Street-level view of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Cunningham (Media Studies/Doshisha Univ., Kyoto), an American-born Asia specialist, was living on campus at Beijing Normal University during the weeks-long popular uprising that ended with the deaths of hundreds of Chinese students and intellectuals on June 4. The historic and bloody event—still the object of a “soul-chilling silence” by Chinese officials—has been much written about in the West, but Cunningham offers the intriguing point of view of a Chinese speaker who both took part in the demonstrations and covered them as a freelance journalist for the BBC. His vivid, highly personal account begins in early May, when he joined Chinese students in orderly sit-ins at the New China News Agency to protest the lack of press freedom. Amid campus rivalries, the uprising grew to include a bicycle demonstration, slogan-shouting in front of the People’s Daily offices and a mid-May hunger strike that gave new urgency to the protest. Cunningham re-creates the headiness of the time and the hopefulness of young Chinese wearing headbands and carrying red flags and hand-painted posters. His many extended conversations with student leaders and others reveal the frequent mistrust among the demonstrators as well as their shared grievances over corruption and class privilege in Chinese society. As the war of nerves between protesters and government officials heated up, Cunningham experienced his own inner turmoil as a Westerner who was highly sympathetic to the uprising but nonetheless viewed with suspicion by many in the crowd. He concludes with an account of the violent government crackdown. The author says the upheaval at Tiananmen accelerated reform, and he remains in awe of the “remarkably peaceful, transformative, and uplifting weeks” that preceded the arrival of troops and tanks. His inside view of these chaotic days offers a deeper understanding of the yearning for freedom that drove youths and workers into the streets of a closed society.
A fresh perspective mainly for students and specialists.