Elegy for the Peking Martyrs
News photographs possess the gray solemnity of stone:
A mother flailing her arms in grief as
if in tai chi chuan,
welter of bicycles
and tears, always rivers of China's sorrow:
tears and blood daubed with cotton handkerchiefs
Nearby a man and woman press palms flat
against eyes, mouths, in grief
Much as Chinese when they laugh, diffidently.
I have known China, its termite-bitten
misshapen embryo of a soul
moaning with inchoate pain its dark sullen
grimy morning and sodden afternoon
made for hao xiuxi*
experiencing the essence of Shanghai in a
vision, when sleep overwhelms like compulsive
vice: the sick brown dirty lavender
or putrid muddy gold color of goods sold in
Why High Road;
soiled, hunkering shape, crouched in
fetal position, worm-eaten being, homunculus
half-formed, uttering a muted moan.
"I weep for the brilliance of my students," said the first
Chinese woman to graduate from Vassar after Liberation,
made mad by decades of crushing perversions,
Students blanched, remorseless, their girlish smiles
expunged by the childhoods you gave them:
digging rivers in winter with their fingernails.
Miss Zhu Lanxing. Blue Star. Whose mouth broke out in sores
one spring day. Who felt life is meaningless.
"I weep for the brilliance of my students," Esu said,
teaching Milton as chilblains rose on their skin in winter.
"I stand in line all day to buy the worst wine on earth,"
Professor Yuan wrote in his diary; he got 10 years in solitary,
leapt from a bridge, and tried to cut his throat with
bamboo, but lived.
ghoulish, Urizenic King Lear in the
nation of Confucius, near death
yet ravening on the blood of grandsons,
employing personnel to count wristwatches,
document lovemaking, lock books.
"The People's Army will not shoot the People."
An aiyi with infant, shot on a balcony
a student groaning in pain at an untreated
gunshot wound, brains of an intellectual
dashed on the stone tiles of the square of the gate of
heavenly peace, hard by a portrait of Stalin,
leveled by a tank manned by a 20th-century centaur from
I can't stop seeing a human sea
waves of blood:
the 27th fighting the 58th,
the 20th of Shanghai uniting with
the 39th of Shenyang: civil war as
a feint to drive off Western ghosts,
as in Peking opera, when generals
whirl around the stage three times with a
red banner, signifying battle.
The People have nothing to give
the descendants but their lives
They will phone your hot lines to
report Deng Xiaoping and be told:
have your children prepare your coffin.
On a day of foreboding, a day between
Tomb Sweeping Festival and Dragon Boat Festival
when Qu Yuan drowned himself in the river Mu
in despair that the emperor would not heed his
fifteenth day of the fifth lunar month
start of summer days,
I am reminded of several lines of Tang poetry:
"And when your men had vanished beyond the city walls
News was cut off between the two worlds
As between the living and the dead…"
Seek truth from facts:
children dressed in white
short-sleeved students and workers on
black Flying Pigeon bicycles
angels of heavenly peace, eternal peace
"The People's Army loves the people."
What on earth more pure
than the heart of a Chinese youth?
*hao xiuxi—to rest well during afternoon nap
Susan Ruel is an editor on the world desk at the Associated Press and a former resident of Shanghai. Her article about the Chinese democracy movement appeared in the February 1988 issue of REASON.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Elegy for the Peking Martyrs".