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A blindfold to this mindless mindset

It has been 29 years, but I remember every detail from the square that day as if it were this morning. I had not gone to protest with the others, but found myself finally unable to resist my own curiosity and followed them less than an hour later. My fellow students had been attending for weeks, animated by the injustice we saw in our country, but that was the first and only day I relented to their entreaties. The crowd was more overwhelming than they had described when I drew near and I had no chance of locating them, so I lingered along the edges with nervous excitement, watching.

It is important to recall why people protested. They were hungry, tired of living in meager conditions and having their suffering ignored by the authorities. We hated the corruption of the state and longed to live free from the thumb of censorship. So many of us were young and brimming with naivety, though still, all these years later, it is challenging for me to believe my memory is real. Violence and repression were synonymous with normalcy, but even the most hardened were taken aback.

When the army began shooting into the crowd, I found myself unable to move. The screams of the victims still haunt my dreams, but on that day I could only watch the bodies fall to the pavement. It was the panicked throng that finally overwhelmed my attention once it was clear I would be stampeded if I remained still. I ran with them for miles, until the gunfire was completely out of earshot. Once we stopped, none of us knowing what to do next, I sat on the ground and wept, certain my friends were dead and our hopes extinguished forever.

Martial law lasted for months afterward, and it was true that two of my friends had been killed. Several others were arrested, some of whom never came back. Shen refused to speak of his time in prison. It frightened him to even admit it had happened, and he remains laconic on the subject to this day. A neighbor of mine who worked as a nurse for the Chinese Red Cross later told me in a hurried whisper that their estimate of the death toll was 2312. She vanished three days later.

It seems particularly difficult for the generation behind mine to believe any of it occurred, though very little has fundamentally changed. Repression and censorship are still ever present, as is the rampant corruption. But we are addled by avarice now, and nothing else appears to matter to so many. The rising tide of cash drives them ceaselessly, often to their own graves, a blindfold to this mindless mindset we are so strongly encouraged to obey. Wealth has become our collective hypnotist.

My son once asked my opinion about the massacre and I pretended to know only cursory details, never admitting my own presence there. I am still timid speaking of it aloud, forever dwelling on my evaporated friends and neighbors, their unknown fates or violent ends. I often wonder how they would view our current situation and if they would still choose to protest and by what means, but I can only speculate. They were always braver than me.

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