Tension in the Open-Air Market
There were days and weeks of no classes and nothing to do. Travel was not an option and even going out of our neighborhood brought some risk. I went to the local open-air vegetable market one day and noticed an old man I’d never seen before. He was selling apricots and I asked for one jin (approximately a pound). I didn’t have change so I handed him a 10-Yuan bill which he kept without giving me change. I asked for the correct change but he still refused. Soon a crowd gathered to watch and I was uneasy. I indicated that I would go find the market policeman and the crowd urged the old man to give me back my money. When he would not, I poured out the fruit, walked around his table, took back my 10 Yuan and left.
The peasants who sold vegetables in the market were very kind to me. Sometimes I wanted to buy only one of a thing and they refused to accept my money. So the next time I came, and they still refused to accept money for only one of something, I put down double the money where they could see it. How could I accept free commodities from such poor people? This kind of respect was not lost on the sellers, so I found out later that the old man who tried to cheat me was forbidden to return to their market.
Another time at a different market I wanted to buy two or three tomatoes. Eagerly the seller heaped up a pyramid of tomatoes on the scales and I walked away in disgust.
“Don’t you want to buy these tomatoes?” he shouted after me.
“No! Ni ting bu dong! You can’t listen!” I shot back.
The man looked utterly amazed that I would answer him idiomatically and begged me to come back – how many did I want? The other sellers were laughing, and although I was disgusted, I, too, was chuckling inside. The man indeed listened after that and I loyally bought my vegetables from him.
The Public Announcement of Tragedy
Classrooms continued to be empty, so the other American professors left their universities. But I was an independent teacher and needed the plane ticket the Foreign Affairs Office was supposed to provide. Although there were no classes, the semester wasn’t officially ended until sometime in July, so I couldn’t leave and the FAO didn’t have authority to release me.
During this time I watched televised state-run news to learn what the official reports might be. The most accurate news was on short wave from BBC (British Broadcasting Company) and VOA (Voice of America). The Sunday morning of the massacre in Tiananmen I was riding a bus when I heard the announcement over the city public address system. Chinese faces betrayed no emotion at all for the people have learned to “eat bitter”! As soon as I could I returned home and turned on the TV. All electricity had been disconnected on campus except in the foreign teachers’ apartments, so students came to watch my TV. There was one clip only – a student going from public bus to public bus burning and pillaging. My students were amazed that any student would be guilty of such wanton behavior. Surely their beloved Chinese government wouldn’t disseminate misinformation! At last the foreign compound was plunged into darkness so students left.
Several students from my university were in the Square when the tanks and troops rolled in. It was another week before I was able to leave the campus. In that time two students returned who had been in the Square when the troops marched in. They pretended to be dead and crawled out very slowly on their bellies. In the two or three hours they were making their escape they saw soldiers raping and shooting so brutally that my students couldn’t believe they were Chinese. No Chinese would ever be as barbaric toward their own people as these unidentified assailants were. Behind the soldiers came the tanks….
When the Voice of America broadcast that all Americans should go to either Beijing or Shanghai to be airlifted home, I went to the Foreign Affairs Office to see if they would help me. They gathered enough of their personal money to pay for my airfare to Los Angeles since the State Education Commission hadn’t released funds yet. This was an incredible act of generosity that I appreciated deeply. By this time campuses were deserted and the cities seemed empty. What a strange thing to be able to walk about the main streets in Shanghai, get on any bus and easily find a seat, or to find an empty cafe for lunch. The FAO officer from my university got me a ticket and I was on my way home in a few days.
When I tried to buy a ticket from Los Angeles to an airport near my home, it was $750! Perhaps my face betrayed my dismay because the clerk kindly asked if I had a passport to show that I had just come from China, and of course I did. How grateful I was when she sold me a ticket through her account! But as I sat down and leaned back in my seat on the plane, the horror of what I had just left swept over me. Two men behind me were discussing photos of the Tiananmen incident published in an American periodical. That’s when I began to weep for the students and friends I had left without saying goodbye.
I didn’t know how to deal with my grief and it seemed to never end. One day on the street in my hometown I met an old war veteran who asked me my whereabouts during the demonstrations and subsequent action in Tiananmen. Predictably, I began to cry but he wasn’t put off and talked to me with the compassion and wisdom of experience. That’s where healing started.
Could it have been coincidental that ten years later I taught in a university in the city from which the People’s Liberation Army troops that marched into Tiananmen were sent?
After the Massacre
After the Massacre I couldn’t be satisfied to stay safely in America, not knowing how my Chinese students were faring. A wealthy Chinese-American sending organization that knew about my love for China offered to pay a one-way airfare if I would return. It was a difficult decision because Dad had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but he was doing well, so I decided to accept their offer. One evening in June in Wuhan, Hubei, as I was having a devotion, it seemed to me that Dad had stopped fighting and wanted to die. My brother and I had agreed together that Dad would live and not die, so I began to weep and plead with the Lord for his life, but that wasn’t to be. In a couple of days I got a telegram saying that he had died. I didn’t have the money to go home and neither the organization nor my family offered to buy a ticket, so I stayed in China and grieved alone. I came home for only one month that summer and went out to the cemetery to grieve alone at his grave.
Mom and my brothers and sisters were angry with me for not coming home and Mom had given some of his things to family but saved nothing of his for me. I couldn’t understand why she had left me out.
“Because you didn’t come home for his funeral – in fact, why did you even go?” she demanded.
“I had to go back, Mom. And I had no money to come home for his funeral. You know that the Chinese organization bought the ticket for me to go, but I had no way to get home.”
It turned out that the Chinese sending agency, without my knowledge, had pressured Mom to repay the airfare. Mom was aghast at their insensitivity since the leader had sent the telegram to me concerning Dad’s death at Mom’s request, so she knew our family’s grief and unexpected financial drain. When Mom told me that, it was my turn to be ashamed for an organization that seemed to know no shame.
I had obligated myself to the university where I had been teaching when the Massacre happened, so I went back to China after only one month at home, but at the end of that year I resigned and came home for three years to be with Mom. These three years were a time of deep grieving for Mom but it was a time for me to be near her and help keep her from sinking into depression and withdrawal. My heart went out to her as I began to see her as a person and not just as my mother. During that time I prayed a prayer that I earnestly hoped the Lord would answer – that I could be with Mom when it came time for her to need someone. (Thankfully, the Lord granted my petition. He is a compassionate heavenly Father.)