Saturday, September 19, 2020

Back to School: I Was There—Kate Adie on Tiananmen Square

BBC reporter Kate Adie filed eye-witness reports of the Tiananmen Square Massacre directly from the scene, but she won’t be returning anytime soon, because the CCP has banned her from re-entering the country. You would be correct to take that as a testimonial to the accuracy and integrity of her reports. Decades later Adie remains justifiably proud of her reporting. Now retired from the Beeb, Adie returned to the network to look back at the fateful events of 1989, adding personal and historical context in I Was There: Kate Adie on Tiananmen Square, directed and edited by Andy Webb, which would be a suitable video supplement to your pandemic-home-schooling lesson plans.

Hope was in the air during the year of 1989, unless you were a hardline Communist apparatchik. Gorbachev’s Glasnost reforms had spun out of his control. Ordinary citizens of Eastern Europe were demanding (and taking) greater freedoms. The same seemed poised to happen in China, but Deng and the CCP were more determined to maintain their hold on power and much less concerned with world opinion. Tragically, this became much more obvious in retrospect.

For a step-by-step chronicle of the demonstrations and subsequent brutal crackdown on Tiananmen Square, the definitive
Tiananmen: The People vs. the Party is probably your best option. However, I Was There provides a good hour-long overview (the perfect length if you need to play a video for while you take a meeting). Adie also adds the perspective of a journalist who had to work around CCP censorship. Frankly, the mass killings at Tiananmen Square might be considered the stuff of rumor had Adie’s colleague not been able to successfully smuggle her footage out of China (they made five copies, four of which were intercepted at customs).

In fact,
I Was There is better than most Tiananmen Square documentaries at covering the wider scope of the pro-democracy protests outside Beijing. Shortly after the massacre, Adie traveled to Xian in Shaanxi Province, where she found lingering physical signs similar protests had met a similarly violent fate, but people were only willing to talk about it in whispers, off camera.

Adie’s own personal perspective on Tiananmen is very definitely worth hearing. She risked her life to report the truth to the world and had the (grazing) bullet wound to prove it. Decades later, Adie is clearly concerned the CCP’s Orwellian efforts to erase the massacre from history have largely succeeded in China and have worked to an alarming degree throughout the rest of the world. Of course, the CCP is also obviously scared of her, since they refuse to let her into the country (although they did temporarily grant her a visa in 2009, probably as part of their campaign to spruce up their image while hosting the Olympics).

Fortunately, we have Adie’s reports to establish the truth. She did some outstanding journalism in 1989 and also some very good work assembling this report. Highly recommended for educational purposes,
I Was There: Kate Adie on Tiananmen Square is available on the BBC site for UK residents and it is currently online here (hopefully they’re okay with that, because Americans really ought to see it too).