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photo of a man facing down a tank in 1989photo of soldiers suppressing the 1989 protestsphoto of a man arguing with soldiers

What are your reactions to this report on Tiananmen 1989 and its legacy for the Chinese government and people? What is your memory of that time, and the image of the man who stood up to the column of tanks?

Dear FRONTLINE,

Interesting, but one-sided and untimely documentary. Those Beida university student were just making fun of the journalists. There are many problems Americans should pain more attention to issues such as the Iraqi war and Hurricane Katrina. We Chinese are moving forward. Why do you raise this issue again?

Phoenix, AZ

Dear FRONTLINE,

Let me think about this

Americans with a 3rd world Healthcare system, horrible foreign policies, 40 million Americans lives in poverty, a car industry that is going be bankrupt soon, unable to aid natural disaster victims in LA, well depends on their skin color, a crime rate that is going up in every major city, child molesters going insane in your society etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. Should I go on?

It is inaccurate to point fingers at a developing country and think that you have all the answers. You think Chinese people don't know about the long list of problems they have to face? Obviously, we call them a 3rd world country, but at least they are working on it. Chinese are not magicians; it takes time to become a developed country. Can Chinese just push a button and everyone automatically becomes rich? Ha!

Unlike the Americans who consider themselves a 1st world country, but yet everything is falling apart. Read the 1st paragraph.

A loser is always part of the problem and sits far away complaining about what could or should. A winner is always part of the solution and is in it for the change.

Mike Shen
Hong Kong , China

Dear FRONTLINE,

First bestow praises to the producers and the crew of the program for their dedication and passion.

However, I find the show rather unimpressive: too much interviews dwelled in the past, and too few present; too much symbolism and dualistic comparisons, and too little real investigative journalism. As it seems, a great majority of the program was made outside of China, with interviews of non-Chinese and non-resident Chinese interviewees and using previously shown historic footages.

The program will be informational if presented 15 years ago. In today's perspective, the program short-changed its thesis on the present day situation of aggrievance between the state and the impoverished. Most of the interviews and the monologue failed to analyze the reasons or the situations.

The driving force behind the 1989 student uprising is very different from the civil grievance in China today. In a less subtle opinion, students in 1989 wanted to restore the Mao-era's clean beauracracy and price stability. I remember watching footages of NBC and ABC's broadcast on 1989 student demostration. Anchors and guests were asking what the students were singing. Unmistakenly, they were singing the "Internationale". The Frontline show even failed to dig into the 1989 uprising. This is evident because the absence of academics among the interviewees. None of the key student movement leaders was interviewed. Why?

All in all, the show was too ambitious at a project that spans over 17 years and numerous political and economic changes. The program is also too sensational. PBS and the Discovery Channel have produced quality and insightful China related programs before. Unfortunately, this one doesn't match the calibres of the others.

On a lighter note: the Chinese translation of the show title is wrong. The Tank Man, I assume, is about the individual who stopped the tank column, not the tank crew (TanKeBing). I cannot think of an optimal Chinese translation for the title, however, TankeBing, or the Tank Crew is definitely wrong.

Chao Su
San Diego, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Why is it that Americans keep insisting on seeing things in black and white when things obviously aren't that simple? Is it because of intellectual dishonest? Or is it because things are just easier to digest that way? Tiananmen was never a protest about democracy, it was a protest about the aspects of uncertain futures and rampant corruption. It was a protest challenging the government to return to the old ways of true socialism. Of course you'll never hear this on CNN, or any Western mass media for that matter.

Yue Xiang
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was in Shanghai in 1989; I just graduated from high school. I was very supportive to the students. I came to the US in 1991. Looking back, I have totally changed my view about China and the West. TianAnMan was a tragety, but a Soviet style revolusion could be much much worse to the people of China.

Hundreds Chinese died in that tragic incident, but China progressed remarkably since then. Compared to Soviet Union, the human cost is much larger in terms of population decline due to persistant economic and social collapse for more than a decade. Majority of Chinese people are glad that China didn't go the way of Russia. Like most Chinese people, I am glad that our leaders made a tough but correct decision at that crucial moment.

The Western elite seems not care much about the true wellfare of the Chinese people, but is only interested in seeing China implement a Western style social system. Elections can not solve any China's pressing problems, they can only greatly worsen China's situations if phased in hastely.

I hope that the Western media and public can listen more to the perspective of the Chinese on this issue instead of imposing your ideal on China.

Xiaodong chen
Indianapolis, IN

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was a Junior college student in China when it happened, but in a middle size city far away from Beijing. Afterwards, as part of a reeducation process, we were all required to watch propaganda films, including the piece about the Tank Man. So I did know about it. Then 5 years after 1989, I came to US, and my 1st experience of western media bias and stereotyping was with the Tank Man. Every June 4th anniversary, CNN and like would show and Tank Man footage, always stop right before the tank swirled to avoid him, giving out the impression that the tank man were crushed! If you ask americans who saw the footage or heard about the tank man, 9 out of 10 would say he was crushed by the tank, just like what the CPC reeducation footage accused!

It turned out all medias are biased, it's my propaganda vs your propanda.

That aside, the Tank Man is my favorite chinese hero. He represents bravery, courage and defiance against tyranny. He symbolizes free human spirit. He is saying "Give me liverty of death", he may not have heard "live free or die", but he clearly believes in it and acted upon it.

Bing Li
Austin, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was a highschool junior in a middle-size city in China in the summer of 1989. I could never foget what I saw on the TV: people were beaten, killed; bodies were burned.

I watched the program with great interest, and I aslo read the full interview script with Nicholas Bequelin. Unfotunately, I think the issues in China are greatly simplified by Western media (including Frontline).

One question Frontline needs to ask, if the CCP (chinese commu party) were overthrown in 1989, would most Chinese be better off today? I seriously doubt.

As pointed out in Mr's Grealis post, China has a long history of violent soical revolution. It is not hard to imagine the whole country is in great chaos after CCP were overthown. Who knows how many millions people will die? At that time, even if western contries are willing to offer helps (from the examples of Cambodia and Rowanda, I doubt!), they will be unable to, due to the vast size and population of China.

I am by no mean a supporter of CCP. However, I want to give them the credit of economic growth in the past decade. No question, the biggest beneficias are CCP officers. But the standard of living of most Chinese has been greatly improved. I guess the disparity is inevitable during this kind of rapid growth.

A Viewer
Austin, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

When in graduate school, and as the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre unfolded, I stood in protest with my Chinese friends temporarily in the United States for an American education. It was a strange time for them, but it was also a time during which I learned a great deal about "The Bicycle Kingdom." My Chinese friends, although in America, still had much to fear from the Chinese government. I became one of the few people they felt could be trusted enough for them to speak their true feelings. That was because even among themselves they did not know who might be agents of the communist Chinese government, and what might be relayed back. The vast majority of them did not wish to return home to China, but knew they had no choice. I recall our discussions and listening to their anguish. They knew their friends and families would essentially be held hostage to guarantee their return. And, all did return to communist China upon completing their studies.

But what I remember most was a lone man standing in front of, and even stopping, an entire column of tanks. He remains one of my personal heroes to this day.

Jimmy Pailin
Wilmington, NC

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a Bei Da (Peking University) graduate and happened to visit Beijing for the summer of 1989 after my first year of graduate school at U. of Michigan. What a memorable summer! Over the past 17 years, the memory of June 4th faded. I settled in the States and become a typical middle class American, content with a life working for a fortune 500 company, arranging kid piano lessons, and reviewing 401k plans . "The Tank Man" made me re-exam my life. For that I thank you.

A few observations I would like to share with other Frontline audience.

Many of my western friends were puzzled/outraged by what Deng and the Chinese government did in the summer of 1989. It is easy to blame everything on the evilness of the Chinese Communist Party. In reality, things are much more complicated. There is a long Chinese tradition believing that the ends justify the means. I have no intention to defend what the Chinese Government did. However, having witnessed the poverty of the old China when I was growing up and the progress in the past 17 years, it did not surprise me that most people in China now support the current system, and to some extend what Deng did in 1989. I would also argue that China's current crisis of corruption, environmental deterioration, and urban poverty is , to a large extend, the result of human greed unleashed by the introduction of capitalism at its purest form.

I went back to Bei Da for a visit in 2004. The campus is still as beautiful with the "WeiMing" lake and the green trees, quite a comparison with the outside Haidian High-tech District. I talked to a number of students there. They have a quite wide variety of interest ranging from singing, internet chatting, to stock investing, etc. The most popular campus speakers are Wall Street Bei Da alums, Movie and TV stars, and Beijing real state tycoons (compared with my mid-80s speakers on History of Chinese Ethics, American Women's Movement, Modernization-Democracy-Westernization). It seems to me that very few of the current Bei Da students cares much about politics, quite an accomplishment that the government could not achieve through just political oppression.

Chuanhai Zheng
Princeton Junction, NJ

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have never heard about the movement when I was in China. I didn't learn it from my history class. I was shocked when I was wathcing the program.I love my country, but I want to know the truth.

Heidi Jin
Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

When watching THE TANKMAN I couldn't accept your producer's premise that the BeiDu Students didn't know the image came from the Tiananmen confrontation. The reaction on your website today supports the idea that China's up and coming intellectual elite haven't forgotten their history but are very aware of the need to conform to the dictates of the current ideological wind. So, I believe the sequence was testimony to fast thinking rather than successful supression of history. That leaves me wondering what the future of democracy is for China- will it be another Marxist revolution from this generation of exploited peasants or do today's BeiDu graduates have democratic yearnings that they will be able to implement when they attain power ? The reality seems to be that the attainment of economic power further fuels Chinese nationalism and the world can only hope that won't require a political confrontation.

Robert Fisher
toronto, ontario

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a student who demonstrated in Beijing in 1989, I watched the entire show with great interest. While I agree with what most of points in the film., I must also say that the stories and comments are one sided, just like the communist propaganda.

The protests by the students and citizens became extremely violent, and a lot of soldiers are also murdered in most brutal way one can imagine (like hung from the bridge and burned to death). If Mr. Thomas also included that part of stories, his film would have made a perfect circle.

Bao Lige
Baltimore, MD

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was a graduate student at Beijing University in 1989. I witnessed the whole "movement" from the very beginning to the end. On the evening of June 3, 1989, I was not in the Tiananmen Square but in a place very close to the Summer Palace, trying to stop a team of soldiers from entering the city. When we came back the next morning, we were very shocked by what happened in the Tiananmen Square. A few days later, we learned three persons from Beijing University were killed, two students and one teacher. A few months after the incident, I helped transfer some

Looking back, I very regret what I did at that time and the damage we to our beloved motherland. Of course, the Chinese government was also to blame for what happen. They should have acted much more promptly and stopped the nonsense at its earliest stage. There should be much better way of disperse the rioters than using troops and tanks. But I place most of the blame on the so-called "student leaders". They are more responsible for the death of almost 300 hundred civilians and soldiers than anyone else.

China has come a long way since 1989. There are still a lot of things we don't like, but we see improvement everyday and we know China once again is on the right track to greatness. People have more and more opportunities. This is why we are moving back.

M. Wu
Oak Ridge, TN

Dear FRONTLINE,

"I wonder whether a lot of Chinese are as disappointed in their government now as they did in 1989 because China has come a long way economically since 1989. I remember one of my Chinese colleagues at work commenting to me that the life of an ordinary Chinese person was the best today compared to the last 600 years."

I have been to mainland China no less than a dozen times since 1991. The comment by this Chinese colleague is likely correct. The Chinses today are living the best lives ever, economically, socially, and politically, except environmentally.

Robert Devine
Redland, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

"Tank Man" was an exceptional program. I was struck by 2 things. It was fascinating to see that the Chinese Communist Party was creating a situation that Communism was suppoused to eradicate. Marx saw the poor working proleteriat rising up against those who controlled industry. He saw this class warfare leading to an equal distribution of wealth, at first insured by a people's government. Of course we know the Communist experiment failed. And in China it is clear why. These totalitarian governments were (and in China is) more concerned about holding on to power than distributing wealth. It is ironic that the Chinese "Communists" are creating the very conditions Marx wrote of. I wonder if the poor linen workers will lead a second Chinese Revolution, and if so if it will lead to Democracy or another repressive regime.

The second issue that struck me was how willing American corporations are to pursue profits, even if it means knowingly curtailing Chinese Human Rights. As I write this, I realize I used Google to search for Frontline, and I can not help but feel complicient. Thank you very much for bringing this issue to my attention.

Alan Renga
San Diego, California

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posted apr. 11, 2006

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