In response to “Commander-in-Chief Cop-Out,” I was just about to write this same thing! I wish the documentary had gone further in investigating Chai Li and her motives. Although I felt like some of the students and workers interviewed did really spoke up about the foils of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Movement’s participants getting caught up in their own self-righteousness, which led to more revolution qualities than reform qualities. One guy who revitalized the hunger strike said he later saw how he was easily misguided and lost sight of his purpose once the spotlight got shown on him.
But I wish I had heard more criticism or commentary on Chai Li from the other interviewed students. At first she seemed very emotionally stirring but as the film went on I felt more and more that she was driven by her own hubris and came across power-hungry. Maybe she really was willing to be a martyr and maybe she wasn’t, but I got pissed when she said that she wanted blood to be spilt so that change could occur. This notion of a big, cinematic-like tragedy being the only thing that will force the government’s hand is a little typical but completely stupid, selfish, scheming, and very often ineffective (as history gives us numerous examples- look at the chaos of the French Revolution). When the government did push back and there was blood spilt, the movement did not catapult, it crumbled. The intensity of those months (which the film made feel like years to me, oy!) may forever live strong in the minds of the people involved and is remebered as tragic triumph of the evil, oppressive Chinese government for those in the West, but within China the movement was cleaned up and cleared away by the government faster than you can say “civil liberties violations” and is hardly on the radar of many young Chinese today.
So again, I stress, as I think the film does, that a big dramatic explosion is not the thing that will bring social change to China, nor will the loss of young lives, though it may have helped gain sympathies. Rather, it is the willingness of everyone (not just the youth) to demand small changes of mentality and reality within China, by working with the system that will bring about the reform sought in the 1989 Tiananman Square Movement.