Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Author with Zhang Jian on Tiananmen Square in 1989

Zhang Jian was a lively, spirited student volunteer, a patriotic force of nature who could often be found holding court, telling amusing stories and interrogating intruders around the base of the Monument to the People's Heroes at Tiananmen Square during the turbulent days of May 1989. 

Only 18 at the time, Zhang volunteered to help with security during the hunger strike. As he later explained, things were very fluid and every one higher up in the chain of command soon quit or walked off until he had no one above him and he became the de facto head of student security on the Square. When the troops entered the precincts of Tiananmen in the early hours of June 4, he was with a group of protesters who were shot at close range. He took three bullets in his thigh but survived. The others with him did not make it.

I first encountered Zhang Jian at the Physical Education Institute in the north of Beijing. We chatted several times later on the Square and some of his fellow students arranged transport for me from campus to the Square when cars were hard to find. I called him "Crazy Zhang" and they all agreed he was crazy in a good way.

At that time the above photo was taking, he was among those controlling access to the student leaders who gathered in the so-called “broadcast tent” in the shadow of the central monument in the Square. He ran security under the “command” of Chai Ling and Feng Congde and was on the Square until he was shot during the early stage of the military sweep. He went into hiding and then persevered in low profile as best he could. Over a decade would pass before he eventually found his way to France. 

Zhang Jian remained loyal to the dream through many years of hardship and exile. His passing is lamented but his spirit is not forgotten.


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