Making The News
During the 1989 Protest Movement the Chinese authorities were collecting information to create their sanitized version of what happened when millions of people in Beijing and cities throughout China openly rebelled against the government in support of student protests. That version of reality was later presented as the "true story" (zhenxiang) by the Chinese authorities in the print and electronic media. It is a story, one that wildly distorts the facts, that the government sticks to doggedly even today. It is a story that forces the authorities to denounce works like THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE which attempt to make sense of what happened in 1989 outside the narrow confines of partisan political debate.
The diverse popular groups and intellectuals involved in 1989 were also collecting information and analyzing the situation to write their versions of history. Some of these have appeared in scholarly works, the media and other sources over the years. Among the students, those who spoke passable English, or were relatively photogenic, or both, made the news and, by default, were perceived by both the overseas Chinese and Western media as having made history. Some of them, and here one thinks of individuals like Chai Ling and Li Lu, having been thrust into the public eye during the movement, still claim an absolute moral authority in saying what happened and what it meant. Unfortunately, their accounts of history are, in essence not all that different from those thrown together by the Chinese authorities.
For more about the Western media's coverage of the 1989 protest movement, see:
- Mark Hertsgaard, "China Coverage Strong on What, Weak on Why?" Rolling Stone, Sept. 21, 1989.
- Tiananmen on TV, written by Richard Gordon, co-director of the documentary, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, considers how a single image from 1989 became "one of the defining iconic images of the 20th century, like a monument in a vast public square created by television."
- A brief account of the Western media's reporting on the night of June 3-4, 1989, in George Black and Robin Munro, Black Hands of Beijing (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993).
- Turmoil at Tiananmen: A Study of U.S. Press Coverage of the Beijing Spring of 1989 (© Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 221 pp., 1992.)
For a study of the Chinese media in the spring 1989, see:
- Linda Jakobson, "Lies in Ink, Truth in Blood" - The Role and Impact of the Chinese Media During the Beijing Spring of '89, Discussion Paper D-6, © Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 21 pp., 1990.)
- To see an official Chinese government account of the events of 1989, see "The Truth about the Turmoil," in the Making History section of this website.
- BBC News: 20 years later, the BBC takes a look at How the Chinese Reported Tiananmen (June 4, 2009)