China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



May 23, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 23, 2009 Philip J. Cunningham. Used by permission.


On the evening of May 22, BBC asked me to take one of the crews to the Square for a closer look at the protest, which was thought to be on the wane now that martial law was coming into force. We did the usual look-see, I conducted a few spot interviews and the talented camera crew captured ironic and iconic visuals. Then we took a break in front of the History Museum, parking the hotel van near the camp of the provincial students.

The protesters around us didn’t seem to mind our presence, until we decided to crack out the beverages. It was hard to enjoy the hotel-bought drinks we had kept stored in an icebox in the back of the van while in the midst of so many under-nourished, homeless students from the countryside. The problem of eating well in front of people who had less access to food was a familiar one, something I had experienced on the set of The Last Emperor andEmpire of the Sun. We almost had a riot one day on the during a location shot on the Bund for the Spielberg film, as the cast and crew ate a hotel-catered lunch in the midst of 5000 hungry extras whose food had been duly paid for but never arrived, due to some sticky-fingered comprador or official intermediary.

Thus it was with some reluctance that I extracted a can of iced cold soda from the icebox. Just then I noticed a young man in dusty clothes staring at me through thick black-rimmed glasses, eyeing the Coke I had in my hand. He had a wiry build and sported a flattop crew cut that made him look more a police cadet than student. But there was something extremely sympathetic about him too, he had a wide-eyed but vulnerable expression on his face, as if he wanted to talk but was afraid. I offered him a can of soda from the BBC icebox.