Auckland memorial to June 4, 1989

To mark the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre in Beijing, I am posting a couple of photographs of the Auckland memorial to the June 4 victims. (The photographs were taken by Joanna Forsberg and are included in A Common Strangeness.)

The memorial stone was laid as the opening event of the festival “China: The Survivors,” which took place on 17 September 1989. The festival was organized by the prominent mainland Chinese poets Yang Lian 杨炼 and Gu Cheng 顾城 (both of whom had been living in Auckland at the time of the massacre), together with other Chinese and local supporters.

Yang Lian wrote the epitaph for the simple monument to those who died in the massacre: “you do not speak, but the stone has a cry” (你们已无言,而石头有了呼声). Or in John Minford’s translation, which appears on the plaque, “This stone stands as witness for those who can no longer speak.”

Yang Lian’s epitaph plays on the similarities between the word shítóu 石头 (stone) and shétóu 舌头 (tongue). In this way, Yang emphasizes language’s ability both to silence and to recover the speech of the dead: tongues are turned to stone, but wordplay can also make a stone speak. I discuss this play on words and its relationship to the double meaning of Yang’s key term “guihua” (both “lies” and “ghost speech”) in A Common Strangeness.

As you can see in one of the photographs, there is also now a second plaque on the stone. This plaque records that the original plaque was vandalized in 2007 and later restored, further illustrating the bitter, ongoing battle over the memory of June 4, 1989.

The memorial sits on the grounds of St Andrew’s First Presbyterian Church on Alten Rd at the corner of Symonds St. The initial plan had been to place the stone within the grounds of the University of Auckland, but when the University authorities refused permission, St Andrew’s offered a temporary home for the memorial. This home later became permanent, and the stone stands there to this day.


About Jacob Edmond

Jacob Edmond is associate professor in English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is the author of Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media (Columbia University Press, 2019), A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Fordham University Press, 2012), and of numerous essays, which have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Poetics Today, Slavic Review, and The China Quarterly.
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