Previous chapter:
Next chapter:

This transcript is being provided for reference purposes only.
It may not be reproduced without prior written permission from the .
© 1995, Long Bow Group Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Major funding for this program was provided by The National Endowment for the Humanities,
The Ford Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.
Produced in association with the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

The Gate of Heavenly Peace


Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, is the gate leading into the Imperial City, for centuries the center of power in China.


In 1919, though the Emperor had long been overthrown, students gathered at Tiananmen to denounce the government's failure to stand up to the foreign powers.

Their protest spread quickly through the country and came to be known as the May 4th Movement. Years of student demonstrations followed.

Despite violent government repression, arrests, and killings, generation after generation the students came out to protest, inspiring other Chinese to follow them.

China was in danger, and corrupt officials didn't care. Young intellectuals felt they must place their lives on the line to awaken the people. They aimed to save the nation through democracy and modern science, and the discarding of oppressive traditions.


When the great change did come, it came from the countryside -- a peasant army led in part by people who had participated in the student protests.

Mao Zedong's Communist army entered Beijing in 1949. National power returned to the city.

And to Tiananmen.

The traditional rulers of China had always remained hidden behind the closed gates of the Imperial City. When Mao appeared before the people atop Tiananmen, he reversed centuries of symbolism.

The center of power was visibly shifted, from the Imperial City behind the gate to the broad masses in front -- all facing the leader, who stood above.

GE YANG - Former government official

Before the founding ceremonies of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Tiananmen Square was full of weeds as high as your waist. Students from Beijing and Qinghua Universities volunteered to clear away all the weeds. Yes, it was students then too. At that time, young people were very enthusiastic about the People's Liberation Army, and about the revolution.

It was at Tiananmen that the People's Republic of China was founded. It was at Tiananmen that Mao announced, "The Chinese people have stood up."

MAO, October 1949:

The central government of the People's Republic of China is hereby established!

DAI QING - Writer

When I was a child, I went to Tiananmen twice a year for the parades. Mao stood on Tiananmen Gate. After the parade had passed, a huge crowd of children would rush up to the Gate, shouting joyfully. No words, just the sound of children's voices. This created the desired effect.

I was one of those children. I would wave flowers or release balloons or doves. Mao would wave his hand like this.


At that time, many Communist leaders moved into quarters within the old imperial city. Before, they had lived with the peasants, and it was said, "Fish cannot live out of water." But after the Revolution if a peasant went into the city to look up a leader he had known in the past, he wouldn't be able to find him--the water could no longer find the fish; the fish were inside the Palace.

And Mao himself became in effect the Emperor, hailed as a man who would live forever.

Of course, I was unable to see it like this in the 1950's.



In the 1950's the Government ordered the building of a great square in front of Tiananmen to accommodate the Masses.

Several of China's later leaders first came to prominence as dedicated model workers in the building of the Square.

The gigantic Square would become the largest public space in the world, and the center of Chinese political life. On one side of it was built a Great Hall of the People, on the other a Museum of History and the Revolution.

In the center of the Square stood the monument commemorating the martyrs of the Revolution. A tombstone of the great dead which consecrates the Square as sacred ground.

The monument depicts scenes from China's history since 1840. There are no recognizable individuals; collectively, they represent the people.

Among the ancestors of new China pictured on the monument are the students of May 4, 1919, protesting before the Gate itself.

When the students of 1989 occupied Tiananmen Square, they made their headquarters here, beneath images of other students who changed China's history. They were consciously associating themselves with the tradition of student protest in China. By their own actions, they were adding further meaning to this place: the place in all of China most charged with meaning.


Good morning, beloved Peking.
Good morning, beloved Tiananmen, Gate of Heavenly Peace.


In Mao's era Tiananmen became the symbol of the new China. The Gate and the Square: the people, and the leader who expressed the people's will.

Tiananmen had once led into the Imperial Palace. Now it was the focus of Mao's Square.

Mao and Tiananmen were one.


Tiananmen Square became completely entangled with the lives of the Chinese people. This was because under the Communist Party, everyone's life became involved with politics.

When I graduated from university in 1966, I sincerely believed what I was taught, that I was a brand new bolt to be used in the construction of the great mansion of Communism. I was willing to be put wherever my country needed me, and I was prepared to stay in place my whole life.

To me, Mao was like God. I believed that he was not only the great leader of the Chinese people, but also the great leader of people throughout the world. I feared the day when he would no longer be with us. I really hoped there'd be a scientific breakthrough that'd enable young people like us to give up voluntarily a year of our own lives, to add a minute to his. That way the world would be saved.


In 1976, Mao died between an earthquake and a solar eclipse: traditional portents of the end of an era.

At the funeral the great throng faced Tiananmen, but the place where Mao had often stood was empty. All the leaders remained on a platform below.

Mao still resides in the Square.

The mausoleum built in 1977 at the south end of the Square is not a tomb so much as a grand villa. It contains a huge marble armchair for the Chairman.

And a bed too where he lies.


I didn't shed a single tear when Mao died. I felt I'd been cheated. I've never visited the Mao mausoleum. It is so disgusting.


Mao is dead but not gone.

The great portrait that hangs on Tiananmen still presides over every parade and celebration held in the great Square.

During the student demonstrations of 1989 three men from Mao's own home province of Hunan splattered the great portrait with ink. The students immediately distanced themselves from this act. They denounced the outrage, and helped arrest the men responsible.

Shortly after the desecration, gale force winds blew and torrents of rain fell on the Square.

Some people actually wondered: was the Chairman displeased?

Within hours the portrait was replaced.

But it is not only Mao's face: his vision of history, his language, his actions, still loom large in China's imagination.


Communism is actually a promise of something perfect. It is easy for people who are dissatisfied with all the imperfections of real life to be attracted to it. During the 1930's and 40's, many people were drawn to the Communist Party because they wanted to escape the ugly reality, and they longed for the promise.


Throughout the first decade of the revolution, that promise had the support of large segments of society.

Mao provided the vision of an ideal society, but he had little interest in the day to day work of bringing it about. That was left to his associates. Among them was Deng Xiaoping.


Mao had the personality of a romantic poet. Deng's is that of a pragmatist. He is not a puritanical theoretician or an idealist. He is different from Mao in that he knows that when people are hungry they need to eat. They can't live on poetry.

During the 1950's, Mao launched wave after wave of persecutions against people who held different views. By 1959, no one dared express any dissenting opinions any more. He had to have the last word on everything. And people would have tolerated it if his policies had worked out well. But he made a mess of things. Millions of people starved to death. So his comrades had to help patch things up. This meant a slight retreat from Mao's utopian illusions.


Deng liked to quote a Sichuan proverb: "It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white; if it catches mice, it's a good cat."

But Mao's solution, when things went wrong, was always more revolution, not less. He saw anyone who stood between him and his masses as an enemy. He saw bureaucrats and lingering bourgeois elements undermining the original promise of the revolution.

Against the government bureaucracy, Mao mobilized his masses: A fresh uprising of the people, the only source of progress. Mao called it a cultural revolution.

The people were enjoying daminzhu , mass democracy. "Chaos can't harm us," he proclaimed. "It can only harm our enemies."

Mao lost control of the Cultural Revolution. It became a war of all against all.

Deng Xiaoping was among those attacked. Mao stripped him of his power, then later brought him back to repair a shattered society.

Like those in power who had experienced Mao's mass democracy, Deng Xiaoping's greatest fear would be dongluan : turmoil, chaos, upheaval.

When the students of 1989 took to the streets, they too were branded as stirring up dongluan . Many leaders in the government saw them in the light of the past; they were a throwback to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution that had nearly destroyed China.


At the end of the Cultural Revolution the Chinese economy was on the verge of bankruptcy. What could be done? Now here's where Deng Xiaoping was really smart. His prescription was capitalism -- reform and opening up actually meant learning from capitalism. But he couldn't say that outright, because capitalism was supposed to be our arch enemy.

Now how could you turn around and learn from our enemy? So Deng came up with something called "Socialism with Chinese characteristics."


He followed his instincts. First and foremost, the people didn't have enough to eat; they had to be fed. Secondly, people who had been politically wronged had to be exonerated. These were very practical things. Little did he know what tremendous changes would be triggered once this process began.



It was deep winter, 1979, when a thaw began to be felt.

A stretch of bare wall near the city center became a place where people posted their hopes and fears about the new China. There were a dozen unofficial journals too, and new voices heard.

A young man named Wei Jingsheng wrote a poster: what China needed was more than the "Four Modernizations" the government was promoting, in agriculture, industry, science, and defense. China needed a fifth modernization: democracy.

Democracy wasn't the result of progress, Wei Jingsheng argued, it was a pre-condition for progress.

Meanwhile Deng Xiaoping was on the road.

Apparently moving away from Communist ideology, Deng was welcomed in America. Time Magazine named him "Man of the Year." In the US, China's economic reforms were greeted with enthusiasm.



Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, and his Excellency, Deng Xiaoping, the Vice-Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China.


"Rocky Mountain High, Rocky Mountain High."

Mr. Vice-Premier, it is with great joy that we welcome you to our country, and it is with true love that we extend our very best wishes to you and your people, on your "New Long March Toward Modernization In This Century."

I thank you very much. Huitoujian.


Deng Xiaoping went to America, and soon after, Hope came to China.



Hey we're off on the road to China, with fun and adventure in mind.
The Seventh Wonder of the World is here beneath our feet,
Compared to this the road to Mandelay is obsolete.


Hey, this is it, Peking, China. Amazing isn't it? Just 10 years ago who would've dreamt an American comedian would be standing here in Tiananmen Square, saying whatever he pleased and photographing anything he pleased. But in this fast-moving world, radical changes can occur overnight.

Take a look at this Square, almost a hundred acres. Looks like Jackie Gleason's patio. Now they can get a million and a half people in here. Of course they're not here today -- nobody knew I was coming.

Americans felt an enormous relief: the Chinese are, after all, just like us. They want what we want, and maybe we can sell it to them.


But even as China and the U.S. swapped celebrities and made deals, the dark gates closed on others.

For his warning that Deng might become a new dictator, Wei Jingsheng was framed and sentenced to fifteen years.

He was still in prison when the students came to Tiananmen in 1989 to demand democracy.

Few of them knew his story.

WU GUOGUANG - Former government official

In China, if you wanted to express your opinions you had to speak from within the Communist Party. If you talked outside they'd throw you in jail.

The only option for a pure idealist is to commit suicide. I once wrote an essay entitled, "Commit suicide and save the country." Of course it didn't pass the censors.

I'd completely lost faith in the Communist Party. I thought the only workable thing is trying to join up and change it. Committing suicide myself wouldn't do the country much good. A more useful thing to do was to help the Communist Party commit suicide. Lenin had taught us that the easiest way to take a fortress is from within. There's also the Trojan horse in ancient Greece. If you can't win through confrontation, you have to try sneaking inside. That someone like myself could join the Party was because cracks had already appeared. Before Deng's reforms, someone like me would never have been let in.



Now begins the grand mass parade to celebrate the 35th anniversary for the founding of the People's Republic of China.


By 1984, when the People's Republic marked its 35th Anniversary, there was something new to celebrate -- the success of Deng Xiaoping's reforms.

Once, Deng had been purged by Mao for his disobedience.

Now Deng was no longer under the Great Teacher's shadow. He could make his own plans, and he had the power to execute them. He would be called the Grand Architect of reform.

By Deng's side were his loyal ministers, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang: men given the task of reform -- men who could also be blamed when reform went too far.

Some students in the parade raised a homemade banner greeting Deng by his first name: "Hello, Xiaoping!" -- an unheard-of liberty.

People were genuinely grateful to Deng.


China's industry is advancing toward modernization. Like agriculture it will soon be carried forward on the wave of reform.


The early reforms brought quick and dramatic change.

In the countryside, communes were broken up. Rural markets were revived.

Farmers started to make money. There was a lot more money to be made.


The old men in charge were changing China. The results were going to be seen everywhere.

After decades of relative isolation, China was looking outward to the world.

Just ahead, all the enticements of capitalism beckoned.



Our life is getting better and better. The light industry float shows how life is becoming more colorful as our living standards rise.


The National Day celebrations in 1984 were an elaborate, enthusiastic affair. Many people saw a bright future ahead.

But why did my friends and I feel so depressed? The overcast sky, the lone figure of Deng Xiaoping popping out of that car, riding stern-faced down Chang'an Avenue: I thought it all boded ill for the future. That kind of spectacle was the heritage of the Mao era. It was an embodiment of revolution. And for us, revolution was made up of a small number of ambitious political careerists on the one hand and the frenzied masses on the other. And we were fed up with all that.

A measure of economic prosperity had been achieved by 1984, but we saw countless difficulties ahead, and we didn't know how heavy a price the Chinese people might still have to pay. All I could do was to help change things bit by bit. I knew I couldn't make that much difference, but that didn't matter, because there was nothing else worth doing anyway.



Singing and dancing, a million and a half people in the capital attended the grand National Day evening carnival. The carnival evening will forever remain in our memory. Come to see Tiananmen, come to see our country in five years time!


Previous chapter:
Next chapter: