Cunningham reliving Tiananmen in new book

A laowai in the thick of it.

A laowai in the thick of it.

I ran across an article at Found in China entitled Chai Ling: then and now, which made mention of Philip J Cunningham, author of a new book called Tiananmen Moon.

Over the years I’ve seen an article here or there about Cunningham, but had no idea he was so intimately involved in the protest, being one of the few foreigners to have marched with the students to on May 4. Tiananmen Moon captures that march, as well as the weeks leading up to the fateful day that lives in silent infamy here in China. Marking the 20th anniversary this year, Cunningham provides day-by-day recounting of the significant events that converged in catastrophe and carnage.

Though the book isn’t officially released yet (May 28th, I think), Cunningham provides us with some fantastic excerpts on his blog Frontier International. A few grabs from the post entitled The New May Forth Spirit:

There are not enough mimeographed song sheets to go around so marchers scribble down lyrics in their notebooks, copying them off handout sheets and public blackboards. No cribbing is needed for the Internationale, as everyone knows the anthem inside out.

Why sing a song embraced by the establishment? The idea is brilliant in a way. If you sing it enough, you own it. The communist-indoctrinated youth of Beijing are waving the red flag to beat the red flag, employing iconic rhetoric of rebellion to remake China in their own image.

The more things change…

Standing in the swirling, excited pack of protesters, I am hit with a pang of self-consciousness. Not because I am over six-foot tall, a 190-pound blond man in a sea of black hair and thin physiques; this is a political rally in a country where foreigners live in separate buildings, eat in different restaurants and shop in different stores using different money from local people. Everywhere I go, thousands of curious and sometimes resentful eyes observe my every move. Any lapse of judgment on my part will be magnified many times over because of the stigma of difference.


Daily life in the People’s Republic has been excellent preparation for the practical and dramatic demands of staging political theatre at Tiananmen. It was the art of skirting the edge without crossing the line. It was rebelling within the orthodox vocabulary of rebellion. On what grounds could the May Fourth inspired Communist Party object to a May Fourth march of students waving red banners and singing communist anthems?

Already townspeople were swarming towards the protest, and they too knew how to play they ambiguity game. If questioned they could say they were watching out of curiosity, not in solidarity.


We surge southwards like a river swollen with rain, seeking Tiananmen. Crossing Second Ring Road, one of Beijing’s key arteries, brings east-west traffic to a halt, leaving taxis and busses stranded and abandoned. Meanwhile, construction workers halt their heavy lifting to line the streets, some of them waving and shouting rowdily. As if on cue, the Arts Choral Group accordion players change tack, “The red sun shall shine all over the globe,” fading out on the line, “The Internationale shall definitely be realized,” to launch a new tune. When I hear the lyrics I know why. It is proletarian agit-prop outreach time.

“Peasants, workers, soldiers, unite together!”

The gaggle explodes in celebration upon hearing the call for solidarity. The rhetoric is not new, but hearing it in this context is.