The following excerpt about the Western news media's account of the night of June 3-4, 1989 is taken from George Black and Robin Munro
Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China's Democracy Movement
(New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993), pp. 246-248.

The belief in a "Tiananmen Square massacre" is, at root, tied up in the problem of television news. At the best of times, the medium has a wretched relationship to historical truth, saturating its audience with powerful, instantaneous images that are not easily revised. But television, paradoxically, is never more powerful than when the screen goes blank.

There were, perhaps, a dozen foreign journalists in the vicinity of the Monument that night [June 3, 1989] as dawn approached. The footage shot by a crew from Televisión Española and by a Hong Kong film crew perched on top of the public toilets on the west side of the square was not widely seen outside their home countries. The last American crew on the scene was from CBS News. The network's correspondent, Richard Roth, had time to file one final report before he was arrested and frog-marched into the Great Hall of the People. As the camera lurched skyward and the picture went black, the voice-over was dramatic: "Soldiers have spotted [cameraman Derek Williams] and myself and are angrily dragging us away. And a moment later it begins: powerful bursts of automatic weapons, raging gunfire for a minute and a half that lasts as long as a nightmare. And we see no more."

The impression of a student massacre without witnesses is stronger still in the reports of John Simpson of the BBC. Simpson was one of the media stars of the Beijing spring, and his team won several awards for its reporting. He was filled with remorse at having left the square so early. "Someone should have been there when the massacre took place," he wrote later in Granta. Simpson remembered that from a safe vantage point on an upper floor of the Beijing Hotel, "We filmed as the lights in the square were switched off at four A.M. They were switched on again forty minutes later, when the troops and the tanks moved forward to the Monument itself, shooting first in the air and then, again, directly at the students themselves, so that the steps of the Monument and the heroic reliefs which decorated it were smashed by bullets." The problem with this report is that the Monument and the entire lower half of Tiananmen Square are hidden from view from the Beijing Hotel, half a mile away. (9)

The gunfire that Roth and Simpson heard was not directed at the students at all. By 5:05 A.M., the top level of the Monument swarmed with commandos. The writer Lao Gui saw the whole thing. "A small detachment of soldiers dressed in camouflage uniform rushed up to the Monument, occupied the top of it, and fired incessantly into the air.... Soon, there was no more sound from the broadcast station. The soldiers had shot the loudspeakers apart." The Spanish television crew was also on the spot; they saw no killing. (10)

For the next twenty-five minutes, the students filed out of the square. They moved back at the same pace as the advancing APCs, extracting every last ounce of moral victory from their retreat. Many in the ten-deep column, each contingent under the banner of its college, had tears rolling down their cheeks. All looked shaken; many were trembling or unsteady on their feet. "Down with the Communist Party!" one group shouted. In the east, the sun was just rising in a red sky.


(9) On a visit to Beijing in July 1991, the authors were able to verify that only the upper portion of the Monument - namely, the bare central column and not the ornamented lower levels that were occupied by the students - is visible from the top-floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel.

(10) Claudia Rosett of the Asian Wall Street Journal and John Pomfret of the Associated Press were also present at the Monument at this time.

Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China's Democracy Movement
Excerpted by permission of publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Copyright ©1993 by George Black and Robin Munro. All Rights Reserved.
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