icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-user Skip to content
Senior Correspondent

This is part of the June 4, 1989, journal entry in my book, "Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird." 

One month ago, May 4, I was walking alongside the Youth Day parade of college students in Hangzhou, China. On June 4, I again walked in a demonstration with Chinese people. But these were Hong Kong Chinese, and we were all in mourning for the many students killed in the Beijing massacre the night before. 

As I walked alongside the parade, a marcher called to me, "Join us," and held out his hand. I immediately thought of that other young man in Hangzhou who had said those same words to me on May 4. 

I joined the black-clad Hong Kong mourners. Young and old, children, and even babies were there. We were sweating together in the heat of the June sun. We passed the shops and skyscrapers that line Hong Kong wearing armbands and headbands, holding banners, chanting, or simply walking. On the roads not closed to traffic, cars and taxis honked continually and flew black flags from their antennas. People on the sidelines clapped, or made "v" signs with their fingers, or joined the marchers. One tiny, wizened Chinese woman waved a black flag angrily with tears in her eyes. 

Almost everything was in Chinese, but then I heard the familiar song in English, "We Shall Overcome." That brought me back to other demonstrations and movements I had witnessed — the Civil Rights Movement, and the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the 1960s.

I had left China a few days earlier. I had been missing my China life, and my diligent, sincere students. They had been excited about the demonstrations, about some action at last in their rather monotonous and hopeless existence. There had been speculation that the movement for freedom and democracy was growing, dying, or going underground. Even the peasants in the remote countryside had heard about the hunger strikes and sit-ins in Beijing and other cities.

As I stood on a Hong Kong street watching the news on a small television set placed by a local vendor above his shop, I noticed the faces around me register stunned disbelief as they saw film clips of the tanks rolling down Beijing streets. With horrified fascination and disgust, they listened to gunshots and saw wounded, dying, and dead people.

These Hong Kong Chinese are indeed a strange counterpart to their mainland brothers and sisters. They will unite politically in 1997. In contrast to my students, these well-fed, very westernized Chinese marched in Reebok sneakers and designer jeans with Gucci belts. They munched McDonald's hamburgers, and many carried radio-tape recorders plugged into their ears. The Hong Kong police looked authoritative in snappy uniforms adorned with a gun, nightstick, and walkie talkie. I thought of the contrast they made to the nervous, baggy-uniformed, drab Chinese police who look like little boys dressed up in their father's clothes.

The Hong Kong Chinese care about the mainland Chinese, and genuinely want to help them, but the gap is very wide in so many aspects. I thought how hard it would be for my students from the countryside — thin, poorly-fed and poorly-clothed — to imagine decorating a car with banners and driving down the street honking and waving as a show of solidarity with Chinese students in China in their struggle for freedom and democracy.

I cried for the students I knew in Hangzhou, and for those I hadn't known in Beijing.

Stay Up to Date

Sign up for articles by Suellen Zima and other Senior Correspondents.

Latest Stories

Choosing Senior Living
Love Old Journalists

Our Mission

To amplify the voices of older adults for the good of society

Learn More