On the evening of June 3, 1989, I
was working the overnight shift at WQBK-1300 AM. At the time, the station was
located on an isolated hill outside Albany, New York. The networks were buzzing
with news of the violent crackdown on the pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen
Square. The teletype clacked away every few minutes with the latest reports. In
the days before the World Wide Web, there was little to do but wait for the
next report to come through.
Looking for more news beyond our
network feed, I began to surf the frequencies on the satellite dish.
Eventually, I picked up an audio feed of an English-speaking announcer for
Radio Beijing who reported the news of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. I’m
not sure if this was a part of a network news feed or just a stray signal I
caught, but I felt an immediate connection to my fellow broadcaster. It was
also obvious to anyone who followed the news that the Communist Chinese government’s
response would fall harshly on those who broke the wall of silence. I wondered
if I would have the same courage had I been in his place.
The audio I recorded from the broadcast is available below. To
view some rare photographs from the massacre, click here for an age-restricted version on YouTube I produced in conjunction with
my research on this event.
Knowing the historical
significance of the broadcast, I transferred it from reel-to-reel tape to a cart (see Fig. 1).
Carts look like 8-track cartridges and come in varying lengths. They were used for playing everything from station IDs and bumpers, to
commercials, public service announcements, interviews, and music. Looking back
at the state of radio news gathering in 1989, with no computers or Internet, and only
antiquated relics like teletype, carts, and reel-to-reel, I still
marvel at how we got any work done.
Fig. 1: The cart I recorded the Radio Beijing announcement onto on June 4, 1989.
I produced my first report on this broadcast in
2000 while taking a course in Producing Historical Documentaries for Radiowith Professor Gerald Zahavi at the
University at Albany while working on my master’s degree. The web page for the
course, at the time of this writing, is still available at the above link. There, you can find my original short audio documentary, “The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing,” which I converted and uploaded to YouTube, below:
Professor Zahavi also broadcast my
report on his Talking History
program on WRPI-90.9 FM, the radio station for the Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute, in 2000 and 2001.
Transcription of Original Radio Beijing Broadcast - June 3, 1989:
This is Radio Beijing. Please
remember June the third, 1989. The most tragic event happened in the Chinese
Thousands of people, most of them
innocent civilians, were killed by fully armed soldiers when they forced their
way into the city. Among the killed are our colleagues at Radio Beijing.
The soldiers were riding on
armored vehicles and used machine guns against thousands of local residents and
students who tried to block their way. When the army convoys made a
breakthrough, soldiers continued to spray their bullets indiscriminately at
crowds in the street.
Eyewitnesses say some armored
vehicles even crushed foot soldiers who hesitated in front of the resisting
Radio Beijing English Department
deeply mourns those died in the tragic incident and appeals to all its
listeners to join our protest for the gross violation of human rights and the
most barbarous suppression of the people.
Because of this abnormal
situation here in Beijing, there is no other news we could bring you. We
sincerely ask for your understanding and thank you for joining us at this most
While working on the report for
the class, I contacted Radio Free Asia in Washington D.C. in the hope that
someone there might have some information about the announcer. Through an
interpreter, I was able to speak with a former Radio Beijing reporter who was
actually at Tiananmen Square the evening of June 3, 1989. She didn’t know who
the announcer was, but said she would look into it and let me know if she found
Fig. 2: FCC Restricted Radio Telephone Operator Permit: Issued January 31, 1986.
About six months later, well
after the course had ended, I received an e-mail from my contact at Radio Free
Asia who informed me of that the announcer’s name is Yuan Neng (a mistranslation of Chen Yuanneng) and he was
transferred from his job for broadcasting the report. The script was by Wu
Xiaoyong, Deputy Director of the English Language Service at Radio Beijing. His
father, Wu Xueqian, at the time was a Senior Council Vice-President. According to my contact, after the
broadcast, Wu was put under house arrest for two to three years and later moved to Hong Kong. His
father’s connections likely played a part in his release.
China is seeking a balance
between its capitalist ambitions and cultural traditions; however, one wonders
if the threat the Chinese Communist government perceived in 1989 was not so much a fear
of revolution per se, but rather that the moral imperative through which all
governments derive their power, the consent of the people, would vanish in the
face of true competition in the marketplace of ideas.
UPDATE June 4, 2015:Through various
sources, including a reader of Aeolus 13 Umbra and a Canadian film
documentarian, it has been reported that Yuan Neng is alive and living in the
United States, but does not wish to discuss the events of June 3-4, 1989, at
UPDATE February 2019:The Lost Voice
of Radio Beijing announcer’s full name is reported as Chen Yuanneng (see
comments, below). My previous reporting of Yuan
Neng (see above) is attributed to mistranslations in my communications with Radio Free Asia personnel in late 2000.
UPDATE May 2019: Photos of Chen
Yuanneng and Wu Xiaoyong posted by 881903.com, the official website of
Commercial Radio Hong Kong (thank you Aeolus 13 Umbra reader Lu butsch for the tip).
Chen Yuanneng is reported by 881903.com to have been working in the "high-tech industry" in Los Angeles" at the time of the publication of the article, May 13, 2014. The images below are from the report.
Yuanneng Wu Xiaoyong
UPDATE Jan. 2023: By December 2022, and probably much earlier, the 881903.com article about Chen Yuanneng and Wu Xiaoyong was deleted (the original article link is http://www.881903.com/Page/ZH-TW/News_Featuredetail.aspx?itemid=717916&csid=901_3580). A search of 889103.com's website turns up no references to either Chen Yuanneng or Wu Xiaoyong. Likewise, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine reveals no captures made of that article. The images above with the 889103 logo were saved by myself off the article when it was still active.
For the purposes of documentation, I am including the full transcription of the article below. The translation from Cantonese to English, provided by an online translation program, is a little rough and unclear in some places, but provides a good idea of the article's original content:
Interview: Pan Zhiqian for 881903.com.
For many years
online spread an excerpt, the content has the reporter of Chinese Official
Broadcasting station, breaks through the information blockade in 64 the same
day, in the central media condemned that the government suppressed the student.
This reporter to tell truth, has paid the heavy price, his for 25 years accept
the visit for the first time, the matter that the review had that morning.
After 1989 had
the June 4 incident, for in the inland official media, strove for
one-and-a-half points of freedom of the press, Wu Xiaoyong used four years of
personal freedom to exchange. In the early morning, he has written a news
release, Beijing standard time 7:00 am, gave the radio announcer to report.
Content that at
that time broadcast: "Here is Beijing International Broadcasting
Corporation. Please remember on June 3, 1989, had the most shocking tragedy in
the capital Beijing of China. Thousands of people, mostly is the innocent
resident, was entered the fully-armed soldiers in city to kill forcefully . . .
The soldiers are driving the tank, tries to stop the resident and student who with
the machine gun strafe. Even if after the tank opens the channel, soldier still
at a promiscuous manner the person on opening fire street . . . The Beijing
international radio station English department deeply mourns slain the person
in this tragedy, and appealed to all our audience: With us condemned that this
type tramples the human rights shameless and suppresses the people's act
This news by
Chinese official International Broadcasting Corporation, from Beijing to
international broadcast. Wu Xiaoyong was broadcasting station English
department deputy director, on the morning of June 4 rode the bicycle to go to
work at that time, witnessed on the way the serviceman and tank suppressed the
resident. He returns to the broadcasting station, learned that has the
colleague, because the internal organs were punctured dead by the bullet, had
the colleague relative dead.
At this time he
decided that must tell a truth. "Human died, did we tell a truth not to be
good? This truth we said today that broadcast." 16 lines of news releases,
were Wu Xiaoyong wrote with two minutes in the grief and indignation fast. Wu
Xiaoyong said that he did not approve then student movement, moreover held the
post of the state workers more than ten years, understood the consequence of
publishing absolutely, but he cannot accept the People's Liberation Army to
attack the people.
"The Chinese People's Liberation Army is
the army of people, the army of your people hits the people, is this does do?
Army not such dry, has killed the human, the tank such presses." Soon Wu
Xiaoyong then carried off, in not hands over to catch and not have the
prosecution, not to have under the sentence, around was detained Canada puts
under house arrest for four years.
We asked that he does have the regret, he
said: "Now thinks, if makes me make one again this matter, perhaps I this.
But said from another angle, I thought that I have not made the mistake any
matter, I handled the matter that a reporter should handle. "
Wu Xiaoyong who
in the recent 20 years moved to the U.S. sighs with regret and spoke the price
of lie to be big in the foreign country, reviewed is speaks the truth price to
be big in China. The same day radio announcer Chen Yuan can, be punished
afterward, was transferred a news post, afterward went through many places to
Los Angeles is engaged in the high-tech industry.
On the same day
the sound recording of news has spread online, Chen Yuan can be called "on
electric wave keeps off the person of tank." Wu Xiaoyong and Chen Yuan and former colleague Rose still held an office in the International Broadcasting
Corporation, she said the media person, regardless of works for whom, should
maintain the conscience. Until now, whenever with the new colleague, as well as
wants to enter line of young people to chat, Rose still proud to they spoke Wu
Xiaoyong and Chen Yuan can the story.
In 1988, my mother, an inveterate book collector, gave me a
couple boxes of old books – odds and ends she had picked up while living in
Delhi, New York. A housekeeper in a rural community, she accepted payment in a
variety of ways, including eggs, hay, and old books, among many other things. I didn’t have the shelf space, but being a lover of books
myself, I figured one day I would get through them. I put the box in a
closet and promptly forgot about them. A couple years later I finally went through the collection.
While flipping through an old book, a letter fell out of the pages. Over
a hundred years old, and written in a firm, strong cursive, it is a letter from a woman in Scotland to her American sibling, informing her of the recent passing of their
2 Page 1
Page 3 Page 4
I have transcribed the letter below, retaining original spelling and grammar:
56 High Street
May 31, 1888
I am very sorry to inform you
that Mothers dead she died within a few days illness, and Thank God she is in
Heaven among the Blest, She was 2 years with me and she was very helpless she
could not do nothing for herself.
She was saved and very happy She
said that she had hold of the Saviour[‘s] hand to take her to cross the cold
river of Death. Praise God she is not dead but sleepeth in the arms of Jesus
the world[‘]s redeemer. Bless him He died for all and some day or other I shall
meet her on the shining streets in the Heavenly City where we shall meet to
part no more. Thank God we are all well in body. And I pray that this letter
will find you all well in body and soul
I pray that you have found the
pearl of great Price. And ready to meet Mother when the Lord shall call you.
Their [sic] is coming on a Great Day of recking [sic] when every one of us will
recieve [sic] a just-reward, And if we have lived for Christ we shall reign
with Him for ever and if we have lived for ourselves we shall be eternally cast
out of his presence. Dear Sister I am sorry that I have not got mother
[incomprehensible], we could not get it taken because she was never able to go
out. Dear Sister I have not heard anything of Christiana for over 20 years and
we have not had any word from Astratia for over 4 years and I cannot say
anything about them. I hope you will write by return of Post to let us know how
you are getting on. No more at Present
God Bless You
56 High Street
56 High Street, Hawick, Scotland,
High Street, Hawick, Scotland (Google Maps Street View, 2010).
You can access the street view on Google Maps by clicking here. Today, it is home to the shop of Robert Pringle, butcher,
on the first floor. It is in that building, on one of the upper floors, that
Rechel Miller took care of her ailing mother until she crossed "the cold
river of death." The two women referred to in the letter – Christiana and Astratia, who have not been heard from in many years – are these Rechel's other sisters? One can only guess. The news that Christiana has not been heard from in over twenty years could mean that she emigrated herself to some far-distant land, succumbed to illness, or perhaps holds a deep-seated grudge that compelled her to leave Hawick all those years ago. One cannot resist a little speculation with such a historical fragment. There is so much written between the lines that will forever remain unknown, including the likely recipient of Rechel's letter in America. With her mother recently passed, and two other likely family members gone without a word, I imagine Rechel Miller may have feltquite alone that May of 1888. My research uncovered genealogy
forums in which I discovered that a Miller family from Hawick, Scotland
emigrated to the Catskill Mountains in New York State’s Delaware County, where
Delhi is located and where my mother was living when she obtained the book that contained the letter. Therefore, it seems logical
that Rechel Miller is likely related to that branch. The surname Miller, however, is
quite common in Scotland and I found references to a Rachel Miller and a
Retchel Miller from around the same time period in Hawick, but alas nothing definitive
to connect Rechel Miller to any of them. Of course, spelling was not as consistent as it was today, particularly with hand-written records, and there may be little difference in the pronunciation of “Rechel”“Rachel” and “Ratchel” with a Scottish accent, so a couple of them they could be the same person. Also, it may simply be that more than one
Miller family, unrelated to each other, emigrated from Hawick to
Delaware County in the 19th century and her family’s history is now lost to
Rechel Miller’s letter does give
us a valuable look at the patterns of human migration and the burden left on the families
who remained in the country of their birth. What we can tell from her
handwriting is that she has a firm, strong hand, likely a woman in the prime of
life, and with a decidedly religious bent. Her cursive is very good, but marked by noticeable
grammatical and spelling errors, suggesting a formal, though limited education.
Rechel’s burden in caring for her
invalid mother must have been great indeed. Speaking from personal experience, taking
care of an infirmed parent is a challenge in the 21st century and
one can only imagine the financial and emotional burden Rechel had to carry
alone, without the assistance of health insurance and social service or siblings to help share the load. Emigration often leads to a better life for
the people who take the chance, but for those who remain, without the support
of those relatives who left, the impact would likely have increased financial
burdens and family responsibilities while reducing their personal wealth and
expectations of care and comfort in their own old age. At a time when senior services
were virtually unknown, the elderly generally remained with their children or
siblings, if they were lucky – and many were not. With her sisters gone and mother now deceased, who would take care of
Rechel in her own senior years must have weighed heavily on her mind at the
time she wrote this letter. Her reference to “we” in the letter suggests Rechel
was not alone, and I do hope she passed her years in the warmth and security of
the love only family can share.