The 4th of June: Remembering the Tiananmen Square Massacre

Soldiers face-to-face with protestors Coincidentally as I started writing this editorial, it was the 4th of June. The Tiananmen Square massacre 30 years ago. It is somewhat linked to the story of ACCS. As I write this editorial now, the picture of a man who stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square that appeared in the AGE newspaper in Melbourne flashed before my eyes. Today I saw the picture in the AGE again. It transported me back to 1989.

They came, at first in a small trickle, then an avalanche. The Chinese escaping from China, via Hong Kong, they came, into Australia. Being a member of several Chinese association and groups in Melbourne, I ran English classes for these “refugees” using Accelerated Learning techniques. I taught them how to read the AGE newspaper. I drew the vocabulary from day to day events. They loved it. I will never forget the eyes of one student when he came up to me and thanked me in halting English at our last class. A man in his 50s, small in stature, not much different from the thousands of Chinese men found in any city. There were tears in his eyes. Tears of gratitude. He said “thank you, thank you, xie xie” repeating the Mandarin words almost in a whisper, clasping both my hands and shaking them up and down. Then there was the Chinese woman who was a radiologist. A tall willowy woman, she was a working in a hospital in Beijing when she saw patients being brought in. They had gunshots wounds. She told me. Then there was the middle aged woman who was working at Beijing Hotel, and how she hid in one of the rooms and saw what happened on that fateful day that changed the world’s perception of China forever, especially for those in my generation.

A year later, in 1990 I founded the Australasian Centre of Chinese Studies to create employment for a Chinese PhD student named Luo Jian Guo or Jian-Guo Luo (he, like many Chinese people put their surnames last, following the Australian custom). Jian-Guo which meant “build nation” was a journalist in Beijing, a very highly educated young man. He had won a scholarship to study at the Australian National University in Canberra. Completing his Masters, he was enrolled in a PhD programme at Monash University where I was teaching and that was how I met him. One day he told me that he was trying to get a job but could not as he was a student and not an Australian citizen. He had a wife and son to support in China. I started the Australasian Centre of Chinese Studies with him as our Academic Director. Together we wrote the textbooks for ACCS which are still used today. Jian-Guo had to get out of China after the Tiananmen Square Massacre for all sorts of reasons which I won’t discuss here.

First chinese teacher at ACCSToday 4th June I remember him and I know he is well and happy in the world somewhere. How do I know? I didn’t see him for nearly 20 years but then 2 years ago, we met again in Shanghai. He told me his son is married to a Malaysian girl and they were about to make him a grandfather. So out of the ashes of the people who died that day in Tiananmen Square, a little baby Aussie is living somewhere in Melbourne. Perhaps one day, his grandfather will tell him a story beginning with “Once upon a time, in a country far away….”