Last Night's Television: Kate Adie returns to Tiananmen Square, BBC2; The Apprentice, BBC1
China crisis revisited
Thursday 04 June 2009
Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square wasn't without its irritations. First, there was Ms Adie herself, a paragon among foreign correspondents I am sure, and a woman who had unquestionably earned the right to tell this particular war story, but also possessed of a curiously infuriating tic, a kind of old-hander, I could-say-so-much-more-but-what-are-mere-words shrug with which she punctuated her memories of covering the Tiananmen protests, and the massacre that brought them to an end.
Sometimes, she would arch her eyebrows in a knowing way; sometimes, she would just glance feelingly at the camera, but each time it looked oddly stagy and self-advertising. And then there was the fuss about the secret police. Ms Adie has only officially been allowed into China twice since 1989, and her attempt to test the spirit of openness that notionally accompanied the Beijing games was not rewarded with a journalist's visa for this trip, to talk to veterans of Tiananmen. Her only remaining option, she explained, was to travel with her crew as tourists, "effectively undercover" as she put it.
Not very effectively undercover, actually, since Kate Adie doesn't exactly have a forgettable face and it was soon clear that Chinese security was shadowing their every move. Adie put this down to incompetence (one of the cars assigned to tail them was a vivid shade of fuschia). I put it down to the fact that the Chinese didn't give a damn whether their targets knew they were being followed or not. And though Adie made much of the emptiness of that promise of a new transparency, the fact remains that she seemed to get most of her interviews with dissidents out of the country, when it would presumably have been relatively easy for the Chinese to confiscate everything at the airport.
Perhaps this is unfair. It's possible that some channel was used that couldn't easily be revealed without making it unusable in future. And, in any case, neither irritation was significant enough to mask the real core of this film, which was the bravery, historic and current, of those who decided to stand in the face of state power. People like Wuer Kaixi, who helped to catalyse the protests by speaking at one of the very early rallies, announcing his name and university even though he could see the winking red lights of the secret-police video cameras at the back of the crowd. Or the ordinary people who saw their fellow citizens shot or crushed by tanks and yet still went on to the streets to berate the soldiers. Or Chen Yunfei, a man who recently put a small ad in the Chengdu Evening News reading, "Let Us Support the Mothers of Those Who Died on June 4th". He was the real thing, by the way, an ordinary man who decided that the truth deserved a few column inches and was prepared to pay for it, in more ways than one. He almost certainly didn't think he'd be apotheosised as a martyr to democracy, and his stubborn, unfussy courage was a reminder that irritation wasn't really the appropriate emotion to bring to bear.
It's only fair to say that archive clips of Adie at the time - showing her with only a safari jacket for protection - suggested she wasn't without a bit of nerve herself. I suspect she hadn't filled out a proper risk-assessment form before filing her story for the "Nine".
The authorities don't use bullets in The Apprentice, though there were quite a few moments during last night's interview episode when the victims looked as if they wished they would, and put them out of their misery. Lorraine, who prides herself on her intuition, was sensibly very frightened about this bit, while the others talked a big game, having presumably forgotten how lethal Claude Litner can be when he warms up for a bit of character assassination. "I wonder whether you're a bit delusional," was his ice-breaking overture to Lorraine, while James was sucker-punched by being told that his career details were exceptional. "Thank you," said James politely. "Exceptionally bad that is," continued Claude. Only Kate really stumped him: "I think you're an incredibly competent interviewee," he said, "you're faultless and that worries me." In truth, they all but gave Kate the job there and then, though Yasmina will be back on Sunday night to stretch the fight out to the full 12 rounds.
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