Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

* Book review – a marvellous Canadian novel about Tiananmen Square

Congratulations to Liu Xiaoboon on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was “the foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China.  The BBC reports that, “Mr Liu, 54, was a key leader in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.  Last year he received an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion” after drafting Charter 08 – which called for multi-party democracy and respect for human rights in China. Announcing its 2010 peace prize in Oslo, the Nobel Foundation said: “Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.”

Purely by coincidence, I recently picked up the novel “Forbidden City” by William Bell in the discard box of the public library of St. Anthony in northern Newfoundland. While Hurricane Igor was battering the southern half of Newfoundland, I was curled up aboard “Kuan Yin” reading this marvellous novel about the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

The story is told by the son of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation camerman who goes to China with his father in early 1989.  Both father and son very quickly get caught up in the student protest in Tian An Men Square and both bear witness to the weeks of demonstrations and experience first hand the eventual brutal crackdown by Chinese soldiers.

Wikipedia states, “According to an analysis by Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times, “The true number of deaths will probably never be known, and it is possible that thousands of people were killed without leaving evidence behind. But based on the evidence that is now available, it seems plausible that about fifty soldiers and policemen were killed, along with 400 to 800 civilians.”

Looking at the events through the eyes of a 17-year old Canadian student who’s never been outside the safe environment of Canada before, provides a distinctive and unique vantage point.  The story William Bell tells is enthralling and profoundly moving.  I was aware of the events of Tiananmen Square but not until I read “Forbidden city” did I begin to feel the pain and anger of the people caught up in the event. Here’s an abidged excerpt of the murder of Lao Xu,  the CBC’s minder and translator:

Through the viewfinder I saw the soldiers stop.

Threy raised their AK 47s to their shoulders.

Then the night was split open as if a long ear-splitting roll of thunder had burst in the sky above us.

I could see it all through the viewfinder, as if I were watching under water.  Long spears of flame shout out of the ends of trhe AK 47s.  People dropped away from the crowd in the street.  Some fell in heaps like sacks of grain pushed from the back of a truck.  Some seemed to leap backward as if yanked on ropes, to collapse on the road, unmoving.  The deafening volley continued for at leas ten seconds.

The people surged away from the guns, roaring, screaming as the crowd rolled backwards to the east.  People around me on the sidewalk shouted in rage and terror, waving fists in the air, shrinking back towards the Great Hall a little, but not turning and running, holding on as if they wre numbed by what was happening.  One voice separated itself from the din.  It was Lao Xu.

He had stopped pulling on my coat.  “What are they doing?” he screamed. “What are thry doing?”  His face was ghostly red from the flames, his eyes wide, unbelieving.

A tiny blob of flame separated from the crowd on the sidewalk across the avenue from us, arched gracefully into the air towards the soldiers, then fell to the road, bursting and sending a miniature river of flame towards them,  The snouts of the AK 47s came up in unison, spit flame, and the gunfire roared again.  Bodies fell by the dozen.

Lao Xu was still screaming, in Chinese now.  He pushed his way through the crowd, elbowing his way towards the soldiers.  I followed him to the curb.  This time it was me clutching the back of his coat.

“Lao Xu, no! Stay here!”

Suddenly Lao Xu burst from the curb and into the street, running towards the soldiers just as they started to move forward again.  He raised his hands in the air as if he imagined he could hold thm back all by himself.  In spite of the noise I could hear his enraged yelling.

“Lao Xu! Stop!” I screamed as a soldier turned towards Lao Xu’s running figure.

The soldier raised his AK 47.


Alex and his father are eventually expelled from China – and Alex is able to smuggle out video of the brutality of the soldie to show the rest of the world.  I remember seeing many news reports of the demonstrations, the lone figure in front of a tank and other footage.  A picture may tell a thousand words, but reading William Bell’s novel has had a much more powerful effect on me than all the television visuals combined.

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2010 by in Book Reviews, Current Affairs and tagged , , .
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