'Tiananmen: The People Versus the Party': How a Peaceful Student Protest Ended in Carnage

Rick and Christina Gables
Courtesy of PBS

On the night of June 4, 1989, Chinese troops entered Tiananmen Square in Beijing, violently crushing the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the history of the Communist regime.

Images from those final bloody days still resonate today. Scheduled in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the uprising, Tiananmen: The People Versus the Party is a day-by-day account of the dramatic seven weeks during which students and ordinary Chinese citizens made a stand for more freedom. The film premieres Tuesday, June 25 on PBS.

Photo: Robin Munro/PBS

Unfolding with the drama of a political thriller, the film investigates how a peaceful student protest calling for liberty ended seven weeks later in carnage, documenting the many turning points when the violence could have been avoided but tragically was not. With never-before-seen Chinese television archival footage and exclusive interviews with key insiders, from protest leaders and students to politburo members, the film reveals the scale of the 1989 protest, its aims, the military crackdown and the aftermath.

Photo: Robin Munro/PBS

The in-depth research includes an exclusive, secretly filmed interview with a high ranking Communist Party insider who was an eyewitness to the inner debate within the halls of power that led to the massacre; extensive access to the documents known as The Tiananmen Papers, Chinese government and Party records revealing the decisions made by increasingly-panicked leaders; and gripping and emotional testimony from a diverse range of protesters, eyewitnesses and key contributors, several of whom were in the thick of the drama on the square throughout June 3 and 4 as the massacre unfolded.

Featured interviewees include Perry Link and Andrew Nathan, editors of The Tiananmen Papers, and student leaders Shen Tong, Wuer Kaixi, Wang Dan, Rose Tang and others. Through their testimony, the film reveals the complex story of those tumultuous seven weeks that became nothing less than the battle for the soul of a nation.

Tiananmen: The People Versus the Party, Premiere, Tuesday, June 25, 9/8c, PBS (Check your local listings)