Yang Jun–the Man in the Middle of the 'Metal Storm'
The first time I saw Yang Jun was at a forum on the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party in 2005. When he stood up to speak, I could hear whispers in the audience, as though many people there knew him and were talking about him. I didn't know what was special about him, and why he could generate such attention. I asked the people around me and was told, "He was a student leader during the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China. Almost every Chinese person in Sydney knows who he is. He hasn't appeared in public for many years!"
I didn't realize he was a celebrity. Since then, I often saw him at public gatherings or forums, dressed quite formally. Whenever he spoke, he almost always became excited or came to tears. He also called himself an artist.
I had a hard time putting together his two identities of "student movement leader" and "artist." I began to pay more attention to him. Eventually I had a chance to have a long talk with him. His colorful life gave me the inspiration to write about him.
A few months later, I finished interviewing him. Before I began writing, Yang Yun made an announcement on Australian national TV during the 57th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China. He revealed that the Chinese Communist Party wanted to purchase the Australian weapon technology "Metal Storm" for US$100 million. Again, Yang became the center of attention. He not only refused the US$2 million offer by the CCP to broker the deal, but also disclosed the details to mainstream media. The next day, reports about him appeared on the front page of the newspapers.
Knowing him, I was not surprised by this turn of events. His passion determined that his life would be like a flame, burning fully and brightly.
'Jun, Remember, You Will Always Help Those Who Need Your Help'
Yang Jun was born prematurely in 1956, after only 7 months of pregnancy. His parents were both in the army. Eight months after he was born, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Anguo County, Hebei Province.
Yang Jun's childhood memories revolved around poverty. He grew up during the so-called "Three-Year Natural Disaster" period, which was actually a catastrophe caused by the Great Leap forward movement  . On most days his family ate elm leaves mixed with ground corn. This left their stomachs feeling very bloated and uncomfortable. Although there were a few buns hanging from a beam of the house, they were for emergency use only.
Yang Jun remembered that there were often beggars who came by. When he was four or five, an elderly beggar came to the village carrying a worn sac. He had a young child with him. Yang's grandmother didn't say anything and took down the buns they stored for emergency use. She gave away almost all of them to the elderly man. The man and the child knelt down on the ground and said to Yang's grandmother, "You are a living Bodhisattva!"
However, Yang's aunt was annoyed that Yang's grandmother had given away their emergency food supply. His Grandmother didn't argue. Instead, she held Yang in her arms and said, "Jun, remember, you will always help those who need your help."
Although he was only a young child, Yang Jun remembered those words as though they were etched in his heart. It changed his character forever.
A Beginning in Music
When Yang was eight years old, his parents retired from the military and became civilians. They took Yang to Beijing to attend school. A year later, his grandmother passed away. Yang really wanted to go to her funeral in Hebei Province, since of all his relatives, he was closest to her. But his parents feared the visit would interrupt his studies, and thus did not let him go. He missed his grandmother and cried towards the north in her direction everyday.
At that time, when he was suffering excruciating emotional pains, he heard someone playing the clarinet upstairs. Much later, he learned that it was Dvorak's New World Symphony. This was composed when Dvorak was living in America and reflected nostalgia for his home country (today's Czech Republic). Although he was only nine years old and had never studied music, Yang felt that the music had touched his soul deeply. Perhaps because the feelings of nostalgia coincided with the longing for his grandmother.
He felt a wild urge to study and play the clarinet. He thought only by playing the clarinet and joining the New World Symphony would he be able to express his feelings for his grandmother and where he grew up.
His parents were soldiers. Although they lived in an area assigned to the Ministry of Culture, nobody in his family knew music. A famous actor who lived nearby said, "Yang Shuxun's son wants to be a musician? It's like a toad wanting to take a bite off of the swan."
Yang Jun had the same determination for studying the clarinet. When other kids played, he rode his bike to a small patch of trees near Qianmen. The area had a strong stench due to the garbage and sewage piled up from the construction of the subway. He practiced there no matter how hot or cold the weather, often until his lips broke. Because he didn't have a teacher, he often rode his bicycle for more than an hour in the winter, from Taoranting to Hepingli, just so he could hear others play from outside the window. Once he stood there for so long that people thought he was a thief, and almost arrested him.
His efforts were not in vain. In 1977, when the universities were restored for the first time since the beginning of the Cultural Revolution  , the then "Central May 7 Arts University"  was looking for two clarinet students. Yang was one of the two out of several hundred applicants accepted, thus earning the privilege to study under the famous clarinet professor Tao Chunxiao.
After graduation, Yang Jun became the first clarinet player and the leader of the woodwind section of the Ballet Troupe at China's Dance Academy. He was later promoted to the deputy leader of the orchestra. In 1983, he began working for the Chinese Light Music Troupe as a soloist. He was honorably put in the second highest category of national actors.
A Life-Changing Moment
The hall of music was not as pure and sacred as Yang had imagined. It was, unfortunately, also full of conflicts and power games. Having always resented sycophancy, Yang began to contemplate leaving. Coincidentally, the deputy director from a music university in Canberra visited China and agreed to sponsor Yang to study for a Master's degree in music in Australia.
Yang Jun arrived in Australia in March 1989. In April, the Tiananmen Square student movement began in Beijing. Yang organized performances with Li Xiangqin from Hong Kong and some actors from Taiwan to raise funds for the students in Tiananmen Square.
June 4, 1989 was a Sunday. It was pouring rain in Sydney. Yang Jun carried his clarinet and wore a tuxedo. He was ready to perform for another fund raiser. As soon as he walked into Chinatown, he heard the news: The Beijing government had begun a massacre. Tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and killed civilians and students.
Yang felt blood gushing to his head—his life's journey came to a turning point. He handed his clarinet to the person walking next to him, who he didn't know at all, and picked up a wooden stick. Someone tied a piece of red cloth to the stick. Yang raised the stick, crying, and shouting, "Follow me, all the Chinese with conscience!"
Yang marched towards the Chinese consulate, leading several thousand Chinese people. The angry mass crushed a column outside of the Chinese consulate. A student who's leg had been broken in the middle of the riot was airlifted. Some people threw eggs and inkbottles at the consulate.
At the gathering of a few thousand people, Yang said, "Before, music was my life and my everything. But the gunshots and tanks crushed my dream of music. The innocent students gave up their lives for China's democracy. From today on, music no longer belongs to me. The movement for China's democratic future is now my life!"