China in Perspective: review of Beijing Diary - 25 years later; whither fared the Chinese?

Review of Mette Holm’s Beijing Diary – 25 years later; whither fared the Chinese? Jyllands-Posten, July 9th, 2014 (translated from Danish)


China in Perspective

# The new, updated version of Mette Holm’s BeijingDiary is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand The Middle Kingdom


Did the drama on Tian An Men in 1989 lead China onto a democratic path?

We find one possible answer in Mette Holm’s updated diary, which intertwines developments into historic events.

These days, 25 years ago, back home in Denmark a presumably very sad Mette Holm intensely followed the nerve racking events Beijing, which for weeks she had been in the midst of. But on May 23rd her editing equipment was shipped home, and on the 29th she followed suit and left Beijing. She had already spent half of the foreign desk’s total budget for 1989 at TV-Avisen (the national Danish TV News programme she worked for).

And this is how short sighted economic consideration ended coverage in Denmark of the students’ uprising’s bloody conclusion, which for the ensuing 25 years came to symbolise the Chinese government’s problematic handling of human rights; and also confirmed what Mette Holm states in her book: news doesn’t into budgets.

Well conceived 

The economic and journalistic blunder of recalling her to Denmark soon resulted in her “Beijing Diary.” And now, 25 years later, the book has found its final form in the new edition as the frame for putting into perspective China’s development since the massacre on May 4th (sic. The date was June 4th).

The book is well conceived and well carried out. Of the last 30 years Mette Holm has spent a total of 10 studying, travelling and working in China. Given her deep knowledge of China, her opinion and assessments on developments since the students’ uprising carry great weight.

This book is so fascinating and well written that it is indispensable for anyone who wants to know not only what happened to the little man who stood himself in front of the army’s tanks on Tian An Men, but which path China took as a consequence of events in May and June, 1989.

No crash helmet

With regard to economic development, we all know whither China fared: the country is a major power, which a few years from, now will probably be the strongest economy in the world.

But what about human rights, capital punishment, judicial reforms? How about democracy? Why were China’s leaders so fearful of any marking of the uprising’s 25th anniversary? And how is it that in the age of the Internet, Chinas Communist Party chooses to use it’s absolute power to tightly control freedom of both information and expression? Or rather, as Mette Holm puts it: How long will China’s leaders succeed?

Because the results of China’s mad economic down hill race sans crash helmet become ever more obvious: The environment suffers severely. In many major cities the air you breathe is toxic as is the water in the tap, deadly food scandals flourish, and confidence in the leadership is fast eroding.

Will the Communist Party be able to continuously reinvent itself in order to hold on to power, asks Mette Holm. Or might China explode?

We won’t find the answer in any near future.

Tor Tolstrup is former Editor-in-Chief of and Japan and Asia Correspondent for the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. He is the author of several books on Japan and Asia.

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