“RED:” A Poem by Jess X. Chen

“RED” is a performance poem for the millions who protested, were affected, and lost their lives during the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 3-4, 1989. You can listen to it using the player below!

10/31/14 update: The transcript has been restored, but without original formatting.



June 4, 1989

For the 100,000 injured. 1000 dead. 7000 dead.

In 1989 the government paints the Beijing streets
red. Crescendo of gunshots brings my motherland

to her knees. In its concrete flesh, Tiananmen Square
cradles the generation as it exhales its final breath.

Later that year, my father inhales
his first breath in an university overseas.

His scholarship paid with the currency
of international sympathy.

One morning recess, another student points
a water gun to my chest. Shot dead — the bang

enters my bloodstream, tunnels through
the roots of my family tree and lands

on the bloody portrait the government’s
army painted on its own city streets.

We were born again from the red. We place
a Statue of Liberty at the center of our country’s heart.

For five days she stands up, overlooking seas
of students, professors — united as one. A tank

rips the torch from her hands, her stone body
reduced to rubble at our feet. Yet we march

onwards: with starving stomachs and hearts
aflame, as they chop the stems from our

country’s memory, erase the names of the dead
from the pages of history, bayonet our bodies

back into our motherlands’ belly.

Let our voices resurface above
the steam of her body.

Let her fuse every piece
of her lands back together

the same way I am trying to tie
the pieces of my past into one.

Look at that gun.

When it fired: 100,000
protesters’ hearts liquified

into an oil to burn a torch
as bright as the sun.

Look at that sky.
We are birds in her palms.
Lit up forever, with an

onrush of red.

JessChenPhotoJESS X. CHEN is a nationally-touring Chinese American poet, illustrator, and theater artist whose intersecting mediums of work imagine what the Earth would say back to its colonizers if it hadn’t been exploited and silenced all its life. She studied theater and film at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, where she coached the Brown College Poetry Slam Team — which got recognized for the Pushing the Art Forward Award. You can see more of her work at her website and more on her project website for LoveHoldLetGo.

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