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Manoa 12.1 (2000) 151-153

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Two Essays

Xue Di

Coming Out of Darkness

One day in February 1990, I was walking on the campus of Brown University. My heart was empty. After living in China for all my thirty-three years, I had set foot on a free land. Yet I was lost.

I never thought I would leave China. Not like this. It was a land that had embodied my hope, my suffering, and my life. When I was six, my parents divorced. When I was ten, poetry entered my lonely and desperate life. In poetry, I found a world of dreams, a world full of love, for which I was in urgent need.

I read all the literary works I could put my hands on, and soon I was writing poetry as well, using it to depict the misery of my heart and express strong emotions kindled by harsh realities. I lived in absolute solitude. There I had my freedom of thinking and writing. Through writing about life, I described the state of existence of a whole generation living in a closed, turbulent, and oppressive system. Poetry--a voice filled with our dreams, our perseverance, and our endless suffering--became my weapon against the deprivation of our freedom.

In China, writing is a career full of uncertainty and hazard. An honest writer's works may be banned to protect the Communist ideology, and he may be harassed or even put in prison. It is as though we are all clustered in an enormous room with no light, no doors, and no windows. We are locked inside. With all our strength, we kick, we hit and chisel. We want to see the world outside the walls. We resort to the only freedom in our possession--the freedom of thinking--and try our best to express our feelings in an environment of terror and oppression.

In April 1989, a democracy movement spread all over mainland China. In Beijing, millions of people marched in the streets. For the first time, I saw that my dream, which once existed only in my poetry, might now become reality through the struggle of our people. For the first time, I felt a power outside of poetry shaking my life. I wore a t-shirt with characters written in my own blood, I marched in the front, and I slept in Tiananmen Square.

On 4 June 1989, a massacre occurred in the city. Beijing was bathed in [End Page 151] blazing flame, screaming, and gunfire. I carried a wounded citizen and left Tiananmen Square. I could hear my dream cracking and dying, together with many of my countrymen. Its soul still exists only in poetry.

Yes, I never thought I would leave China. But in the aftermath of the massacre, terror and despair enveloped me. Without even a dream to sustain me, I left behind my motherland and arrived in America. Like many Chinese writers, I was suddenly standing in a free land. The iron wall that surrounded me has vanished. We can say what we want to say. We can write what we wish and publish without fear of persecution.

Yet many Chinese writers are having difficulty producing new work. That day in February, I was lost on the campus of Brown University. We are so used to writing under oppression, so used to fighting an outside force that, when we have shaken off the oppression and invisible power, we are suddenly lost. Having lived all of our lives under a system of tyranny and suffocation, we have lost the sense of freedom. Freedom was merely an elusive notion that contradicted reality. When real freedom suddenly presents itself to us, we are confused and unable to release ourselves from the distorted past. Freedom becomes a burden--a burden so heavy that, in our futile efforts to write, we collapse into confusion, panic, and despair.

In our struggle to fight for our mere existence, we have neglected looking into our inner worlds. We now realize that, apart from vague, rebellious instincts, we know virtually nothing about...


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pp. 151-153
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