The Film

Review Excerpts, October 1995 - December 1996

David Ansen, Newsweek, October 9, 1995:

"This extraordinary three-hour a deep, powerful and rivetingly complex study of Tiananmen... THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE will prove controversial in the West as well, for it shows that the student movement was divided against itself, with some its most influential leaders hoping for carnage. The student leader Chai Ling, shortly before the crackdown, announces in an interview that `only when the square is awash with blood will the people of China open their eyes.' The film suggests that if the moderate elements had prevailed over the extremists, and strategically abandoned the square, the massacre might have been avoided. It shows as well how the more radical students played into the hands of the government hard-liners, who were then able to purge the reformers sympathetic to the students. The film in no way excuses the brutality of the Beijing regime, but it casts crucial new light on this watershed event."

Read the full text of the Newsweek article, which reviews THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE and details the controversy over the New York Film Festival.

Charles Taylor, The Boston Phoenix, January 5, 1996:

"THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton's magnificent and devastating three-hour documentary on the 1989 Chinese democracy movement..., has the richness, clarity, and complexity that only the best documentaries afford...THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE turns out to be the movie event of the season. It is certainly one of the great documentaries of the past 20 years... What's brilliant and upsetting is that the filmmakers have chosen to commemorate the democracy movement not by simplifying its meaning but by making it almost painfully complex."

Read the full text of the Boston Phoenix review.

Stephen Holden, The New York Times, October 14, 1995:

THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE is an "enthralling documentary film of those events [of 1989]... [It] is a meticulous day-by-day chronicle of the six-week period in the spring of 1989... The film probes much more deeply into the student democracy movement than one could have believed possible, given that the film makers are Americans. This unglamorous but absorbing film interweaves videotaped scenes of the demonstrations and conversations with leaders and participants with an explanatory narration into an account that is as clear-headed as it is thorough and well-organized.

"While THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE has its wrenching moments, it is neither an anti-Communist tract nor a romantic valentine to the movement's fallen heroes. Above all, it is a hard-headed critical analysis of a youthful protest movement that failed and why."

Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books, December 21, 1995:

"The filmmakers [of THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE] have gathered extraordinary footage... The atmosphere of the Beijing Spring is conveyed beautifully in all its pathos, drama, hope, craziness, poetry, and violence."

Read excerpts from Ian Buruma's review and a discussion of the issues raised in his article.

Stephen Talty, Time Out New York, October 11-18, 1995:

"The full story of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement may never be told, but this remarkable and paralyzingly suspenseful documentary comes closer than any examination to date. With footage undreamed of in the time before camcorders, the film actually recreates the movement from the inside out." [p. 49]
"If there had been film cameras on the train that brought Lenin to the Finland Station or inside the Paris Commune, we would have more films like THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE. As it is, this riveting documentary gives us the first revolution captured almost fully on film: the 1989 student democracy movement in China that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Even before its debut screening this week at the New York Film Festival, the film elicited a sharp reaction from the Chinese government, which must know GATE will stand as the true history of the event for decades to come." [Preview, p. 46]

J. Hoberman, The Village Voice, October 3, 1995:

"Two ethnographic filmmakers with extensive experience working in rural China have produced an epic, complex, and devastating account of the events that culminated in the June 1989 student occupation of Tiananmen Square. Three hours are not too long; ... it may be definitive."

Betsy Sherman, The Boston Globe, January 10, 1996:

"Brilliant, utterly absorbing... a meticulously researched, soberly presented walk through the events of April-June 1989. This examination is buttressed by an accessible primer on China's political and cultural events of the 20th century that informed the 1989 flashpoint... Their many small pictures fit together seamlessly to form a big picture of rare power."

Emily Mitchell, Time, October 23, 1995:

THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE is "a compelling new documentary film that is the most objective study so far of the political storms that swept across China six years ago... Painstakingly researched by the U.S. directing team of Carma Hinton, who was born and raised in China, and her husband Richard Gordon, the film stirred controversy even before editing was completed... In three hours of interviews, TV and archival footage, THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE examines those six weeks when the student discontent of April grew into a mass movement that culminated in the June 4 carnage. While Western TV promoted a simplistic view of a unified student leadership with a single well-planned purpose, Hinton and Gordon present a different picture. As they see it, emotion outweighed reason, and as events rushed forward, romantic notions about democracy spun out of control and charismatic leaders forced the government's hand."

Dave Kehr, The New York Daily News, October 13, 1995:

"Film makers Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton provide as fair and balanced an account of the student demonstration and subsequent military repression as could be imagined, suggesting that irrationally radical positions on both the student and government sides led inevitably to violence. A most impressive and informative undertaking."

John Anderson, Newsday, October 14, 1995:

"Tracing a history of intransigence within the Beijing establishment, directors Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon leave you with the sense that the massacre of protesters at Tiananmen was inevitable -- yet the film still evokes outrage. Along with amazing archival footage, astute editing and a smart sense of how to use music, Gordon and Hinton also did exhaustive interviews with those who participated in the student demonstrations -- the government, of course, wouldn't discuss it. But they are also unsparing in their examination of the dissension, egotism and jockeying for power that kept the protesters from being truly unified. A brilliant film and, if the recent fate of another well made documentary, `Hoop Dreams,' is any indication, a documentary that will never get an Oscar nomination."

Tony Rayns, Moving Pictures International, February 1996:

"Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon have come up with the most impartial and illuminating account we will ever have of what happened in and around Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989.

"Working with a team of distinguished advisors and collaborators, they clarify the long tradition of protest in the Square, the debates and divisions within the student movement and the catastrophic rise of extremist positions within both the government and the democracy movement. In the process, they set new standards in analytic reportage: few films have used archive material and testimonies with such precision and point. Every word and image yields maximum clarity."

The Economist, April 13, 1996:

"With the benefit of rigorous intellectual argument, the film has the courage to show that the event was not a matter of saints and sinners, and that the democracy movement was riven from within. Hard-liners and fanatics on both sides crushed attempts to find a peaceful solution."

John Krich, San Francisco Examiner, April 30, 1996:

"This definitive dissection of the stirring Beijing Spring of 1989, monumental in conception and length, took more than three years to edit from 250 hours of Tiananmen Square video, archival footage and original interviews. Extolling the brave idealism of China's youth while exposing the forces which drove them to martyrdom, the movie has not only captured history but has made some of its own by provoking the ire of both Chinese government officials and exiled protest leaders.

"[T]he documentary calls upon a remarkable range of Chinese voices to challenge the Western media's sensationalism as well as the Communist authorities' 'official verdict.' ... Best at evoking the stirrings of the powerless mob and the singular conscience, THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE provides its own 'official verdict' - unflinching at times, but always scrupulous and aiming at truths that reach far beyond China."

Scarlet Cheng, Far Eastern Economic Review, May 1996:

"Critics have widely praised THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE for its painstaking research and balance. While the film sweeps the audience up into the euphoria of the students during the early days of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, it also points up the growing factionalism and grandstanding that doomed the movement.

"... 'I'm the one who will always sympathize with the underdog, with the people who don't have power, who are protesting arbitrary power.' But Hinton adds, 'Protesting against arbitrary power is not equal to democracy.'"

Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun-Times, May 25, 1996:

"... [Q]uite simply the most riveting, unsettling and overwhelming documentary in years. Everyone has seen TV footage of government tanks rolling across the square, amid flames, screams and carnage. But as powerful and profound as those images from June 4, 1989 are, they don't begin to express the depth and complexity of this tragedy - or the degree to which Chinese history and ideals were betrayed by those wrenching events... Gordon and Hinton translate the conflict into the most human and down-to-earth terms."

Editorial in The Boston Globe, June 4,1996:

"In their lucid documentary THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, filmmakers Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon disclose the many contradictions that drove the communist regime as well as protesting students and workers to their bloody confrontation... With an analytical rigor that is rare in the genre, Hinton and Gordon arrange images and testimonies to show that the Party barons were unable to accommodate truly free speech; that fanaticized student leaders, replicating Maoist patterns of behavior, doomed democratic gradualism within the Party and in the society; and that the modest good of democratic reform was sacrificed to vague demands for total revolutionary triumph."

Frederic M. Biddle, The Boston Globe, "Critic's Corner," June 4, 1996:

"Politically incorrect, intellectually very correct... . THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE... justifies its 2 & 1/2 hours with a revisionist take on Beijing's 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. Here, some student leaders reveal themselves to be as ideologically rigid as the government they opposed - indeed, because they, too, were products of that rigid culture."

Michael Blowen, Cover story, "TV Week" magazine, The Boston Globe , June 2, 1996:

"In THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE (the literal translation of the name Tiananmen), the causes, effects and fallout from the six-week protest that led up to the Chinese government's crackdown on dissidents are detailed with intelligence, grace and toughness. Filmmakers Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon have transformed news into history, and history into art."

Walter Goodman, The New York Times, June 4, 1996:

"A remarkable work... all of the memorable moments are here, but there is much that viewers could not learn from the network correspondents at the time. The producers, Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon, talk with more than a dozen students, workers and teachers about what was happening off camera.

"...For people at television sets around the world, it seemed an easy-to-understand story of attractive idealistic young people against an unyielding dictatorship. But tonight's witnesses draw a picture of confusion and disagreement within the student ranks not only about tactics but also about the nature of democracy in a land that had never known any. The narrator makes the point that many students were still in the grip of a teaching of the Communist Party 'that change must be total or it is nothing.' You can detect that attitude in a comment of the vice commander: 'Often we had to suppress three or four coups a day.'

"...THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE shows how much can be missed by the camera as dramatic events rush by. A teacher who cautioned her students about their tactics but joined them after the army opened fire, says: 'History is this kind of process. There's no way to sort things out neatly.'"

Richard B. Woodward, Village Voice , June 4, 1996:

"The most incendiary film of the year...a brilliant documentary... a profound meditation on revolutionary politics that indirectly delivers a withering critique of the ability of American news networks to interpret a complex developing story far beyond its borders.

"...The narration subtly explores how tropes and rhetoric shape our understanding of the news and history. To accompany the famous TV footage of the young man facing down the tank in the streets of Beijing, reported quite differently by Dan Rather and Chinese commentators, the voiceover cautions that 'events do not deliver their meaning to us. They are always interpreted.'"

Read the full text of the Village Voice article, " Anatomy of a Massacre."

Gerald Peary, The Boston Phoenix, December 27, 1996, "The 10 Best Films of 1996":

"THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE (Best) ... [T]he genuine masterpiece of 1996 is Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton's THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, a subtle, learned, vastly complex mosaic of the days and nights of student struggle at Tiananmen Square. A great political document."

Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

An immensely valuable three-hour documentary by Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon about the events in China's Tiananmen Square in 1989--what led up to them, what happened, what ensued. One of the most impressive things about this film is that it's a view from the inside--Hinton has lived for most of her life in China; another is its refusal to adopt a single partisan position or to assume, as the filmmakers put it, "that there is only one correct path for China." Drawing on a wide array of archival materials, the filmmakers have also made good use of expert advisers such as Orville Schell. This film is likely to revise the very terms of your understanding of the pivotal events it considers.

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