Veteran TV producer Irv Drasnin, who used to make solid news documentaries for CBS (Misunderstanding China) in the days when the commercial networks valued solid news, oversees this fascinating Frontline about the social and political aftermath of the 1989 massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. PBS says that Drasnin’s Frontline crew is the first U.S. film team to be granted widespread access since the event, and Drasnin makes the most of it, finding both barely suppressed dissidence and flagrant cultural revolution.
Whether he’s bringing his cameras into a recently opened modeling school — China’s first — where women learn slinky runway moves to the beat of Michael Jackson, or interviewing Beijing University students who cite Beethoven and Michael Jordan as their heroes, Drasnin demonstrates that there is, as he puts it in his narration, ”a credibility gap between what people are told and what they think and do.” While the government’s brutal put-down of 1989’s democratic movement forced citizens to continue parroting the party line of socialism-and-Marxism-forever, according to this documentary, it’s clear that what Chinese officials contemptuously refer to here as ”bourgeois liberalism” is flourishing.
As an old-school journalist, Drasnin refrains from drawing an obvious conclusion-that China is an example of a nation transformed, made better, by American pop culture. The real message behind the engrossing footage of China After Tiananmen is that Jackson and Madonna have probably done more to persuade young Chinese people of the virtues of capitalism than any revolutionary theorist or American statesman. A-