Today is the 31st Anniversary of the horrific Tiananmen Square massacre.
Like millions of others I was horrified to watch the massacre of the students by the Peoples Liberation Army on Tiananmen square in June 1989. Many of the images are burned into my brain. As I write this, I see the students running with the wounded and dying on carts and the incredible bravery of the man with the shopping bags standing in front of the tanks.
Years later, during the ‘Yellow Umbrella Movement’ in Hong Kong, I was one of those outside the Admiralty buildings, hoping for change. There, I met their leader Joshua Wong, listened to many of the speakers and saw the students doing their homework under canvas, right out there on the street. They were determined that pushing for democracy would not hold them back educationally.
I also marvelled at the thousands of yellow post-it notes of support stuck on all the walls and railings. They had been left there by countless, anonymous supporters.
All of that gave me a glimpse of what it must have been like in the Square during those wonderful early days in June 1989.
After the massacre, I remember Bob Hawke in tears saying any Chinese student in Australia could stay and I immediately opened my church, so they had a place to come and register.
Every year since then we have held a memorial service for those brave students. Every year I hear more heartbreaking stories and as the years go by meet some of those who were imprisoned and tortured.
All this drives me to go on further.
The students erected, on the Square, a paper mache “Goddess of Democracy”. I remember it gleaming white in the gloom. Of course, it was destroyed by the PLA and probably thrown in amongst the broken bodies. Statues like that I think are Holy and I always wanted a replica in my church as a mark of respect to those who gave their lives.
Many years later, a sculpture came to see me. In his studio he had a block of white marble from the very quarry that built the Parthenon. “I can see your statue in it”, he said. “I want it to have red feet as a symbol of the blood spilt by the students”, I said.
That statue never came to pass, however one day on the back of a trailer arrived a bronze looking replica. This Goddess of Democracy had been made by a Sculpture in Washington, USA. I gave it a home in my church grounds. There are only three of these in the world, one in Washington, one in the Chinese University in Hong Kong and one in my church grounds.
Every year we stand around the statue as part of the memorial and share hopes and dreams.
I find the Chinese people accepting, warm and loving. It is their government I find to be ultimately inhumane.
One thing I have learned in life is that nothing can destroy a dream, especially when that dream is a good and decent one called democracy.
I have also learned that empires fade away, armaments rust away and prisons and buildings crumble into dust. However, dreams live on forever. They are like the wind and eventually they blow the forces of oppression away.
I write this in Sydney because of coronavirus I can’t be in Hong Kong today. The Chinese Government using coronavirus as an excuse, think they can breathe easier this year.
I know that will fail, people all over China will remember the massacre for many years to come. A crime such as this will never be forgotten.
It will sink into a litany of crimes against humanity.
I have learned all people long to be free. Therefore, I know ultimately all the Communist Chinese Government does to erase that memory will fail because oppression can never snuff out lovingness. It might try but it is never quite able do it.
So, this year I might only be able to light a candle in my church in memory of all those brave students who died. But light it I will and may its light shine forever.