CHINA SHINES. IT radiates possibility. If it were a fashion it would be the new black. My problem is that I remember the old darkness. At least I think I do. Memory is an unreliable companion. All I really know is that until now I have avoided revisiting that night in Beijing nearly twenty years ago. Even though I lived in the city for three years and was married to a local Chinese woman, China has been a wasteland for me. Just before I left in 1991, I wrote that the place felt like a disease crawling across my skin. That was extreme. But then so was what I saw and what I have been unable to forget. These things, which are stored in memory, roar inside us. The night when the tanks rolled over the students in Tiananmen Square I was a journalist and I thought I could contain it all in a notebook; now I am a psychoanalyst, and I no longer know what name to put to what occurred. But I need to bear witness to it, partly because it was a crime and partly because my telling of it felt like betrayal.
That night was filled with terror, but none of the Olympic tourists who negotiated the guarded underpasses that block access to Tiananmen Square would have found it. Like the blood I saw soaking into the Avenue of Eternal Peace, it has been scrubbed away. China is particularly good at erasure. It has levelled the old Beijing, and with it, physical signs of the murder that took place there. I have done the same with my past – or tried to. Journalism taught me a formula for certainty, and for a long time I confused that with truth. Now all I have are stories, some of which may be true. It is only in the telling that I will know.
Already a subscriber? Sign in here