Far Eastern Economic Review, June, 1997

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.

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