PBS’ ‘Tianan­men: The Peo­ple Versus the Party’ re­calls an epic mas­sacre 30 years later

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - On Tv - BY GE­ORGE DICKIE

Prob­a­bly the most en­dur­ing im­age of the 1989 Tianan­men Square upris­ing is of a sin­gle young man stand­ing de­fi­antly in front of a tank brought in crush stu­dent protests.

But to the peo­ple of Bei­jing and all over China who are old enough to re­mem­ber, the mas­sacre of hun­dreds if not thou­sands of stu­dents and ordinary ci­ti­zens demon­strat­ing for democ­racy and a voice in their gov­ern­ment is the sin­gle-most defin­ing event of their lives, a trauma that lives with them to this day. Their 9/11.

The story of those seven weeks that cul­mi­nated with the bloody June 3 and 4 crack­down by Chi­nese troops is told in “Tianan­men: The Peo­ple Versus the Party,” pre­mier­ing Tues­day, June 25, on PBS (check lo­cal listings). Us­ing archival Chi­nese TV footage, in­ter­views with in­sid­ers and key fig­ures and eyewitness ac­counts, the two-hour doc­u­men­tary lays out in de­tail how a se­ries of peace­ful demon­stra­tions could slowly es­ca­late into epic blood­shed that scarred a gen­er­a­tion.

“This is both a hu­man story and a uni­ver­sal story,” says Ian MacMil­lan, the film’s di­rec­tor. “This is a story just about ordinary peo­ple want­ing a de­cent life for them­selves and be­ing pre­pared to try and speak out about that. And this be­ing a story that is based in China but ac­tu­ally could be a story that ap­plies to un­for­tu­nately ... many parts of the world that we live in to­day. And ... my hope is that peo­ple see it not as a story that’s just about a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in Chi­nese his­tory but about the idea of peo­ple be­ing al­lowed to have the kind of life and the kind of so­ci­ety that they want them­selves and their chil­dren to grow up in.”

Sadly, as his­tory tells us, their ef­forts did lit­tle to change things. Busi­ness con­tin­ued as usual in China, democ­racy didn’t hap­pen and all ev­i­dence of the mas­sacre was wiped away. To­day, the events of 30 years ago still go un­ac­knowl­edged by the Chi­nese gov­er­ment and just about any­one born af­ter that is un­aware of it.

But as MacMil­lan says, the story isn’t over – if world his­tory is any guide.

“What it achieved was such a sow­ing of seeds for what will be an in­evitable change at some point ...,” he says. “It hap­pened in the Soviet Union, it hap­pened across the Eastern Bloc. And yes, the op­pres­sion is incredibly se­vere but at some point they will be the semi­for­got­ten but not for­got­ten spark that will ig­nite some­thing in the fu­ture.”

“Tianan­men: The Peo­ple Versus the Party” pre­mieres Tues­day on PBS (check lo­cal listings).

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