EC once observed that traditional Chinese (Taoist?) funerals are sorry affairs — the mourning, the wailing, the despair can overwhelm. The atmosphere is a far cry from the quiet sadness, solemnity and peace that define a Christian funeral. This memory of her observation surfaced tonight during this night’s vigil for the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4, 1989.
The vigil at Victoria Park has been held since the first anniversary of the national and human tragedy, and tonight’s turnout of 150,000 was the largest since that of the first gathering, which was 100,000. (These exact-yet-inexact round numbers hurt my brain.)
So there’s a part in the proceedings in which someone delivers a tremulous lament for the dead, followed by the assembled vigil keepers paying their respects to the dead by bowing thrice to a replica of a pillar that’s at Tiananmen Square. So far, so traditional.
It occurred to me then that they’ve been doing this lamenting and berating for two decades now, and will have to continue doing so because they’re just as trapped as the CCP, which is itself held in thrall to the false imperative of one-party rule.
But the mourners and activists don’t have to be trapped in this circle of despair. They can break free of the seemingly neverending quest for justice and accountability by loudly forgiving the government which has violated its moral responsibility to the people it is meant to serve, and which has given in too many times to the temptation of ruling by terror.
As Philip Yancey points out in What’s So Amazing About Grace?, forgiveness is just about the only thing that can break the iron girders of hate and retaliation. And it doesn’t even matter what the offending party thinks about you forgiving him — someone else’s response does not add or detract to the validity of your emotions.
But who could dish out such an unappetising message? Surely forgiving someone does not mean condoning what he has done, nor abiding with wretched behaviour — surely justice can still be sought when we let mercy and love lead our steps? Ah, as Rich Mullins once put it:
Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There’ll be a drop of grace
Someone who’d been a student leader during the troubles, who’d managed to escape to the US, and who’d just been allowed back on home soil for the event, went up to say his piece. His name was 熊焱. He looked younger than I expected — but of course the university students from that time would only be around 40 now — and took a deep breath before speaking with a high voice.
It was a singsong sort of speech, the kind that HK-ers are probably not used to; the cadences, rhythms and language were definitely of the Beijing school. I didn’t get 100% of what he said, but I know he started with thanks, went into remembrance of the fallen and imprisoned, and then ended with the extraordinary — he spoke of God and love.
Now, this was only my second time at the vigil, but the tone in the preceding year, and in the speeches before and after this one certainly did not speak of love, not to mention God. Somehow the yearning I had for someone to holler out some truth had been made flesh.
熊焱 said stuff like it was love that filled the grounds to capacity tonight, that made people determined to remember the atrocity. A sense of justice, yes, but love also. He also said that God is a god of justice and that He has promised to be with us through both our joys and our sorrows. He wasn’t preaching, but he wasn’t trying to hide the truth as he knew it. The crowd didn’t seem to mind — they even cheered loudly when 熊焱 spoke of God’s certain condemnation of the wicked.
All I can say is let us continue to pray without ceasing, to hope without ceasing, to love without ceasing.
I had my own little trial to prove how difficult it is to forgive, especially when it comes to someone as churlish as me. A misunderstanding nearly sealed me off in a different section from the friends I was with. I got riled up, and though apologies were made, I spoke harshly and was sullen. I was decidedly not overflowing with the Holy Spirit today. But as is often the case, I was with good people, and time and a better grasp of glory returned me to my senses sooner than usual. We all need so much help, and so much forgiveness. Foolish forgiveness. Continuing from where I’d left off with Rich Mullins:
If we can reach
Beyond the wisdom of this age
Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe
Although their foolish hearts may break
They will find peace
And I’ll meet you in that place
Where mercy leads
So that was the twentieth year since hope for change was purged with blood on both sides of the barrel. This article from The Guardian gives a good and, I think, fair picture of what had happened to these young, flickering flames that were snuffed out for fear of them throwing light on the comforting darkness. Seek justice. And seek peace too. The historian Yehuda Bauer distills these three lessons from the Holocaust:
1. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator.
2. Thou shalt not be a victim.
3. Thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.
(The third brings to mind Reese Witherspoon’s line in the remarkable Rendition: “Please don’t be one of those people who just turns away.”) The lessons are phrased in the negative, but what would be their positive implications? Perhaps:
- Take responsibility.
- Be courageous.
- Centre your world on something other than yourself, so it doesn’t really matter when you lose something you want.
I leave you with my own flicker from the night: