#1018: Dangerous Times by Sue Medley
Sue Medley was born in Courtenay, British Columbia, in 1962. She got signed to Polygram Records in 1989. He debut album self-titled album was released in 1990. The first single from the album was “Dangerous Times”.
“Dangerous Times” is a song written by Sue Medley. The song declares “we are living in dangerous times.” Back in 1990 the news story that Medley references are the protests in Beijing in 1989. The Tiananmen Square protests began in April 1989 at a famous square in Beijing. They were student-led pro-democracy protests sparked by the death of pro-reform Communist general secretary Hu Yaobang. Hu had been forced to resign as general secretary in 1987 after student protests urging democratic reforms. He was able to retain a seat on the Politburo until his death on April 15, 1989. Students spontaneously went into the streets to eulogize Hu Yaobang and ask the government to reassess his legacy. Gatherings of students on university campuses began to expand to broader topics such as freedom of the press, corruption and management of the economy. In China, between 1987-1988 the Consumer Price Index increased by 30%.
The student protests led to large gatherings of over one million people at Tiananmen Square, the site of the Monument to the People’s Heroes – a ten story obelisk dedicated in 1958. The students made seven demands of their government:
- Affirm Hu Yaobang’s views on democracy and freedom as correct.
- Admit that the campaigns against spiritual pollution and bourgeois liberalization had been wrong.
- Publish information on the income of state leaders and their family members.
- Allow privately run newspapers and stop press censorship.
- Increase funding for education and raise intellectuals’ pay.
- End restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing.
- Provide objective coverage of students in official media.
A state funeral for Hu Yaobang took place on April 22, 1989. The night of April 21st over 100,000 students marched to Tiananmen Square. Student leaders tried to speak to government leaders in the Great Hall, but were rebuffed. Beijing’s People’s Daily published an editorial on April 26th branding the student protests as anti-government revolt and anti-party.
The editorial backfired and drew over 300,000 students into the square. The government took a more conciliatory tone. However when the government refused to retract the April 26th editorial, this galvanized students to begin a hunger strike. The sight of hunger-strike leader Wuer Kaixi in hospital pyjamas scolding and rudely interrupting the premier of China on national television in May 1989 electrified student protesters gathered outside in the square. Student protests spread to over 400 cities by mid-May. On May 17 Deng Xiaoping called a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee. The five members of the PSC met with Deng at his home. Deng made a speech in favor of martial law. Two PSC members opposed this option, while two supported it and one remained neutral. Deng appointed the two supporters (Li Peng, Yao Yilin), and neutral Qiao Shi, to finalize plans for martial law.
Ziao Ziyang, a PSC member who opposed martial law, went to Tiananmen Square on May 19th to urge the students to end their hunger strike. Ziao was removed by Deng the next day from the Politburo and placed under house arrest, which he remained under until his death in 2005. On May 20th the Chinese government declared martial law. It mobilized over 30 divisions that reached Beijing’s suburbs, but were halted by students who blocked the entrance of tanks into the city. The students gave the soldiers food and shelter and tried to rally their support for the protests. On May 24 the army withdrew. On May 30 students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts unveiled the Goddess of Democracy statue. It was constructed out of foam and papier mâché over a metal frame. The art students who created the statue wrote a declaration that included these words: “At this grim moment, what we need most is to remain calm and united in a single purpose. We need a powerful cementing force to strengthen our resolve: That is the Goddess of Democracy. Democracy…You are the symbol of every student in the Square, of the hearts of millions of people. …Today, here in the People’s Square, the people’s Goddess stands tall and announces to the whole world: A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people! The new era has begun!”
With the protests continuing, on June 1, Li Peng published a report titled “On the True Nature of the Turmoil.” The report sought to convince the Politburo of the necessity and legality of clearing Tiananmen Square by referring to the protestors as terrorists and counterrevolutionaries. In addition, the Ministry of State Security released a report expressing certainty that the United States was behind the student protests.
On June 3, 1989, Red Army divisions entered the city. As the 38th Army advanced, it used live ammunition, killing students. In response, students and other civilians responded by destroying 65 Red Army trucks, 47 armored personnel carriers and damaged over 480 other military vehicles. By the end of June 4 Tiananmen Square had been cleared by the Red Army. On June 5th, with numbers of Red Army tanks remaining in the square, an unknown protester, nicknamed Tank Man, stood in front of a column of tanks. As the lead tank maneuvered to pass by the man, he repeatedly shifted his position in order to obstruct the tank’s attempted path around him. The incident was filmed and smuggled out to a worldwide audience. Internationally, it is considered one of the most iconic images of all time.
The Goddess of Democracy statue was destroyed on June 4th. Replicas of the statue were erected in Hong Kong, Washington D.C., Vancouver (at the University of British Columbia) and around the world.
In 2005 the Chinese government “rehabilitated” Hu Yaobang who had walked with Mao Zedong in the Long March in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution Hu was purged twice and rehabilitated twice. After he became General Secretary in 1980 he advocated rehabilitating people who were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. He also advocated autonomy for Tibet, and on one official visit apologized to Tibetans for China’s misrule. Hu worked to strengthen relations with Japan and for two years slightly reduced the military budget. He spoke about the need for human rights and advocated democratic reform.
According to the Chinese Red Cross, 2,600 were killed when the army attacked the protesters. They later retracted their statement. In Sue Medley’s “Dangerous Times” she sings, “All stands quiet in Tienanman Square today/No sign of trouble, no flowers on the graves/No raging voices, no sign of change/No sign of anything/But their blood-stained message remains.” The army crackdown on student protests, with the Red Army aiming their guns at Chinese civilians, remains the most important and traumatic single event in modern Chinese history.
“Dangerous Times” climbed to #15 in Vancouver (BC) and #21 in Hamilton (ON). Her singles “Dangerous Times” and “Maybe The Next Time” earned her a SOCAN Songwriter of the Year Award for most airplay in 1990 and again in 1991. In 1991 she won the Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist.
Next, Medley toured as the opener for Bob Dylan. In subsequent tours she shared the stage with Kim Mitchell, John Mellancamp, Tom Cochrane and 54-40. She appeared in concert in Vancouver at the Pacific National Exhibition (P.N.E.) in 1992.
Sue Medley released her second album, Inside Out, in 1992. After the release of her second album she became involved in a two-year contractual dispute with Polygram. After the dispute she left the label. Then, in 2000 she released Velvet Morning. Four tracks from that album were featured on the American teen drama Dawson’s Creek.
She lived in Los Angeles in the early 2000s teaching guitar. Moving back to Canada near the end of the decade, she joined the Courtenay band Time Wasted Well. In 2013 she formed Sue Medley and the Back Road Band. The following year she released the album titled These Are The Days. She lives in the Comox Valley where she teaches music and continues to perform. A more recent appearance found Sue Medley as featured vocalist with the Fabulous Mutts performing at Simonholt Restaurant in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in March 2018.
September 1, 2019
David Barry and Rebecca Tucker, “You Oughta Juno: What Happened to Those Artists Voted Most Likely to Succeed? Part 2 — 1986 – 1999,” National Post, March 14, 2015.
“The Fabulous Mutts,” Simonholt Restaurant, Nanaimo, BC, March 3, 2018.
Wang Yao, “Hu Yaobang’s Visit to Tibet, May 22-31, 1980 An Important Development in the Chinese Government’s Tibet Policy,” People’s Daily, Beijing, April 15, 2010.
Philip P. Pan, “China Plans To Honor A Reformer,” Washington Post, September 9, 2005.
Patrick Witty, “Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen,” New York Times, June 3, 2009.
Jamil Anderlini, “Tiananmen Square: the Long Shadow,” Financial Times, June 1, 2014.
Zak Vescera, “The Lonely Goddess: A Lost Memory of Tiananmen Hides in Plain Sight on UBC Campus,” Ubyssey, Vancouver, BC, May 29, 2018.
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