Making a stand: Tiananmen Square
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider bravery, standing up for what you believe in.
Preparation and materials
- You will need an image of the young man who stood in front of an oncoming column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the means to display it during the assembly (check copyright).
- Have available the song 'I shall not be moved', sung by Pops Staples, the veteran gospel singer and civil rights activist, on Peace to the Neighbourhood CD (Charisma, 1992), for example, or online, and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- The scene is China, the centre of Beijing, in a place called Tiananmen Square that is crowded with thousands of protesters. Tanks start to arrive. As the column of tanks rolls towards the centre of the square, one young man walks into the road and stands in front of the first tank. The tank driver doesn't know what to do. He tries moving to the right. The young man moves to the right. The tank moves to the left. So does the young man. In the end the tanks get past and the people are driven out of the square.
- This event really happened. In June 1989, many people in China took part in protests against their government because they wanted to be given the right to vote. The government did not approve of the protests and so it sent in the tanks. The lone young man was filmed, but to this day no one is completely sure of his name or what happened to him, despite the fact that he was so brave, he was prepared to risk his life by literally 'standing up' for what he believed in.
- We may not have a life-threatening dilemma to face. Even if we did, we might not find it easy to make a stand like the young man did in Tiananmen Square.
- There's a story in the Bible (Luke 22.54–62) about one of Jesus’ friends, Peter, who was with Jesus when his enemies were closing in on him during the last week of his life. Jesus had just been arrested and his disciples, who had promised to be faithful to him, had all run away in fear. Peter knew that he should have stood by his friend and so he followed the soldiers who had arrested Jesus. He must have felt very nervous as he stood among the crowds that had gathered outside the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor.
Peter didn't run away, however. He was brave enough to stand fast. Until, that is, someone thought they recognized him and asked him if he was a friend of Jesus. His courage collapsed and he said 'No'. This happened three times and, each time, Peter denied that he was a friend of Jesus.
- Why does the Bible include this story? Does it tell us about Peter in order to condemn him, to show how wrong he was? Perhaps not. After all, it was Jesus who named Peter ‘Peter’ – his real name was Simon! The name ‘Peter’ means 'rock', suggesting that he was solid and reliable. At that time he may not have seemed so, but, in fact, he went on to become one of the founders of the Church. Jesus had predicted this when he named him and said, 'on this rock I will build my church' (Matthew 16.18).
- Maybe the story is really about forgiveness, about recognizing that there are some whose courage is not always great enough and we all have weaknesses. When we face a dilemma, we may not always make the right choice first time, but that is not always the end of the story. It seems that there is hope for all of us, even when it seems there is none.
Time for reflection
Let us think about people who have been brave. They might be famous people we've read about in books or newspapers. They might be 'ordinary' people – friends or neighbours. Let's think about the example they set us . . .
Let us also think about the times when we haven't done what we wanted to do or should have done. Let us pray for greater courage at times when we have to make difficult decisions . . .
Now let's say thank you for all the times when we have been able to do the right thing and for all the people who have stood up for us.
- Find out more about the events that happened in China. A good place to start is the Human Rights in China website, at: www.hrichina.org, and, for images of Tiananmen Square, including the young man standing up to the tanks, visit: 220.127.116.11/www1/sdc/tiananmen.html You could also find out about John Bunyan, using the CD-ROM Living Stones (Culham College Institute, 1995), which is an illustrated history of Christianity in Britain, or Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and others who fought for human rights in the American Civil Rights movement.
- Ask the children to identify a subject on which they think it is important to take a stand. They can then write a song to show how and why you feel that way.
- Find out more about the way in which the early Christians made a stand for what they believed. The Storykeepers cartoon video series tells their story in an unusual and interesting way.
'Who would true valour see' written by John Bunyan
'I shall not be moved' by Pops Staples