Chapter Eight

Democracy Wall

Orthodoxy creates its own heresy. The more rigid the orthodoxy, the more shocking is a heresy generated by even the most elementary of contradictions. Orthodoxies are supported by an awesome alliance of interests: the power of the power-holders, the aspirations of those near to them, fear of uncertainty among the citizens, and blind faith among the led. Even orthodoxies built by terror, as many are, survive on a loyalty that can look very much like love. China's current orthodoxy, Marxism-Leninism- Mao Zedong Thought, has waged so successful a campaign against heresy that any slight deviation attracts immediate and drastic attention from the guardians of orthodoxy. It is not a matter of theory, nor of some metaphysical salvation, but of the survival of the State. Until 1978, bold heretics had been rare in China for the past twenty- five years, since the aftermath of the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956. At that time, a high proportion of the idealistic intellectuals, most of whom had supported the Communist Party's plans for China, took all too seriously an invitation from Chairman Mao to contribute their comments and suggestions on ways in which the Communist Party's methods could be improved - `Let a hundred flowers bloom together, let a hundred voices vie to be heard'.

Mao and the Party were so stung by the virulence of the criticisms offered, even from within the Party itself, that a huge purge of `Rightists' ensued. On Mao's instructions, Rightists had to be found everywhere, whether they had been vocal critics or not. In the usual pattern of such movements in China, victims were found, one way or another, in sufficient numbers to appease the hunger of the beast. A generation of trained and natural intellectuals was decimated, the minimum punishment being transfer from one's area of expertise to a rural or menial exile, for `re-education'. Thereafter, philosophy was discussed with blunt instruments.

In 1978, a mighty battle was in progress in China, not just for power, but for control of the orthodoxy itself. No flashing of stilettos, this time - more the seismic heave and grind of continental tectonic plates: movement massive, but invisible to the naked eye, driven by the surge of subterranean magma. It was Deng Xiaoping, jauntily wearing the harlequin cloak of the heretic, who issued the challenge to those claiming the mantle of Mao Zedong Thought. Before the battle ended, he was to have flung that heretic's cloak, in triumph, across the supine corpse of Chairman Mao Zedong himself. The course of that battle affected everything else that happened in China over some four years, and one of its side-effects was the brief, but spectacular, flowering of the Democracy Wall.

In the massive politics of China, battles are often fought like a game of wei qi, known in the West by its Japanese name, go. Opponents take turns to place single black or white ivory `beans' on the board, in such a way as to claim territory surrounded by their own beans, or to cut off the opponent from gaining territory. Simple in concept, wei qi has been a national obsession for over two thousand years, and develops the most subtle and complex strategies from this deceptive simplicity. Thus, in politics, did Deng Xiaoping place his beans, with a long series of feints, sallies, and strategies, until his opponents, hopelessly surrounded, had no choice but to surrender the field.

Odd as it may seem to outsiders, the first beans were laid with a public editorial debate in the national press over what we might consider a tautology : `Seek Truth from Facts'. The inner issue, though, was the authority of Chairman Mao, and in Beijing that was equivalent to a Vatican debate on Papal infallibility. Deng could get nowhere until he had re-established rationality, not faith in a dead leader, as the basis of national decision- making. That skirmish was proved won on October 1 1978, when Hua Guofeng, at that stage still both Chairman of the Communist Party and Premier of the State, put forward the slogan : `We must emancipate our minds, and seek truth only from facts'. As the virtual unknown whose claim to national leadership was based on the personal blessing of Mao Zedong, Hua, conceding Mao's fallibility, was opening his own leadership to question. Hua Guofeng, who had come to Mao's attention as the county leader who built flattering monuments in Mao's own home town, was the figure-head of the group known to their enemies as the `whateverists' - people on record as saying, in Politburo meetings, `Whatever Chairman Mao said was right, whatever Chairman Mao taught must be upheld'.

The so-called Tian An Men Incident of April 5th, 1976, had been the watershed for Maoism. Mao was still living, just, but all immediate power was in the hands of the small group of extremists headed by his wife, Jiang Qing. The great moderator, Premier Zhou Enlai, had died on January 8th, leaving the field to the extremists who had control of the enfeebled Chairman Mao. Zhou had brought Deng Xiaoping back from banishment, and Deng was trying to maintain some life in the administration and the economy, as the extremists rapidly reduced the entire country to chaos. Premier Zhou was deeply mourned by people throughout the land, and deeply resented, even in death, by Jiang Qing and her coterie.

On 5 April that year fell the festival called Qing Ming - a kind of All Saints Day in the Chinese calendar, a day when people remember the dead and sweep the graves of their forebears. Zhou Enlai's funeral had been a minimal affair, on his own instructions, so millions of Chinese at all levels of society chose make the Qing Ming festival their day of remembrance for Premier Zhou. In defiance of warnings from the leftists, individuals, groups, military units, party units, schools and colleges, buried the Revolutionary Martyrs Memorial in Tian An Men Square in thousands of memorial wreaths, often accompanied by poems or inscriptions which bore pointed warnings to Jiang Qing and her band about trampling on the will of the masses.

Most of the wreaths were placed on the evening of April 4th, and by custom would have remained on display for a week before being cleared away from the square. But the leftists decided this implied insult to them was too much to bear, and had army units remove every last wreath and poem in the dead of night. All that was left for the second day of the festival were pools of water where poems had been scrubbed from the monument. The reaction was absolute outrage, which ran in waves throughout the land. Thousands of demonstrators - real, spontaneous demonstrators, rushed to Tian An Men Square and besieged the Great Hall of the People on its western side, demanding the return of their wreaths and punishment of the sacrilege.

The Beijing authorities took a hard line. They gave no explanation, and ultimately sent thousands of militia into the square to beat and arrest those demonstrators who refused to disperse. Reports say about a hundred demonstrators were beaten to death that day, and four thousand arrested. The official press quoted Chairman Mao from his sick-bed denouncing the incident as `counter-revolutionary'. Mass reactions were suppressed, but many powerful people at the top of the party and the army had been as outraged the demonstrators, and the climate was formed in which, five months later, Jiang Qing and the group around her would be deposed and arrested within days of the old Chairman's death.

One of the great untold political tales of this century lies in that coup d'etat, and in the means by which Hua Guofeng, a man trusted by the extremists, was persuaded to support the coup. Even more interesting to China-watchers would be the persuasion of General Wang Dongxing - Chairman Mao's personal bodyguard for years, the most obdurate `whateverist', and commander of the special guards regiment which was supposed to protect the national leadership but in fact carried out the coup d'etat against the Gang of Four. One can be certain that promises were made to these people concerning the security of their future roles in politics - promises which Deng Xiaoping, on his return to centre stage, was to repudiate, one by one, as he laid down his wei qi beans.

When one player's beans surround another player's bean, they `eat' it. One of the first beans to be eaten in Deng Xiaoping's campaign was the Mayor of Beijing, Wu De. Though a second-ranker by Chinese standards, Wu De was also a vice-chairman of the National Peoples Congress, a party politburo member, he had a versatile revolutionary history enough for two normal lifetimes, and more power than most of the world's Prime Ministers, ruling a population of some nine million in Beijing and its rural surrounds. It was Wu De's voice which had echoed through the vast public address system of Tian An Men square, warning the demonstrators that they were counter-revolutionaries and faced arrest. Wu De had given the order for the beatings and arrests that followed. It may not have been his own initiative, but he was held responsible. Sporadically, in the second half of 1978, small hand-written wall-posters appeared in various parts of central Beijing, bearing demands that Wu De should be sacked.

Immediately after Premier Hua Guofeng's national day address on Seeking Truth from Facts, the Foreign Ministry Information Department organised a visit to Xinjiang, a remote and exotic part of China, for almost all the foreign correspondents. Only the Soviet bloc countries were not invited, on `security' grounds. We correspondents returned to the capital on October 10, our notebooks bulging with exotic feature stories to file, only to find that Wu De had been sacked. And the nature of his sacking was quite pointed, because while he had been removed from his post as Mayor of Beijing, he still held his honorific posts in the National Peoples Congress and the Party, at least for the time being. Deng Xiaoping had plenty more beans in his pot. The removal of Wu De from his Beijing office meant that those who had demonstrated in Tian An Men square were about to be vindicated, or, as the Chinese put it, politically rehabilitated.

Indeed, within days the official media were blanketed with eulogies of the Tian An Men incident, photographs of those who had died, interviews with participants, private photographic records and documentary film hitherto held only as police evidence. The official reversal generated tremendous excitement amongst the ordinary people of many levels. The more simple- minded saw it as a belated tribute to the spirit of Premier Zhou Enlai, the last senior official they had really trusted with their hearts.

But for many young and middle-aged thinkers in the community, this seemed the culmination of a liberation that had yearned for. The preceding months had seen the freeing of tens of thousands of people classified as enemies of the people for daring to speak their minds. Hua Guofeng's speech had spoken of `emancipation of the minds', and had repeated the abused slogan, `Let a hundred flowers bloom'. Now the classification of those spontaneous demonstrations at Tian An Men as revolutionary, not counter-revolutionary, seemed to mean that the broad masses had been given a licence to express, publicly, their views and criticisms, even of the Party centre. The gags of twenty years were removed.

Wall-posters are an ancient part of Chinese culture. They reflect the reverence traditionally held for the written ideograph, far beyond the mere alphabetic scribblings of the non- Chinese world. Workers and peasants paste prayers and written spells for good luck across their doors. Burning paper with someone's name written on it will curse them. The political wall- poster, denouncing injustice, has a history of centuries. In the Cultural Revolution, the Maoists accorded the individual wall- poster such status that the right to paste them up became specifically enshrined in the constitution of the Peoples Republic.

As part of the officially-backed rehabilitation of the Tian An Men incident, organs such as the Communist Youth League were encouraged to paste up wall-posters which echoed, perhaps in more callow rhetoric, the editorials of the Party press. But these prim offering were soon smothered in a blizzard of genuinely spontaneous comment unseen for decades.

Within days, posters signed by ordinary workers were daring to suggest that the re-appraisal had not gone far enough, because it had not questioned the role of Chairman Mao himself in the matter. It made the hitherto unthinkable suggestion that Mao supported the Gang of Four, and that his thoughts in later life were mistaken. It pointedly left the name of Chairman Hua Guofeng off a list of trustworthy senior party officials. A later poster warned that unless the Chinese people faced up honestly to the serious mistakes made by Chairman Mao, `political swindlers' like the Gang of Four could grab power again in the future. The author signed himself `A Railway Worker'. Another described a factory meeting in a north-eastern province at which speeches were made denouncing Mao Zedong, and his portrait taken down from a wall and smashed.

The standard dazibao (big character announcement) is a broadsheet, about a metre high, hand-written in characters five centimetres square. But anything goes, and views were pasted up on anything from sheets of cotton to a torn scrap from a notebook, scribbled in pencil. There were rumours, which proved to be true, that an important meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee was in progress, and excitement mounted.

The telephone rings at eleven-thirty, and it's an excited member of the Gynaecologists - that informal brotherhood of foreigners in Beijing who share a professional interest in the internal workings, the `private parts', of Chinese politics. No-one can know everything - we exchange what information we have. Someone has just called to tell him a gigantic poster has gone up in Tian An Men Square itself - Let's go! I struggle back into my clothes, then a heavy sheepskin coat and fur-lined hat with earflaps. The temperature in the Square will be below zero.

Tian An Men Square is almost deserted at midnight, a vastness of dark grey cement paving, with pools of light under the lamp-posts. All the meagre traffic of home-going cyclists is stopping to read the poster, still damp with paste. It is a phenomenon, over ninety poster pages, spread along a paling fence on the eastern side of the square, facing directly across a hundred metres of paving to the tomb where Chairman Mao's body lies in its crystal sarcophagus. It is a symbolic Manifesto for Human Rights, and it is pasted on the back fence of the Public Security Bureau.

A poetic miscellany of verse, prose, and stark red graphics, the poster is an appeal for Human Rights. It cries out boldly that China has never known the meaning of democracy. Power has been passed from emperor to tyrannical emperor, and modern times have only seen the techniques of psycho- logical oppression brought to a new peak in support of the Cult of Personality. China's dictators have built a spiritual Great Wall around the country to protect their dictator- ship - it must be smashed along with all idols, old and new. America is powerful, because it is not hampered by idolatry and superstition. What is the truth about Chairman Mao Zedong? Is he China's Stalin? People of China, rise up and do battle for the Truth, against feudalism!

By one o'clock in the morning, the temperature has fallen further and the cold is clawing up through the soles of my shoes. Word has been passed on, people have been woken up, and more young Chinese are cycling into the darkened square, unsure that this radical document can survive the night. The fence is on top of a paved embankment, six feet above the square. Two lamp-posts light it well. The short-sighted have scrambled up to form a shuffling, fifty-metre procession along the small ledge at the top of the embankment, reading sheet by sheet, obscuring the text and forcing others to follow their lead. Some read aloud to others on the pavement below. Guards from the Square detachment are there, reading the posters themselves. One of them takes notes in a small pad. Small groups are in heated discussion at the foot of the embankment. Chairman Mao lies a hundred metres away in his tomb.

We went back at eleven o'clock the next morning, and the crowds were large, the procession still shuffling its way along the top ledge of the embankment. People from the American and Soviet embassies were there, taking photographs of the posters. Unidentified Chinese were there, taking photographs of the foreigners. Some of the poster's authors were there, as well. They were the age of almost all the poster-writers of that period.. around thirty. They were the generation who had been bred with the greatest ideals for a Socialist China, had been passionate Red Guards, had seen their ideals disintegrate, but kept their passion.

The huge poster was a product of a small group of like- minded people from Guiyang, in south-central China's Guizhou province, the poorest in China. Several of them had been sent there after leaving school, and had been denied the opportunity of formal study during the Cultural Revolution years. Assigned to factory and menial office work, they had come together, and sought out educated people of the older generation who could pass on knowledge of things beyond the sterile texts then served up to them. Whatever their sources may have been, they became enamoured of European social philosophers. They quoted Thomas Locke, de Tocqueville, Adam Smith, even Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia', written in sixteenth-century England, but our own century, at least in book form, seemed largely to have passed them by.

The leader, Huang Xiang, was spectacled, thin, with a lank wisp of hair falling across his face as he pasted up some extra sheets of poems alongside the magnum opus. He had been writing poems secretly for years, showing them only to trusted friends. Much of the giant poster was his work, woven together under the allegorical title 'The God of Fire'. Hearing the praise being heaped on the poets of the Tian An Men Incident, this group of provincial intellectuals had gathered their ink-brushes and their manuscripts and had caught a train to Beijing, in search of a receptive audience. On the day they laboured to paste up their ninety pages, they followed the tradition of such groups in China to found a grandly titled society - the Enlightenment Society - with a burning torch as its emblem. It was from student societies like this that all China's progressive movements, including the Communist Party itself, had always grown.

The Enlightenment Society certainly caught an audience, and the poems Huang Xiang pasted on that wall have been copied, filed, translated and published in several languages: more, it must be said, for their topicality than for their literary merit. They blew a brazen fanfare to open the Democracy Wall, but their high-flown, allusory style reduced any hard political challenge they may have contained.

No-one remembers who named the Democracy Wall. It had been a popular one for posters since it was built, due to its convenient location separating a local bus-depot from a bus-stop where many commuters spent time waiting to change bus routes. It was a stone's throw from a major commercial cross-street, Xidan, on Beijing's main thoroughfare, Chang-An. There was an open space about fifteen metres wide between the wall and the kerb, leaving plenty of space for impromptu gatherings and discussion meetings. A stack of lumber against the inside of the wall, in the bus- depot, provided handy access to the top of the two-metre grey- brick wall for bold orators, or, later, for sellers of the unofficial magazines which soon proliferated. If the quotation is accurate, Deng Xiaoping himself endorsed the name `Democracy Wall', at least for a time.

In those few heady days of late November, the poster-writing activity, which had sprung up all over Beijing, quickly centralised there at the Xidan Democracy Wall. In the mainstream of the posters, the themes were similar : there must be more democracy in China, there must be an honest evaluation of the past, and those people in power who still thought like the Gang of Four must be removed. In a matter of days, to suggest that Chairman Mao was capable of making mistakes (a heresy earning at least fifteen years labour reform up till now) became almost a commonplace. Posters containing this suggestion were not torn down, which meant that police had been ordered not to tear them down. But ordered by who? The assumption was that Deng Xiaoping wanted the Democracy Wall to give messages to his more orthodox colleagues about the feelings of the masses.

Posters received stern judgement from their readers. The mediocre, the fatuous, would be quickly covered up with someone else's essay, and the reactionary posters (there were almost none) defending Maoism lasted not much longer before overpasting. Layer after layer built up, until there was a multi-coloured crust of paste and paper a centimetre thick over most of the hundred-metre wall. Soon, it was harder and harder to find sensational new statements on the wall - so many of the taboos had been broken. Later posters became more introspective, and there were more in the category of personal complaints, rather than general social criticisms.

The other remarkable break in taboos was that people at the wall began talking to foreigners. That had always been a risky thing to do, in a xenophobic society, bringing suspicion of betrayal on the head of anyone who conversed unsupervised with a foreigner. At some stages in the Cultural Revolution, foreigners had been discouraged or even forbidden from reading the wall- posters, which were considered the private affair of the Chinese people alone. In November 1978, people gathering at the Wall to read the latest posters would suddenly initiate conversations with any foreigner who happened to be there. Some foreign language students of offered their services as translators, guiding foreigners to the most interesting posters. Others sought out Chinese-speakers among the foreigners, who, after all, were most likely to be the ones down at the wall anyway.

Many of the names of the foreign correspondents in Beijing were well-known to the informed Chinese, at least in their Chinese forms. Newspaper reporters, in particular, frequently had their despatches translated and published (without royalty payment of course) in the Reference News tabloid that circulated to millions of cadres each day, giving them a view of China as foreigners saw it. When members of our craft were introduced to groups of excited youths, there would often be cheers. It was flattering, but sad, that a generation thought of us foreigners as more truly sympathetic to their views than their own people.

When such conversations began, it could be hard to get away. The young Chinese were often surprisingly well-informed about the main stream of politics in the West, as one would glean from reading the front page, only, of a daily newspaper. But they were almost totally ignorant about how society worked.

`Tell us about democracy'.

`Does the English Queen take all your taxes?'

`How can the law be independent of the government?'`

'How is the Independence Struggle in your country?'

'How is it possible for every peasant to own a car?'

On Sunday, 26 November, the correspondent of the 'Toronto Globe and Mail', John Fraser, took a visiting American columnist, Robert Novak, down to see the Wall, which by now was an Event, not just a Thing. Fraser had a smattering of Chinese, and was by nature highly sociable and inquisitive. He fell into conversation with a handful of young Chinese, which soon swelled into a substantial crowd. Fraser had been his paper's drama and ballet critic before coming to China, and brought his sense of drama with him. Perhaps inspired by the growing audience, he said that Novak had been told he might be having an interview with Deng Xiaoping the next day. None of us realised then, of course, that Deng was on the point of finalising the diplomatic rapprochement that would end thirty years of formal estrangement with the United States. He was in a mood to be kind to Americans.

With Novak's somewhat bemused agreement, Fraser then asked that random bunch of young enthusiasts whether they would like Novak to pass on any message to Deng Xiaoping. The response was a wild cheering and clouds of dust raised from the arid earth by jumping feet. Fraser and Novak then left the scene with a handful of questions scribbled in Chinese on bits of paper, having promised to return, the next evening at seven o'clock, to report.

Novak had his interview, and was able to give Deng a selection of the questions that had been put forward. Deng answered them without turning a hair, well aware of the effect his answers would have.

I found out about this when I received a call from someone to say that Beijing University was abuzz with the news that there would be a mass meeting at the Democracy Wall that evening, for Beijing's youth to meet with foreign journalists. My message said nothing about Deng Xiaoping, Fraser or Novak. As was our custom in such matters, I set about ringing as many of my colleagues as I could find, to let them know about the event.

One of those I called was John Fraser. He seemed somewhat alarmed at my news, as he was already having misgivings about his undertaking, on the grounds that journalistic ethics tread a fine line between reporting of, and participation in, the politics of one's host country. I told him it was too late, since the meeting would go ahead whether he were there or not. He decided to go ahead, but not without trepidation.

The sun sets early in Beijing in November, and it was well dark by seven o'clock. On the long strip of land in front of the Democracy Wall at least three thousand young people had gathered, though as yet they had no focus.. standing about in groups, some talking excitedly, some just waiting. Hundreds of bicycles were propped up on their stands, and some self-appointed marshals were encouraging people to move their bicycles out of the crowd to ordered rows. Chinese know that bicycles are dangerous obstacles in large crowds. The night was clear, as most winter nights are, and the bulky, padded overcoats blurred individual outlines into dark, shifting masses. Foreigners usually wear more expensive and warmer hats, and here and there I recognised the headgear of the people I had tipped off, and others of the Gynaecologists. A few of the East European journalists and diplomats were there, cautiously staying further back in the crowd, just to be sure. I saw a couple of young men looking expectant and waving, and made my way through the crowd towards them. They asked me if Fraser was coming, and I said I believed so. There was a cheer from those within earshot, and our small knot became the centre of a suddenly polarised mass. I pulled a wad of my name cards from my pocket - roman script on one side, Chinese on the other - and surrendered them to the eagerly stretched hands on all sides. There could be nothing criminal in that, and police agents would already have noted my presence, so there was nothing to lose.

Soon John Fraser arrived, pushing his way nervously through the crowd, which was beginning to jam in from all directions as more and more young people arrived at the back and craned forward to hear what was going on. An interpreter was found in the crowd, as none of the foreigners capable of it was prepared to place himself quite so much on centre stage. Inside my bulky sheepskin coat, my cassette recorder was rolling.

The group around us opened things properly with two rousing choruses: the Chinese National Anthem (openly modelled on the Marsellaise), and the Internationale - popularly known as the Anthem of Zhou Enlai. The crowd again began to surge forward dangerously, and the group at the centre tried chivalrously to protect the foreigners from pressure, linking arms around us. The surge subsided, and with a rhythmic chant of `Please sit down', the organisers succeeded in getting a dozen or so front rows of the crowd on all sides sitting on the ground. Fraser's message from Deng was brief, but there was still no way that people at the back could hear what was being said at the centre of our circle, so a system of human relays was set up. The translator bellowed from the centre, then, in rings back through the crowd, individuals who had heard the message turned and bellowed it to those in the sector behind them. The effect was unusual, each concentric ring of the crowd responding vociferously as it received the message, and the response coming back to the centre in phased waves of enthusiasm.

The message from Deng Xiaoping was simple, and was delivered by Fraser in short sentences for translation. After some preliminaries, he came to the line everyone was waiting for:

`Vice-Premier Deng says, "The Xidan Democracy Wall is a good thing."'

The crowd erupted in huge cheers, and there was another dangerous surge forward from the rear. Those Chinese sitting at the front, practised in such matters, leapt to their feet in order to avoid being crushed. It was a further minute or two before order was restored.

`But Vice-Premier Deng says, "Not everything that has been written at Democracy Wall is correct."'

The crowd fell relatively silent, apart from those at the back who were still cheering the first part of the message.

`"For instance, about Chairman Mao - it is not correct to say he was only seventy percent good and thirty percent bad. He was better than that."'

`I myself', Deng added in a later answer, `am only sixty percent good and am forty percent bad'.

When Fraser revealed that a former Defence Minister, Marshall Peng Dehuai, was soon to be posthumously rehabilitated, there were wild cheers from one section of the crowd, close to the organisers. General Peng was a peppery character, who had been purged when he dared to challenge Chairman Mao openly, in the late fifties, over Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward. Peng's posthumous rehabilitation would have little impact on the lives of these people, but it was seen as symbolic of the kind of slaps the authority of Mao Zedong was going to receive in the general re-writing of recent Chinese history. The young people who cared about this sort of thing were generally the children of intellectuals and of the Party elite - those most wounded by Mao's autocracy.

John Fraser melted away into the mob, still nervous about the consequences of his role, as some of the crowd set up a chant, `We want freedom, we want freedom'. The floor was taken by one of the young group leaders, who began bawling out a hoarse oration on democracy.

`For some days, we, the people of the April 5th Movement, (the first time we foreigners were aware this movement had taken any formal shape) have been coming here to express our views. The people, a free people, is a thing with a deep history. (cheers) There are some people, hidden, who say they support the people, but really they fear the people... Are there still people in the upper ranks who are like the Gang of Four? (There are! There are!) These people are sabotaging the Four Modernisations of the people. Its time to purge the Party, and to discuss the way forward for our people, our social system, and our place in the Third World. Today, Vice-Premier Deng has supported our Democracy Wall, so we must do it right, we must do it thoroughly...'

The speaker's voice tailed off in yet another surge from the crowd, this time an irreversible one. Two wives of foreign journalists, who were slow to scramble to their feet, were trampled and bruised, despite the best efforts of Chinese nearby to protect them. Clutching my tape-recorder to my chest, I found both arms pinned to my sides in the crush, and had great difficulty keeping one foot on the ground as I was propelled bodily sideways. My face must have showed the alarm I felt, and a young Chinese who had been pressed hard up against me in the crush nodded and smiled reassuringly to me as we were both borne irresistibly, in a human undertow, away from the Wall and towards the middle of Chang An Boulevard.

I remembered sitting on a stockyard fence, watching cattle forced through a drafting-gate, and I felt a sudden sympathy for those beasts as the human current swept me along the iron railings of the bus-stop. Resistance would have been dangerous and hopeless. By the time the pressure of the crowd released me, I was standing in the middle of the eight-lane thoroughfare, which had been taken over completely by the crowd, swollen during the evening to at least ten thousand.

A murmur passed through the crowd and became a shout:

`To the Square! To the Square!'

The crowd streamed off in ranks twenty wide, narrowing now to only half of the roadway, but not deigning to yield the rest. Many pushed their bicycles along with them in the march. The growling articulated buses, taxis, and the rest of the night traffic moved carefully to the other side of the road, passengers staring out the windows at this disorganised rally of thousands. Group by group, the exhilarated crowd became a march, and the marchers raised the slogans:

`Long Live the People! We Want Freedom! We Want Democracy! Carry Forward the April 5th Movement!'.

They fervently believed that, through the April 5th Movement commemorating their days of defiance in his honour, they were the inheritors of Zhou Enlai. We left Xidan behind, passed the Telegraph Office, and then a police depot. The Public Security Bureau obviously knew that the rally was going to occur, but would not act against it without orders. Apparently, orders never came. We marched past the long red wall of Zhong Nan Hai, the former Imperial park, now occupied as a secure residential compound by the national Communist leadership, and wondered which Politburo members within might raise their heads from their files at the sound of marchers outside the wall. As we approached Tian An Men Square after twenty minutes walk, the bulk of the Great Hall of the People loomed up on the right of the Boulevard. Perhaps again remembering Premier Zhou, one group stopped and sang a chorus of the Internationale in the direction of some lighted windows on its upper floors.

It was an extraordinary moment as the demonstrators, by then down to about three thousand in number, spilled into Tian An Men Square, taking possession of it again in the name of democracy, believing that they had support from inside the Great Hall. But the Tian An Men Square had held a million people at a time, during Chairman Mao's Red Guard rallies in the sixties. The vast square, and the buildings surrounding it, were designed on a scale to glorify the state and to diminish the individual. Even a crowd of three thousand could begin to look ominously small.

The intoxication of the hour overrode such feelings, as most of the young crowd headed for the traditional rallying-place, the steps of the Revolutionary Martyrs Memorial in the centre of the square. There were a couple of speeches, mostly continuing the theme of learning from other countries, such as Yugoslavia, in developing a new kind of socialism for China. Yugoslavia was then a popular model for Chinese investigation, as it seemed to offer the material and cultural benefits of contact with the west, without abandoning socialist morality - something few of these young Chinese would at that stage have seriously considered.

The speeches were no substitute for direct contacts, however, and soon the crowd broke up into small discussion groups, often with one or two of the foreigners at their centre, being grilled about their own countries, about democracy.

I was in a group with two other foreigners, one of them John Fraser. We asked those around us, `What do you mean by the word democracy'.

A young, spectacled woman in drab grey was the most vocal.

`It is the pre-requisite for any progress in China. Democracy is the right of the people .. we must dare to speak. Secondly, what the people say must be considered carefully. All those people sitting over there inside the Great Hall of the People.. they should all consider themselves members of the people.' The words tumbled out at high speed.

`But why are you so keen on telling us foreigners these things?', I asked her.

`For a long time in the past we could not speak. Now there is more communication, we can speak our minds. We feel more and more that we, too, are human. We can speak out the things that are in our hearts.

`We know that in the past the people of China have been regarded as thoughtless Blue Ants, milling about, talking big but achieving little. But in the people's hearts, underneath these drab clothes, there is a strong power of thought.

`Our call now for liberalisation is not the call of Western youth, for rock and roll and nightclubs, that sort of thing. We have not come to that yet. If we can have a little freedom, look a little nicer, that will be fine. But the main thing to solve for the youth must be this: for ten years people could not read or write, could not study. That problem must be solved immediately. And we must end the sentences of the Educated Youth sent down to the villages. All are ready to take up new vocations. First solve these problems.'

A man, somewhat older, chimed in on the subject of the press itself, knowing we were journalists.

`Of course, our newspapers are not like yours. They exist only to carry out the work of propaganda. They probably won't report what happened tonight'. (He was right on that).

`We are all working people. We have finished our shifts, but instead of going home we have come here in the cold to talk over what is in our hearts.

`Chairman Mao has been dead now for three years. We knew that questions like democracy would have to be faced sooner or later, but we expected they would wait until we had made some economic progress. The reason this is happening now is that we realise that unless we solve the problem of democracy, we cannot make fast progress in our economy'.

It was near to midnight, and the frost was creating small haloes around the lights on the square. The handful of organisers on the steps of the monument called for a second rally at Democracy Wall the following day, and knots of Chinese youth melted off, back to the industrial suburbs, by bus and by bicycle.

There had been a sense of destiny, of the historical moment, as the place of isolated, almost surreptitious self-expression suddenly coalesced into a crowd of thinking people, all possessed with similar convictions, and believing that the future really did lie in their hands. From kindergarten on they had been told they should be revolutionaries - many had participated in violent civil ructions in the Cultural Revolution - and now it seemed they might be able to break through into an era of open participation in their country's decision-making - democracy!

Two more rallies followed that spontaneous eruption, on the Monday and Tuesday nights, and they were a sad lesson in the dynamics of mass politics. Things started poorly on Monday night, when the organisers switched the venue from Democracy Wall back to Tian An Men Square - perhaps anticipating trouble in that confined space by the bus depot. By the time people had straggled together, an hour had been lost, and there was some impaTiance in the crowd. There was also a different character to them. It seemed that a number of the most articulate leaders of the previous night had reconsidered the risk of too much prominence, and they either stayed away or kept a low profile. On the other hand, it was clear that in the crowd of two thousand who were there many more than the previous night had come out of sheer curiosity, or worse, in the hopes of some re nao, a bit of sensation, perhaps.

Speakers could add little to the generalities of the night before, but the audience wanted to hear specifics, programmes, concrete demands. When these failed to materialise, there was heckling and jeering. We foreigners felt that some there were not merely neutral, but actively hostile to our presence. Occasionally someone in the crowd would mutter provocatively `KGB, KGB', as a foreigner moved past. Some of the heckling, too, was Maoist in character. But, if there was a plan to defuse the movement, the tactic was clearly to be deflation, not confrontation. There was some aimless surging in the crowd, for no apparent reason, which served to distract the amateur democrats trying lamely to hold their audience.

As things ran down, a man in his middle forties, smugly dressed in cadre-standard clothing and with the hollow bonhomie of a Youth League organiser, took over the electronic megaphone. He was clearly a trained manipulator, and in half an hour he managed to blur all distinctions between the demands of the young democratic activists and the current Party line of controlled liberalisation. It's doubtful that a single person was impressed by his arguments, but his intervention was a depressing reminder, to all, of the omnipresence of the Party, the thought-control of its rhetoric. The overweening, bombastic Party slogan hoardings which still crowded the margins of the square, but had been forgotten in the democratic fervour, seemed to take on again their smug assurance: `When you are gone, we will be here'. By the time the man finished, people were drifting off, and the rally was eviscerated. Its organisers doggedly announced another for the following night.

The third rally showed that the Democracy Movement was going nowhere on the streets. Fewer people again turned up - perhaps two thousand - and a disturbing proportion of those were loutish teenagers clearly in search of excitement. There was constant trouble and distraction in the crowds, and many of the more serious-minded Chinese soon left in disgust.

`The Chinese people are not used to freedom of speech, and do not know how to handle it', said one disappointed activist. Others were convinced that the meetings had been deliberately undermined by agents of the Public Security, looking for an excuse to clamp down on the movement overall. The April 5th Forum put up a notice at Democracy Wall the following day, announcing that, on these grounds, there would be no more pre-arranged rallies, but they would be publishing a magazine, also named the 'April 5th Forum', for exchange of views among those who shared their concerns. It what was to be known, later, as the Beijing Spring, the Democracy movement had blossomed, pollinated, and now it would fruit.