Saturday, 27 May

How astonishing it is that everything here seems to have returned to normal so soon! None of the awful things I imagined on that empty plane actually happened: questioning by the security police at customs, military control of the airport, no bus services to the city centre, and so on. No, so far so good. People even looked peaceful and happy, in fact, happier than what I remembered from four years ago when I left.

A bus took us straight to the centre, without having to pass through road blocks. Immediately there were posters to be seen everywhere, faded or half torn: ‘Fight Martial Law!’, ‘Oppose Violence’, ‘Rise Up, Chinese!’, ‘Clean Away Corruption!’, ‘Punish the Profiteering of Privileged Officials!’ While I was waiting for E. to meet me at the airline building, a group of taxi and tricycle drivers, the ‘new rich’ of the economic reform, came up to me. They were far more numerous than their potential passengers. ‘No, thank you,’ I said, ‘I’m not that rich to spend my money like that.’ The oldest among them, a man in his fifties, replied: ‘Money is nothing. Can’t you see it isn’t the time to talk about money?’ Before I had a chance to feel ashamed, other young drivers started asking me how I and my foreign friends had reacted to the student demonstrations. When I told them that we all saw the April–May events as a great democratic movement to the glory of us Chinese, they all grew excited.

The first words E. said as he met me were: ‘You’ve missed the greatest scenes. You are too late.’ I was reminded of S.S. who had provided me with my ticket and said: ‘You Chinese are born in the right time and the right place. You’ll regret it for life if you aren’t able to take part in the revolution.’

It was 5.00 p.m. when we got home. Mother looked so much older. Lucky she no longer blamed me for this sudden decision to come back. But already E. was making a sign to me: ‘Let’s go out—if you don’t feel too tired after your long journey.’

There were so many people on the streets—more and more as we approached Tiananmen Square. When we were stopped by the crowd at Xinhuamen, half a mile from the Square, I went to talk to students from the Beijing Aeronautical Engineering Institute and the University of Political Science and Law. They had been holding a sit-down there for a month, in shifts, facing a line of pla guards who sat upright without any facial expression. ‘We are betrayed,’ the leader of the group cried, his young face oddly changed by grief and indignation. ‘There hasn’t been a single voice in this government to protect us.’ Zhao Ziyang was the best, but even he had done no more than vote against martial law. [We now know how brave he was, and how difficult it had been for him to do that much.] As for Wan Li, the chairman of the People’s Congress on whom we pinned so many hopes, he had just returned from the usa and unambiguously declared his support for Li Peng.

The Square has completely changed as a result of those tents and food tips and the terrible smell of urine. Of course, with thousands still living there, one couldn’t have expected anything cleaner. When we had finally managed, with great difficulty, to pass through the student guards around the Monument to the People’s Heroes, we found ourselves in the dirty, noisy, jumbled and bustling camp of the Square headquarters. This camp has made an amazing contribution to the whole democratic movement or, as I would prefer to call it, the civil liberation revolt. The student leaders were all hoarse and tired but kept on going. They know well what Chinese studying abroad have everywhere done to support them. The main problems they now face are: (i) they need cash as they have no bank account to receive overseas donations in cheques; (ii) they urgently need good-quality articles for their pamphlets and broadcasting; (iii) they are divided over whether to return to campus. Wang Dan (Beijing University) announced its withdrawal at a press conference nearby, but other leaders told us they were against it and that the decision was not based on majority agreement. ‘The student occupation of the Square is now the last symbol,’ they said. ‘If we pull out, the whole movement will simply be over. We have to keep it up.’