Looking back to a past tragedy and trying to learn lessons from it, often times generate no condolence but pain. Nonetheless, it is time, after seven years of the Tiananmen Massacre, for Chinese students, intellectuals, and civilians to face squarely an unavoidable question: how could we have done better to help avoid the tragedy and its severity? If we are to engage in this intellectual journey, the TV program, The Gate of Heavenly Peace (GHP), may offer some help.
Among other new insights, the GHP amply documents the naivety of a prevailing idea during the conflict. During the occupation of Tiananmen Square in 1989, some student leaders and their followers alike believed a simplistic formula: Bloodshed would awake people; the awakened people would rise up; and democracy would somehow naturally result. But as the whole world sadly witnessed, there were only severe bloodsheds and casualties but no uprising whatsoever. At least 300 deaths and 8,000 injuries, according to the Chinese government own report. The GHP presents this fact metaphorically in a scene in which a cleaning worker was scrubbing the blood stains on the stone pavements in the subsequently tranquil Tiananmen Square after the crackdown. The narrator calmly observes: "After all, people's uprising did not happen." This might be a less miserable outcome though. In my judgement, an uprising of the unorganized civilians would have accomplished everything--nationwide chaos, for one--but democracy.
The spectacles of revolutions in the world history can be deceptive in that many do not see the behind-the-scene efforts of mobilization. Fledgling activists often forget that Mao Zedong's kingdom was not built overnight but for a long period of time with organizing efforts such as mobilizing villagers and extending party branches into all levels of the army and society. Nor do these young activists pay much attention to Polish Walesa and his colleagues' arduous work distributing leaflets and building up underground connections long before any nationwide strikes or spectacular arrests occurred.
It is besides the point to blame any particular individuals or groups, because the simplistic formula, the theme of self-sacrifice and awakening, is a time-honored legacy of the Chinese intellectuals who are anxious for a dramatic social change. Generations of intellectuals from Qu Yuan, the poet who drowned himself in Mi-lou River in Chu Dynasty, had strived to awaken emperors to deliver social good. From some point since Marxist influence on China, intellectuals such as Chen Tianhua, who also killed himself for his social cause at the beginning of this century, turned to awaken the people instead of emperors in a hope of social revolution. Both cases in the longer past and more recent episode showed an enormous ignorance of the real mechanism of social change. The wishful thinking overshadowed the logical capacity. In the June of 1989, such a cultural legacy, among other factors, helped the continuous occupation of the square win over other alternatives. Once again, we witnessed blood flowed and the state of affairs remained much the same.
In the conclusion of this brief comment, I note that this is an
issue of two sides. Morally, I admire the Tiananmen Square occupants'
braveness and their sense of responsibility for the public good. Some
may accuse the student leaders of pursuing personal fame at the expense
of other people's lives in the first place because some of them were
rescued from persecution and a number of them even enjoyed a good
life abroad in the aftermath of the movements. I find such an accusation
outrageous. The student leaders had no way to anticipate their later
biographical development but face the same imminent life threat
during the conflict. Their naivety, therefore, was honest, perhaps even
beautiful. Intellectually, on the other hand, I believe those who
persuaded students to withdraw from the square to avoid bloodsheds
were wiser. Why did wiser people fail to control the course, an event
worth thousands of innocent lives? One of the accomplishments of the
GHP is its direction of our attention to this last question, although
it itself fails to address.
This documentary is first class! So is the web site. It created virtural democracy wall where the Chinese government have little control. I know people inside China are reading this. S.Q.
It is unfornate to see that Chai Ling, as commander in chief, allowed the students to continue the protest when she could see the upcoming bloodshed. A good leader is a good leader because of what he/she accomplish for his/her people. Chai Ling was not a good diplomat, not a good visionary, not a good strategist. All Chai Ling had accomplished was to put her followers on a suicidal clash with the government and a big setback on the reform movement in China. Because of her action, the hard-liners have now ousted most of the reformers of power. What she has done also was to put whatever tens, hundreds or thousands of people to sacrifice for her lust of power for those several days in 1989. In retrospect, I wonder how people will judge Chai Ling in our history book.
I think it's a miracle of our era that "The Gate..." can appear on PBS and that the writings of these dissidents are available on the internet. Free speech is a remarkable item. Having lived in Beijing in 1993-94, I was hard-pressed to find any students willing to talk about the events of June 4. In fact, they behaved as though they had been deliberately muzzled. How many people were killed then, I don't know. Were the students unabashedly disorganized, yes. Were the soldiers too young to know what they were doing? Yes. All of them seemed victims of something that might have been averted had there been some semblance of mediation on either side. Nevertheless, the film was astonishing in every way because of its comprehensiveness and depth. I was interested in how the student group was just a mirror image of their oppressors what with their own internal heirarchies. Still, they did the best they could under the tortuous history of the last Century. I am still grappling with my feelings for and about China. My regards to all my fellow Chinese and Americans who took the same bold trip that I did. I'd be interested in your thoughts.
When I was just in third grade, I saw the Tiananmen Square massacre on TV, and I became truly scared and shocked. It was hard for me, at that age, to understand what the whole thing was about and why it was happening. However, the TV images of the Goddess of Democracy, the wounded and killed students, and especially the man standing in front of the column of tanks stuck with me. They impacted me so much that a few months ago, around seven years after the movement took place, I did a thesis on the 1989 massacre and movement for my English class. I wouldn't consider myself an expert on the 1989 movement, but in my research for my thesis, I read several books, including one written by Hong Kong reporters in the square at the time. I also saw a documentary on the massacre, entitled "Moving the Mountain". (I did not see "Gate" until a few months after I had turned in my thesis.) Although I missed the beginning of "Gate", I found it to be very nicely put together. However, one thing bothered me about the documentary. It bothered me that the documentary focused so much on the power struggles within the student protesters, rather than the power struggles in the Chinese Communist Party. It is certainly true that there were power struggles and difficulties in getting along among the students, but this was almost inevitable. The students, afterall, were only students. They didn't know anything about politics or constructing an un-precedented movement. They were only young students desperate and starving for a better life and a better place. It is stupid to blame the student leaders for the deaths of the perhaps thousands who died at Tiananmen, when the ones who drove the tanks and pulled the triggers were Communist soldiers. Yes, perhaps the student leaders could have conducted the movement differently, to avoid such bloodshed. Yet for such an un-precedented movement, they did not have an instruction manual, or any experiences to learn from. Although the 1989 movement did not bring Democracy to China, it did wake up the world to what was going on in China, and was a strong first step on China's road to Democracy.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is one of the best and powerful movies I have ever seen. I taped your program and invited my colleagues and friends to watch this masterpiece. Everyone was deeply moved and touched. Thousands of thanks to the producer of the movie and PBS. I believe that millions of millions of Chinese will thank you for the superb job. There is no doubt in our minds that it is one of the most valuable contribution ever done to the progress of democracy in morden China.
In addtion, your Democracy Wall on Internet is wonderful. We wonder if you have sent all the responses to PRC Embassy in US and Chinese Government in Beijing? Show the program again. The world, history, civilization and the people who appreciate democracy will thank you again and again in many years to come. When are you going to show this movie on PBS again?
Finally, please convey our wholehearted thanks to all the sponsors of this program.
I know the wall will fall in China for freedom can not be stopped once it has started.
A job well done. I very much applaud your excellent film of "The Gate of Heavenly Peace". In a world of media bias and bombardment without much substance. You bring some "free air" and truth. Thank you.
I believe all people who are decent, with conscience very much welcome your effort.
We just like to have truth.
Thank you for the program. Please show it again, at least twice more at different time slots.
I thought of the Kent State incident during the Vietnam days and began to think
about all the similarities and differences. Surly, the future student protesters
should review them carefully.
As for all the negative things written on this site's wall about Chai Ling, I beg to
disagree. Yes, she came across as a "B". However, I am not sure that the program is
true in presenting her side of the arguements. All that I am sure is that she was a
young leader in uncharted grounds. Also, she has to lead a bunch of young students
who were used to be told what to do (as by professors). What is the right way to
lead those particular students?
Thank you for showing this documentary. I watched it with tears streaming down my face. I had followed the Tiananmen events closely seven years ago, emotions swinging from hope to frustration to despair and ultimately, outrage and deep sadness. The students certainly had their shortcomings but one should not forget that they were after all young people with all their naivete, immaturity and even arrogance. But their courageous act and tragic failure opened the eyes of many to the utter bankruptcy of the Chinese communist government. As an overseas Chinese, I had grown up believing that the communist party was the savior of China. Even after the excesses of the Cultural Revolution were revealed, I still wanted to believe that the Communist party was a self-reforming party capable to admitting and correcting its mistakes. Tiananmen shattered that illusion. That ruling clique is plain and simply a bunch of fascists.
The prospects for democratic reform in China looks very bleak right now, but I like to think that the spirit of Tiananmen will live. And that one day, the truth will come out.
Meanwhile, I thank the film producers for making this film if only to remember those who fell in Tiananmen and the few brave souls who carry on the fight today. The world should never forget the Wei Jingshengs and Wang Dans and the workers executed in Shanghai seven years ago.
Finally, two suggestions about the film: One. Student protest movements also took
place in many provinces in China in June 1989. This was never reported in the film.
Two. It would have been helpful if the fates of those interviewed in the film were
described at the end of the film.
Because it kept faith with all the subtle nuances, the complexities of motivation, of perception and historical experience, of emotion for all the people involved, this program was among the best I have ever seen on TV and certainly the best ever on China. Long Bow's earlier production for PBS was suberb but this beats even that. Each pundit or politico holding forth on China should have to view this.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is a superb work of documentary. I was surprised that Chai Ling refused to be interviewed, and wrote such a nasty note about the film. Her actions have diminished some of her greatness in my mind, similar to the tarnishes in Mao's later life on Mao's greatness. I have watched this film 6 times already, and still find it very rivetting, for it is not a Hollywood fiction, but based on real-life events. There are so many heroes, and I admire and salute them all. I have had the privilege of shaking hands and greeting Wuer Kaixi in San Francisco soon after he arrived in the U.S. to talk about the Tian-An-Men incident.
The students at Tiananmen Square should both be lauded and chastised. They showed some guts and provided a needed challenge to the CCP, but also threw the concept of 'democracy' around like it was something that could be purchased conveniently at a shopping mall. Chai Ling was fairly repugnant - clinging to power as if on some pathetic ego trip while not recognizing the hypocritical paradox of screaming for democracy while doing so. The students seemed scarcely more democratic than the CCP hierarchy they so loathed. If workers groups, such as those led by Han Dongfang had been incorporated into the protest, it could have become something more than a significant footnote in the Deng era. "Democracy?" Only for Beijing students? Come on.
"The Gate of Heavenly Peace" gave a context to not only the events of April-June
1989, but also to much of China's 20th century political background - The May
Fourth Movement, Mao Zedong-thought, Cultural Revolution, Deng's 'rehabilitation'
within the CCP, Democracy Wall, the 1976 Zhou Enlai Tiananmen iincident, etc. Super
job - it replaces many superficial CNN and Dan Rather memories from June, '89. i.e:
"Students = 'good', CCP = impatient, murderous ogres. It makes you want to know
more about the people who actually were murdered on the streets leading to
Tiananmen Square. There lives need to be memorialized. PS - If you're interested in
CCP Chinese politics, two books:
The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence and Chinese Awakenings by Tyson,James and Ann.
The site is very colorful but where is the analysis that is the strength of the film? Is the film going to be distributed?
I saw several things in the film: The sixties in America. Power among groups and how to share or not share. Extremism in the student leaders. Richard Daley at the Chicago convention in the form of Communist leaders. Newt Gingrich and current Republicans stifling dissent as best they can. J.A.
I understand one theory regarding the move by the government to attack the square is based on spiking national inflation. The goverment needed to make a show of force, as the theory goes, to quell additional insurrection. Inflation is a major fear of dictatorships, particularly after economic circumstances improve marginally in countries with low standards of living. Does anyone have information on this theory regarding inflation?
After seeing the show last night I was left with several mixed feelings... 1) To the Chinese Gov't.: Those who ignore the rich experience of their past will be doomed to failure in the future. 2) To the Chinese Gov't. - A dog will only act as he has been trained to act. 3) to the Students: Ultimate power and change comes from within the system.
The unarmed young man standing in front of the tank for a good few minutes has demonstrated the greatest courage of mankind confronting with totalitarism. Yet, how often can we hear his name to be mentioned when we talk about the June 4th Massacre?
I think Chai Ling and some other student leaders are just spoiled kids. One of the most important reasons why she was chosen as the leader was that she was simply fearless, and this kind of braveness was based on sort of illusion. Sometime she really doesn't understand what she is talking about, and sometime she tells lies not out of ill intend. Chai Ling is just a symbol of 89 Beijing revolution with mixed characters. I hope people can leave her alone, and also I hope Chai Ling just forget about politics, because that is not for her.
Once moved , and then confused by Chai Ling.
I found many parallel in the Bejing incident to my own experience as a student protester here in the U.S. The power trips, the chaos, and the feeling of granduer frighteningly mirrored the protest I took part in at UCLA (90-94). Also the media distortions and the military crackdown was familiar. The main difference was how lenient the Chinese government was one the students. We would never rush a police line cause we know in the U.S. that would lead to a cracked skull or worse! I can't believe the protesters were able to make the police feel guilty and back away! That would never happen here. The even met with the leader of the country another fantasy senario here. I would like to talk to anyone who has misconceptions about how free we are in the states.
We must never forget in the sweep of current events those Patriots of Freedom who gave their lives for a Free China. They are the spiritual brothers and sisters of our own American Patriots who gave all for freedom. It is too easy for us to be complacent and take our freedom for granted. We should not forget that there are people in the world who risk their lives for what we assume to be our birthright. We should respect them.
The power struggle among the student groups for leadership is a realtime synthesis and of Chinese History. It revealed the everlasting prolitical problem of power struggles among leaders.
I watched in wonder at the hundreds if not thousands of young and old, literate and illiterate, common people and party members that for all intents and purposes showed that underneath the china we know today lives a greater and more couragous people then we could ever have thought. It makes me mad and shake my head when I heard from this supposed "commander in chief" of the student brigades telling this reporter that in effect she wanted her fellow protestors to die. to die for the greater good of china. I ask her now that she has had so many years to think about this day if she is still thinking that it was worth so many lives being lost? Sure enough the communist party would have begun a roundup of the central leaders of this event, but again from that interview that I saw I can only say that she became a uncaring zealot. A zealot who loses their ability to think in a protest movement of that size and importance just added to the potential for bloodshed. She cried alright at the blood bath that was June 4, 1989 and in a interview said that it was time to overthrow the government of china i wonder if now juxtapozing that taped message delivered from Hong Kong and the interview done with the journalist a week before the events of that bloody night she thinks so highly of herself now.
I don't want to put down the people who showed the courage and greatness that is rare to see. the people of tiananmen will never be forgotten for as long as the dissendants are free outside of china they will be there to remind the world of what happened. the thing that bothers me more than anything else is what happened to so many of the rank and file of that protest, the ones who stood up to the tanks,the ones who were not on the most wanted list of the chinese government? my feeling is that many people were taken by the police and the military and permanently silenced.
Of the twenty one who were so wanted to date it seems that at least eleven have made it to safety in the west including the most recent dissendant chu hangong. The underground railway is still alive and well its seems helping to spirit the outspoken out of china. The day will come when a greater understanding of the events of June 4, 1989 will come. Your program was the start. if many of the leaders of the movement lost their souls like lu lin I wonder why the military had not been provoked into killing so many people sooner. The people of China are not murders by nature, and this mass excution that the was conducted in no way should be thought of as being the nature of the chinese people, just the people in power.
I would conclude this commentary with the understanding of the sacrifice of so many
people; why they did it and if it might happen again. Never I think the people of
china will forget their little social explosion. I must state that many of the
leaders of the student movement knew what was going on and worked hard to prevent
anything from happening. Unfortunately they did not succeed. The politics of the
events caught up with many of the people that day and would not have listened
anyway. Those that did as your documentary said voted with their feet. the other
leaders that were there like lu lin wanted to see blood shed to try and "awake" the
people I wonder and sincerly wonder why they thought that having people die would incite
anything more than funerals. For it seems to me that the students wanted
"non-violence" not wanton killing. The results of that interview were quite
Please pass this message to Chai Ling or publish it in your democracy wall. Hi, Chai Ling, Comander-in-chief: If you really want to be a true leader of Chinese people, you should go back to China to lead to people in the grass roots as Mao and Sun Ya-sen did in the past and risk your own life together with the grassroot Chinese people. Your behavior in Tian-An-Men reminds me as just another hypocritical dictator driven by your lust for power. You remind me of Jiangqing and I feel sick of you when you shouted that you want democracy. I find your behavior is irresponsible and you want those innocent young lives to die and shed blood while you rise to power upon their innocent sacrifices.
What has happened to the man who was given a 10 year prison sentence for speaking his mind about the horror of tanks running over innocent citizens. (Shown in the last 10 minutes of the film.) I found this segment to be one of the most disturbing components of the film.
One can see from the film that Chai Ling is the person that eventually caused the crackdown in TienAnMan Square. Furthermore, she is the person that originate the lies that a massacre has occurred inside the square. And the anti-communist western press are very willing to spread her lies throughout the world repeatedly.
I'm a political science major at UCLA concentrating in international relations, especially between Asia, Southeast Asia and U.S. Coming from China's neighboring country Korea, I always wanted to see and experience Tiananmen Square. My uncle who teaches Chinese at a major Korean university, he's been there several times and he has told me that I really should go visit this historic place. I want to feel this place where so many students have lost their lives to fight for China's democracy. I want to know how it feels to fight for future of one's country. I'm glad I turned on my T.V. out of boredom studying for my finals (yuk!) and it was one tearful film to watch. Because I missed the beginning part of it, I do not know whether the lives of main characters(Chaing Lin? Was that her name? And other people who participated in anti-Martial law movement in 1989) is known or not. I would like to know what they are doing now and where they are at. I also would like to know how their lives have changed since the demonstration and how all this affected people of China. Perhaps attitude of people from Taiwan and Hong Kong as well. Thank you.
I really enjoyed your The Gates of Heaven episode. It should be noted that the PLA that shot at the protesters were from outer Mongolia and did not speak the same dialect as the people from the city. They were insulated from the events at the square, because the protesters could not communicate with the soldiers they could not appeal to them. I am Chinese and the show really made me appreciate the freedoms that I have in America. We Americans take our freedoms and human rights for granted!
A moving and compelling piece that expands our understanding of the student movement in 1989 - a clarion call to all who would support, live under, or participate in a participatory democracy.
Dr. Doug Forbes
We watched the film last night on PBS in Boston. We were deeply moved by the film. Both myself and my wife are originally from China and we had followed the entire movement in 1989. I'd like to say "Thousand Thanks" to the people who made this film and I wish one day this film can be broadcasted in China. People will never forget what the government did and democracy will come to China.
Many thanks again.
After I saw the film("Gate") last night, I feel very sad. (1). The communist chinese government is the most evil one in the world. Maybe, even through the entire human history; (2). There are a lot to blame the student leaders. Particularly, Chai Ling is the first one to be blamed. She is selfish and disgusting. I am sick of her!!! She is guilty and deserves punishment; Finally, in overall, the film "Gate" is a good one.
Adam D. Liu
It is an excellent documentary film. I learned a great deal of the modern Chinese history from the two-hour-long show. It was very interesting to note that through out the film, none of the so-called Western "Chinese experts" were interviewed for their "opinions". Yet, the people who interviewed are the really Chinese people who participated in the June 4th Demoncratic Movement.
I commend you on a balanced and fair assessment of the whole incident. This is a breath of fresh air from all those pro-government or pro-Western media information we had been fed in the past. Thank you for a job well done.
I watched the program last night and was moved to check out the web page today (I am rarely so moved). The program, I thought, was well balanced in that it did not depict the students as saints. Hindsight is 20/20; therefore, I hope future democratic -- or people-defined struggles -- will learn from the student protest at Tianamen. My knowledge of China is limited, but this program has inspired me to do more work in this area. The web page is wonderfully helpful in this regard.
The film exposes the real face of the so called "Serve the People" Chinese Communist Party and refreshes memory of the historical evidence. The Chinese Communist dictators still persist not to unfold the truth of Tiananman Square Massacre and punish the murderers. People around the world will never forget what had happened in Tiananman Square on June 4,1989. We all remember the heroes who were killed by the Chinese Communist dictetors. The heroes who are still there to fight for Democracy will eventually prevail. They will get respect and support from people around the world.
An incredibly powerful film which showed so much of the turmoil and humanity of those few short weeks. This web site added greatly to my review of the film and updates on people etc. Thank you. This is what TV should be all about.
My wife and I were in Beijing during the Tiananmen massacre. I was a student at Beijing University, and she taught English at the same school. We fled the country on June 7, 1989, three days after the killings. The leaving was so abrupt, and we left so many friends behind ( many whom we've yet to hear from), and left so many things up in the air that I've never had any sort of closure on the experience. Your film, far from opening old wounds did quite the contrary: it gave me a perspective I never allowed myself to have. Sure, I was reminded of events and the rememberance was very emotional. However, when I left China I closed my heart to those emotions. All I had were fleeting images, many of them compressed, that would come gushing out when close friends asked me what happened. Thank you for the chance to take another look at the events of seven years ago. I found the film matched well the version of events I had hidden deep within myself. I was touched.
Des Moines, Iowa
I saw The Gate of Heavenly Peace at the MOMA in New York last fall. After the credits, walking out of the theater I noticed that many of the Chinese people in the audience were commenting that the film was the most accurate and perhaps the most thorough presentation they had seen so far of the events. It was very moving for me personally. Being part Chinese and having visited my ancestors in China, the film motivated me strongly to pursue my own studies of Chinese language and to keep in touch with the evolution of China.
I have never been so moved in my life. Regular network had failed miserably as compare to this documentary. Is there any way I can purchase this tape.As a Hong Kong borned person, I want my second generation to see the true faces of the June 4th incident. Again. Excellent job.
I was very moved by watching the Tinaman Square on PBS on July 4, even though I have about it before, but I have seen in detail like that before. I am Tibetan and I have heard many times from Tibetan that they are denied the basic human right, but we are not getting the support which we would like to have from United State or United Nation. I even feel sad that our brothers and sister in China are going through same. American who have watched this program, will be moved by this and I hope they support for suffering people in China and Tibet. I Thank your TV Station and the staff for televising this program. I thanks you again and hope your company will do the same in near future.
This film is the most impartial account of what happened in Tienanman Square 6/4/1996 I have seen today. However, an important character that is related to this event is totally missing. This person is Fang Li-Jih, an astronomer now taking a refugee status in US. I think the film removed him from the event for fearing to produce a link of US involvment in the event.
This weeks peice on your show was absolutely briliant. I found it to be a very fair look at the situation that developed in the square.
It was interesting to see a peice that was not preaching
the infinite goodness of democracy, and showed that
the kind of freedom we have in Canada and the U.S.
comes at the price of compremise (a learned ability).
A faithful viewer,
This film and the responses to it I've read here have given me great food for thought. One element of the entire democracy question in China that seems to be underplayed is the economic motivation that seems to underly so many of the actions of those in charge, those who would overthrow them and the average citizen caught in the middle. It should be remembered that for much of the early part of this century that the people of China suffered greatly from famine brought about by natural conditions and human disregard. Communism, in its inherently imperfect form, brought with it a stability that has enabled the most populous nation in the history of the world to not just survive, but to prosper. It is this economic stability that has provided the fertile ground of revolution that is tentatively being tilled. Just as Russia broke free from the double crush of economic and political starvation, so too have the people of China been freed from one set of shackles. For the common person, Czarist rule in Russia was far worse on the level of basic human survival than most of the excesses of Communist dictatorship. The same can be argued for the people of China when it comes to Imperial vs. Communist rule. Change does not come easily nor overnight and often what seems to be a turning point is in truth only another small step.
The true seeds of political revolution are sown in the fields of economic freedom.When Hong Kong reverts to direct Chinese rule, then the true revolution will begin. The minds of
the people are slowly being stretched and they will never return to their previous dimension. Just as America was born NOT of the desire to create a "more perfect union", but of the desire to escape unjust taxation; so too will the citizens of China and Russia and other places great and small arise when they come to believe that their prosperity lies with themselves. Even here, in the land of the free, the concept of political freedom is more abstract than concrete. Money, however, is a concept everyone can grasp.
I applaud the effort and the great courage shown by so many millions of average, hard-working Chinese. It will be through their efforts, not the efforts of the elite, or would be elite, that China will be free. When those who live the lives that are never covered by the
press, or filmmakers, decide that they can do better for themselves than those in charge, THEN change will come. And when it does I hope they guard against letting the new
bosses be like the old ones.
Thank you for a balanced, fair and generally courageous piece of reporting. The subject is an extremely complex one, but the piece managed to present a largely honest and accurate interpretation of the events. My only regret is that while the American public watched the sensationalist and highly biased network reports as they came out in 1989, very few had watched "Gate" when it aired last week.
You have missed out the most important information about those 1989 movement leaders -- their present situation. Not every one of them is as fortunate as Chai Ling, who left China successfully. Like Wang Dan, who was imprisoned and released, has been detained again by the Chinese authority for over a year. He is not charged with any crime, but is simply detained. There are many more not-so- famous participants in the movement under detention, the most recent one (I've heard of) being Wong Hay Jit (my own translation of his name from Cantonese), who was brought away by Police on May 31, 1996. Such news are not heard in Western media, but are headlines in Hong Kong. I'm not sure when did your interviews take place, but it's reasonable to think that those who are still in China did not tell the whole truth, under the pressure from the government. Yes, they were all brave enough to stand against the government in 1989, but they also have families.
Also, I sensed that your program is suggesting that no massacre actually took place at Tiananmen Square, and the tanks didn't run over people intentionally. Did you know that the gov't switched off all lights at the Square just befor dawn, June 4, 1989, for like half an hour? Your program didn't mention that, and that's when the massacre took place. I've seen live footage on Hong Kong news at that time, showing the lights went out, and gunshots started. There were also pictures showing crushed human bodies on newspaper (which I still have a copy). I do believe my eyes.
And the soldiers did not use ordinary bullets. They used a kind of bullet which has been banned worldwide after the Vietnam War -- one which sets off an explosion when it enters the human body. Those who had been shot either died or lost their limbs.
I think your program is present facts, but not the whole truth.
You are being too kind on the Chinese government.
C. M. Chiu
Thank you to PBS for showing The Gate of Heavenly Peace. Tears streamed down my face as I watched the film. I was brought back to those fateful days in June seven years ago. Like many Chinese people around the world, I followed the students' protest movement closely, emotions swinging from hope to frustration to despair and ultimately, outrage and profound sadness. As an overseas Chinese, I grew up believing that the Communist Party was good for China. Even when the excesses of the Cultural Revolution were revealed, I still wanted to believe that the Party was a self-reforming party which will admit and correct its mistakes. The tragedy at Tiananmen opened my eyes and those of many erstwhile believers that this Party is corrupt and evil and fascist. Certainly, the students had shortcomings but one must remember that they were afterall still young people with all their naivete, immaturity and even arrogance. But they were also tremendously brave and fearless and their sacrifices will be remembered.
The prospects for democratic reforms in China looks very bleak today. But I like to believe that films like The Gate of Heavenly Peace help to keep alive the memories of those who fell in Tiananmen and elsewhere in China - notably the workers executed in Shanghai - and to remember the courageous souls who are carrying on the fight for democracy in China today. We must never forget the Wei Jingshengs and Wang Dans and the many nameless heros of China. A few points about the film: First, it would have been helpful if the whereabouts of the players were described at the end of the film. Second, protest movements broke out practically all over China and it is unfortunate that this fact was not mentioned in the film.
Still, thank you for preserving the memories of Tiananmen.
I want to remind you all not to forget that the citizens of Beijing were true heroes and had shed most the blood in this epic drama, while Chinese students in US were the mainly beneficiary of the massacre. They had succeeded to lobby Congress to grant them the visa for permanent residence for neither participating in the movement nor being persecuted in any way by the Chinese government. It is shame to see while their compatriots in Beijing were being slaughter, the Chinese students in the US rushed to capitalize on the blood shed by other.
This is the most interesting documentary I have ever seen. I was very moved by the film as well as impressed with the quality of the footage and the editing. We rarely see images from China and this documentary shed a new light on the events of '89.
I am from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
I was very moved by the documentary. I was also very moved by the courage of the students as well as the Chinese people.
When this event occured, I was at a young age and living in Hong Kong. Back then, it meant nothing to me. This documentary has made me re-examine the events and I have since realized how close we were to seeing a democratic China.
There were many different variables at play, and if only one of these changed for the better, perhaps we would be living in a very different place.
I think that the events can be considered a successful failure. The goal of awakening the people was achieved, but so many innocent lives were lost.
As long as the idea still lives, the dream of a new China will still be alive. Now it is the turn of the next generation to fight for what these brave men and women have started.
The responsibility falls on us. We must move together as one, or condemn ourselves
and a billion others to the same fate as those before us.
The film lingered in my mind as I remembered my fellows who died on that evening eight years ago. As a Chinese, I would like to say that they didn't die for nothing. Their lives or death gave birth to democracy and freedom in China, though the birth is a rather prolonged progress. I look forward to hope becoming true.
I appreciated the film very much. It is objective and of in-depth, and highly professional. It even gives Mr. Deng Xiaoping a balanced recount. Though he is considered by many as the man behind the scene who ordered the gun-fire and he maybe actually was, Mr. Deng should not be regarded as the culprit of the crime. Actually, when thinking about who was guilty for the Massacre, even we Chinese would feel puzzled. We can only know those students and those who were killed are heros.
I do think there are many things this film should touch on. Firstly, there was a pro-Zhao Ziyang think-tank who plotted a lot major incidents in later half of the Movement. People like Wan Run-nan, former chief of Beijing-headquartered Stone Co. which is China's leading private enterprise, did played a major role in the whole thing. Student leaders were summoned to his office or somewhere else to plan what-to-do-next. But this film told nothing about this power behind the scene. Secondly, how Chinese people think about June.4th Massacre today? Do they think democracy will follow economic freedom which Mr. Deng advocated (Here you can know why I remain "thankful" to Deng for his reform and opening of China.)? Thridly, how foreing influence worked on and among the student leaders? I want to know what then-Ambassador of US in Beijing and his wife did and how Western media's coverage of the incident helped to fan up students' emotion.
As for the leading character of this incident, Ms. Chai Ling, I despise her. I think
it is fair that this film gives people a clearer idea what a role she played and
how she played seven years ago. Ms. Chai was and maybe still is a opportunist with
very lowly personality. She thought her time came when the thing started. So she
leaped, screamed, proclaimed, plotted a wedding with another student leader,
requested an exclusive interview when she was somehow told that PLA would shoot. At
last she ran faster than anybody else. If she can read my opinion here, I would
like to tell her: "Stop using June 4th to serve your personal purpose. You have
managed to be in America, OK that's enough. You will have to be exile for your
life because even a democracy China won't welcome you, to pay for the losses of
those young lives."
This is an extraordinarily interesting, well organized, and informative web site, probably the best I've ever visited.
After reading about the controversy over "Gate" in the Washington Post, including the Chinese government's heavy-handed attempt to suppress it, I was intrigued. However, living in Richmond, I doubted whether I would get a chance to see it. I was therefore delighted to see it picked up by Frontline. The film was easily one of the best-made documentaries I've ever seen. The filmmakers provided a great deal of historical information--including wonderful archival footage!--to allow the typical Westerner to place the events of 1989 in context. I was stunned to learn that there was "not" a mass bloodbath in the square--certainly news reports at the time gave that impression. In fact, the film was maddeningly vague about how many people *were* killed. Of course, even the official figure of 200 dead is still a "massacre" in anyone's book.
At the end of the film I was left emotionally drained but hungry for more information. This hunger was well sated by the outstanding web site. Kudos to all involved with it--the site is the best I've ever seen for getting a wide variety of information across.
With human rights still virtually non-existent in the PRC--especially in occupied
where people are beaten and jailed merely for displaying a photograph of the Dalai
documentary could not have been more timely. For those of us who want to help the
people of China
and Tibet gain some real freedom from this type of totalitarian thuggery, we cannot
get very far if
we rely on simple-minded caricatures. This film should be required viewing for
anyone who truly wishes
to make a change in China.
Dale G. Leopold
I teach 7th grade social studies. We just finished watching this film, and I was amazed at the stunned silence that filled the room when the final credits started rolling. Most of my students were genuinely moved by the story and events. The most interesting comment however was not about the protesters, but about the soldiers. One student thought it must have been very hard for the soldiers to do what they thought was right -- firing on civilians or going to jail (or worse) for disobeying orders. Another interesting response was to the sea of children holding up their red scarves and chanting thier loyalty -- many of my students likened it to Nazi Germany. I think this scene and the discomfort it provoked made this film very personal and relevant to my classes.
This film was very successful in presenting (for the first time) the students who were the core of the 1989 uprising. The film fleshed out the movement and made it real as opposed to than the two dimensional characterizations that were seen on network newscasts. Seeing these people, one quicky realizes that the "democracy" that they sought was not a true democracy of majority rule/minortiy rights, but rather it was a term for a new totalitarianism with a new ruling class. We Americans are so fortunate that our revolutionaries included the likes of Jefferson and Franklin. They were altruistic geniuses who led a people from the chaos of revolution into a truely democratic nation. Most rebellions do not end so well. History is litered with the likes of Castro, Mao, Khomeni, Lenin and so on who created severe, tyranical regimes to "protect the revolution" for the "interests of the People". Had these students succeeded, I feel that they would have done much the same thing.
I feel that the film failed, however, when it came to portraying the horror of the
massacre. If one were to view this film without any background knowlege of the
incident, that person could easely come to the conclusion that a few dozen people
were injured or killed in Beijing that night. The film makes no mention at all of
Chinese attempts to cover up the death toll by destroying the bodies of the dead.
Were those stories true? If they were, then the film has made a terrible omission.
If they are not why wouldn't they film mention that wild, untrue rumors were
circulated in the west? Either way it should have been included.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is superb--and perhaps unprecedented as an anatomy of a historic crisis anywhere in the world. Would that our cultural institutions would make the commitment to give comparable attention to other supercharged moments. Thank you for doing this service to historical understanding.
New York, NY
This was the most balanced documentary on 6-4 yet. The next installment should have more info on the economic backdrop to the student protests. The film never actually listed all of their demands, and why workers joined them. There was a lot more to it than worker political awareness!
The film, in my opinion and many others, is the most objective and believable account of the inspiringly tragic event. It is not at all surprising that both the radical pro-democracy student leaders in exile and the staunch Chinese government are afraid of the wide release of the film.
The Chinese people are indebted to the people who made this
historical film. Thank you, PBS, for showing it.
Your viewers should know that your story on Tiannenman Square did not reveal all the facts. Robert Rodvik, a freelance writer in British Columbia, Canada, has written an extensive piece on Tiannenman Square. It should be read by all who want additional information on the why's and who's of this most tragic world event. All interested should contact me via my email address or by writing to: Tom Davis Books
P.O. Box 1107F
Aptos, CA 95001-1107
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is a magnificent film and I applaud you for bringing it our attention. I found it striking that there were only two genuine revolutionaries in the film - Mao and Chai Ling. Both found the spilling of blood necessary for revolutionary progress. Mao, as a necessary means to an end; Chai Ling, as a repugnant irony of the peace protest.
A terrific documentary; I was one of the witnesses of Tiananmen Square anf fully supported and empathized with the students. However, as an eyewitness, and one of the handful of journalists actually in the square up till 2:00 AM June 4th, I was disturbed at some of the exagerations by the "western media in absentia" who immediately reported a brutal massacre taking place within the square. It is my observation that NO massacre took place in the square; the major bloodshed occurred outside the square and at the countless intersections throughout Beijing as citizens battled the military. I did interview two students while in the square who were shot in the square; one through the hand; the other through the shoulder. I observed soldiers shooting indiscriminately into the crowds and wounding and killing numerous chinese people. I think the phrase "Tiananmen Square Massacre" is appropriately named from a symbolic standpoint but an historical misnomer since a massacre never occurred within the square.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is probably the most beautiful documentary I have ever seen. It extraordinarily depicted the courage, persistence, and heroism of the students, teachers, scholars, and workers who partook in the historical event.
The incident is a stepping stone to a flourishing reformation in China as the nation
matures to democracy.
The best film about "6.4" I have ever seen. The most objective journalism I have ever encountered. We have been practicing "finding 'truth' in between" from all of those one-side stories (Chinese government, student leaders, western media, etc.). As a outsider (a person who supported the democratic movement wholeheartedly like millions ordinary Chinese at that time), I think I know a better version of the movement. It has finally been presented in this film-a story that I and many my fellow students believe to be the "closest to truth" up to now. The in depth analysis of chinese culture that the film-makers presented to western viewers is also what we often want to tell but feel hopeless to achieve.
p.s. A minor mistake in the "controversy" part of this page. It states that "the
government still denies anybody other than soldiers were killed". The government
admits that people other than soldiers have been killed. It just simply treats the
deads differently. It never treats those non-soldiers who died in that incident as
After watching the documentary, I became increasingly intrigued and interested by the "Tiananmen Square incident" espically by its prominent leaders like Chai Ling and the themes and issues it presents. Despite all the criticisms, I believe that the documentary was very powerful, informative, and inspiring to many young students like myself.
First, I apologize for this lengthy message. It's divided into two parts.
Item #1) What a beautiful site this is! A great pleasure to look at and easy to read. Full of interesting and educational information. A perfect companion to the PBS broadcast. Please don't take it away for awhile. My daughter is taking a course on China politics at the Univ. of California at San Diego (UCSD). Your program/the film were highly recommended. Since she is in the middle of exams, she phoned home and asked me to record the program so she could watch it when she comes home. When I show her PBS ONLINE's site for the film I know she will explore it to the fullest. I hope you will keep it available for awhile.
Item #2) I was sitting in my dentist's chair yesterday and as he was doing some really awful and painful dental work on me he suddenly began asking me if I had seen the PBS program "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" the night before. As I tried to mumble my answer he proceeded with his commentary about how much he enjoyed it and how fascinating and interesting he found it. I don't know if he has Internet access so I thought I'd pass his reaction on to you - although I was a little distracted at the time. I will also be sure to tell him about your PBS ONLINE presentation.
Thank you again for your outstanding PBS ONLINE site.
Santa Ana, CA
Thank you for your critical documentation of Gate of Heavenly Peace, As a chinese american, these images of heroerism in the film at an age of greed, corruption and tyranny will forever remebered in our mind and heart. However, the radicalness of the student is in part the very inexperience of the student. Please pay attention that they are so young, yet so full of energy and hope. It is the indecency of the govement, using gun to kill and jail the best the country can offer, that brought the darkness to a quart of population on the earth.
One of the weekness of the film is lack of interviews, views of the people in power at that time and the people who order or participated in the massace, asking them why and what they were thinking, what shaped their policy at the time, and views 7 years after the '89 movement.
Another weekness of the film is lack of perspective on the consquence of the movement, such as economic librarization and increasing role of private owned buseness in china today, and inherit freedom brought on by such librarization.
Again, thanks for your good work.
Huntington Beach , CA
I watched the program on the night of 6-5,96. I truly enjoyed the film. This is my first time surfing this site. I think you have done a wonderful job. This home page on The Gate of Heavenly Peace is very imformative ,and it is interestingly presented. Keep up the remarkable job. I certainly will be back soon.
Job well done!!!
Finally, someone is doing an objective review of the events. It helped me to rethink about all that has happened. While no one intends to blame Chai Ling or anyone else in student leadership for the bloodshed, she and other radicals should rethink about what they did and the consequences for their own good. Unfortunately, in Charlie Rose show, Ms. Chai [Ling] was just too busy defending her own position seven years ago. In fact, a lot of people in Chinese community think those so-called "leaders" in 1989's movement are wrose than Communists. At least, Communists had a dream. No more mass movement, please !!!
Congratulations on another job well done. The documentary was much more insightful than the sensationalist media, ie. the so called nightly news. It was in depth and factual. The human story was told very well. I was at the time but just turned ten and the inhumane and incredulous onslaught stunned me. Being Chinese, I could understand the authortarian dictatorship the communists enacts, but to kill one's own people for political reasons is another issue. Don't get me wrong, history is filled with these incidents, but to actually see it and the bloodshed is another. I could not believe that marshal law was declared and troops were sent in to "pacify" the student protestors. Anyways, it was an amazing piece of work and hopefully posterity will remember that day on June 4, 1989 when the evils of a fascist and dictatorship government gone awry, when this film is shown to generations to come.
Though, several things I would like to point out about the documentary is as follows:
Another biased and partisan view is presented. As with some earlier epsiodes, "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" presents only views that appeal to emotions and popular cultural icons. Only mainly the students story of emotions and courage was told, not the political machine nor the circumstances facing both sides of the problem. The students were fighting for a great cause, that of justice and freedom, but, their approach was illogical and irrational. Change takes time, even the Mao movement took over a decade to accomplish. The students at the begginning only wanted small reforms, but then changed to "this is what we want, give us all or we'll die" attitude. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THAT. Even, in this country bills introduced takes a long time before they become law, and even longer before put into effect. The students wanted everything now, or death. Is this logical? The students kneeling as if petitioning to an emperor examplifies that view in the film. Of course it's emotional, but it does not get anywhere! Some in the government were already conforming to the students view. Again, the film only primarliy showed viewpoints of emotional characteristics and that which appeals to the mass, in this case the people who get sentimental about death, etc.
Another thing is that there is lack of the psychological factors that both sides manifested. It was interesting to hear the narrator explain that Deng XiaoPing was afraid of choas. Maybe that had to do with the outcome of events. And, the students were overwhelmed by mass hysteria. The power of the masses transforms the individual. Like the earlier revolutions, Tiananmen had that element of mass histeria. One of the student leaders even admited this. He was at first ready to go home, then the uproars of the group changed his opinions immediately, because of he felt like "on top of the world" through the mob histeria. And, even to this day i could not understand why both sides decided on what they decided. The government's stupidity to open dialogue, and, the students' "eagerness" to bloodshed in order to prove a point? Why do these two sides decided this malicious course of action? What psychological factors that could led to this? So, the psychological factors-I think-needs to be explored further. The governments resistance to an old tradition of petition and the students bravery (or even foolishness?) needs to be further pursued.
Lastly, I don't not know whether or not the directors saw the ironies and hypocrisies that government and students had. To some extent they were even humourous. To see that the dictatorship government forming in Chai Ling's advocates and supporters resembling exactly the Chinese government just made me further believe that the course of action should've been else. And the irony that when AK-47's went off, most of the students (and some leaders) just fled the scene makes me still wonder further. The government have a long time been a hypocritical pretentious beaucracy. Mao's dream was the government as the people and for the people, this no longer exists. Though the communists still preach it! And the irony of the PLA, aftermath, and coverup instilled an air of disdain and distaste upon me.
In short, the factors of why are not explored, just the irrational behaviours and
emotional appeals are presented. It is my whole-hearted belief that FRONTLINE
represents quality and factual report coverage, but to see again partisan views
makes me second-hand-doubt that image of FRONTLINE. However, Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton did a wonderful job on the events that occured during the appalling two months time. It's another job well done for FRONTLINE.
I am puzzled by one point made very clearly in the film. The details of actual killing done by the PLA is rather limited. Hou Dejian debunks the image of masses of students being gunned down in the Square itself. The film repeatedly makes the point that there was no wholesale carnage, at least nothing like what we have seen in Burma, East Timor, Iraq and elsewhere.
Then, if this be the case, why is it referred to as a "massacre?"
This is not to say that the official line is correct; rather, the overstatements of the opposition were challenged in the film.
The film seemed to steer clear of any hard facts about killings, any accusations of numbers killed. The description of the emptying of the Square in fact tends to confirm the Government story.
Was it a massacre? Or just a forceful imposition of martial law?
The only problem with Frontline's presentation of GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE was that it wasn't widely enough publicized.
The film was as provocative and thoughtful as I had heard. Since my first reaction to the film was 'I want to know more' I am especially glad to see the extensive Website for GATE of H.P. This 'cyberproduction' is among the best educational cites I have seen.
I look forward to watching the film again, and to showing it to
my documentary film classes this coming year.
I find it tragic that such a critical and opportune moment for over a billion Chinese people to escape the bonds of oppression were wrestled away by a 23 year old self-aggrandizing "commander-in-chief". How could they let that happen? The tide that swept away most of the world's communist regeimes has ebbed and I'm afraid China has missed the last junk for democracy any time soon. While I marvel at the student's bravery I am equally amazed at their lackluster negotiating performance. Failing to compromise on any point, the small band of students in charge turned victory into defeat.
This interactive site seems a bit simplistic and silly... Instead of having information about Mao and Deng Xiao Ping (c'mon -- we KNOW who they are!), why don't you have more information about the more active players in the Democracy Movement -- the students and others who were there, who were interviewed in the film. Where are they now? What did they have to go through after the crackdown? This site is too simpleminded. It's like a toy, because it's on the WEB!? I expected a little more.
Alex Vincent Shumway
I sincerely appreciate your program along with the effort of PBS in being one of the very few media outlets to recognize the anniversary of the massacre. I was in the square the night of June 3, 1989. I am an American and was working on a Chinese film at the time. I realize this was a shortened version than the theatrical release and I am curious as to what part of the film was cut for the FRONTLINE version. I felt that the film was strangely unsympathetic toward the students - showing infighting, coup attempts, confusion, etc. - and not enough focus was placed on the true evil of 1989, the Chinese government. Also, one of the most heartbreaking stories to come out of 1989, is the continuing repression against the people of China. These past seven years and what is happening in China as far as further loss of human rights or the inability for the people of China to speak their minds has not even been touched on by the Western media. The only stories that we read in the Western press are that of companies doing business in China, blackmarketing of software in China, etc. What are the students doing now? Are they doomed to a life of silence and misery? And is this also the future of the youth of Hong Kong?
In many ways Gate was more insightful on the events which transpired on the square in 1989. However, it still suffered from shortcomings seen in many Western veiws of modern Chinese culture. When a film such as this is presented to a scholar of China, they have the requisite background for filling in the cracks of missing information. However, the average Western consumer of media has no such basis for understanding.
Aside from any accusations of altering re-writing history (I personally cannot know the entire truth, but have heard the range of possibilities from eyewitnesses), the film has two main shortcomings:
1) it failed to emphasizee much of the economic factors behind the mass discontent which occurred in 1989. The economy was in a transition from overheated expansion to trying to reduce inflation. People got stuck in the middle- high inflation but decreasing spending.
2) current views of the Chinese on what happened, and what it means. Partially from people's own views, partially from the still-efficient PRC propoganda machine, Chinese have a new view of democracy- that it is 'messy.' June 4 shows that. The Los Angeles riots, Oklahoma City bombing, Waco, Freemen, Paris subway bombings, Japanese poison gas attacks, all of these items are seen by the Chinese populous of showing why democracy is one step from chaos. The simple fact is that China spent half of this century in chaotic turmoil, as is very pleased with present day stability. So pleased, that people would be much more likely to pick a strong economy and oppressive government, than to open up the possibility of chaos for more political freedom. The current wave of nationalism in China goes so far as to see Western support for the 1989 movement as a foreign tool for fragmenting China, Westerners desparate to derail a China which will inevitably become very strong.
While I believe the human rights record of Beijing is disgusting, the Western media also completely ignore any progress which is slowly being made. While much time is spent finding vocal dissidents and locking them up, political reforms have begun on small scales. Many small villiages have begun electing their local councils. Some people do enjoy string enough relationships with Beijing to make quiet, non-public requests for human rights improvements and release of political prisoners. Some of these efforts have been successful.
Yes, many Chinese are ignorant of what is happening in the West. But many Westerners
are also guilty of not understanding what the conditions of China are like. This
growing rift of mis-understanding may eventually grow to be an even larger evil
than the problems both sides are complaining about now.
I just want to emphasize and elaborate on S.M.'s comment, "The current wave of nationalism in China goes so far as to see Western support for the 1989 movement as a foreign tool for fragmenting China, Westerners desparate to derail a China which will inevitably become very strong." I'm not sure that this is going "so far." While the actions of the Communist Party in response to the democracy movement were horrifying and demonstrated its desire for Stalinist totalitarianism, I think that the American media depicted the movement as a revolution rather than as a reform movement. Due to McCarthyite Cold War politics which defines American political and economic world perspectives to this day, few American politicians or commentators are willing to acknowledge that a socialist nation can be democratic. Thus, to most Americans, the simple equation is democracy=capitalism and vice versa. On the other hand, very few of the interviewed participants in the democracy movement made this equation.
In American global politics, money is the bottom line. This is why, despite the
People's Republic's numerous human rights violations, Presidents Bush and Clinton
extended "Most Favored Nation" status to China. I also wonder if this is why we
hear so little of the numerous democratically elected governments which the CIA has
assisted in overthrowing, merely because the interests of the people of those
nations are in conflict with the interests of American corporations.
I feel relieved after watch "Gate of Heavenly Peace". At last, people who are interested in China and her affairs will have a more objective view of the "June 4th Massacre" and the complexity of the problems facing China. I also feel very sad that such a reasoned and balanced description of the historic events can only come from non-Chinese and it was fiercely attacked by both sides. However I do believe most of the people, the ordinary Chinese students here in America and in China, will find themselves agreeing with the conclusions of this film. What's more important is that China's future will depend on the effort of ordinary citizen than the government and the radical "democratic fighters".
Thank you PBS for bring such objectivity and important to the better
understanding of "Chinese problem".
I watched the program last night and was moved to check out the web page today (I am rarely so moved). The program, I thought, was well balanced in that it did not depict the students as saints. Hindsight is 20/20; therefore, I hope future democratic -- or people-defined struggles -- will learn from the student protest at Tianamen. My knowledge of China is limited, but this program has inspired me to do more work in this area. The web page is wonderfully helpful in this regard.
Too bad most Americans--taking in the angst-ridden antics of Rosanne and NYPD Blue--were largely ignoring the harrowing, real-life drama unfolding on what may well have been this television season's finest program, "The Gate of Heavenly Peace."
While it may be an embarassing admission to reveal that I've viewed thousands of hours of television and film, I'm not as reluctant to state that viewing your moving and powerful program last evening ranks among the most memorable TV viewing experiences I ever had.
It's actually quite shocking to realize how little most people in the West know about this monumental event of our century's history when you additionally consider the sheer volume of recorded footage that exists of it.
Just as moving as the image of the lone man and the tank was the image of a scruffy old worker--with a desperate sadness, longing, fear and defiance in his face--holding up a peace sign for the cameras. It was images such as these that made me realize--as I hadn't before--the quiet desperation of a billion people muzzled and straightjacketed into mute conformity. Kudos go to the filmmakers for not shying away from tackling the very messy complexities of politics--particularly the divisive tactics of the various dissident groups--and of the ambiguities of democracy in general.
Our country's failure to support the dissidents and censure
China remains a shameful chapter in this story not covered in
the program. We seem more willing to use fighting words and
strong tactics when China pirates our software and movies than
when pro-democracy people are killed.
Thank you, PBS and all the journalists, and the filmmakers
for fighting the good fight and airing it for all (or at
least some of us) to see.
With much anticipation, I watched the film last night. The film brings back so much emotion in me that I don't even know how to describe it, whether I like it or it depresses me more. I am proud of the fact that what happened in 1989 will become a page in modern Chinese history some day, but some personalities involved in the event, in retrospect, make me wonder whether people educated in an authoritarian system could ever be qualified to lead a democratic movement. It looks from the film that they were more concerned about power, personal image, and their position in history than the future of China, despite their rhetoric to the contrary. On the other hand, given what I know about these guys after they fled China, I am not surprised....Thanks for making this important look-back. I am sure the lesson of June 3-4, 1989 will be studied and restudied by later generations.
Thank you for an extremely insightful documentary. This truly supports the theory that our media presents such lopsided and ignorant views of the world around us. Ask me back in 1989 about what these students and workers were protesting about and I would have simply said "Freedom." I now know better.
Congratulations! "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" is a masterpiece painstakingly produced by two fine producers that provides an in-depth account and analysis of what exactly happened.
One thing the documentary did not present but which has been well-known, is the fact that many of the student leaders were the children of low-level Communist party officials. They could not compete with the children of the likes of Deng Xiao Ping for privileges, and they did not want to study hard to become intellectuals. They chose a short-cut by becoming demagogues for an issue of importance in the West. True, that many of their demands reflected popular will; true also that many of the students were naive and idealistic. But people like Chai Ling and Li Lu were clearly opportunists and they only cared about their own image, seven years after the incident. They continue to use the tactics their communist mentors had taught them, to silence their critics in the U.S. Chai Ling's personal attacks on Carma Hinton only demonstrates how disqualified she was to lead that movement. The same low quality is common among the ex-student leaders.
The film has promoted a theme that I find most suitable to China: that there needs
to be a serious discussion about HOW exactly to move China away from the
failed communism. It is too bad that this was not mentioned in 1989, and now the
prevailing mood in China favors a free market combined with nationalism that
may not include democracy any time soon. And this maybe the right path for China.
Thank you very much for showing "The Gate of Heavenly Peace". The program puts some sense to the sensationalistic and shallow reporting that took place at that time by western media.
One area I felt that the program could have probed more deeply was the role that western media played. It appeared to me at the time that the media fanned the flames of dissent in order to cover the story. At the time I recall feeling that the student were being inadvertently manipulated. Who could make any right decisions about what to do with thousands of people screaming at you and the media putting you on satellite TV?
More seriously though, the students, through their lack of wisdom and organization missed several of the best chances to effect their desired changes in their government. As a result of their actions they've set back reform in Chinese government by years since all the high level pro-reform leaders were dismissed. That is a sad, sad loss to reform.
A question for people to ask themselves when evaluating the actions of
the Chinese government is: "Could they have done anything different
in the last two weeks of the demonstrations?" Could the *really* have?
I don't think so.
What a spectacular piece of information! PBS has done it again. You presented a monumental point in the history of China with the content and fairness necessary for such an event. It is clear (and has always been, to me) that China will face a crisis when Deng Chou Ping (spelling in error) passes away. I am confident that the square will be once again used to mourn the passing of a Chinese leader and to sjow the world that the student Democracy moevment is not dead. Pieces like this remind Americans that we must respect and honor our country for the freedoms it grants us.
I have been teaching about China for twenty years and have visited the PRC four times. I have purchased the film for use in my high school classes. I have more than twenty four hours of footage from the events of 1989 but feel that the treatment presented in Gate of Heavently Peace is an outstanding way to present this material to high school students. I will also develop interactive assignments for my students. Are there any suggestions as to how to use this intractive source with students?
The ease and freedom in which I post this note should be the same for all of mankind. Viewing the film reinforced how precious our "taken for granted" rights really are. May the "Gate" open for mainland Chinese.
This film turned what was merely a notable CNN event at the time into the astounding history that it was. Thank you for the understanding.
I was especially taken by the description of the climate leading to the uprising
that was given by one of the speakers: even with the children in a family working,
never enough money, and the guarantee of a life-long job gone. I thought he was
talking about America.
Kenneth P. Ruppel
This film gave a very fair reporting of this tragic event. Even though the camera resided with the students, there was no bias in reporting the series of events leading to the confrontation.
The film should put to rest the huge blame on the Chinese government and shift some to the students themselves. Especially Chai Ling. Commander-and-Chief? What game is she playing? She spoke to the students and every time she would mention her rank.This is just a game to her. Some students allowed her to lead simply because she screamed the loudest and spoke with confidence like a child playing a war commander. Some democracy she is proposing, to overthrow a government? And how come many students died while she escaped to Hong Kong and then to the US.
It is people like her that put innocent lives in danger.
Thanks for bringing The Gate of Heavenly Peace to television. My wife and I watched it last night and were deeply moved again by our fellow students and people who fought for a better society in China. I said "again" because both my wife and I were with them in the square and the streets during those unforgettable days.
The reason that we really liked the film, however, is that it did not merely provide
an emotional recall of the event itself but
presented a serious reflection of the backgroud and circumstance under which the
event took place. I think the film is a great effort
to bring the reasons for the event to the Western audience. We all experienced the
extensive news coverage of the event back in 1989.
However the message brought by the news was only "the thing happened in Beijing". On
the contrary, this film brought a message that stimulates
more thinking of "why it happened in Beijing" and "why it proceded that way". In
that, this film did a wonderful contribution to the effort
that brings understanding towards China, Chinese people, and their courageous fight
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is objective, impartial, painstakingly researched, and accurate, as seen by me, a participant and witness during those tumultous and tragic days, who came out the dawn of June 4th with seven stiches on head and blood all over the shirt. The documentary largely answered the question of what really happened and how, which is no small complishment itself, considering all the lies and disinformation shrouded the tragedy.
To answer why it happened the way it did is a much more daunting task. I got a clue from Lu Xun, who was quoted in the documentary. He said, some sixty years ago, that even moving a table in China will lead to bloodshed. The outcome of the student movement was almost pre-destined from the very beginning. It didn't surprise me at all when I heard Chai Ling saying she was "hoping for" bloodshed to wake Chinese people up. The hypocrisy is that those who called and hoped for bloodshed didn't shed one drop of blood and ran faster than anybody else after the blood was shed, not by students, the self-acclaimed "only children" of Tiananmen, but by the truly courageous ordinary citizens of Beijing.
A movement led by young students had little chance of success, because its leaders didn't know what they wanted to accomplish and how. It eventually became a run-away train fueled by uncontrollable raw emotions and crashed into the stonewall of a cold-hearted, unflexible, and ruthless government. Nobody would let a ten-year old drive a car. In the hindsight, it was regrettable that some twenty-year old students, who lacked the knowledge of history, vision of future, and wisdom of politics, were leading the movement and rejected almost every friendly and more mature advice given to them. However, their courage and conscience should be commended as their mistakes be examined and criticized.
Chapel Hill, NC
The action government took was necessary at that time. I watched this program last night and I was in China in 1989. At that time I was a student and I believe the motive of most of students were good but some of them just did it for their personal acheivement for intance Chai Lin. What she said is really too much. We should be fair to the fact. Every country has problems which is normal, especially for the developing country which is on that stage of reforming. At the beginning of the development of some developed countries, they also have a lot of problems. We need democracy but every political party the country depends on has its own way to manage a country and they are not perfect-- Clinton administration is not perfect either. Nothing is perfect. If the people can make living and especially for such a huge country, that is satisfactory enough at this stage. I do not think other parties can do better in China now. The Chinese government needs to be developed but they really tried.
Well, What Wang Dang said is fair and reasonable. He maybe represents the new
generation of the students but people like Chai Lin should realize if what they
said or did is fair or not. We all love our country and we all hope it is getting
well and developing. Do whatever we need to do now, we will be proud of our
country some day with our effort.
On the 4th of June this year I saw the documentary, "The Gate of Heavenly Peace." My first introduction to the events that day in 1989 was like most Americans. I watched the tv as a high school student, enraptured with intrigue and suspense. The media had portrayed the event as a glossy, well-packaged news event of the day. However, most Americans, as did I, let Tiananmen drift from our collective consciousness. Our government treated it as if it were nothing more than a student uprising gone bad, with little or no attempt to pressure the Chinese govt. to deal with burgeoning democratic ideals. Pres. Bush lost a great opportunity to stand up for freedom and democracy. After watching the documentary last night, I was so thouroughly moved by the emotions and ideals of the students. Being a college student myself, I only wish that I could have the same courage and conviction people like Chai Ling stood by. I wish there were some way to show my respect to the students that lost their lives and those who lost their country. I hope in the future there will be another opportunity to foster democratic reform in China, other than funneling money into businesses that make Communist Party leaders richer. And Americans, along with other democratic nations should realize that they had a responsibility in 1989 that they didn't live up to, so they'd better not let another opportunity slip by.
Bradley J. Traynor
I am a frequent viewer of PBS and the Frontline programs and enjoy them a lot. On the 6/5/96 I watch the special on the Tiananmen Square revolt "The Gate Of Heavenly Peace" and was astonished by what I learned. Even though I watched specials of the incident I never experienced one like this. After the program, I watched a commentary ( I cannot remember the name, maybe was Dusty Road or something like this ) which included the forerunner of the movement and the former ambassador to China. During this show the movement leader addressed the issues that in order to have a revolution we need to shed our blood. With this comment, the former ambassador always was putting her down. I think that that was totally wrong of him to do that. In the United States it took more then words to for this nation, it took sweat and blood. That is my opinion.
When U.S. political commentators reflect on the massacre at Tiananmen square, they see in this scenario evidence that their current hyper anti-statism is shared by compatriots around the world. Jeff Jacoby, rightist commentator for the Boston Globe, just yesterday sybolically joined hands with the martyrs who supposedly are in solidarity with him and his ilk who dwell in perpetual hatred of all things "statist." Indeed, Jacoby would have us believe that these demonstrators would find their ideological peers in the form of US Libertarians. What a joke. Forgotten by Jacoby is the fact that the whole scenario was sparked by the students honoring a Communist party leader, Hu Yaobang, who the students felt was serving the true interest of mass democracy. While Jacoby and the students may share a hatred of the despots in power, if we only see in their dissent mirrored reflections of our dissent, we lose the depth and creativity that this protest holds. The opposition to Chinese rule need not hold in it the seed for free-market capitalism and rampant individualism in China. Indeed, the joy of the movement came in the hopes of something entirely new. We lose that hope if we only see in their dissent support for our system in the US. This is both faulty and arrogant. The only reason "Communists" use that name is because the name and the ideals are indeed so appealing to so many people. But to think that what has transpired in China is communism is patently false. The students seemed to be speaking out to this lie, trying to bring truth to the slogans and ideals these charlatans have co-opted for the purposes of treachery.
I was a student in China during the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989 and had occasion to travel to Beijing on three occasions during the movement. Unlike Dan Rather, I was also in China in December 1988, when mobs of Chinese university students in Nanjing swarmed and trashed dormitories inhabited by African students. Anti-African demonstrations soon spread to other cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, where students took to the streets shouting, "Kill the Black Devils!" This student movement, occurring less than four months before the beginning of the pro-democracy movement, was largely tolerated by the Chinese government and ignored by the international press.
I was, and still am, sympathetic to the students' desire for freedom and
political reform, and appalled by the government's brutal response. Still, I
could not help wondering as I stood in the square how many of those student
"heroes" had been screaming for African blood just a few months earlier.
The film could be debated for days whether it had any political agenda to promote. However, I would like to express my appreciation to the filmmakers for giving the American public the opportunity to see real footage and images of the Pro-democracy rallies and protests. Those videos can be interepreted in many ways, but they still bring a powerful image of emotion and determination to the viewers.
I watched the film last night and was very moved; I was in Beijing for most of the period of April 15 to June 4, 1989 and was a frequent visitor to the Square to see friends and keep up to date with the goings on. At the time, I was convinced that this was the beginning of great changes in China, and expected that Soviet-style Glasnost might arise from the tumult. Of course, these hopes were dashed and little has happened since to revive my hopes for such change.
One complaint I have about the film, and perhaps it is misplaced, is that no mention is made of the fact that today's Chinese students are not as interested in democracy as were those students just 7 years ago. Instead, they are primarily concerned with making money and becoming successful in business. Perhaps the Communist Party saw the Tiananmen movement as little more than the strivings of young people to make some noise, and have bought them off (literally) with consumer goods and economic liberalization.
I would be curious also to learn more about the lives today of the main players in Tiananmen, such as Chai Ling and Wuer Kaixi; also to learn of the status of Wang Dan,
who I thought was back in prison.
I want to express my sincere thanks to PBS/Frontline for making and airing the film. Seven years have passed. Some people begin to forget what had happened that night. Some younger people simply accept what they hear from the Chinese government (I found this sadly when I talked it with some students who came to the US recently). This is not because they are stupid to believe the government, but because they are not given the information to think differently. This is like poor people's starving. Not because they don't have the ability to digest, but because they they don't have food. The communist government knows this too well so they would never give up control over the press. Right now there is another danger in China. The government is stirring up hatred toward the west. They make use of such issues like Taiwan, Most Favored Nations status, trade sanctions, etc. In China, I heard so often that people telling me that the Americans don't want China to get rich. Sadly, I feel another success by the government in manipulating the nation's emotion. I did hear some people mention containing China. It seems to me that this kind of thinking is helping the dictators.
A beautiful site. I hope it becomes as immortal as Tiananmen itself.
A FINE DOCUMENTARY. THE TREATMENT OF THE STUDENTS POWER STRUGGLE IN THE SQUARE...FACTIONS, FRAGMENTATION; ALL TOO POIGNANT. THE FRAGILITY OF DEMOCRACY WHILE IN ITS INFANCY.
This is a very good way for all of us to memorize this event. Being a Chinese college student back then, I feel that the material is approprieate and objective. I often find that foreign people sometimes missunderstand, or misinterpret the situation. However, THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE is better at understanding China and chinese people. I believe that the TIANANMEN SQUARE EVENT has certainly played an important role in promoting democracy in China. Those with good intention who died for it did not die for nothing. They are real heros and people will always remember them. Those who used students, hoped and led them to blood-shed, are criminals just as some of the army commanders. Obviously, one such person is the commander-in-chief, Chiao Lin. She wanted to see students being killed; her goal is to see blood-shed, doing whatever she could. This can be manifested in the interview by an U.S. reporter/writer on May 28th. Many chinese see her as a sychpath. The democracy movement is great, but she should also be resposible for the blood.
We watched the film last night on PBS in Boston. We were deeply moved by the film. Both myself and my wife are originally from China and we had followed the entire movement in 1989. I'd like to say "Thousand Thanks" to the people who made this film and I wish one day this film can be broadcasted in China. People will never forget what the government did and democracy will come to China.
Many thanks again.
I enjoyed VERY much the documentary "The Gate of Heavenly Peace". Been borned and raised in Beijing 'til age 15, I have experienced much of the Communist way of life. Two of my sisters were in an apartment during the Tianmen incident and were shot at by the soldiers on the street. They were safe but the walls were covered with bullet holes while they docked for cover. I have but the greatest respect for ChaiLin. She was willing to die for such a great cause, for the future of her country. I admire her. Although how the students organized the latter part of the events are much up for debate, their courage and dedication to freedom, neverthless, are worthy of high praise and support.
My father, an American, was very close to Mao, and was sent to prison by the
Chinese government for 16 years in solitary, all because of some fake claim
that he was an American spy. He believed in Communism for the longest time
and struggled working with the Chinese government for over twenty years. My
whole family suffered, my relatives suffered, and our friends suffered.
Watching your show brought back a lot of memories. It enforced my love for
that country, for the people of China. No matter how hard life has been, no
matter how much suffering each individual has encountered, the people always
had so much love for their fellow comrades, so much caring for their
country's future, and are so willing to stand up, against bullets if they had
to, for such a thing that most parts of the world take for granted, FREEDOM.
Please keep up with the good work. And if you have a chance to talk to the
people who made the documentary, please give them my support, my regard, and
my sincere compliment on a job well done.
Santa Monica, CA
First, I want to thank you for bringing The Gate of Heavenly Peace to TV. Living in a small midwest town, it is a luxury to see any quality film, especially documentaries.
Now, about the film... The film-makers did provide a rather extensive overview of the paths that led to the 1989 movement. However, I lean to agree with Buruma's comments that this film is partisan and promotes moderation and compromise. By no means am I saying that radical actions and swift moves guarantee progress. But has the current government shown any signs toward democratization since the 1989 movement died down? Well, if Wei Jingsheng is not allowed to express his political views, if Wang Dan has to go to prison for speaking of opposition, if Hou Dejian had to be "shipped" back to Taiwan for refusing to keep quiet; I suspect how those moderations and compromises can bring the Chinese. Li Peng is still in high power; the Chinese government was more than willing to show its military muscle when popular elections took place in Taiwan; and Deng Xiaoping has said more than thwice that he will not give up using military force to crack down Taiwan. How much faith can we put in a government that drove tanks over its own people? How can we trust a government that shot students and workers while claiming to have built its country with young people and proletariat? It actually made me shudder when I heard the government's response (in Mandarin) to "the man against the tanks." The film-makers' translation can hardly bring that chill to life.
On the other hand, I wonder why Chai Ling "refused to be interviewed" for the film. On Charlie Rose, she apparently has plenty to say, and, did say quite a bit. I can understand why she could not believe that the government would actually kill the protesters. When a US visiting professor in Taiwan told me on the eve of the tragedy that the protest would end in bloodshed, my response was "no, it can't be." And about the Cunningham interview where Chai Ling said she had expected bloodshed: honestly, Chinese had used rhetorics like "self-sacrifice", "martyrize", and so on quite liberally. Chinese culture has glorified those who sacrificed for a higher cause. Therefore, some protestors might have actually anticipated bloodshed although not expected to be killed. That being said, I feel that Chai has backed down from her radical views (although I don't agree with many of them). After all, people do have the right to overthrow a tyrant, especially when this tyrant did not come to power through popular elections.
One final note, what happened during the Chinese military exercise this
past March saddens me. When Taiwanese and many people in the world
condemned the act, many Chinese students here at Purdue University
argued that the Chinese government has every right to do so in letters
to school newspaper and in private conversations. Yes, these are the
ones who've seen the Tiananmen tragedy and voiced support for democracy.
Isn't the direction that Taiwanese are headed exactly what those one
million marching on the streets, just seven years ago, were fighting
and died for? In the words of Ge Yang, how could they oppose what they
were fighting for?
West Lafayette, IN
I left China when I was 7, the only memories I still have is of the propaganda songs that they ingrained in my head so well. I grew up in a tranquil South Pacific island and experience freedom even Americans would envy. I was in Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the things which I notice about its people are the lack of individual though and initiative. When generations are raised in the Communist system, there is very little knowledge of what Democracy and Freedom is. I often w