Braving a Typhoon
By Martin C.M. Lee
- What I remember most about
the 1989 Spring is not the two marches that drew more than a million people
each on May 21 and 28, but the 50,000 people who gathered on May 20. They
came in response to a call from the Hong Kong Alliance (formed to support
the student movement in China) to protest the declaration of martial law
in Beijing the night before. Unfortunately, that morning I awoke to a typhoon
alert. Worried, I suggested cancelling. But my colleagues said that Hong
Kong people were so angry that they would demonstrate regardless of what
we decided. So we decided to proceed.
- While I was still at home rummaging around for a raincoat, a young
woman rang me. She was a student who had arranged to meet her classmates
from Hong Kong's Chinese University at the demonstration, but had been
forbidden by her grandmother to be outside. She said she had written a
banner for the occasion and asked whether I might repeat its message since
she could not join the demonstration. When my wife dropped me off at Victoria
Park, the place was already under at least eight inches of water. From
the rendezvous point we marched. By then, the wind was fierce. When we
got to the New China News Agency, there was a small platform. The leader
of the march, Cheung Man Kwong, told the people to sit down, and they all
sat down within seconds. I thought this extremely rude -- to ask them to
sit down in the water. Then he asked them to put down their umbrellas because
they were making it difficult for people behind them to see. I thought
that too was a thoroughly bad idea, because they would all be drenched.
In fact, I tried to grab the microphone from him, but before I could, the
umbrellas all disappeared.
- When it came time for me to speak, I said that we were unhappy with
the imposition of martial law because the student movement was a peaceful
one, motivated by the right objectives. The students and citizens were
calling upon the Chinese government to cleanse itself of corruption, guanxi
(connection), and nepotism, and to bring China along the route of democracy.
And then I said what I was asked to say by the young woman: "Today
China, tomorrow Hong Kong." When the demonstration ended, I thanked
the police. "Don't thank me," an officer said. "It's my
duty, and of course as a Chinese myself, I am proud to be here."
- I mentioned that there would be a demonstration the following day,
and asked how many people he thought would show up. "Over 100,000,"
he reckoned. As it turned out, there were more than a million. That was
an amazing thing to be part of. But when I recall the spring of 1989, it
is the 50,000 people braving the typhoon that so stands out in my mind.