The People's Square This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   We've all seen the young man, the boy, alone, facing the rolling, grinding metal teeth of the government. He has the face of Gandhi, or of Martin Luther King. He stands on the rock, the rock unconscious of his weight, but groaning under the tank treads, the truncheons, the rifle butts of establishment. He is the monkey wrench that swallows the machine as the machine chews it to pulp. Chains dragging in his ears, the tanks roll so close that their heat reaches his cheek, with their breath burning his face. How could a mouse turn back an elephant, when it could crush him by lumbering forward? The smell of gasoline towers, and he should cower.

But look! His eyes and the barrel of the gun understand each other. For the army to crush him is for him to crush the army. Strike me down and I become even more powerful than before, more powerful in the press, in public sentiment, in world opinion. Now the green hippopotamus tries to sidestep, but such a hulk maneuvers poorly. It exists to hate and smash, and when it is met with one who will neither hate nor smash, who therefore can be neither hated nor smashed, the tank is confounded. Now he climbs up on the tank, not to mount it as a victor. If he once thinks himself a victor, he has lost. He climbs up to talk to the men so much like him inside. He knows, no matter how ugly the armor and the weapons that bristle outside, his brothers are within. He waves no flag and screams no taunt. His victory rests in transcending victory and defeat, calling for a new set of rules rather than winning the game. His soft voice is drowned by the laboring of tanks, and yet his voice echoes from the red brick square.

We've all seen the plastic Chinese news announcer. He wears with pride an imported suit tailored to his special status. His red tie rests with assurance in the middle of hisbody. His forehead is more brilliant than the star of Bethlehem in the glare of the studio lights. His teeth are whiter than a swan's feather, or so he thinks. Everything is fine. "Long live the People's Republic. Everything is fine. Long live the People's Republic. Reports of the death of a dream are greatly exaggerated."

Chinese people don't need television sets. They need cardboard boxes with a pop-art rendering of a dragon taped to the front. But this newscaster is just like you and me. His handsome face is like the flower atop a weed whose roots reach deep into the muck. If I met this anchorman and asked, "What about the shooting in the streets?"

He would reply, "The police were shooting at vandals."

If I asked, "Where did the police get automatic weapons and mortars?"

He would reply, "Those reports are false."

If I asked, "What about the stack of videotapes I have of soldiers beating students?"

He would reply, "Those have been falsified."

If I asked, "Are your country's leaders dead?"

He would reply, "This is garbage meant to poison the minds of the people. Long live the People's Republic. Everything is fine." This is the mindless garbage meant to poison the minds of the people, who wouldn't even have minds if you had it your way. But once I struck out at him in anger, this would happen: the hydra would immediately regrow the severed head, and the head would be my own.

I believe in courage, a thimbleful in every man. But where does a mountain of it come from? What drove the student to stop the column of tanks with his blood? My best guess is love. Maybe he saw the face of his mother, his father, or his friend bruised and bloodied by a billy club. Maybe he heard the scream of a grandmother ripped with rapid-fire. Maybe he saw his classmate's hair burning in a burning bus. Whatever it was, the important thing is that he felt not anger, but sadness. He was sad not for himself, but for the perpetrator, the soldier with the gun at his back as well as in his hand, the soldier born from the same womb as he. Now suppose that student meets that newscaster face to face. If each one hears the other's soft fleeting respiration and if each one's eyes understand the other's eyes, then neither one shoots the other, and neither one dies. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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