Tremble and Obey: How the Chinese Communist Party crushed democracy on FOUR CORNERS

Four Corners
Source: ABC

Tremble and Obey: How the Chinese Communist Party crushed democracy.

“Tanks are rolling in down the main thoroughfare towards Tiananmen Square.  There’s sporadic shooting.”  ABC reporter Max Uechtritz, 1989.  

Thirty years ago, in the centre of China’s communist capital, millions of students and citizens staged weeks of protests calling for democracy.

“Millions of Chinese for the first time… tasted freedom in the air of Beijing.”  No 5 on the ‘most wanted’ list of student activists, 1989.

The students and their fellow protestors stared down their government in the full gaze of the world’s media, demanding an end to totalitarian rule.

“The cost to the people has been silent obedience to the party line. The frustration born of so many years of silence is now pouring out into streets of Beijing.”  ABC Beijing correspondent, Trevor Watson, 1989.

Then, the People’s Liberation Army turned its guns, and its tanks, on its own people.

“We got orders from the authorities saying, ‘every troop has to go to Tiananmen Square’."  Former PLA soldier.

Three decades on, Four Corners vividly brings the story of these momentous times to life, drawing upon a trove of vision and audio captured by ABC reporters and crews in that astonishing spring of 1989.  This incredible archive stored away by the ABC for 30 years has now been carefully pieced together to show how the shocking events unfolded.

“There was a man holding shopping bags, standing in front of the tank, the lead tank…(it) became one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, of all time.”  ABC reporter Max Uechtritz, 1989.    

Four Corners has interviewed many of the key participants who led the protests and were subsequently placed on China’s “most wanted” list.

“I was quite naive because we didn’t know the true face of the Communist Party.  We never realised that this Party would do anything to defend their power.”  No 1 on China’s “most wanted” student activist list. 1989.

While many will be marking the anniversary around the world, the events of Tiananmen Square remain one of the most sensitive and taboo topics in China.

“In 1989 we were so young, and we experienced such a violent killing… it's literally the killing of your peers, of your generation. But we were not allowed to openly shed a tear or light a candle for the dead. And we carried this wound, this open wound, up to today, 30 years later. And we still are not allowed to openly talk about it.”  1989 protestor, current Harvard academic.    

Those same student leaders say the events in Tiananmen Square continue to shape China today.

 “It's very important for the whole world to pay attention to what happened 30 years ago.  Today's China comes from 1989. If you really want to deal with today's China, you have to understand where this China come from, and it come from 1989.”  No 1 on China’s most wanted list, 1989.

The program will air on June 3, the date the People’s Liberation Army pushed towards Tiananmen Square setting off a wave of violence.  Note: as the events gathered force that night and into the next morning, June 4 is the date officially commemorated as the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Tremble and Obey, produced by Lesley Robinson, goes to air on Monday June 3rd at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 4th June at 1.00pm and Wednesday 5th at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

FOUR CORNERS - Monday 3 June 2019 at 8:30pm