The Film

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© 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



After people prevented the army convoys from entering the city, there was a stalemate. During this lull, people were at a loss, and didn't know what to do next. This happened over and over again during the movement: following each new escalation, people fell into a state of confusion. No one knew what to do or what to expect. So the students simply hung around the Square waiting.

At night, music drifted from different parts of the Square. Once I was awakened after midnight by a rowdy concert. People were shouting, and laughing, making a huge ruckus.


Popular music, of course, came from the West. When young people try to express themselves, to sing about their own concerns, it is really a form of liberalization. That's why this music played a very important role during the movement. When someone takes part in a rock concert, that kind of crazy feeling is all about self-liberation and about self-expression.



The new music came via Hong Kong and Taiwan. One of the most famous Taiwan singers was Hou Dejian.

Hou moved to the mainland in 1983 in search of his roots. He was the first pop star to appear on national television.


Our culture, as well as the political system in Mainland China, suppresses the individual and promotes the collective. Collectivism and patriotism are used to make the majority serve the few. The message is: "You are not allowed to care about yourself. Any concern about personal interest simply means that you are selfish."

I call the 1989 movement a "Self-Liberation" movement. I don't like calling the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 "Liberation." Did Mao really liberate the Chinese people? Gradually people realized, "We're not really liberated. We want to liberate ourselves." But Mao didn't want that. Later, Deng Xiaoping didn't want that either. During the movement everyone wanted to release their pent-up anger and frustration - how come you can liberate me, but I can't liberate myself?


Man A

Put the headband back on! He's a guard in the movement.

Man B

This hedgehog is a guard? Can he block the police?

Man C

He can prick the police!

Man D

The police won't dare touch him.

Man B

Who'd like to hold him?


Many people in Beijing felt it in those days of protest: the sense of being lifted out of their daily drudgery by a cause greater than themselves.

Maybe, now, through real democracy, a perfect society was possible.


Who wants garlic? Garlic, anyone?


There was a heightened sense of community, of giving, of shared sacrifice. It was said that even the thieves had gone on strike for the common good.


I love Beijing's Tiananmen,
The sun rises there.
The great leader Chairman Mao...
leads our forward march.


In the vast Square, in this space designed to make the many feel as one, a space dedicated to the manufacturing of public life, the personal gesture now became significant, each small act of generosity seeming to prophesy a new way of living together, a new civility.

It was a feeling as intense as it was transitory.


I watched the student movement on T.V. It was exciting to see so many people demanding democracy, but I was worried by the general, intangible nature of their demands.

In China, all information is so tightly controlled by the Communist Party that people whose lives are run by this huge machine have no idea how it really works. So they usually behave in one of two ways: They either accept Party rule passively, or summon the courage to try and smash it all to pieces. But what happens after it's been smashed?


Faced with a territory and a population to govern, the student leaders on the Square found themselves recreating in miniature all the real-life problems of having and holding power.

"External" threats of government repression meant enforcing "internal" security. Disagreements with the leadership were labeled "betrayal," "sabotage" by the familiar "small handful of plotters."

Struggles between the groups vying for power in the Square grew increasingly ugly.


As commanders we tried to make our decision-making process as open as possible. But many students still felt that they had no normal channels through which to express their opinions. When they wanted to be heard they'd try to seize power.



No cameras! No cameras! Cover that lens!


Some student guard units were formed in a bizarre way. Someone from the Square would run to the train station to meet newcomers from the provinces. He'd announce, "I am the commander of the student security guards. Come with me! The Square needs you!" So the newcomers, who had no idea what was going on, would become the guy's guard.

Then they'd surround the student headquarters or the broadcast station and drive away our guards. Once they took control of the broadcast station, they were in power.

Often we had to suppress 3 or 4 coups a day. At the time I even joked, "Now I finally understand why Li Peng wanted to suppress the students."


Once I made a suggestion to the students. That was around May 23rd. I said, why not hold an election at the Square or on your campuses, one student, one vote, and elect the leaders of the student union. But they felt elections were unthinkable in the middle of all that chaos.

Then a week later I heard that the students were setting up a democracy university in the Square. I thought: "Well, that suggestion of mine was at the level of a democracy kindergarten. You people didn't like it, so now you're setting up a democracy university. But no matter what, you still have to vote."

Next chapter: MAY 27

Previous chapter: MARTIAL LAW

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