Lined up in rows across the Avenue of Eternal Peace, they advanced slowly, shooting all the while, then they would halt and kneel and fire directly into the crowd. They did the same at the southern end of the square. When both ends of the square were cleared, they encircled the thousands of students who had crowded on the Revolutionary Heroes' monument. Dawn broke and riot police moved in with truncheons. Everyone expected the army. But no one expected such ferocity, such armour, such numbers.
I was at the southern end of the square at midnight, walking along the main boulevard to see the student barricades. Suddenly, two APCs appeared and roared down the boulevard, one behind the other, smashing through the barriers. They were followed by about 3,000 soldiers. One APC stalled and was set on fire by the mob. I kept walking towards a barricade of buses a mile away, where four lorries with troops and two earth-moving vehicles were trapped on either side by buses and people. Then flares and tracer bullets shone from behind me and automatic gunfire could be heard. The troops were advancing on the square. My colleague, Andrew Higgins, was behind at Qianmen Gate, the front entrance to the square.
I moved up a side street heading for the Avenue of Eternal Peace. I looked behind as I walked along the pavement. A squad of army goons, waving pistols, electric cattle prods and batons were running towards me. They jumped me, screamed at me, pointed a pistol at my head and beat me about the legs with their batons. Several soldiers broke ranks and ran to me, punching me, kicking me with karate leaps in the back, thighs and chest. There was pure hatred in their eyes.
They pushed me down into a kneeling position and had another go at me, whacking me across the back with their rods and kicking, always kicking, until I fell over. They pulled off my spectacles and crushed them. They screamed at me. Then they took me behind a stone lion guarding the gate. If this is the People's Army, God spare China.
The smooth face of the Chinese Communist establishment appeared two hours later, dressed in cream flannels and a pastel T-shirt, the very image of "moderation" that the Foreign Office has come to believe is the new China and whom it can trust over Hong Kong. "You have committed an unfriendly act," he said. I thought that was a bit much. "You fell over, didn't you? That's why you have that bruise on your arm."
Andrew Higgins was by now crawling in the mud in front of Mao's portrait at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, as bullets whizzed over his head. He said the young soldiers had panicked when they saw the huge crowd. But they were ordered to open fire.
It was a battlefield. It was a lesson in brute power. I blubbed when I got back to my hotel near midday. I couldn't stop. Perhaps it was shock, or maybe it was because of the carnage. I was weeping for the people of Peking. I cannot see how they are ever likely to trust their leaders again.Reuse content