a win-win for my brother and the journalist.”

At this point in the interview, I opened up my computer and showed her clips of that day In Tiananmen. Gunshots sounded constantly in the background as tanks ran over protesters. Some of the protesters showed off dead soldiers.

DaMao broke down in tears. This was the first time she had seen these video clips since seeing everything that day. After wiping her tears away, she reflected on the ramifications of the event.

“The Chinese government threw all of this under the rug,” she continued, “No one [in China] can get any sort of image or footage from these protests using normal Chinese internet. They hid our fight.”

It was clear to me that the Chinese government didn’t give a shit about the people; Deng XiaoPeng’s name wasn’t about to be put in a bad place by a bunch of college kids.

After the protests dissipated, the protestors completely fled Tiananmen, defeated and shaken to the core. DaMao and her brother DaShuo returned home (he was covered in blood from the protests) to find their mother was sobbing, saying “Your children will be brainwashed. China’s future will be extremely bleak.”

Today DaMao feels that her brother, ironically, was brainwashed in return. He now holds Mao Ze Dong and Deng XiaoPing in high regards. To this day, she herself does not regret what she was a part of – a piece of history that has stood the test of time.

During this part of the interview, I began to reference the protests in Tiananmen with the current protests happening in America against President Donald Trump. DaMoa was quick to say that “these protests are under very different circumstances. We [the young Chinese people] felt like we had no freedom. We yearned for it. There was no rule against the government senselessly murdering protesters for us.

She went on to say, “The American people are extremely lucky to have the power of protesting, and people of the government who will listen to the people and not have to keep their mouths shut and let Trump do what he wants to do.”

I then asked her for any words she might have for the protestors in America.

“Keep on fighting, protect your rights,” she replied, “You as Americans have the power to do so. You live in a Democracy for the people, not a dictatorship for the government’s interests.”

Certainly, food for thought.

Photo Credits: Picture One, Picture Two, Picture Three Picture Four