watch your words spread

by Thursday.

Dear reader, today Thursday had the misfortune of engaging someone who spoke so authoritatively on the subject of protests in China it was as though ze had been there! And of course, how can one mention the subject without citing the mother of all: June 4, Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

Everyone knows what happened, right? Right?

Now see my duckies, Thursday is always leery of assumptions. Assumptions they are, because we don’t have the full story, whether we like to tell ourselves or not. And in this case, it so happens Thursday knows someone who worked as a journalist and was covering (or attempting to, as we’ll see later) the incident from the very beginning.

Tiananmen Square

Google Maps image of Tiananmen Square. Red arrow on the top left labelled ‘Tanks’. Small black arrow on the top right labelled ‘hotel where journalists hid’. Large black arrow on the bottom right labelled ‘Students leave around midnight’.

So, Tiananmen Square is just off Chang’an Avenue, and framed by Square Xice Road on the left, and Guangchang East Road on the right. At the other end, there’s Qianmen East Street and the Zhengyang Gate. The students were mainly in the central area, protesting. Along the main road were workers and ordinary Beijing residents. At the time the tanks were in town (so to speak), the army initially did nothing. Who’d want to run people over in one of those, anyway?

A couple of days later, late in the evening, the order comes to mow them down. And they do.

But they drive down Chang’an Avenue; they never enter the area where the students are. Said students are doing fine, talking to foreign correspondents. When they hear the tanks coming, most of them manage to escape via the other end of the square. The people mowed down by the tanks are not students, but workers who have come to protest, and ordinary residents.

Workers, not students.

Our intrepid source exit stage right with the student body and heads back to his hotel. He is left hiding in a small tea house down the road, pretending to be oblivious to all the commotion, because journalists have had their cameras either taken away, or the tapes erased. When everything dies down, he writes to his editor.

But by then, there’s already a narrative. A very specific, entrenched narrative that is recycled and repackaged every time the subject is brought up.

I do not necessarily endorse this view. After all, my source has an equal possibility of being unreliable. But mostly, I am shocked — shocked — that the discerning viewer is well, not so discerning. And people who should not be jumping to horribly generalised conclusions without evidence are doing just that.

And remember dear reader, this is only one example.


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