The Facts About the Film, The Gate of Heavenly Peace:
The film's producers respond to an Open Letter sent to us by Feng Congde
(Note: Feng's letter was sent to us in both Chinese and English; click here for the Chinese versions of the letter and our reply. Feng's original English letter is available below.)
On May 28, 2009, we received a letter from Feng Congde entitled "Open letter of Tiananmen survivors, participants, and supporters" (hereafter referred to as the Open Letter), "urging" us to "correct the false reporting and editing" in our film, The Gate of Heavenly Peace. This film explores the history of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, during which Feng Congde was a key student leader. The Open Letter charges that the film had "created a false record of the history [of 1989], particularly in relation to our fellow student leader Chai Ling." The alleged falsehoods that are described in the Open Letter simply do not exist in the film. However, as responsible historians and filmmakers we are nonetheless willing to respond to these accusations and clarify the facts regarding the film. We do so in order to fulfill our obligations to the public and to honor the victims of the Beijing massacre. In addition, we have posted Feng Congde's Open Letter on our website (see below) as he requested.
Table of Contents
Summary of the Main Points of Our Response
I. The Word "Qidai" - Its Meaning and Translation
II. Chai Ling in the Square
III. Supposed Misattribution of Chai Ling's Words about Self-Immolation
IV. Concluding Remarks
"The need for absolute goodies and absolute baddies runs deep in us, but it drags history into propaganda and denies the humanity of the dead: their sins, their virtues, their efforts, their failures. To preserve complexity, and not flatten it under the weight of anachronistic moralizing, is part of the historian's task."
Our response to Feng Congde's Open Letter includes a number of general statements as well as a detailed, point-by-point refutation of his specific charges. Below are the highlights:
Regarding June 4, 1989, we have always held that it was a criminal and inexcusable act for the Chinese government to open fire on its own people. Some people assert that pointing out any faults among the protestors is tantamount to condoning the government's crackdown. We refuse to accept such absurd and arrogant logic.
While making our film The Gate of Heavenly Peace, we repeatedly asked Chai Ling for an interview, but she turned us down every time. As a result, we had no choice but to rely on footage recorded in 1989 and interviews with other participants to portray her role in the movement. For us, not being able to interview Chai Ling and include her own recollections in the film was extremely regrettable.
Those who either played a role in the crackdown of the 1989 Tiananmen movement or were otherwise hostile to it have spared no effort to tarnish and slander the movement, including deliberately misquoting The Gate of Heavenly Peace and distorting facts. We can answer only for our own work and take responsibility only for our own words. We are in no way responsible for the "numerous vicious attacks against Chai Ling on the internet" that Feng claims were caused by our film. Indeed, we are absolutely opposed to the use of abusive language and personal attacks against Chai Ling, or against anyone else.
Our translation of Chai Ling's qidai liuxue (期待流血) as "hope for bloodshed" from an interview she gave on May 28, 1989, is not wrong, as Feng Congde asserts, and it in no way distorts her meaning. The Chinese verb qidai (期待) expresses a clear and unambiguous intention, and Chai Ling's use of the word in the context of her statements demonstrates that she meant it in its commonly understood sense.
We form our own opinions of events based on our understanding of the available facts, but we cannot allow these opinions to prevent us from truthfully presenting historical facts. For example, it is a fact that Chai Ling said that she was "hoping for bloodshed." It is the opinion of Carma Hinton, one of the producers of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, that for Chai Ling to have said these words under the intense pressure of the Chinese government was understandable and deserving of sympathy.
There is not a shred of evidence in The Gate of Heavenly Peace to support the notion that "Chai Ling had run away from the danger while sending her [sic] other students to die" (as Feng Congde puts it in the Open Letter). The film clearly and repeatedly states that Chai Ling changed her mind and stayed in the Square after she expressed her intention to leave in an interview she gave on May 28. The fact that she stayed to the end is established in at least five separate sequences in the film, through the use of narration, interviews, and video from 1989.
Despite the clear evidence to the contrary in the film, the notion that Chai Ling deserted her fellow students and left the Square before the crackdown has been widely circulated. As the producers of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, we can be responsible only for the integrity of our own film, not for any misinformation spread by others, whatever their motivations. Nevertheless, we would like to take this opportunity to correct any distortions of the film and state once and for all that Chai Ling indeed stayed in the Square through the morning of June 4.
I. The Word "Qidai" - Its Meaning and Translation
The Open Letter charges that "Chai Ling's language '...qidai liuxue' (期待流血) was mistranslated" in The Gate of Heavenly Peace. The charge is referring to an excerpt from an interview that Chai Ling gave to Philip Cunningham on May 28, 1989. Feng Congde asserts that what Chai Ling meant by the verb qidai was yuqi (预期) (anticipate) or dengdai (等待) (wait for), and that we have erroneously translated qidai as "hope for".1 This charge is false.
The meaning of the Chinese verb qidai has two components: one is that the subject connected to the verb believes that something will happen or is likely to happen, and the other is that the subject desires that it happen. In other words, there is a clear indication of intention built into the meaning of the verb qidai. It does not simply state an estimation of what might come to pass. If someone does not want to see a certain event happen, it is inconceivable that he or she would use the word qidai. If someone constructs a sentence using the verb qidai in connection to an event that is clearly not desired by the subject, that sentence would be considered incorrect.
In order to determine the accurate meaning of a word in any language, we have to examine its use in two ways: one is to study a wide range of sentences containing the word (its shared, common use); the other is to analyze the context and logic of the particular passage in which the word appears, to see whether the user of the word is indeed using it in the common sense, or whether it is a misuse or an intentional play on the word.
Regarding common use, we made a concerted effort - both when we were making the film and in the years afterward - to collect numerous examples of sentences using qidai in order to fully examine its meaning. To date, we have not found a single instance in which someone used qidai to express something he or she does not wish to see happen. Of course, the fact that we haven't come across any such examples does not necessarily mean that none exists, but given the consistency of usage seen in our extensive research, it seems clear that even if an exceptional use of the word were to be found, that would simply be an anomaly. Language is a means for communication, and the meanings of words have to comply with the norm and conform to the understanding of the majority of people. Otherwise, if individuals can simply assign to a particular word whatever meaning they want, language would lose its communicational function.
In addition to determining the common use of qidai, it is equally important to analyze the context of Chai Ling's sentence and the logic behind the entire passage in order to determine what she meant when she used qidai in connection with bloodshed. It is clear from her elaboration of her ideas and from her line of reasoning that Chai's use of qidai is consistent with its commonly understood meaning as discussed above - that is, the object (which in this case is bloodshed) of the verb qidai is something that the subject (the speaker) desires to see happen.
The passage with Chai Ling's remarks surrounding her use of qidai begins as follows:The students keep asking, "What should we do next? What can we accomplish?" I feel so sad, because how can I tell them that what we are actually hoping for is bloodshed, for the moment when the government has no choice but to brazenly butcher the people. Only when the Square is awash with blood will the people of China open their eyes. Only then will they really be united. But how can I explain any of this to my fellow students?
Let us first consider the question that Chai is answering in this passage. What the students keep asking, according to Chai's own words, is, "What should we do next? What can we accomplish?" - not, "What will happen next?" In this context, what she wanted to talk about was clearly intentions and goals ("hoping for"), and not just her assessment of what might happen ("anticipating"). It goes against logic to assert, as Feng Congde does in the Open Letter, that Chai Ling's direct answer to a question about what to do would be a statement describing what might happen.
Chai goes on to say, "... when the government has no choice but to brazenly butcher the people" - here, the Chinese words she used are "rang (让, 'to let' or 'to cause') zhengfu (政府, the government)." A more literal translation of this part of her statement would be, "... to let (or to cause) the government to have no choice but to brazenly butcher the people." Her use of the verb rang here clearly expresses a subjective intention. In the film, we did not translate the word rang literally because doing so would have resulted in an awkward sentence in English. Had it been translated, the sense of intention embodied in the original Chinese would have come through even stronger.
Chai continues, "Only when the Square is awash with blood will the people of China open their eyes. Only then will they really be united." Here, she uses the sentence pattern of "zhiyou (只有)..., cai (才)....," which is a linguistic device that conveys the idea of necessary conditions - that is, unless A happens, B cannot happen. Or in this case, without bloodshed, it will not be possible to achieve the goal of awakening the people.
In a passage immediately following the one discussed above, Chai then says:What is truly sad is that some students, and some famous, well-connected people, are working hard to help the government, to prevent it from taking such measures. For the sake of their selfish interests and their private dealings they are trying to cause our movement to collapse and get us out of the Square before the government becomes so desperate that it takes action.
Here, Chai denounces "some students, and some famous, well-connected people" who, she says, "are working hard ... to prevent [the government] from taking such measures," i.e., from "brazenly butcher[ing] the people." Why does she denounce them? Because their efforts are preventing the outcome that is the expressed object of her qidai. Her denunciation thus reinforces the meaning of her use of qidai, which indeed conforms to the common use and indicates desire.
Furthermore, throughout this section of the interview, Chai Ling repeatedly laments the fact that she cannot tell the students what she is thinking; for example, she says, "I feel so sad, because how can I tell them...", and, "how can I explain any of this to my fellow students," and finally, "I can't tell them straight out that we must use our blood and our lives to call on the people to rise up. Of course, the students will be willing. But they are still such young children...."
Such statements are puzzling. If it were true, as Feng Congde insists, that Chai Ling was merely "anticipating" or "waiting for" bloodshed, then why couldn't she tell fellow students what she "anticipates"?
It should also be noted that the sentiment behind the words, "qidai liuxue" (hoping for bloodshed), was not limited to Chai Ling but was shared by some others in the movement. According to the recollections of a student leader, in the early days of the movement, when the students first gathered to commemorate Hu Yaobang in April 1989, a student named Song said, "We absolutely must have a hunger strike. Even better if the hunger strike were to cause a little bloodshed."2 As would be seen later in the movement, this kind of sentiment could easily be stirred up when hardliners in the Chinese government carried out oppressive measures.
Another example of this sentiment came to light after the government had declared marital law. During the first two days of martial law, the army could not enter Beijing because of resistance from the city's residents. Then on May 21, 1989, some student leaders were informed by what they felt was a credible source that Deng Xiaoping had made up his mind to clear the Square at any cost. Concerned with the possibility of bloodshed, one of the leaders, Wuer Kaixi, called on the students to leave the Square, but the crowd rejected this idea. He was soon dismissed from his leadership position by other student leaders. According to a report at the time (May 24, 1989), Wuer Kaixi explained that he "was only making a suggestion to the students that they leave the Square. However, he was instantly opposed - one reason for the opposition was that people in the Square were not afraid to die. Another reason was that some people even thought a few deaths would be good for China."3
These statements - "Even better if the hunger strike were to cause a little bloodshed," and "a few deaths would be good for China" - serve to corroborate the meaning of Chai Ling's "women qidai de jiu shi liuxue" (我们期待的就是流血, "what we are actually hoping for is bloodshed"), as they all express the same sentiment.
The above analyses and examples demonstrate that Chai Ling's use of the verb qidai expresses a clear and unambiguous intention. Therefore, our translation must also convey this clear intention, not obscure it. Feng Congde contended that the correct English translation should be "anticipate" or "wait for."4 However, both of these words say only what the speaker thinks is going to happen. The object of these verbs may or may not be something the speaker desires. For example, it is perfectly normal for a doctor to say in English that he or she anticipates that a patient will soon die, as this only expresses the doctor's assessment of the patient's condition, and not his or her desire. However, for a doctor to say in Chinese that he or she qidai a patient's death would be inconceivable, unless the doctor had ulterior motives. In conclusion, our translation of qidai as "hope for" is not wrong, as Feng Congde asserts, and it in no way distorts Chai Ling's meaning.
In addition to the translation issue, Feng Congde also accuses us in the Open Letter of taking Chai Ling's words "hoping for bloodshed" (qidai liuxue) out of context. While he does not elaborate on this accusation in the letter, he has provided more detailed charges elsewhere.5 He claims that because Chai Ling's two statements - that she was hoping for bloodshed and that she herself would not stay in the Square to face the bloodshed - were made at different points in the interview and were made in response to two different reporters, our showing the two statements next to each other in the film is taking her statements "out of context." We find Feng's logic perplexing. These excerpts are all taken from the same interview session, and the two reporters were both present throughout this interview. The meaning of Chai Ling's words is unequivocally clear and whatever she said in between the two statements did not change in any way what she meant. Furthermore, in another part of the same interview (which we did not use in the film), Chai Ling clearly expressed what she intended to do versus what the other students should do, in a single, continuous statement:Reporter: "What is next?" Chai Ling: "The next step - as for myself, I want to continue living (qiusheng, 求生, literally, "to seek life"). As for the students in the Square, I think the only thing they can do is persist to the end and wait for the government to become so desperate that it starts a bloodbath."
It is clear that we did not distort Chai Ling's meaning when quoting her in the film. (The fact that she later changed her mind and stayed in the Square through the morning of June 4 is also clearly shown in the film. We will address this point in section II of this response.) The film of course could not show Chai Ling's lengthy interview in its entirety. In order to maintain a reasonable running time, all documentaries must leave out some parts of interviews, and they should do so without distorting the original ideas. To supplement the film, we posted the entire transcript of Chai Ling's May 28 interview on our website, shortly after the film was first broadcast (link). Anyone who is interested can read the complete interview and make his or her own judgment. More recently, Philip Cunningham, the independent reporter who conducted the interview, has published a book that includes detailed information about the circumstances surrounding his interview with Chai Ling. We refer those who would like more information to this book, Tiananmen Moon: Inside the Chinese Student Uprising of 1989.6
II. Chai Ling in the Square
In his Open Letter, Feng Congde also makes the following charge against The Gate of Heavenly Peace: "... our fellow student Chai Ling's language '...I want to live...' was also taken out of context, and gives a false impression that she ran away."
This charge is totally groundless. Here is the full passage of this sequence from the film, taken from Chai Ling's May 28, 1989 interview:
Interviewer: Are you going to stay in the Square yourself?
Chai Ling: No, I won't.
Chai Ling: Because my situation is different. My name is on the government's hit list. I'm not going to let myself be destroyed by this government. I want to live. Anyway, that's how I feel about it. I don't know if people will say I'm selfish. I believe that others have to continue the work I have started. A democracy movement can't succeed with only one person!
After the above sequence, the film clearly and repeatedly states that Chai Ling changed her mind after the interview and stayed in the Square to the end. The fact that she stayed is established in at least five separate sequences in the film, through the use of narration, interviews, and archival footage - that is, footage shot during the actual events in 1989. These five sequences are summarized as follows:
1. The film's narrator says: "The next night, as the Goddess of Democracy moved from the Art Academy to Tiananmen, a television reporter interviewed Chai Ling in one of the new tents in the Square. She had changed her mind about leaving." [Emphasis added.] Chai Ling is then shown in archival footage with the reporter inside a tent in the Square, explaining her reasons for staying in the Square.
2. After the above interview in the tent, the film shows Chai Ling and Feng Congde in the Square; they tell reporters that they were kidnapped and they denounce "student traitors." Again, the archival footage in this sequence firmly establishes Chai Ling's presence in the Square in the days after her May 28 interview.
3. In the section of the film showing events of the night of June 3 and the early morning of June 4, when the students were gathered at the Monument to the People's Heroes at the center of the Square, two people we interviewed for the film mention Chai Ling's name a total of five times, describing her words or actions that night, and thereby confirming her continued presence in the Square. For example, one of the interviewees says, "We heard Chai Ling's voice over the loudspeaker. She said: 'Those who want to leave, should leave, and those who want to stay, should stay.' Chai Ling wanted to stay."
4. After the government's suppression on June 4, the film has a sequence describing how the authorities went to great lengths to punish anyone whose account of what happened on June 4 strayed from the official line. The narration sarcastically comments, "[T]here was only one correct version of events, the government's version." Then the narration immediately continues: "Protesters who had been at the Square gave differing accounts of what had happened. Chai Ling, now hiding somewhere in China, sent her story out via Hong Kong." [Emphasis added.] Chai Ling is thus cited as the first example of those "protesters who had been at the Square" on June 4.
5. Following the above scene, the film includes excerpts from a Hong Kong news broadcast of the June 8, 1989 tape-recording made by Chai Ling while in hiding. Chai Ling is heard saying: "I am the most qualified person to speak about what happened in the Square between June 2 and June 4." This part of the film provides further confirmation that she had in fact stayed in the Square.
Regarding the June 8 tape-recording, we must also point out that in his Open Letter, Feng Congde states, "...we are critical that you as filmmakers left out Chai Ling's audio tape from June 8, 1989." This accusation is obviously not true.
After saying that we "left out Chai Ling's audio tape," Feng continues, "Most of Chai Ling's June 8 speech was intentionally omitted from the documentary..." Apparently, Feng Congde's opinion is that the film should have made extensive use of Chai Ling's June 8 tape-recording. If the purpose of such an extensive use of source material is to establish that Chai was indeed in the Square through the final hours of the movement, this fact has already been well established in the film. If the purpose is to recount events between June 2 and June 4, the film has already shown these events in great detail, with archival footage and interviews with many people. These detailed scenes include students and Beijing citizens taking weapons from soldiers on June 3 and turning them over to the city police; the army opening fire on people from the night of June 3 to the morning of June 4; and eyewitness accounts of a tank crushing people at Liubukou intersection on the morning of June 4, as the students who had just left the Square were walking along the street. There was no need to use Chai Ling's audio recording to simply repeat what we had already shown in vivid detail using video footage.
In summary, The Gate of Heavenly Peace - in at least five different sequences following Chai Ling's May 28 interview - clearly presents the historical fact that Chai Ling stayed in the Square through the morning of June 4. In making his accusation, Feng Congde is simply ignoring what is in the film.
While there is not a shred of evidence in the film to support the notion that "Chai Ling had run away from the danger while sending her [sic] other students to die" (as Feng Congde puts it in the Open Letter), this notion nevertheless has been widely circulated. Reasons for this might include the following:
1. People who are hostile to the 1989 student movement would selectively quote the film and misuse it in order to attack Chai Ling.
2. Some in the press who tend towards sensationalism would highlight or emphasize certain parts of the film while failing to provide the full picture.
3. Some people are critical of the mindset that is evident in the parts of Chai Ling's May 28 interview where she talks about her intention to leave the Square while also insisting that others should stay and face the government's "bloodbath." However, in discussing this issue, these critics do not always make it clear that Chai subsequently changed her mind and stayed in the Square.
4. Some people may be confusing May 28 with an earlier event. Late on the night of May 21, nearly two days after the government had declared martial law, Chai Ling and several other student leaders actually did leave the Square and went into hiding. They decided to do so after receiving insider information that a government crackdown in Tiananmen Square was imminent, and they left without telling other students in the Square about what they had learned. Their justification was that they were "revolutionary sparks" that should be "preserved." They returned to the Square a day later after finding out that the army was still being blocked by the people gathered on the outskirts of the city.7 Our film did not mention this particular event, but there is discussion about it on the Internet. With some people, their criticism of Chai Ling for leaving the Square confuses May 21 with May 28, when she talked about leaving the Square in her interview, but then changed her mind and stayed, as shown by The Gate of Heavenly Peace.
5. Some people who have never seen the film or who haven't bothered to watch it carefully would criticize Chai Ling based only on the hearsay that she deserted her fellow students and left the Square early.
As the producers of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, we can be responsible only for our own work. We cannot be responsible for what is said by people who are lazy or careless, or who harbor vicious motives. Nevertheless, we would like to take this opportunity to correct any distortions or clear up any misunderstandings of the film and state once and for all that Chai Ling indeed stayed in the Square through the morning of June 4, as shown in the film.
III. Supposed Misattribution of Chai Ling's Words about Self-Immolation
Feng's Open Letter accuses the filmmakers of The Gate of Heavenly Peace of mistranslating Chai Ling and of taking historical data out of context through deceptive editing. We have shown that these charges are groundless. In his other writings Feng also consistently tries to discredit our film by portraying us as lacking in professional ethics. His attempts always involve misrepresenting our film. For example, in his book Tiananmen zhi zheng [Tiananmen Memoir ],8 he claims that The Gate of Heavenly Peace falsely attributed to Chai Ling a statement that was actually made by Li Lu, another student leader. While he did not include this charge in his Open Letter, we feel that in refuting his general accusation of our supposedly willful editing, we should also set this particular record straight.
Our film includes a sequence in which Chai Ling, during the May 28, 1989 interview, says that she announced to the students in the Square that she would set herself on fire. Feng Congde states that Li Lu, another student leader, was the one who actually said these words, and therefore we misattributed these words to Chai Ling. However, this charge is directly contradicted by Feng's own account of the event. In his book A Tiananmen Journal, Feng has a section entitled, "Chai Ling Wants to Set Herself On Fire!"9 He writes that one day, he went back to his apartment to sleep. Upon his return to the Square later that afternoon, students worriedly told him, "Chai Ling announced that she wanted to set herself on fire" so that "with one person's death, thousands of hunger strikers might live." When Feng asked her about it, Chai Ling "responded with a smile" and "acted as if it was nothing."10 Since even Feng's own account states that Chai Ling "announced that she would set herself on fire," how can he then turn around and accuse us of misattributing Chai Ling's words?
The following is how Feng Congde compared the film's quoting of Chai Ling with the original footage of Chai's May 28 interview:The original video:
Chai Ling: "Li Lu, who is now the deputy commander, found me. He was very upset. He said, 'If the government can simply stand by and watch while the students' lives slowly waste away like this, we will have to take even more drastic measures. He said [Producers' note: at this point in the original recording, the two words, 'he said,' are at a very low volume, almost merging with the following word 'we'] we will set ourselves on fire. If the government is callous enough to see these children starve to death, then we will be the first to die."
The Gate of Heavenly Peace (using the excerpt from the May 28 interview):
Chai Ling: "If the government can simply stand by and watch while the students' lives slowly waste away like this, we will have to take even more drastic measures. We will set ourselves on fire. If the government is callous enough to see these children starve to death, then we will be the first to die."
After juxtaposing the above two selections from the original interview and from our film, Feng Congde says that we omitted the opening line ("Li Lu found me... He said..."), thereby deliberately creating a false impression that it was Chai Ling, not Li Lu, who said these words about setting oneself on fire.
However, after Chai Ling recounted what Li Lu told her, she stated, "I said this over the loudspeakers [literally, I took these words and said them over the loudspeakers.] I said I was willing to be the commander-in-chief - I don't remember my exact words - I said the only criterion for a person to join the hunger strike leadership was a willingness to be the first to die, so that other students could live on." The Gate of Heavenly Peace included these lines from Chai Ling's original interview, but Feng Congde left them out of his writings in his attempt to accuse us of misusing interview material.
No matter who first spoke about setting themselves on fire, Chai Ling obviously not only agreed with the idea, but also "said this over the loudspeakers." By so doing, Chai Ling was adopting Li Lu's words, and the statement was broadcast under her name and in her voice. We don't know if Chai gave Li Lu credit for these lines when she spoke to the students over the loudspeakers, since she did not mention doing so in this interview. The crucial fact here is that Chai Ling spoke these words "over the loudspeakers."
Feng Congde charges that we omitted the line mentioning Li Lu from Chai Ling's interview in order to serve some kind of a preset agenda, which he does not specify. In fact, this line was cut at a very late stage in the making of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, only to help shorten the film. In editing the film down from a rough cut to the finished work, we had to make many difficult choices. Every cut was thoroughly discussed and debated. Towards the end of this process, we were trimming seconds off here and there, including the above-mentioned line about Li Lu. We cut out what was less essential or less relevant, and in this case it was irrelevant whether Li Lu also talked about self-immolation, since Chai Ling was the one who broadcast the idea to the students in the Square, as confirmed by Feng Congde himself in A Tiananmen Journal.11
IV. Concluding Remarks
In addition to clarifying the above three issues, we would like to state the following.
First, while making The Gate of Heavenly Peace, we repeatedly asked Chai Ling for an interview. We contacted her directly many times, and also tried to reach her through other people, but Chai Ling turned us down every time. As a result, we had no choice but to rely on footage recorded in 1989 and interviews with other participants to portray her role in the movement. For us, not being able to interview Chai Ling and include her own recollections in the film was extremely regrettable.
Second, we do form our own opinions of events based on our understanding of the available facts, but we cannot allow these opinions to prevent us from truthfully presenting historical facts. It is to be expected that people will have different opinions about the same facts. For example, it is a fact that Chai Ling said that she was "hoping for bloodshed." It is the opinion of Carma Hinton, one of the producers of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, that it is understandable for Chai Ling to have said these words while facing the intense pressure of the Chinese government, and she deserves our sympathy. Hinton has expressed these opinions consistently in numerous interviews given to reporters over the past decades.
Third, those who either played a role in the crackdown of the 1989 Tiananmen movement or were otherwise hostile to it have spared no effort to tarnish and slander the movement, including deliberately misquoting The Gate of Heavenly Peace and distorting facts. We can answer only for our own work and take responsibility only for our own words. We are in no way responsible for the "numerous vicious attacks against Chai Ling on the internet" (which Feng Congde, in the Chinese version of his Open Letter, claims were caused by The Gate of Heavenly Peace). In fact, we are absolutely opposed to the use of abusive language and personal attacks against Chai Ling, or anyone else. The huge volume of vicious and vulgar language on the Internet (which has also been directed against us) cannot be taken as honest or worthwhile discourse; those who want to use civilized language and to engage in serious discussions of history should not be agitated and distracted by such trash.
We want to emphasize once again our long-standing view regarding June 4, 1989: despite any mistakes that the students might have made, it was criminal and inexcusable for the Chinese government to open fire on its people. There are those who assert that pointing out any faults among the protestors is tantamount to condoning the government's crackdown. We refuse to accept such absurd and arrogant logic. Moreover, we cannot abandon our duty to present the historical facts just because such absurd attacks might be leveled against us.
In conclusion, we would like to quote the writer and critic Robert Hughes, whose following lines express part of the spirit behind our making of The Gate of Heavenly Peace:"The need for absolute goodies and absolute baddies runs deep in us, but it drags history into propaganda and denies the humanity of the dead: their sins, their virtues, their efforts, their failures. To preserve complexity, and not flatten it under the weight of anachronistic moralizing, is part of the historian's task."12
1 In the Chinese version of the Open Letter, Feng Congde explicitly says that we erroneously translated qidai as "hope for." However, in the English version of his letter, he simply states that "'...qidai liuxue' was mistranslated," without providing our translation.
2 As recalled by student leader Liang Er, inHuigu yu fansi [Recollections and Reflections], Rhine, Germany: PEN, 1993, p. 127.
3 Wu Mouren, ed. Bajiu Zhongguo minyun jishi (English title: Daily Reports on the Movement for Democracy in China, April 15-June 24, 1989). August 1989, Vol. 1., p. 417.
4 These suggested translations are given in the Chinese version of Feng Congde's Open Letter. In the English version, he says, " 'qidai' is properly translated as 'hope for with anticipation or wait.'" While it would be impossible to form a proper English sentence with this incomprehensible phrasing, Feng's proposed translation here does include the key element that confirms our translation, "hope for."
5 Feng Congde. Tiananmen zhi zheng [Tiananmen Memoir]. Mirror Books, Ontario, 1998, p. 24.
6 Philip Cunningham. Tiananmen Moon: Inside the Chinese Student Uprising of 1989. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.
7 Huigu yu fansi [Recollections and Reflections], Rhine, Germany: PEN, 1993, pp. 207-208; pp. 223-224; p. 260. Feng Congde, A Tiananmen Journal, pp. 366-377.
8 Feng Congde. Tiananmen zhi zheng [Tiananmen Memoir]. Mirror Books, Ontario, 1998, pp. 44-45.
9 Feng Congde. Liusi riji [A Tiananmen Journal]. Hong Kong: Chen zhong shu ju, 2009, pp. 311.
10 Ibid, p. 312.
11 Li Lu is not a character in The Gate of Heavenly Peace. The film could not possibly cover every single person who was influential in the movement. In addition, when we were still working on our film, another film, Moving the Mountain, had already been released. Since it was devoted to Li Lu, who was the central figure in that film, we felt that The Gate of Heavenly Peace should cover other participants with its limited screen time.
12 Robert Hughes. Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 120.
Below is the original "Open Letter" as Feng Congde sent it to us on May 28, 2009:
Open letter of Tiananmen survivors, participants, and supporters
To Carma Hinton, Richard Gordon
Director and Producer of the Gate of Heavenly Peace
May 28th, 2009
On the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Chinese Student Movement, we, the survivors of the massacre and the organizers, participants, researchers and supporters of the movement, are urging you again - as we did in 1995 - to correct the false reporting and editing in your film, The Gate of Heavenly Peace.
In your documentary, some selectively quoted statements and omissions of a few important historical facts created a false record of the history, particularly in relation to our fellow student leader Chai Ling. If you consider your production a documentary of the factswithout any personal motives to intentionally discredit Chai Ling and the student organizers of the movement, we, many of whom were actually in Tiananmen Square, urge you to post this letter on your web site so that the public can consider both of our perspectivesand judge for themselves.
In your documentary, you used selective quotes and interpretive and erroneous translation leaving viewers with an impression that Chai Ling had run away from the danger while sending her other students to die, or that she and all of us student leaders had provoked and hoped for the bloodshed. This impression was contradictory to the facts of what actually happened at Tiananmen.
Clearly, Chai Ling's language "...qidai liuxue" was mistranslated by Carma Hinton, the producer, and taken out of context. "qidai" is properly translated as "hope for with anticipation or wait." Those of us who were there know that Chai Ling meant that we were anticipating a possible crackdown and hoping that the crackdown would happen in public, in front of the media, rather than being driven back to the darkness and disappearing from the world record, like so many other uprisings in China before and after 1989. It is important to note that we anticipated a crackdown, not a massacre. It also should have been noted that the student leaders made a major effort to make sure students who chose to stay at Tiananmen were volunteers who understood the risks of remaining in the square.
Above all, our fellow student Chai Ling's language "...I want to live..." was also taken out of context, and gives a false impression that she ran away. In fact, she was there with her fellow student demonstrators until the last minute at Tiananmen, and led the last protestors on the Square retreating to campus in the morning of June 4th, 1989. It was with that false impression, Chan Yi'ngok, the recently impeached Chair of Hong Kong University Students' Union, had made an errant public speech and ruined his reputation.
Context helps provide truth, thus we are critical that you as filmmakers left out Chai Ling's audio tape from June 8th, 1989, where she gave detailed accounts on what happened during the night of massacre, and of which the filmmakers must have been aware. Most of Chai Ling's June 8th speech was intentionally omitted from the documentary, as it would have called into question the veracity of the translation and editing of her videotaped clip in the film quoted above-a clip that was used extensively to promote and draw attention to the film.
Chai Ling's voice on May 28th, 1989, regarding her desire to live is a voice of all of us. There is no one, among the billions of Chinese people that does not have a strong desire to live. The truth is that when the massacre and imprisonment came, many of us and our colleagues made the difficult decision to sacrifice the desire to live in order fulfill our duty and honor. The fact is also that, during those long dark days, months, and years following Tiananmen of being underground and in hiding, imprisonment, or exile overseas, the very desire to live has gave us all the courage and strength to survive. As Chai Ling said during her Hunger Strike speech: "With the courage of facing death, we are fighting for the right to live".
Our goal was, and is, truth. Chai Ling and all of us accomplished the goal to some extent in that this is one event in China's modern history that left extensive photos, reporting, books, and memoirs for the world to see and to tell the history and show the truth. This movement did not disappear into darkness as others did before, via the Chinese Government's controlled media.
Many, many years ago, de Tocqueville visited America, observed and concluded, "America is great because she is good. Her people are good...Once it ceases its goodness, America will ceases its greatness". We are all fortunate today, to have this debate, because the American founding fathers have fought and left us an open system that encourages free speech and academic freedom. The very freedom that we all fought for, sacrificed for, and yet have not achieved inside China.
We value you and your colleagues' stated interest to "reflect the complex motives and stories behind the events of 1989 in an accessible format, and to provide specialists and the public with an ongoing research resource." We, too, are continuing our effort to build a historical archive for public access via the web site: www.64memo.com. It should be our common interest to work together to preserve a true record of the history.
On the 20th anniversary remembering all of the Chinese students' and citizens' sacrifices, it has been 14 years since we first raised our concerns with you, but we have seen no action taken to correct misrepresentations in The Gate of Heavenly Peace. Again, we who took the risk and live in exile today because of it, urge you to post on your website this brief response and defense of our attempt to bring freedom and democracy to China, and of those students and citizens who risked or sacrificed their life and future to cry for a better future of China.
Signatories ' Name, College in 1989, brief note
FANG Zheng, Beijing Sport University, Crushed by Tank in the morning of June 4, 1989
ZHANG Jian, Beijing Sport University, Shot in the early morning of June 4, 1989
XIONG Yan, Peking University, on the 21 Most Wanted List, among the last protestors on Chang'An Avenue
ZHOU Fengsuo, Tsinghua University, on the 21 Most Wanted List, among the last students on the Square
FENG Congde, Peking University, on the 21 Most Wanted List, among the last students on the Square
CHANG Jing, Peking University, on a Wanted List, organized the survey of deaths in hospitals
CHENG Zhen, Beijing Normal University, among the last students on Tiananmen Square
PAN Qiang, Shandong University, among the last students retreating from Tiananmen Square
SHENG Xue, witness of Beijing Tiananmen massacre
ZHENG Yi, well-known writer, organizer of Beijing Intellectuals' demonstrations
WANG Rongfen, Junior researcher of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, witness of the massacre
YANG Jianli, U.C. Berkeley, witness of Beijing Tiananmen massacre
YANG Wei, activist in Shanghai, who was put in jail for 18 months after the massacre
ZHANG Jing, activist in Guizhou, who was in jail then
BI Runquan, social worker in Hong Kong, supporting all along the Tiananmen student movement
Signatories in Chinese:
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