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Assignment China –"Tiananmen Square"

On 29 May, the ECCT, together with AmCham and the Rotary Club jointly hosted a special evening with Mike Chinoy, former CNN reporter and CNN Beijing Bureau Chief. The evening featured a viewing of the latest documentary video on China that was written and produced by Chinoy and the US-China Institute at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where Chinoy is now a Senior Fellow. The documentary, named "Assignment China: Tiananmen Square" tells the behind-the-scenes story of the reporters who covered the dramatic events in Beijing during the spring of 1989.

Reported and narrated by Chinoy, the documentary contains interviews with most of the leading American and other journalists who played a role in the media coverage including: Dan Southerland of the Washington Post, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn of the New York  Times, John Pomfret of the AP, Jeff Widener, the AP photographer who took the picture of the man in front of the tank, Al Pessin of VOA, Dan Rather, John Sheahan, and Richard Roth of CBS News, Bernard Shaw, Alec Miran, Jonathan Schaer  (who shot the CNN tank man video) and Mike Chinoy from CNN, Jim Laurie of ABC, Jaime FlorCruz of Time, Adi Ignatius of the Wall St. Journal, Dorinda Elliot of Newsweek, plus many others. Non-media interviewees include former US Secretary of State James Baker, former American ambassadors to China Winston Lord and James Lilley, Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan, and others.

With video footage and still photos, some never shown in public before, "Assignment China: Tiananmen Square" tells a largely unknown side of a story about the tumultuous events in the spring of 1989. The documentary puts the protests in the context of the time and highlights some overlooked factors. For instance, the protests coincided with an historic visit to Beijing by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Given that students were occupying Tiananmen Square, the planned high profile welcoming ceremony had to be scrapped, which was embarrassing for the Chinese leadership of General Secretary Deng Xiao-ping and Premier Li Peng. This loss of face was one of the contributing factors to the Chinese authorities' decision to crack down on protestors, besides the more obvious fears of ongoing and spreading chaos and even health concerns (the long period of occupation of the square had created squalid conditions which led many people to fall ill).

The documentary also tells the story of the now iconic photo of "tank man", the lone protestor who stood in front of a tank. It was taken by AP photographer Jeff Widener from a hotel balcony and may never have become a reality. As the photographer explains in the film, when he first spotted the protestor, he did not have the right lens on his camera. He had to make a decision as to whether or not to go ahead with his current lens and get a poor quality shot, or take a minute to go back into his room, fix a better lens to his camera but risk missing the moment. He decided to switch lenses, got the perfect shot and the rest is history.

After the documentary, Mike Chinoy answered questions from the audience about his time in China, his views on the events in 1989 and recent developments in China.