Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ode to a Serving Tray with a Poster by Toulouse-Lautrec

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

aristide Bruant

dans son cabaret

cares for me not

nor what i may say

server of minds

on my tabletop lay

aristide Bruant

dans son cabaret

red scarf . . . jaunty hat

a look of mischief

like a one-eyed jack

look at him too long

he’ll stare at you back

like a picture of Jesus

to whom old women pray

aristide Bruant

dans son cabaret

if i offend my friend

it's quite unintentional

i sometimes forget

you're only two-dimensional

but i hope i may be

as lucky someday

aristide Bruant

dans son cabaret

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing

by G. Jack Urso

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.
Producing History

I produced my first report on this broadcast in 2000 while taking a course in Producing Historical Documentaries for Radio with 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 capital, Beijing.
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 civilians.
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 tragic moment.

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 out anything.
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. 

Fig. 3: Human Rights Watch listing, Dec. 1989.
Recent research confirmed my contact’s report of Wu Xiaoyong in the document, The Persecution of Human Rights Monitors: December 1988 to December 1989, by Human Rights Watch (December 1989) (see Fig. 3).  The eventual fate of the announcer Yuan Neng is not reported. [See updates.

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 this time.
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, the official website of Commercial Radio Hong Kong (thank you Aeolus 13 Umbra reader Lu butsch for the tip). Chen Yuanneng is reported by 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. 
                        Chen Yuanneng                                               Wu Xiaoyong
UPDATE Jan. 2023: By December 2022, and probably much earlier, the article about Chen Yuanneng and Wu Xiaoyong was deleted (the original article link is A search of'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

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 barbarically."

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.

Related Content on Aeolus 13 Umbra 
The Bloodied Face of Democracy: Tiananmen Square 25 Years Later


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rechel Miller's Letter to Her American Sister: Hawick, Scotland, May 1888

by G. Jack Urso

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 mother:

Page 2                                               Page 1
Page 3                                                  Page 4
I have transcribed the letter below, retaining original spelling and grammar:

56 High Street
May 31, 1888
Dear Sister

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 card* [see note below], 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
no time
God Bless You
Your Sister
Rechel Miller
56 High Street
Hawick Rodburgh. Scotland

* This word, card, is unclear in the original text (see image above, page 3) and is my interpretation. Photographic post cards relatives and friends took of themselves to send to each other were common in the late 19th century. That the mother had been ill and unable to leave the home to have a picture taken is an educated guess about what the text infers. 

56 High Street, Hawick, Scotland, still exists:

56 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 felt quite 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 time.

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.

It was by a sheer coincidence that the letter fell into my hands almost exactly 100 years to the day Rechel Miller wrote it. 
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.
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