Thirty years ago today – May 30, 1989 – the Goddess of Democracy changed everything in China when she was erected in Tiananmen Square.
We were there; right at the very front with the students as they hauled the four giant pieces of plaster – head and torch segment in front – from the Beijing Technical College down to the square. People surged out of the darkness from all points. The procession became one million plus. Heart, hope and torches lit the route.
We were ten days into martial law.
But rebellion, idealism and democracy fever cut through the air.
Chants went up: “People of China stand up” “Long live democracy”
The students began singing The Internationale. Spine tingling.
ABC cameraman Sebastian Phua and cousin Chang on sound quickly motioned to me to do a PTC – trade for Piece to Camera. Reporting down the barrel of the camera. (*Their uncle and head of the ABC crew the legendary Willie Phua in coming days would film the Tank Man on June 4).
I did my PTC – which will be part of ABC Four Corners 30thanniversary special this coming Monday, June 3 – and Sebastian panned off to a rousing chorus of The Internationale anthem.
Everyone had thought the weeks-long Tiananmen protests had fizzled out. But the Goddess made sure it wasn’t – and made sure the end, when it did come, would be bloody. They erected the 10-metre high statue right in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao. Wise old Willie told us: “The Generals will not like this at all.” How right he was. For Sebastian – our talented, exuberant friend who we’d lose so damn early to the cancer curse – and for Chang and me, there was something surreal about the Goddess taking form in the square. Piece by Piece. You could almost smell the Politburo’s collective chagrin.
We filmed her with a giant rosy sun, almost an encouraging flame around her torch, as student sculptors clambered quietly on the scaffolding making the finishing touches. The crowds came back. Young mums and dads pedalled in, with their babies and toddlers in baskets in carts behind their bikes. It was quiet. Too quiet.