Website Review

Tiananmen: The Gate of Heavenly Peace

The Gate of Heavenly Peace centers on a documentary about the events of Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. There are links to selections from the documentary, as well as a huge archive of primary and secondary source readings about the events. A chronology of major events in 20th century China has its own page, broken into two sections: events prior to 1989, and then a more detailed listing of the events in the spring of 1989, beginning with the death of Former Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang. The site is easy to navigate, with links at the top and bottom of most pages.

The clips from the documentary include some background on Tiananmen Square itself, the Cultural Revolution, and some basic history of the People's Republic of China. The majority of the clips are about the events of June 1989, including the dramatic footage of "The Man Against the Tanks," showing both the official Chinese government's version of the events as well as the version of events as seen by the rest of the world. Most of the documentary is original footage interspersed with interviews of participants at the demonstrations. Parents of deceased demonstrators are also interviewed. Unfortunately, the clips display on a relatively small portion of the screen and cannot be expanded. A word of caution for teachers planning on using the site in their classrooms: some students may find the images of violence and of wounded teenagers disturbing. The final excerpt includes, "Aftermath of June 4th" a Chinese rock video with English subtitles (including some inappropriate language).

In addition to the clips from the documentary, there is a gallery of images in the Media Library, but as with the video, many of the images are very small and difficult to see, and cannot be enlarged. In the gallery there is a selection of images on Chinese Youth. While some of the images have captions, several do not, which would make teaching with them somewhat problematic. Some images have captions that are in Chinese, and no translation is provided. However, these images are bigger and much easier to view than others. The images are mostly propaganda, which could be used for an excellent lesson on how Mao cultivated his relationship with the youth in China.

The remainder of the site is very text-heavy. There is a section on additional sources, some primary and others secondary. Perhaps the best source is "The Truth About the Beijing Turmoil," which is the official government account of the events, published in 1990. Teachers and students could use this source in a variety of ways: they could compare this version with what is portrayed in the video excerpts or discuss it as a piece of propaganda. The reading could also be used in conjunction with the official presentation of the "Man Against Tank," as mentioned above.

With older, more advanced learners, teachers may wish to use the site to teach about bias. For the most part, the site does not editorialize; however, the selection of governmental sources indicates a strong opinion about the events in Tiananmen. A discussion about the point of view of the creators of the site and the documentary would be a valuable one.

Search terms such as "boys" bring the viewer to a section on Chinese rock music. The article in this section is written by a scholar at the Australian National University in Canberra. The article discusses the role of pop and rock in Tiananmen. There are some lyrics posted, but the great weakness of this site is that there are no audio files of the songs discussed in the article. The search term "girls" is not useful, as it only leads to two results, both of which are parts of descriptions of the events at Tiananmen. Searching for "children" results in many pages filled with background information that could be useful for teachers.

How to Cite This Source

"Tiananmen: The Gate of Heavenly Peace," in Children and Youth in History, Item #421, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/items/show/421 (accessed October 25, 2014).

The Gate of Heavenly Peace, centers on a documentary about the events of Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. There are links to selections from the documentary, as well as a huge archive of primary and secondary source readings about the events.