The Independent Archive: `No one dreamt this could have happened'

7 June 1989 Duoduo, a Chinese poet, was in Tiananmen Square when the troops cracked down. Now in England, he describes his nightmare to Sandra Barwick
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The Independent Culture
AT ABOUT 3am on Sunday, Duoduo lost his faith in the Chinese state. At that point he saw troops pouring out of the Forbidden City from the doors under Mao's portrait, shooting. Even then, he says, as he and his fellow citizens ran, crouching, and saw people falling around them, they were saying: "It may be rubber bullets." After that volley, Duoduo and the crowd in Tiananmen Square moved back. They realised people had been shot in the back. "As soon as the firing started what was killed was the Communist Party. The government died."

In the last few days Duoduo's life has been overturned. A modernist poet who has lived most of his life in Peking, he was never previously a dissident; indeed, he was a journalist for the government-owned Peasant's Daily. But in the early morning of Sunday he was running doubled up from the square with a host of his people to the beat of automatic fire. That unthinkable sound changed everything.

"When the people had heard that noise of bullets, everybody was singing and shouting. Shots were fired individually, then a wave of shots: da- da-da-da-da - automatic. At the fourth volley everyone ran a long way doubled up. Then we realised it was going to be a massacre and we were running. That was about 3am. We stopped.

"People weren't frightened. We had two emotions. We were shocked and we were incensed. We didn't leave. We still could not believe we were being fired on. Everyone there was not frightened to die.

"We knew people had been crushed to death. We felt we had a right to avenge these deaths. We did not think, even then, that they would clear the square or shoot the students. We thought they would shoot and beat citizens, but no students. We thought they would put them into trucks, and take them back to their campuses."

On the afternoon of Sunday he caught a plane to England to a pre-arranged tour of poetry reading here and in Holland. Some friends begged him to stay with the struggle, others to do what could be useful abroad.

"I feel a sort of blindness. Everything has happened so fast. It is several days since I have slept. I am still in shock. No one could have dreamt this could have happened. It was not a revolutionary movement at all. But the government had a power struggle. Whoever came out on top started using the people as a tool. As soon as they started doing that it became a revolutionary movement."

When it began in earnest, at midnight, Duoduo, whose original name is Li Shizheng, heard there was shooting, but he assumed it was warning shots into the air. At 1am, with three or four friends, he went towards Tiananmen Square. Everybody was shouting slogans. "We must protect Peking! We must prevent the army coming in!" In the square not many students were left. At 2am Duoduo and his fellows stood on their bikes, looked west along the avenue and saw flames. Through the smoke of the burning armoured vehicles they saw lights approaching, and the loudspeakers above their heads blared: "Everyone in the square must go home. Anyone left in the square must be counter-revolutionary."

"We were saying: "There are a million people in the streets, how can we all be counter-revolutionary?" There were Western journalists, girls in skirts, children, middle-aged people. It was hot. We were mostly wearing shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops. There were couples holding hands. We were all saying - "What is going to happen?" Suddenly we heard a volley of shots. We heard heavier thuds and lighter noises. We thought - are these canisters, or bullets? Suddenly we realised the shots were coming towards us. Everyone was running backwards, crouched. We saw bullets on the ground and knew then they were real bullets."

His poems will be published in translation tomorrow. One outlines his belief that, in the end, those who caused the suffering will suffer most, having lost their humanity:

Looking out from death you will always see

those whom all your life you ought not to see.

One can always be buried somewhere at one's leisure

sniff around at one's leisure, then bury oneself there

in a place that makes them hate.

They shovel dirt in your face.

You should thank them. And thank them again.

For your eyes will never again see your enemy.

Then from death will come,

when they are consumed by enmity, a scream

although you will never hear again:

Now that is the absolute scream of anguish!

From `The Independent', Wednesday 7 June 1989. The Law Report returns tomorrow