mandag 20. september 2021

Jonathan Mirsky: reporter who went from Mao fan to fierce Beijing critic

Jonathan Mirsky, the Observer’s former China correspondent who has died aged 88, was acutely aware of the mounting danger from the bullets criss-crossing Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989 as units of the People’s Liberation Army were sent in to break up the protests. He was aware too that he desperately needed to get his copy to London. Writing about the experience 30 years later, Mirsky admitted that few at first had any sense of the scale of the violence that was being unleashed either on the students in the square. All that, however, was to change quickly.

“At three in the morning I feared I might be killed,” Mirsky recalled. “But I knew I must file the story for the paper. As the silver streaks of bullets lighted the darkness, a student next to me said: ‘Don’t worry. The soldiers are using blanks.’ A few seconds later he slumped over, dead, with a wet red circle on his chest.

“As I began to leave the square,” Mirsky continued, “I came to a knot of armed police whose trouser bottoms had been ignited by Molotov cocktails thrown by workers. When they saw me passing they shouted at me to stop. I said: “Don’t hit me. I’m a journalist.” Their officer shouted back, in Chinese: “Fuck you, we’re going to kill you.”