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By James Fenton, Hong Kong, 15 June 1989

Is broad and clean
And you can’t tell
Where the dead have been
And you can’t tell
What happened then
And you can’t speak
Of Tianamen.

You must not speak.
You must not think.
You must not dip
Your brush in ink.
You must not say
What happened then,
What happened there.
What happened there
In Tiananmen.

The cruel men
Are old and deaf
Ready to kill
But short of breath
And they will die
Like other men
And they’ll lie in state
In Tianamen.

They lie in state.
They lie in style.
Another lie’s
Thrown on the pile,
Thrown on the pile
By the cruel men
To cleanse the blood
From Tianamen.

Truth is a secret.
Keep it dark.
Keep it dark.
In our heart of hearts.
Keep it dark
Till you know when
Truth may return
To Tiananmen.

Is broad and clean
And you can’t tell
Where the dead have been
And you can’t tell
When they’ll come again.
They’ll come again
To Tiananmen.

James Fenton is one of the most noted living poets in the United Kingdom. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was Oxford Professor of Poetry for the period 1994-99.


Tiananmen Revisited

By Evan Mantyk, New York, June 1, 2016

Is  loads of fun;
Look at those men
As they run!
Cameras flash
And smart phones fly!
As they dash
The women sigh!

The one in front,
Mark Zuckerberg,
Says, “This PR stunt
Has been superb!
Has culture great;
It’s been a ten!
It’s been first rate!”

But smiling face
And sporty pose
Seem out of place
As thick smog flows
Through Tiananmen,
Where blood has poured
From valiant men
Who’re now ignored;

Where Falun Gong
Was framed with lies
Was blamed with wrong
Of flamed suicides.
These peaceful men
Who meditate
On Tiananmen
Now face hate.

But you won’t see
Much about what’s
Behind the smiles
On Tiananmen;

For they would lose
Their Beijing post
So rather choose
To please their host
Whose influence
Does fast ascend
Over conscience—
Over Tiananmen.

Evan Mantyk is a high school English teacher in the Hudson Valley of New York.


Tiananmen, a Follow-on from James Fenton’s 1989 poem

By Damian Robin, Sheffield, U.K., May 23, 2016

They’ve come again
The dead and live
That won’t lie down,
That still survive,
That hold up scarfs
With “Zhen Shan Ren”
In present danger
In Tiananmen.

They’re there now,
In ghostly shots,
Then veiled
And Photoshopped.
Absent as the day is long,
Large, unwieldy
Falun Gong.

They’re there now,
Standing strong
Locked in prisons,
Locked away.
Locked from seeing
Night and day.
Locked like buildings,
Day and night.

Looks broad and clean,
A tourist trap
A travel scene.
Old dissidents
Long cleared away,
Unruly students
Cleared away.

Human rightists
Cleared away.
Muslim Uyghurs
Cleared away.
House Church Christ’yans
Cleared away.
Tibetan Buddhists
Cleared away.

Falun Gong
Too big to say.
Falun Gong
Locked Away.
Falun Gong
Locked deep and hard
All over China,
The prison yard.

To see off threat,
To blind the light,
To turn off truth
To keep things tight.
To spread things neat,
To press things calm,
They spin each street
With threats of harm.

Here’s the rods
And here’s the batons.
Here’s the electric
Powered from pylons.
Here’s the burns,
The scars, the stench,
The bodies dulled,
The tiger bench.

Here’s the dark,
The cover-up,
The bars that bar,
The thugs that wrench,
The organs pulled,
The instruments,
The data sheets
That hate indents.

The Party’s clean
Of Falun Gong.
The U.N.’s been,
Its looks were long:
Official waits
At see-through gates,
At sanctioned scenes
On C.C. screens.

The U.N.’s been,
It can’t lament.
What was not seen,
It can’t invent.
There is no proof
Of wrong expense.
There is no proof
In absence.

Another time,
The Partymen
Had a Photo Fest
On Tiananmen.
With old-style tricks
And cruder lies,
They pulled the beef
On Global eyes.

Part-cooked themselves
In a cam’ra fix
On the snow-pathed floor,
In winter bite
In focused whirr,
In police-watched Square
Of Tiananmen.

Five or seven
(The numbers changed)
Sat on the floor
Limbs re-arranged
Not in the pose
Of Falun Gong
But supposed to be
Of Falun Gong.

They sat down sure,
In cold, clear view,
On the cold clear floor,
These motley who
The police did not
Do anything to
When they set themselves
In Tiananmen.

But when the flames
Had licked their lips,
And shushed the snow,
There was a rush
Of uniform
And plain clothes men
On the snow-mazed plan
Of Tiananmen.

In a time so fast
On a space so vast
As though touch-primed
A crowd dispatched
With extinguishers
And fire blankets
And fire fighters,
Standard class.

In ambulance,
And screeching vans,
Through heaps of smoke,
Through human smoke
Like stringent smoke
From tear gas cans
The crowd arrived,
A gang arrived.

This crowd milled round
The smould’ring crowd
Who’d been allowed
To burn in shrouds
Of smoke and stench,
Charred clothes and skin,
On frozen stone
On Tiananmen

And CC cam’ras
Caught the scene,
And a shoulder cam’ra
Filed between
The ghostly figures,
The ghastly smoke,
The smoth’ring bodies
On Tiananmen.

And the video tapes
Were shown with pride:
“Some Falun Gong
Self-burned and died”
The tapes were shown,
And the story grown,
That Falun Gong
Was madness-prone.

That showed quite plain,
The Party cried,
The Party’s sane,
The Party’s right
To start again
A nation-wide
This time of Falun.

And they had proof
These shots were not
A Party-planted
Setup plot.
“It was not staged.
This is not fake.
This is the truth,
Make no mistake.”

The shouldered cam’ra,
Officials said,
Was confiscated
In Tiananmen,
Right there and then
In Tiananmen,
From a cam’raman
From CCN.

Said it did not
Have a cam’raman
In Tiananmen
On that day
That famed and framed
And flame-filmed day
In Tiananmen.

So the ruling Party
Returned its truth,
Its red hot truth,
Its half-baked truth,
Its charcoaled truth,
Its crumbled truth,
Its ashen truth,
To Tiananmen.

Its anthem song
Of “Party good
Is China’s good”,
Its power song
Of “Party strength
Is China’s wealth”,
Pitch perfect
To the decibel.

For all is sound
And all is well
In house and road,
In farm and dell,
In office block,
In court and cell,
In lock and rock,
And oil well.

All is good,
Is as it should,
For People,
Students, Army blocks,
For smiling throngs
Who don’t belong
To other truths,
To other songs

Of Muslim Uyghurs,
Human rightists,
House Church Christ’yans,
Dissident writers,
Tibetan Buddhists,
Democracy’s fans,
Or the open quiet
Of Falun Gong.

Random Notes   “Jiang Zemin Needs to Explain the Incongruities of the “Tiananmen Self-immolation” at the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Chinese Ruling Party Committee (Photos)”. Jiang was the main perpetrator of the clampdown on Falun Gong. He lives in Shanghai and is a major target of Xi Jinxing’s anti-corruption campaign.   EU Resolution on OH 2013  [Finishes at 10.13]  The Minnesota Senate passed a resolution Friday, May 20, this year, expressing concern over China’s alleged state-sanctioned, forced organ harvesting from non-consenting Falun Gong faith members.    Peaceful Protest of April 25, 1999. Ten years after the Tiananmen Massacre, a peaceful protest near Tiananmen is used as a pretext for a nation-wide suppression. The persecution of Falun Gong is now considered a genocide. Courts in Spain and Argentina have indicted senior Chinese officials for genocide and crimes against humanity for their involvement in the oppression of Falun Gong.

Damian Robin has been an editor and writer on newspapers and magazines and is now an editor for a publishing company. He lives in the United Kingdom.

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6 Responses

  1. The Society

    Tiananmen Square

    By Elizabeth Spencer Spragins

    (A Clogyrnach)

    Youthful zeal fans sparks of unrest
    To flames as the jaded protest.
    They throng to the square
    To challenge the chair
    With a stare
    To the West.

    Unarmed, undeterred, they dare bring
    To light fervent hopes for the spring.
    The peaceful crusade
    Designed to persuade
    Draws the blade
    Of Beijing.

    Red tide swallows the dead and maimed,
    Drowns voices, erases those named.
    Unmoved by their fate,
    Cold eyes of the State
    Watch and wait,

  2. The Society

    My Friend

    By Abigail Zhong

    My friend, she wears a hat with a red star
    Delivered from a warehouse as a joke
    She holds the Communist Manifesto
    Reads words on which so many others choke
    Talks of overthrowing the bourgeoisie
    Our classmates laugh, they have never seen truth
    My parents don’t speak of their old country
    Their bodies have scars left over from youth

    My friend knows nothing of revolution
    The blood and tears shed in Tiananmen Square
    The starvation of the Great Leap Forward
    She’s never fled her home out of despair
    Mao’s image still rests on grandfather’s wall
    The tide not fully turned, old wounds not closed
    Scholars are muzzled not sent to the fields
    Today, basic freedom is still opposed

    My friend and I read our history books
    Millions of deaths fit on a single page
    Where lives are not lives, but neat statistics
    Distance is a privilege of our age
    In China the monuments still bear scars
    The soil remains bloody under their feet
    But the people are moving forward still
    A new generation filling the street

  3. Damian Robin

    Liu Xiaobo — non-violent Tiananmen Square activist, peaceful dissident, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2010 (tho not allowed to attend the award ceremony), imprisoned for eleven years –has written a poem every year for 27 years commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.

    There are a number of dual text books:

    Liu Xiaobo: ‘I have no Enemies’, a film about his life.
    [A Manifesto ‘We Have No Enemies’, written by Liu and two others, was read out in Tiananmen Square during the protests around China in 1989]

    Liu Xioabao’s wife, Liu Xia, reads two of her poems

    A hint of Liu Xia’s life

  4. Damian Robin

    June 4th Incident

    Our thoughts still soar across the Square like birds,
    like eyes and ears, millions on the spot,
    dense and cloudy, no-one can shoot the lot,
    so truth turns round and translates times to words
    and images that drone on massacres
    and tanks and bikes and bullets’ spikes and death
    and dead on makeshift stretchers taking breath
    and down the internet non-China stares
    and knows it’s there, and finds it’s there, despite
    the stringent cloths of bleached amnesia,
    the spartan clean of friendly media,
    the gagging gang in isolated might
    whose rain of fear means memory ferments,
    but can’t click clean the Party’s incidents.

  5. Damian Robin

    After the Massacre

    Freedom was shot. But the Party’s flags
    were equalled by a man and two shopping bags.

    Columned tanks belonged to the emptied freeway.
    Crowds had scattered from their tariffed hardness.
    Their approaching divisions gave little leeway,
    clicked the expected end’s depressive darkness.

    The white shirt man bulged with white-bagged ballast.
    A small man (step to this side, step to that side)
    who climbed a tank then was taken off, off balance,
    by many men, one with a bike to ride.

    We still don’t know their names — the good man, the bad men,
    the tank man, the take men. Would they take orders again?
    Take sides to make the outcome the same again,
    these and many, many unmarked men?


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