Attach a small photograph of something important to you and explain its significance.
In June of 1989, an unnamed man stood in the way of a long line of tanks, hoping to stop them from entering Tiananmen Square. His act of self-sacrifice for freedom captured the imagination of the world, and at the same moment, he unknowingly became the symbol of the single event which changed my life.
A few miles away, hundreds of student demonstrators, most sick and exhausted following a two-week hunger strike, stubbornly stood their ground. Despite warnings from the Chinese government, they intended to continue their protest and stay in the square until their seemingly simple request, freedom, was met.
Sha Tin, Hong Kong:
I sat in front of the TV while bloody scenes of the final hours in Tiananmen Square invaded my eight-year-old eyes. On the morning of June 4, 1989, the Chinese government sent its army, armed with tanks and machine guns, to occupy the Square. While forcefully ending a peaceful demonstration for democracy, soldiers injured and brutally killed hundreds of innocent students and civilians. I was too young to realize this was a turning point for China, and could impact my life in Hong Kong, thousands of miles from Tiananmen Square. The anxiety I saw in the eyes of many adults, however, told me something terrible was happening.
Only a year before my family had received a letter from the U.S. Immigration Department. It was a letter we had been awaiting for over ten years, which would allow us to move to the United States. It stunned my parents and forced them to make a decision. The letter arrived at a time when the feelings toward the 1997 Communist takeover were positive. There was still faith in China's promise which assured Hong Kong of freedom and right to self-government. Businesses were growing and the economy was stable. Giving up a comfortable life to start over in a new country seemed like quite a leap, so my parents delayed the move. Nevertheless, we knew the door would not be open forever; our visa would be good for one year. Within that year things changed.
Hong Kong went into panic when the guns started firing and the tanks started rolling in Tiananmen Square that June 4 morning. The world watched in disbelief as Chinese soldiers killed Chinese students, but the most disbelieving of all were the people of Hong Kong. "How could this be happening?" and "How am I going to get out before the communists take over in '97?" seemed to be on everyone's lips. People realized their freedom would be in jeopardy once they were placed under the rule of China. The situation in Tiananmen Square scared my parents into reconsidering emmigration, and suddenly, moving to the U.S. became a golden opportunity. My family arrived in Seattle on September 2, only three months after the Tiananmen Square Incident.
Saying goodbye to friends and family as a child was hard, but the circumstances made it almost unbearable. The atmosphere was horrific and gruesome images were everywhere - in magazines, newspapers and TV. Pictures of demonstrators, bands tied around their head or arm with "Give me democracy or give me death" written on it, lying dead or dying on the sidewalk, became daily reminders of what had happened. All the blood and death proved too much for me, and before long I learned to forget everything. The only clear image of the incident that remained was this picture. The sight of this man, silently willing to sacrifice his life for freedom, made me realize the amazing power of one, and the tremendous amount of love and courage a human heart can contain.
As I thumbed through a pile of old magazines I came across a June 1989 issue of Time. The bloody scenes of the final hours in Tiananmen Square came crashing into my sixteen-year-old eyes and stirred a part of my consciousness that had long been buried. Eight years later I have finally learned the details of what happened that day, and faced the pictures I once tried so hard to forget. I wish I could thank each person who risked their lives for democracy, the democracy I enjoy today. If the Tiananmen Square incident had never happened, I probably would not have come to the United States. Sometimes I get frustrated with not remembering more of the feelings I had that summer, but perhaps it is better. By not remembering, I am better able to focus on the present and future rather than dwelling on the past - a past which I can never fully grasp, a past experienced through an eight-year-old mind and a TV screen.
Too many people expect wonders from democracy, when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it. - Walter Winchell -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.