The 9th May 1999 may not ring any bells with you or, indeed, the date of the 7th May when it all began with NATO accidentally bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Three Chinese nationals were killed - a tragic accident of Bill Clinton's Presidency, or so we are told.
At the time I was in my bed in the Kempinsky Hotel in Beijing suffering from terrible jetlag. At 4am I watched the news unfold on CNN (then the only western channel available generally in China). It was to be a further two days before the Chinese Government allowed news of the event to be broadcast on the China networks.
Through my numbed senses I slowly realised that this could have serious implications for any American or European in China but I had little concept of how grave those implications were to become.
This was the start of a two week tour of China, recruiting students for British Colleges and Universities and I apologise now for the wordiness of this post but I think that a certain amount of scene setting is required.
|All thanks to Our Lady, Queen of Heaven!|
Chinese motorways are even more tedious than British ones and I slept most of the way to our halfway house call at the city of Shijiazhuang. We broke overnight here and stayed at a Chinese run hotel which like all of their kind was pretty grim. We ate in the hotel restaurant eating jellied donkey, boiled duck's blood, boiled peanuts and hotel brewed beer which was cloudy and rancid - not a great start.
The following day we left early and, after six hours we arrived at the outskirts of Zhengzhou, a city of some five million.
We rapidly became gridlocked and all traffic in our direction was reduced to two lanes. Before long I became aware that Edward and Mr Wu were indulging in some animated conversation and from the back of the head body language I concluded that something was well and truly amiss.
"It's a demonstration" said Edward turning to me and, as he said thse words I saw the front line of demonstrators marching towards us some one hundred yards away. The noise was undescribable, a mob baying for blood. Even now, the full implication of what we were facing did not strike me; it was only when the mob drew closer and I could see just how violent was their protest that I became aware of how vulnerable and exposed I was. As they marched they attacked billboards and signage, ripping them up and used lengths of wood as staves that they then smashed against the ground as they proceeded. I asked Edward what they were chanting. He said: "They are saying, "Kill the Americans, kill the British, send their souls to Hell". That was a scrap of detail that I could have done without.
By now the mob were level with the car (we were in the outside of the two lanes and directly in their path).
It was then that the gravity of the situation hit me and I went into automatic Catholic mode and immediately made an Act of Perfect Contrition (I thank the Dominican Sisters of Burnt Oak for beating this into me). I had no doubt that I was about to be dragged from the car and torn apart. My next move was to surreptitiously, lock both rear doors, not that this would have kept them off for long but it was a positive move and I needed to take what little positive action was available to me. By now the car was surrounded with a rabid throng who appeared to be totally out of control; their eyes were blank but their faces were contorted and grotesque.
I then went into prayer mode but could not formulate a standard prayer, instead I threw myself on the power of Our Lady and a garbled prayer to my Guardian Angel, mentally apologising for neglecting him so often.
Now the first miracle that occurred was that I was totally unmoved by this threat. In fact I was energised by it, I did not wish for death but I had absolutely no fear of it and this was due solely to the intercession of Our Lady. Strangely, just as I could not compose a proper prayer so the words of a Marian hymn kept ringing through my head and they haunt me still today so that I cannot hear this hymn without getting a lump in the throat.
The one spotless womb wherein Jesus was laid.
Dark night hath come down on us, Mother, and we
Look out for thy shining, sweet Star of the Sea.
And the tempest-tossed Church—all her eyes are on thee,
They look to thy shining, sweet Star of the Sea.
|The Beijing US Embassy after attack by |
a mob following the NATO bombing