Tiananmen Square Eyewitness Shares Impressions

The Epoch Times
Jun 05, 2008

The images beamed into the west of a Chinese student facing down a tank still have the power to shock, 19 years after the Tiananmen Square massacre. For journalist Jonathan Mirsky, talking to The Epoch Times, the memories and images he recalls are far more disturbing. He was in the square that day.

A correspondent for the Observer newspaper at the time, Jonathan Mirsky was in Tiananmen Square on the night of the 3rd of June when the army came in.

"They shot some; they ran some over with their tanks," he said. "It's not clear how many people they killed in the centre of Beijing itself; maybe a few hundred in the square."

He had spent over six weeks on the square observing the student demonstrations which had started on the 16th of April—demonstrations which were eventually crushed by the regime in a massive crackdown that ushered in a new order of hard-line top-level cadres.

Despite the danger, Jonathan remained in the square to report on the horrors of the incident, for which he received the British press award, "International Reporter of the Year".

He was badly beaten by the Armed Police as he tried to escape the square that night. They knocked out one of his teeth and broke his left arm.

"I had to walk under Chairman Mao's portrait but right under the portrait there were Armed Police. They saw me. I put my hands up and I said, 'I am a foreign journalist'. They swore at me, and they began to beat me up with their rubber truncheons."

They were beating up other people, not just me. I saw that when somebody went down, the officers would shoot the person on the ground. I thought I was going to be killed but I was able to get away from them." He went back to his hotel and despite being in a lot of pain from his broken arm, he continued to cover the horrors unfolding on the square.

"Somehow, amazingly, the Peking Hotel had not turned off the telephone. So I could call up my newspaper, and dictated my story. On the morning, Sunday morning the 4th, the Observer newspaper carried the entire story, everything."

At half past ten the next morning, he went back.

He joined several hundred parents on Changan Avenue, leading up to the square, who wanted to find out what had happened to their children. A lot of soldiers and tanks were blocking the entrance. An officer came out with a megaphone and told them to go away, threatening to open fire if they didn't.

The soldiers fired into the air and everyone threw themselves to the ground.

"I threw myself down. I knew that they were using real bullets because I had seen it the night before. So I shouted to these people that these were real bullets. But there was too much noise, everybody stood up, and then the soldiers fired into this crowd."

"They must have shot down several dozen people."

An ambulance from the Concord Hospital arrived carrying 7 or 8 doctors and nurses wearing white clothes. "They began to go and help people. Most of the people had run away, but there were a lot of people lying on the ground including me, but I hadn't been shot. The army shot the doctors and nurses. I crawled away. "

Jonathan recalls one moment that lifted his spirits, after the trauma on the square.

"A very pretty girl came past us on a bicycle. She was a real Beijing miss, very pretty. She had long braid behind her and a red rubber band on it. I thought, 'Oh isn't this innocent sight. She doesn't know what happened.' She came past me and then she looked at me and she said, 'Did you see what happened in Tiananmen Square?' I said, 'I saw everything.' She went like this [victory-sign] and then she cycled away."

"It was a good moment for me. After that moment I felt a bit better, because of that girl. "

A photographer from the Observer who was working with Jonathan went to Beijing hospitals and photographed the scenes.

The photographs showed piles of bodies, recalls Jonathan. "You know, not just a few people but I mean stacked up. Somehow he sent the pictures back to London. "

Jonathan flew back to England on the afternoon of June 4th. As he arrived at the Beijing airport, he was astonished.

"There was nobody in the airport. It was amazing. Everyone has disappeared."

"There were no airport police, there were no customs, there was no immigration, there was nobody. Just a few airline people at the desks. I got on the plane which was practically empty and I flew back to London."

He was allowed back into China up until 1991. Since then, he has not been welcome.

"There was no reason given. They always say 'you know why'. They rejected my visa applications about ten times."

Looking back, Jonathan is still amazed by the scale and courage of the student demonstration. He points out that the demonstrations were not limited to Bejing alone; a fact which he says amazes Chinese people, especially young Chinese.

"I went into the Museum of History, Beijing a few months after Tiananmen, and I saw a big map of where the demonstrations had taken place. And I counted the number of places and there were more than 400. That map no longer is available in Beijing. "

At first the students wanted freedom of the press and more representation. After a while, when there didn't seem to be any opposition, they started demanding more. Jonathan says that the demands of the students were utterly inconceivable.

"We had people saying, "Li Peng should quit", "Down with Deng Xiaoping", "Down with the CCP", it's impossible to say things like that in China."

"People were calling for democracy, free speech, free press. It's impossible, it was impossible to say those things. It was amazing to people like me that these things were being said the way they were being said. It was as if somebody has taken a cork out of the bottle and a lot of things had just popped out of the bottle suddenly. So the reaction of the Party was to put the cork back in. We can't have this; impossible!"

"They were willing to sacrifice the Premier, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. A number of the important leaders were finished because of that. A lot of things happened and some of those things are still happening. The word 'Tiananmen' cannot be mentioned in China."

"There are still people who are imprisoned from then, and if the word 'Tiananmen' appears on a Chinese internet, it could be that the police would come to the house of the person who has put the words onto the internet and they would arrest that person. So this is still a very serious matter. Although it is referred to only as 'The Incident' in China, of course it is not just only 'The Incident'."

Beijing was like a different place in the days before the demonstration was crushed, recalls Jonathan.

"There were practically no soldiers around, you never saw any police, Beijing was very peaceful. In fact, people were unusually peaceful."

"I never thought this would happen. I mean the government seemed to have disappeared during those weeks. "

"We thought the government had sort of lost control but in fact they were planning what to do. There was a debate going on inside the Politburo about how to handle this issue."

Jonathan says he will not be surprised if the CCP were to kill again in such a way." They will kill when they need to. Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang. Xinjiang people have no Dalai Lama to speak out for them."

"The CCP wants to stay in power. It changes itself, masks itself, but main thing want to stay in control."

"China has many many people that want democracy. It's simply a lie that the Chinese don't want and can't live with democracy. Taiwan, Hong Kong, lots of people in China have spoken out for various form of liberty. "

"It's a great thing that somebody in China has the courage to stand up. But they have to be prepared to take terrible punishment."