Haunting Memories Of Tiananmen Square
Michael Goldman will always be haunted by the faces of the students he met in Tiananmen Square.
Goldman, twenty, a graduate of Phoenix Central High, visited the square in Beijing hours before the Chinese Army started killing.
He spent his junior year of college studying at Chinese University in Hong Kong.
"The Chinese government now calls them rioters, looters and vagrants," Goldman says. "But I had such intense respect for them."
Goldman recalls vividly what it was like to be there with them just before they met their deaths.
"They were so frail-looking," he says. "Many had just come off hunger strikes. I'm still struck by their docility in comparison to the barbarity of the government response."
Goldman believes that many of the students in the Square sensed they might die.
"There was an atmosphere so tense it was almost palpable," he says. "One student whispered to me they were preparing for the death squads."
He also remembers the smells and sights of the Square.
"The Square wasn't designed for sit-ins. It was a vast open area of concrete and it was incredibly hot. There was no shade except under the makeshift tents. It was actually pretty squalid.
"Every tent had a large white banner. I remember that the colors red and white predominated. Time hangs heavy when there is so much waiting. It can even seem boring despite the danger.
"You could smell sweat and the faint odor of human excrement everywhere. There was no sewer system. There was no place to wash. Their food, mostly vegetables, came from donations.
"Most wore white tee shirts which had been autographed by supporters who came to visit the Square from all over the country."
Goldman remembers signing some of the tee shirts himself.
"One student had a copy of the Chinese constitution," Goldman says. "He insisted on reading it aloud to me. `All we're asking,' he says, `is for the government to respect the constitution.'"
Communication was actually easy. Goldman speaks Chinese well enough to get by. Many of the students spoke English fluently.
"They were young people majoring in art, politics, engineering and medicine in their colleges," he says.
It's hard for him to believe that there is no appreciation for intellectuals in China. Both Mao Tse-tung and Deng Xiaoping, now 84, came from the peasant classes.
It's a country so vast and so ill-informed that some peasants still don't realize that Mao is dead.
Goldman particularly remembers riding on a Chinese train to Beijing. Goldman rode in second class.
He struck up a conversation with an aged professor of Chinese literature. "The professor described the way intellectuals were treated in China. He then asked how intellectuals were treated in the United States.
"Suddenly, two other Chinese men in the compartment began screaming at him in a local dialect. They were telling him to shut up because he was being disloyal.
"The professor's face turned white. He fell into silence. It was terrifying to see how anti-intellectual China really is."
Goldman still is shocked by what happened in Tiananmen Square.
He'll never forget the photograph of the young student standing in the middle of the street, blocking a whole line of tanks.
"How can any country deliberately kill thousands of its future best and brightest?" he asks.
There is no answer. "One student whispered to me they were preparing for the death squads."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Democratic "Dark Money" Group Finally Registers With Arizona
Thu., Dec. 10, 6:25pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
- ASU Writing Instructor Describes Her Cannabis "Overdose"
- Arizona Man Tries to Pick Up Girlfriend From Jail in Stolen Truck, Becomes Meme Fodder