Remembering Tiananmen Square: June Fourth Elegies

A friend today shared some passages from a poem called “Suffocating City Square” from “June Fourth Elegies.” I have the book on my too-long, and rather muddled “Want To Read” list on GoodReads.

However, this book of poetry by Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for “his prolonged non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China,” is not going to escape me. Political poetry is always a difficult read, but I will try. I wrote a little bit about the poet that year.

Liu dedicated his Peace Prize to “the lost souls from the Fourth of June.” Liu was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison on “inciting subversion” charges for his involvement with Charter ’08, a manifesto calling for political reforms in China. In 2017, he was transferred to hospital, where he died from cancer of the liver. A year after his death, his wife Liu Xia, also a poet, who had spent eight years under house arrest, was allowed to leave China and travel to Germany.

On the Fourth of June, 1989, thousands of people, mostly university students, were massacred by Chinese soldiers and police, who entered the square where they had been peacefully protesting since April. There are many accounts and photographs of the horrors of that day. The dead were estimated at 10,000.

Holding a vigil in Hong Kong on June 4, 2021 (Photo: EPA)

Now, on the 32nd anniversary, those who remembered in Hong Kong were unable to hold their annual candlelight vigil in memory of the thousands who died in that Suffocating City Square. Their usual location was fenced off and heavily guarded by police who told them they were breaking the law, but they stood outside and lit up their smartphones instead. Moreover, an organiser of the Hong Kong vigil, Chow Hang Tong, was arrested. She has been arrested before.

Tiananmen, ironically, means “The Gate of Heavenly Peace.” This man wrote poems about peace, and won the Nobel Peace Prize, which he was unable to accept, as he was already imprisoned.

We are living in a harsh world, where peace seems almost a fanciful concept. We are hardened.

Below is a photo of a senior Hong Kong police officer blowing out a candle, lit in memory of those who have died.

Let us never feel that coldness and let us never show it towards any human being.

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