Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Remember

Her name was Ding Laoshi (Teacher Ting), and she taught the Mandarin classes at my high school in Hong Kong.

She had been an opera singer in China before the Cultural Revolution.  She sang for our class one day: to our uneducated, adolescent ears it sounded like a cat wailing, but we knew enough to show respect.  Because one of the goals of the Communist regime was to eliminate the old cultural traditions from Chinese society, she'd been interned in a re-education camp, assigned to hard labor on a farm for several years.  They wanted her to learn some "useful skills."  She cried when she told us about that.

When the student demonstrations started in Beijing in the spring of 1989, she was overjoyed.  She spent whole class periods telling us why the Communist Party should be overthrown.  Then everything suddenly went south.  The hardliners directed the military to crack down on the protesters, and tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square.  

We made white armbands (bearing the name of one of the student leaders in Chinese characters) for ourselves and our classmates to wear to the anti-Chinese government protests in downtown Hong Kong.

The Tiananmen Square Massacre took place 24 years ago yesterday, but I remember it vividly.  Ding Laoshi, wherever you are, thank you for the lessons you taught us.  Your strength, your dignity, and your conviction have stayed with me for all these years.

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