Photograph: June 22, 1984

by Darien Hsu Gee

Of course we would go. We cut jagged strips from dishtowels to wrap around our heads—my mother stayed home. In Tiananmen Square, three weeks earlier and 7,200 miles away, other headbands bore phrases like liberty and hunger strike and denounce butcher regime and all power belongs to the people. Days in, student protestors sprawled limp on well-trodden paths, burnt eyes cast on the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People. Almost a million bodies packed into 109 acres of city square, a portrait of Mao gazing from the Gate of Heavenly Peace. June 4 had come and gone, image after image a totem to that day—the stark white 33-foot Goddess of Democracy, born from foam and paper mache. CNN’s Bernard Shaw’s breathy voice—Fifty-eight minutes from now, the government will pull the plug on all transmissions out of this nation. The lone man, plastic shopping bags in hand, fixed in front of a column of tanks on the Avenue of Eternal Peace.

Back home in Houston, we did what we could. We marched past the Chinese consulate, calling out our own words, fists in the air. Freedom! Democracy! In the only photo that remains of that day, my father and I stand together, my left hand sweeping sunscreen onto his cheek. My gaze is on him and he, as usual, is looking elsewhere. What was I feeling, being with this man who was still a stranger to me? Surprise, I think, that we were there together. Love, perhaps, in hoping we were the same.


Darien Hsu Gee is the author of five novels published by Penguin Random House that have been translated into eleven languages. In 2021, her collection of micro essays, Allegiance, received the Bronze IPPY award in the Essays category. She received a 2019 Poetry Society of America’s Chapbook Fellowship award for Other Small Histories and a 2015 Hawai‘i Book Publishers’ Ka Palapala Poʻokela Award of Excellence for Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir. She lives with her family on the island of Hawai‘i.

1 Comment

Filed under Nonfiction

One response to “Photograph: June 22, 1984

  1. I stumbled upon your poignant piece “Photograph, June 22, 1984” on Hawaii Pacific Review, and I wanted to express my appreciation for your beautiful and evocative writing.

    The photograph you describe captures a moment frozen in time, a moment of innocence and joy that can never be reclaimed. Your portrayal of the gradual disintegration of your family and the bittersweet nostalgia that follows is both heart-wrenching and relatable.

    Your use of vivid imagery and sensory details paints a vivid picture of the scene and brings the reader right into the heart of the story. The way you wove in the symbolism of the butterfly and the fleeting nature of beauty was particularly poignant.

    Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal and moving piece. Your writing is a testament to the power of art to capture the essence of the human experience.

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