Review: Bold 2002 takeover of Chinese state TV plays out in hybrid documentary ‘Eternal Spring’
By Ben Gittleson, Film Critic
On the evening of July 3, 2001, I sat alone in a bar in China (a country we both know well) sipping a cocktail and watching a U.S.-shot documentary on the state-run Chinese television network. At the beginning of the documentary, the camera cut to a large screen showing footage of the Beijing Olympics, which had just concluded in late November. On the screen, American flags could be seen dancing in the wind, and everyone appeared to have a good time. It was the only thing I could think of to say at that moment…
I left the bar and caught a cab to my hotel. When I reached my room, I sat in a chair in the corner, holding a small pen and notebook as I watched the “Documentary” playing in my room. This was the same documentary that had been interrupted the previous day when U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney flew in on Air Force One. The documentary showed a scene of tanks in Tiananmen Square and people throwing fire bombs and throwing bricks (and then the tanks were gone; it was over). At the end of the day, it was found that the Chinese people did not throw anything, the United States did.
I had watched the documentary in the hotel bar and had become more and more aware of the way that the U.S. took things over in China. I thought about this documentary in the morning and realized that I did not know what I was seeing. I had thought that I was watching the Chinese government, so I had not considered what it looked like from a documentary.
My own view of history has been shaped by several of America’s biggest cultural exports. First, there was the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. I grew up watching the civil rights movement for many years. It is hard to imagine what it was like for an African-American child to grow up in a country that had been founded on a principle of racial equality. In the 1960s, I understood how far away that was, and I