Tiananmen protest photos see light of day

Source: NYT (6/1/17)
Hidden Away for 28 Years, Tiananmen Protest Pictures See Light of Day

Protesters aboard a truck near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in May 1989. One appears to be in a police uniform. It was not unusual then for police officers to join the demonstrators. CreditDavid Chen

For nearly 28 years, David Chen hid away a treasure chest of black-and-white photographs that he took of the protest movement that erupted at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in the spring of 1989.

Marchers in Tiananmen Square denounced the government’s condemnation of the student demonstrators. The banner says, “The charges against the students are baseless.’’CreditDavid Chen

When students occupied the square to demand democracy and an end to graft, Mr. Chen was a 25-year-old student at Dalian Maritime College in northeastern China. He became a supporter of the protests from afar, and he helped organize pro-democracy demonstrations in Dalian, a port city.

Protest leaders addressing the crowd over a loudspeaker. CreditDavid Chen

But like many provincial sympathizers of the swelling movement, Mr. Chen was not content to stay put. He joined a tide of students who crammed onto trains to Beijing and camped on Tiananmen Square, Mr. Chen said in an interview from San Francisco, where he now lives and runs restaurants. (He asked to use his English personal name to protect his family in China from possible repercussions.)

During the protests, students commandeered public buses to carry people and supplies and to spread their message. CreditDavid Chen

But unlike most others on the square, Mr. Chen came with a camera, a luxury in China back then. An uncle from Taiwan had given him a Japanese-made Yashica, and before leaving for Beijing, Mr. Chen bought four rolls of film. He took photographs around the square and at other protest sites until his film ran out a week into his 10-day stay.

The Chinese government declared martial law in urban Beijing on May 20, and later military helicopters dropped leaflets over Tiananmen Square warning protesters to leave.CreditDavid Chen

Back in Dalian, Mr. Chen developed his black-and-white photographs and glued them onto pieces of cardboard, which he and a few other students held up outside a department store for three days to drum up support and donations for the protesters.

David Chen, then a student at Dalian Maritime College, striking a pose beside heroic revolutionary statues near the entrance to the mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square. The banner voices support for the students on a hunger strike. CreditDavid Chen

But a week after Mr. Chen left Tiananmen Square, armed troops seized central Beijing in a night of bloodshed starting on June 3 and culminating with the clearing of the square early on June 4. Hundreds of civilians died around the city.

A foreign television crew filming protesters near Tiananmen Square. The world’s news media converged on the square, especially with the visit of the Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, to Beijing in mid-May. CreditDavid Chen

Mr. Chen hid his film negatives with his parents. The rolls lay untouched for more than two decades, until Mr. Chen converted them into digital images that he took with him when he migrated to the United States in 2012.

Mr. Chen has now decided to share his photographs of the protests.

“Twenty-eight years have passed, the world should know what happened,” he said.

The protests grew to include residents of Beijing, including blue-collar workers. The banner in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, or Tiananmen, says “Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation,” the main group of worker protesters. CreditDavid Chen

This was adapted from an article on the Chinese-language site of The New York Times and translated by Chris Buckley.

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