Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square Review: Killing In The Name Of…

June 3, 2009 by  
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kateadietiananmen-300x210KATE ADIE RETURNS TO TIANANMEN SQUARE, Wednesday 3rd June, BBC2, 9.00pm Alert Me

Like countless thousands of other people, I know very little about the Tiananmen Square massacres that occurred on June 4th 1989. Although I am familiar with the haunting Tank Man picture, never before have I dared to seek out more information about this gross abuse of human rights. Until now.

Kate Adie deserves the highest praise for taking on such a dangerous project. As she attempts to hunt down surviving Tiananmen student leaders, mothers of murdered victims and innocents caught in the crossfire, she is repeatedly followed by secret police.

The Chinese government still deny that any protestors died twenty years ago today; and regularly attempt to suppress the truth from those who suffered at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army. Qi Zhi Yong was just walking home when he was confronted with harrowing images of carnage, as he fled from the PLA he was shot by unidentified soldiers and left for dead. The government still refuses to acknowledge their complicity in the loss of his leg, and he has never received compensation.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching story is that of Zhang Xiauling, whose son, an amateur photographer, was shot in the head whilst trying to capture vital footage of the protests. His body was recovered from a mass grave and she allows the film crew to capture a photo that no mother should ever have to see. 

It was this footage that broke me.

Not only has Zhang been crushed by the death of her son at just nineteen years old, but on every 4th June she is subjected to State-enforced house arrest and forbidden from speaking to journalists. It is frightening to think that on the other side of the world, basic human rights and freedom of speech are but unfulfilled dreams; a fantasy that is deemed unachievable.

Yet amid the melancholy, Adie is keen to emphasise the bravery of the protestors, to stand up to their army and leaders in pursuit of “political dialogue”. BBC translator Robin Munro commented that many students he spoke to were writing their wills whilst on a three week hunger strike. They were so adamant in the belief that they could make change, that they were willing to die for what they believed in. Munro approached a group of students at pains to transport a Roneo copying machine and asked them whether they would prefer to be armed with a rifle rather than a bulky printing contraption.  “What use is a rifle?” they said. “With this, we can change China.”

Twenty years on, and the only change that has occurred is the bitter consumerisation of Beijing. As the Olympics have brought tourism and money to the country, many forget that the the same system of rule that saw a government commit heinous crimes against humanity. One contributor asks, “Would a democratic country turn it’s bullets on it’s own people?” The answer is no, and this is something that many of us in the priveleged West take for granted.

I cannot emphasize this enough – critically essential viewing.

Sally McIlhone

Ellie says:

I’d love to see this! Too bad I’m not in the UK at the moment.. I read Kate Adie’s autobiography and it’s great 🙂