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'Tiananmen: The People Versus The Party'
(DVD / NR / 2019 / PBS)

Overview: On June 4th, 1989 the world's biggest, longest, and most famous pro-democracy demonstration was brought to a tragic end.

The images from those final bloody days still burn bright in our imaginations; the death toll - from the Chinese official figure of 300 to estimates as high as 15,000 - is still disputed.

'Tiananmen: The People Versus The Party' tells the gripping narrative of a period of just seven weeks in which the whole future of China today was founded, and where at various crucial turning points the final outcome could have avoided massive bloodshed.

DVD Verdict: If you were around during the time of the student democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989, much of what you likely saw was news coverage of the students peacefully protesting for a voice in China’s Communist government, led at the time by chairman Deng Xiaoping.

Then you saw Deng’s government enforce martial law, crushing the movement by firing on the unarmed protesters, killing thousands. The image of a lone man confronting a line of tanks has become a defining image of the crackdown to this day, 30 years later.

But the events and decision-making that set this tragic event in motion were kept in the dark, to the point where Chinese citizens of a certain age don’t even know that this protest even happened, despite the fact that it was in the country’s recent past.

'Tiananmen: The People Versus The Party' is a new documentary that reveals much of that decision making, giving a more complete picture of how the protests started, who in the government supported them and who wanted them crushed; and exactly how Deng, who had been transitioned to a largely ceremonial position by the time the protests started, regained power and crushed the protest, altering the course of Chinese history.

Director and co-writer Ian MacMillan (Civilizations) combines never-before-seen home video footage of the protests with leaked minutes from Politburo and other governmental meetings that show that there was a lot of discord within the government while these protests were happening.

These key moments unfold over two hours in a story told with the drama and pace of a political thriller. With never-before-seen Chinese television archival materials and exclusive interviews with key insiders, from protest leaders and students to government insiders, eyewitness accounts in 'Tiananmen: The People Versus The Party' finally reveal the scale of the 1989 protest, its aims, its military crackdown, and the aftermath.

Also included are interviews with the co-authors of The Tiananmen Papers, which disclosed these minutes as well as student leaders like Shen Tong, Wuer Kaixi, Wang Dan, Rose Tang, Zhang Jian (who died in April) and others. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.