Wednesday, June 4, 2014

“25 since 64” – Why Tiananmen Matters to Me

So, the lyrics to Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” certainly come into play here. But my primary inspiration this morning was the reminder from Dr. Sam Tsang (via his blog here: and Pastor Jane Lam regarding the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Interestingly, in many comments elsewhere, even China’s most adamant apologists do not deny the death toll, nor the essential facts that an oppressive regime was threatened by a popular uprising against the slow (read: imperceptible) pace of claimed reforms that included some who advocated the overthrow of the communist party. As comment-section discussion tend toward, those which follow the Facebook posting BBC World News’ video (“What happened in Tiananmen Square? Explained in 60 seconds.” The link for their main site’s video feed: descend quickly into diatribe, rabbit-trails, and name-calling.
Those comments which initially affected me most are those which point out the many similar events prior to and since Tiananmen, spanning the globe in both geographic and cultural complexity. Not to take away from commemorations of the reform movement in China, I would hope that we would consider the other, current venues in which the same patterns are being replicated today. And yet, being the Thanatologist (invested in education and counseling regarding death, dying, bereavement, grief, and mourning), I would also like to ask us to consider one other aspect. The dead, and their families.
Sometimes the tanks stop for pedestrians.
Whether Tiananmen, Egypt, Syria, Yugoslavia, or Cambodia, or Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City, or any number of other contexts that may come to mind, our commemorations are appropriate, even though they may be exploited for other purposes. But in those exploitations for political, social, religious, or other “teaching moments,” consider with me the grief and mourning of the families, friends, coworkers, and classmates who have experienced the loss, not of dozens, or hundred, or thousands, but of their own – parents, spouses, children, friends – now gone.
Sometimes the tanks don't stop for pedestrians.
For the sake of those for whom 64 (the common Chinese reference to the events of June 4, 1989, according to Dr. Tsang) brings a reminder of those lost to them, I ask God to bring comfort and peace, even amidst the continuing (and, on days of commemoration, intensified) distractions of the causes, conflicts, and calamities for which the death of your own has become a symbol. For the sake of those who imagine that these things happen to other people elsewhere, and never here, to us, I ask God to bring compassion and purpose. Only then is there hope that it will not happen here and to us: when we determine that it should not happen anywhere to anyone. Finally, for the sake of those who believe in the use of “death as an object lesson,” symbolizing their agenda, cause, or position, I ask God to temper your passions for ideology, reputation, and self-assurance with a humility borne by our common humanity. “We are persons; please handle with care.”
(And allow us to mourn our dead.)

2 comments: said...

There certainly is a tendency to commodify a tragedy... a desire to make it something other than a tragic event. On our trips to China to adopt our precious children, it was strange to stand in the Square in the place where these events unfolded... also hard to know what to share of these world events with my children as they grow older and start to make distinctions in their minds between their life in the U.S. with what it would have meant to live in China. Thanks for your blog and thoughtful reflection.

Wm. Darius Myers said...

You're welcome, and thanks so much for your comment.

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