Wednesday, June 4 marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on the student-led demonstrations of ‘89 in Beijing. Chinese poet and dissident Liao Yiwu, whose memoirs are excerpted in the latest issue of Tricycle (“The Flute Teacher”), was imprisoned in 1990 for writing “Massacre,” an incendiary poem on what transpired in Tiananmen Square, where soldiers fired on unarmed civilians. The slaughter ended two months of student protests, which began in mourning of Hu Yaobang, a reformer who sought greater transparency and a more humane policy toward Tibet. A legacy of dissent (and crackdown) persists in China to this day, as officials have recently arrested prominent activists in anticipation of the anniversary.
Liao Yiwu’s poem is an openly defiant lament, referring repeatedly to Chinese government personnel as “butchers”: “The butchers will not let up. An even more terrifying day is approaching.” Watch Yiwu, in his highly unconventional reading style, belt out the poem during a June 2013 appearance at the New York Public Library.
An English translation of the poem is reproduced below.
Leap! Howl! Fly! Run!
Freedom feels so good!
Snuffing out freedom feels so good!
Power will be triumphant forever.
Will be passed down from generation to generation forever.
Freedom will also come back from the dead.
It will come back to life in generation after generation.
Like that dim light just before the dawn.
No. There’s no light.
At Utopia’s core there can never be light.
Our hearts are pitch black.
Black and scalding.
Like a corpse incinerator.
A trace of the phantoms of the burned dead.
We will exist.
The government that dominates us will exist.
Daylight comes quickly.
It feels so good.
The butchers are still ranting!
Children. Children, your bodies all cold.
Children, your hands grasping stones.
Let’s go home.
Brothers and sisters, your shattered bodies littering the earth.
Let’s go home.
We walk noiselessly.
Walk three feet above the ground.
All the time forward, there must be a place to rest.
There must be a place where sounds of gunfire and explosions cannot
We so wish to hide within a stalk of grass.
Uncle. Auntie. Grandpa. Granny. Daddy. Mummy.
How much farther till we’re home?
We have no home.
Chinese people have no home.
Home is a comforting desire.
Let us die in this desire.
OPEN FIRE, BLAST AWAY, FIRE!
Let us die in freedom.
Righteousness. Equality. Universal love.
Peace, in these vague desires.
Stand on the horizon.
Attract more of the living to death!
Don’t know if it is rain or transparent ashes.
Run quickly, Mummy!
Run quickly, son!
Run quickly, elder brother!
Run quickly, little brother!
The butchers will not let up.
An even more terrifying day is approaching.
OPEN FIRE! BLAST AWAY! FIRE! IT FEELS GOOD! FEELS SO
GOOD! . . .
Cry cry cry crycrycrycrycrycrycry
We stand in the midst of brilliance but all people are blind.
We stand on a great road but no one is able to walk.
We stand in the midst of a cacophony but all are mute.
We stand in the midst of heat and thirst but all refuse to drink.
In this historically unprecedented massacre only the spawn of dogs
Video courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Poem from For a Song and a Hundred Songs, by Liao Yiwu. © 2013 Liao Yiwu. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters