Avenues of Eternal Peace by Lucy Caldwell

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4, 4 June 2009
Produced to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising, Lucy Caldwell's play viewed the conflict from the perspective of an idealistic student Kai-Liang (David Tse) focusing on his youth when he was finishing his education and unwittingly became involved. Young Kai-Liang (David Lee) never had any political aspirations - all he wanted was to complete his studies and get a good job. He met and fell in love with a pretty girl, Chang Li (Ping Ping Wong), who invited him to several activist meetings, but never told him that everyone would be involved in full-scale anti-government demonstrations. The actual uprising was presented as something spontaneous, a protest that turned into a large-scale march as student groups coagulated to make a large throng in Tiananmen Square.
The authorities' reaction, as we all remember, was swift and brutal. They fired on an unarmed crowd in the belief that it would be the quickest way to disperse them. Caldwell dramatized the events of that fateful day using Young Kai-Liang's up-to-the-minute reactions, contrasted with the older Kai-Liang's reflections on the whole event. The sequence was given greater immediacy by means of extracts from Kate Adie's eye-witness account for BBC News, as she saw innocent people being mown down in cold blood. No one expected the government to be quite so brutal - not least the students, who believed (quite wrongly) that the People's Republic of China wanted to open itself up to the world by permitting a limited amount of freedom of expression.
However history has a way of taking the sting out of any event, even a massacre. The older Kai-Liang was well aware of this as he retold the tale of the fateful events of June 1989 in an attempt to remind those who were not old enough of the importance of the event in modern Chinese history. More significantly Caldwell's play forced us to reflect on the extent to which the People's Republic has changed since then. Despite major international events such as the Beijing Olympics, there still remains an underlying reluctance to tolerate diversity of opinion. Journalists were kept within strict reporting boundaries; some parts of the country were designated no-go areas. Even today the government will not take responsibility for what happened in 1989; it is diplomatically described as "a mistake." Heather Larmour's production revealed that the 'mistake' had calamitous consequences for everyone involved.