The Film

Letter to the Director of the Washington DC International Film Festival
from the Press Counsel of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, and a letter written in response:

The Embassy of the People's Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington DC 20008

April 19, 1996

Mr. Tony Gittens
The Tenth Annual Washington, DC International Film Festival
800 Mount Vernon Plaza N.W.
Suite 210
Washington DC 20001

Dear Mr. Gittens,

I am writing to you in regard to an entry in Filmfest DC '96, namely the Gate of Heavenly Peace. As is well known, a very small number of people engaged themselves in anti-government violence in Beijing in June 1989 but failed. The film the Gate of Heavenly Peace sings praise of these people in total disregard of the facts. If this film is shown during the festival, it will mislead the audience and hurt the feelings of the 1.2 billion Chinese people. And it will not serve the purpose of your festival of "presenting the best in world cinema." Therefore, it is necessary and appropriate to withdraw this film from the festival.

Yu Shuning
Counsel (Press)
Embassy of the People's Republic of China

View a PDF of the letter.

Letter written in response by Geremie R. Barmé

23 April 1996

To Whom It May Concern,

We have read with great interest the Chinese Embassy Press Counsel Mr. Yu Shuning's letter regarding "The Gate of Heavenly Peace." It is significant that Mr. Yu has had both the time and means to consult the opinion of 1.2 billion Chinese people regarding a film that they are not in a position to see and judge for themselves. From his letter, it would also appear that Mr. Yu has not seen the film himself. We can only suggest therefore that Mr. Yu recall the once-popular dictum of the Late Chairman Mao Zedong: "You have no right to speak without first investigating the situation."

In regard to the issues that the film touches on, perhaps Mr. Yu would like to broaden his understanding of the state of affairs in Beijing in 1989 by doing some more reading. It is, of course, possible that Mr. Yu may have been unavoidably entangled on the diplomatic cocktail circuit when the following item appeared in the Beijing Evening News of 3 August 1989. This news story indicates the scale of the protests of the "very small handful" of people to whom Mr. Yu refers in his letter:

"...After June 4, under the guidance of the district and municipal governments, neighborhood committees organized 649 work teams with 156,000 members to participate in the task of restoring order to traffic and society. Neighborhood committee cadres and activists joined forces with martial law troops and the People's Police to clear away roadblocks, remove posters and slogans and clean up the city. Altogether they cleared away roadblocks in more than 570 places, washed away or painted over more than 30,000 slogans, and picked up more than 80 tons of bricks and stones, making a great contribution towards the early restoration of normal traffic and a stable situation in the capital. " (See Wang Bingyun, "Quanshi jiedao banshichu zai pingbaozhong gongxian tuchu", Beijing wanbao, 3 August, 1989.)

Whereas we are heartened by the efforts of a member of the diplomatic corps to engage in amateur film criticism and historiography, it is important that naive enthusiasm should not cloud the serious issues on which they choose to comment. We would be happy, therefore, to recommend a reading list of relevant materials or extra-mural courses for Mr. Yu to consider so that he can hone his skills in these areas.

Geremie R. Barmé

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