Written by Diane Gatterdam
Twenty-three years ago on this day Friday May 12th 1989, at this point, most of the students didn’t see any danger ahead, and hoped for dialogue with the government. Chai Ling though was in despair as her the decision to go on a hunger strike came from feeling, not from reasoning.
At first most of the leaders of the Independent Students Union would not support her but Wang Dan and Ma Shaofang did and they persuaded the others.
Initially only 7 students from Beida agreed and then it grew to 40.
Then, Chai Ling made a speech that became the manifesto of the student hunger strikers.
Later it became the striker’s last will and testament also. It was copied on tape, printed and reprinted.
This is that speech:
In these bright and beautiful days of May, we are beginning a hunger strike. We are young, but we are ready to give up our lives. We cherish life, we do not want to die. But this nation is in a critical state. It suffers from sky-rocketing inflation, growing crime rates, officials profiteering, and other forms of bureaucratic corruption, concentration of power in a few people’s hands, and the loss of a large number of intellectuals who would now rather stay overseas.
At this life-and-death moment of the nation’s fate, countrymen, PLEASE LISTEN TO US!
China is our mother-land. We are the people. The government should be our government. Who should speak out, if we should not? Who should act, if we should not?
Although our bones are still forming, although we are too young for death, we are ready to leave you. We must go; we are answering the call of Chinese history.
Our honest feelings of patriotism and loyalty to the nation were distorted as “turmoil,” and we were accused of being the tools of a “handful” who have “ulterior motives.”
We ask of every Chinese citizen, every worker, peasant, soldier, civilian, celebrity, every government official, policeman, and our accusers- that you place your hand on your heart and ask yourself: What wrong have we done? What “turmoil” have we created?
What causes have led us to protest, to demonstrate, to boycott classes, to fast, to hide ourselves?
Why did this happen?
Our words were not heard in good faith. We were beaten by police when we marched, though we were only hungry for the truth.
Our representatives knelt for hours, presenting our petition, only to be ignored by the government. Our request for dialogue has been put off again and again.
The safety of our student leaders is now uncertain.
What shall we do?
Democracy is supposed to be the highest of human aspirations and freedom, a sacred human right, granted at birth.
Today these must be bought with our lives.
We say to our dear mothers and fathers, do not feel sorry for us when we are hungry. To our uncles and aunts, do not feel sad when we leave this life. We have one wish, that the lives of everyone we leave be better. We have one request, that you remember this: our pursuit is life, not death.
Democracy is not a task for a few; it takes generations.
Death is awaiting the echo that is most universal and immemorial.
When a man is about to die,
His words would be kind.
When a horse is about to expire,
His cries would be sorrowful.
Farewell, comrades, take care! May those who die and those who live share the same loyalty.
Farewell, beloved, take care! I cannot bear to take leave of you, yet there is no choice but to take leave.
Farewell, our parents! Please forgive us, your children cannot manage to be loyal and filial at the same time.
Farewell, our people! Please permit us to demonstrate to you our loyalty in this desperate fashion.
With our lives we have written this attestation, must make clear the sky of our republic.
May this declaration, written with our lives, break up the clouds that cast their
shadows on the People’s Republic of China.
Reason for this hunger strike:
- To protest the government’s indifference to the student demonstrations;
- To protest the government’s failure to enter into a dialogue with students;
- To protest the government’s unfair characterization of the students democratic movement as “turmoil” and the further distortion of it in newspaper coverage.
- An immediate dialogue between the government and the students on substantial topics with equal status;
- An acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the student democratic movement.
Time of the hunger strike: Begins at 2:00 P.M., May 13, 1989.
Place of the hunger strike: Tiananmen Square.
-Chai Ling May 12th 1989
After Chai Ling’s speech, more than a 1000 tapes were copied and sent off to other universities.
The students are now positioned to take over.
There is no stopping it now, the hunger strike will begin tomorrow….