Only art could bring two people together from across the world, one living in Taiwan the other in Paradise Valley.
We are the unlikeliest of creative couples, now surrounded by an incredible cast, director, writer and composer to bring to life, and music, one of the globe’s most important moments in the past 50 years: the stirring protests of 1989 and subsequent tragedy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
While China attempts to erase from its history any memory of the brave students who almost changed their country and the world, it will be this community, more specifically the century-old Phoenix Theatre Company, that will powerfully and beautifully project what happened then, and what the stakes are now.
Theater is an escape. And “Tiananmen The Musical” will be no different. But it’s also at its best when it educates and entertains. Like “Rent,” “Hamilton,” “Les Miserables” or many other musicals that are not just momentary candy.
Tiananmen will make you think, reflect and contemplate the world we now find ourselves in. It will do so through powerful song, a different kind of love story and a courageous cast that has come from all over the country to tell this profound story.
It is a testament to Phoenix that one of its leading arts organizations has the audacity to share this saga in such a sweeping and memorable way.
Near the end of the show there is a powerful monologue from the Chinese premier at the time, Deng Xiaoping. In the musical, reality is suspended as he walks through the carnage of Tiananmen Square and challenges the audience with language democracies in the Western world are not used to hearing:
“At the edge of memory, who defines the truth?
We can’t use force, the thinking goes, because foreign powers will punish us. America. Europe. Fickle democracies, governed by comedians, led by mobs, weakened, divided and sold to the highest bidders.
We can’t use force, the thinking goes, because our own people will punish us. History, they say, will condemn us.
But history is over. Five months from this moment, a wall in Germany will collapse. Western elites, giddy with triumph, will pronounce its time of death. They will call it the “end of history.” Celebrate it. Grow fat in it!
And we will crush them.
Because people will forget.
People will forget what happened here. People will forget what we did here.
Westerners will. China will.
Because you will want smartphones. Because Beijing will want skyscrapers.
Twenty-thousand dying will bring 20 years of stability.
Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
And at the edge of memory, who defines the truth?
We often don’t hear such confrontational language. But in the current clash of systems, we can often forget dictators rule much of the world, not the emancipation and nobility of democracy.
This is the great debate and challenge of our time.
And from Oct. 4-29 in Phoenix, we will take this issue head on. Because Ukraine matters. Taiwan matters. Tiananmen matters. And so does the relentless fight for freedom, wherever it may be, wherever it may be necessary.
Freedom’s flame may flicker, but it never dies. That’s the lesson of Tiananmen. Phoenix’s brave new musical. Art at its very best.
Wu’er Kaixi helped lead the student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 and currently serves as a political commentator and democracy activist in Taiwan. He is the conceiver and creative consultant for “Tiananmen: A New Musical.” Jason Rose is the founder and CEO of Rose & Allyn Public Relations, and lead producer of “Tiananmen: The Musical.”