Canadian journalist Arthur Kent has recounted the horror of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre using newly restored video footage he shot during the crackdown.

The 13-minute film Black Night In June documents firsthand the bloody crackdown as student protesters fell back into the square after the People’s Liberation Army opened fire.

tiananamen massacre film
Photo: Screenshot.

The massacre occurred on June 4, 1989, ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the military was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing. Chinese authorities have since censored references to the massacre.

See also: HKFP guide to Hong Kong events commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre

Kent was working as a freelance journalist for The ObserverCBC News and NBC News when he was sent to Beijing to film and report on the growing movement.

The film, shared on Kent’s Skyreporter website, shows bystanders tending to the wounded as gunfire rings out across the city. The final shot depicts the scene around the Monument to the People’s Heroes at around 3.30am on the evening of the massacre.

“That is my first, best hope with the film. To remind people what the protesters endured that night. The feeling of running for your life, of witnessing a vast, heavily-armed machine of repression and punishment simply crushing an entire generation’s quest for freedom,” Kent told HKFP.

tiananamen massacre film
Photo: Screenshot.
YouTube video

“On the night of June 3/4, 1989, I was assigned around 9pm to walk west on Chang’an to investigate reports of gunfire at Mu-Xi-Di Bridge. I had exactly two NP1 batteries and two 20-minute BetaSP cassettes with me when, at 10:30pm or so, I encountered the lead assault unit approaching the Minzu Hotel.”

Kent said he left the square at around 4am, evading several groups of plainclothes policemen: “When they saw my camera, one group of cops tried to grab me. It was a close call,” he said.

“That said, the footage you see in Black Night In June has never before received a proper treatment in terms of length, sequential storytelling and, most important, translation of the students’ words – and those Orwellian pronouncements by the martial law authority, by the Party.”

tiananamen massacre film
Photo: Screenshot.

The filmmaker said his tapes were hand-carried by willing passengers and distributed to local bureaus in Hong Kong or Tokyo, where the footage was fed live across the world. He added that pirated shots of his footage continue to be duplicated in videos about the massacre.

Next Tuesday marks 30 years since the crackdown. An annual vigil hosted by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China will be held at Victoria Park in Hong Kong to commemorate victims of the massacre. It is typically attended by tens of thousands.

Additional Reporting: Tom Grundy.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.